ADHD, coffee shops, and how distractions can improve creativity

If you’re going on a trip to somewhere new – whether it’s to a whole other country or just a few cities away – the last thing you want to do is to get out a map and only zoom right up to where you’re at right now.

You have to be able to see a larger part of the map in order to route your journey. Both where you’re currently at (your focus) and what’s going on around you.

It’s the same with creative ideas. If your focus is entirely on one very small area, you’ll have a harder time getting where you’re going or exploring potential ideas.

Distractions, it turns out, are a great way to zoom out of your focus, to open up the mental idea map, and to remind your brain that there’s more to what you’re working on than just what’s directly in front of you.

In a study looking at the affects of ADHD on creative thinking, Dr. Holly White of the University of Memphis and her colleagues found that people with ADHD can be more creative in thinking tests. White explains: “The key seems to be the inhibitory control – the same thing that allows somebody to not be distracted – which possibly could put a mental wall between what is right in front of them and other possibilities.”

The ability to expand your focus is beneficial to creativity, it turns out. Subtle distractions are a great way to break your focus, expand your thoughts, and see a larger map.

It’s the same reason coffee shops can make you more creative“[I]nstead of burying oneself in a quiet room trying to figure out a solution… getting into a relatively noisy environment may trigger the brain to think abstractly, and thus generate creative ideas.”

So if you’re finding the typing of that person sitting next to you to be a bit distracting, or if the quiet hum of your computer is starting to get on your nerves, remember that it can all be beneficial for generating ideas, if it doesn’t get too overwhelming.

Now you know, small distractions can help make you more creative.

Photo by Shahram Sharif.