Why We’re Most Creative When We’re Least Inspired

Look, I get it.

You come home, after a long, routine day at the office, and there it is, staring you in the face: that half-finished canvas artwork/the piano on which you’ve been writing a new song/a computer on which sits the start of a fantastic screenplay.

But it’s late, and you’re tired. You want to work on it tonight, you tell yourself, but you’re worried that in your current state, you wouldn’t do a good job.

What if you’re wrong though? What if boredom, fatigue, and other states we perceive as negative were actually beneficial to the creative process?

In fact, scientific studies prove this is very much the case, serving as a reminder that the brain is truly powerful and complex tool.

In the case of boredom, some might predict that it acts for a motivator. For those who want to pursue a creative career, this may be true, but it’s the unconscious offspring of boredom that proves to be most potent.

In Does Being Bored Make Us More Creative?, the University of Central Lancashire’s Dr. Sandi Mann and Rebekah Cadman posited that daydreaming, in essence, uses boredom as fuel for creativity.

The pair conducted two studies. The first saw a group of people asked to come up with uses for a pair of polystyrene cups. Before doing so, half the group were asked to write out a list of numbers from a telephone directory. While the qualifiable level of creativity remained steady between those who wrote out the numbers and those who didn’t, the quantifiable results showed that while those who had not written the numbers came up with about 7 ideas each, those who did came up with about 10.

The second experiment included a ‘boredom’ group who simply read the numbers instead of writing them out. Ultimately, they proved to be the most creative.

Here was proof that passive boring activities proved more beneficial to the creative process than simply sitting down with the intention of being creative, and carrying out a task accordingly.

Fatigue works in a similar manner. Most people work jobs that require literal thinking to efficiently carry out routine tasks which, by their very nature, don’t promote creativity. By the end of the day, our brains are tired, and don’t operate quite as well when thinking literally. This in turn allows creatives to think laterally, outside the box, and explore new ideas without the shackles of rationality pulling too tight.

Be sure to keep this in mind the next time you get home after a busy day, and don’t think you have it in you to deliver your best creative work. Give it a shot, and you may be surprised.

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