Women on the other hand appear much more comfortable with their own company, with only 25% choosing a mild shock.

A new study just published in Science has given a shocking insight into how uncomfortable most people find it having nothing to do but think by themselves. The study, led by Timothy Wilson, originally asked what people’s reaction would be when asked to just sit in a room with no distractions and ‘just think’. In the vast majority of cases, people exhibited signs of discomfort, like getting out of their chair, fidgeting or compulsively checking their phone.

So Wilson and co asked themselves whether any activity would be preferable to just thinking, even an uncomfortable one. So for an extended set of tests, they asked 42 subjects to sit in a room alone and think for 15 minutes, with the only possible other activity being a button they could press which would give themselves a painful (but not dangerous) electric shock.

The result: 12 out of 18 men gave themselves a shock. Whereas only 6 out of 24 women did.

Of those who did shock themselves, they did it on average 1.47 times in those 15 minutes. One (kinky, I guess) guy did it 190 times.

“The mind is designed to engage with the world,” said Wilson. “Even when we are by ourselves, our focus usually is on the outside world. And without training in meditation or thought-control techniques, which still are difficult, most people would prefer to engage in external activities.”

In my view, this has strong implications for individual people’s creativity and the innovativeness of an organisation. Being able to develop special new ideas is something which happens within individuals, and it happens most effectively when our minds are in a lower mental activity state. And this study gives further evidence that the majority of men feel uncomfortable just letting their mind wander, or getting introspective.

Why there is such a pronounced gender gap is hard to say. Any thoughts are welcome in the comments below.

Giving yourself time to think, daydream and imagine is one way to boost your baseline creativity at work. But sometimes, it’s also important to give yourself time to think about more difficult subjects, especially when things aren’t going the way you hoped or expected. At work, this could be customers not responding to a new offering, or falling revenues as the market demands change.

These are the times when innovation becomes more important than ever. And the difficult times are also sometimes when you need to be willing to consider what is really happening around you, which requires you to be aware of your thoughts so you can change your perceptions. This change in perception is what leads to some of the best innovations.

So go ahead and take 10 minutes today, get outside the office, turn off your smartphone and get lost in your own thoughts. Who knows, what you come back with may be electrifying.

Do you ever give yourself time to just think? Do you agree that women are better at it than men? Let me know in the comments below.

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