The 7-day fix that helped 20,000 people clear their minds

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If someone asked you to delete your favorite app, could you do it? (Answer honestly.)

That’s what Manoush Zomorodi, the host of WNYC’s New Tech City podcast, asked listeners to do as part of her “Bored and Brilliant: Reclaiming the Lost Art of Spacing Out” challenge in February.

The week-long campaign consisted of seven daily tasks that essentially nudge you towards more tech-free moments of deliberate boredom, like keeping your phone in your pocket while walking down the street or watching a pot of water come to a boil. Close to 20,000 people participated, and the New Tech City team was able to collect data and personal anecdotes from about half of them.

So, what happened?

“One of my favorite comments was that someone said they, ‘awoke from mental hibernation,'” Zomorodi says, which makes sense, since many people reported they were able to solve problems more efficiently. “That’s what happens when you let the default mode in your brain activate. People feel like they can finally come up with ideas, or get inspired to finish something. When students stopped multitasking, for example, they found their studies easier. ”

Read on for more interesting insights that Zomorodi derived from project, which may inspire you to try the challenge for yourself sometime soon. We dare you.


How effective was the overall campaign? My first thought was that the data was not that crazy impressive. The average amount of technology use decreased six minutes per day. But we spoke to a cognitive psychologist who said any behavior change at all is incredible. Getting someone to change in a week is incredibly ambitious. And students from the University of New Orleans asked that this be done at the beginning of every semester, which really surprised me.

What was the hardest challenge for people? I would say challenge three, or Delete That App, where you delete your favorite app. I deleted a game. I was spending a lot of time after putting the kids to bed sitting down and playing my game, and it made the biggest difference. A lot of other people said taking Facebook off their phones made the biggest difference for them.

What was the biggest impact that Bored and Brilliant had, do you think? Before we did the campaign, 30 percent of the people we surveyed said they had enough time to think, and by the end, 70 percent said they had enough time to think. Also, 90 percent said they wanted to continue with the new behavior changes. A lot of people said they were able to think things through more often and come up with bigger ideas.

Can you share a few personal anecdotes from the survey? One woman told us she tried really hard to delete Facebook off of her phone and she was so disappointed that she couldn’t do it, but she wants to work on it. Others who deleted Twitter described feelings of lightness and freedom and said that they couldn’t go back to it. One said she felt like it made her marriage stronger. Hey, we’re not saying technology is bad, but it’s about making sure you’re in control of it instead of it being in control of you.

Do you think it’s like an addiction people need to break? We’re not saying it’s like cigarettes, but it is sort of like a diet. You want to eat healthy, and it’s okay to have treats. But you need to be sure to fuel your body with what it needs and what can power it. Technology is exactly that for your brain. Don’t quit it, but make sure you find the right balance and can function at your best. —Jamie McKillop

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(Photo: Jamie McKillop for Well+Good and WNYC)


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