Ever feel like you something is on the tip of your tongue, but you can’t grab it? Have you sat there for a minute, trying to pull up the words? When they won’t come, you probably turn to your smartphone or your computer to help you find the answer – it’s just what you do.
With the answers available at the click of a button, it’s so much easier to turn to a search engine to remember than pulling it up from our memory. The problem is, now you may find it harder than ever to remember. If you go for an employment test that asks you to answer math questions – the kind you haven’t done in your head or on paper since grade school – it sometimes feels impossible to remember how to solve the equation without a smartphone at your beck and call.
Ken Jennings was That Guy, the one who won Jeopardy 74 times in a row. When the supercomputer, Watson, finally beat him, he felt like he became the obsolete know-it-all, the guy who had all this knowledge in his head, but wasn’t as fast as a computer. While it’s a fantastic resource to have search engines at our fingertips (I used it to research this article, after all), an interview on BBC suggests that research shows that transactive memory (when someone or something else is storing the knowledge we may need) is causing us to not feel the need to remember things. A 2011 Columbia University study proved that search engines are literally changing the way we remember. “Just Google it” has become part of our everyday conversations, rather than “Can you remember…”.
It only makes sense that if you want to boost your creativity and productivity, you should exercise your brain, the way you would exercise your body to improve your health and fitness. Until very recently, because I felt so fried from my job, I would turn to a search engine for just about everything, because I didn’t feel like my brain would be able to do the work. If I couldn’t remember why I recognized an actor, for example, I would use IMDB. Lately, however, I’ve been allowing myself to think more independently and creatively. When I recognized an actor on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. but couldn’t immediately remember his name, I gave myself a minute to think about it instead of immediately turning to a search engine. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it only took about ten seconds to remember that I knew him from Warehouse 13. (yes, I’m a nerd, and proud of it.) By exercising my brain, I was able to improve my recall, as well as boost my creative capacity.
How Can I Boost My Creative Capacity?
You might think that to reverse your dependency on search, you need to turn off your router. But for many of us, the Internet is an inextricable part of our job, our schooling, and our communication. So let’s try a more direct approach: a Google-Free Day!
What is a Google-Free Day, and How Can it Boost Your Creativity?
A Google-Free Day is a 24-hour commitment to rely solely on your own resources for answers, instead of turning to a search engine (and don’t cheat with Bing or Yahoo! instead). It may seem impossible, but making this commitment will show you just how much of the information you need on a daily basis is stored in a web browser instead of your own brain.
Try Reducing Google First
If you feel like it’s a little much to go cold turkey from Google, try a Reduced-Google Day first. Pick a day and don’t let yourself Google an answer until you have thought about it for at least 5 minutes – that’s about the length of time it takes to listen to Ed Sheerhan’s “Thinking Out Loud,” or brew a cup of tea. I think that search-engine dependency is just as much about patience as it is about capacity – you may be surprised how quickly you can remember something if you’ll just give yourself a chance!
Now Try Going Google-Free
If you can get through several Reduced-Google Days, you’re ready!
- If you’re afraid you’re going to relapse too easily, go to your browser settings and block the search engines you use. If you’re not sure how to do this, either search for the instructions before your Google-Free Day, or ask a tech-savvy friend to walk you through it so you don’t break your streak before you even begin.
- If you need information you didn’t already know, ask yourself a few questions, like:
“Can I get this information from another place, like notes or books?”
“Why do I want to know?”
and “Is it worth breaking this commitment for?”
If it can wait, write it down to look up later. If you’re still interested tomorrow, it’s probably worth reading about. You’ll end up less distracted by Wikipedia articles or Facebook pages today.
- If you’re having trouble remembering something you should definitely know already, try taking a break. Remember those five-minute activities? Use the break to boost your creativity – brainstorm project ideas, work on designing a piece of jewelry, sketch out a basis for a painting, or whatever else you’re working on. You’ll probably be surprised at what recessed knowledge your brain can find if you’ll just let it!
I’ll bet by the end of the day you’ll have spent a lot less time looking for information, and a lot more time with the things – and the people – you already know.
How will a Google-Free Day Help Boost Your Creativity?
It may seem like a Google-Free Day means less information and by extension less productivity, but think in the long-term. Over the past six months I felt “zoned out” – I didn’t want to put the effort into remembering things, and my memory deteriorated noticeably. Lately, now that I have pulled myself out of my zoned-out state, I have discovered that my memory has been improving. I’ve let myself think things through and come to conclusions on my own. For example, instead of doing a search for a formula to use in the spreadsheet I’m creating, I let myself work out the logic of how to reach the final solution I need.
The benefits of this kind of work, as Ken Jennings reminds us, can range from literally stopping your brain from shrinking, to saving over a hundred lives from a tsunami with one rightly remembered, rightly applied fact.
You will find that the more exercise you give your brain, the more it can work for you. When you go to brainstorm, your mind can make connections that might have been difficult when you’re used to jumping on Google. Give your mind some exercise and try a Google-Free Day!