How to Use Neuroscience to Boost Creativity
Oh, that elusive muse…
There are a lot of ideas out there that creativity only belongs to “creative types,” such as Dickens, DaVinci or Debussy.
Thank goodness this is just a myth. Creativity is something any person can access at any time — for painting, sculpting, writing. Sure. But, also for problem solving of any kind — cooking, engineering, or a roadside repair to get you home.
What is creativity?
Sometimes creativity does “Seemingly spring forth from nowhere” as Poreba writes, but we can also coax ourselves into the state of flow — a state of permission, a state of simply being and creating without question.
The brain, as you likely know, is made up of two hemispheres, with a big old canyon running down the middle. (Scientific terms may or may not be used in this presentation.)
At some point in the 80s, people started talking about left-brained and right-brained people. (“I cannot get organized. I’m just too right-brained.” “Art isn’t my thing. I’m just too left-brained.)
Now, there is a measure of truth to this statement, analogous to this example: feet are for walking. Yes. Absolutely. They are also for running, skipping, jumping, hiking, swimming… you get the idea. They have a function, but it’s not limited to walking. In the same way, it is true that there are some centers that sit primarily on one side of the brain or the other.
However, the brain is far more complex. When we see someone we love or smell a flower, it’s not just one teeny spot in the brain that gets stimulated, but many areas simultaneously. (Think the lights on the Christmas tree, not the star on top.)In other words BOTH hemisperes are at work. A healthy brain maintains communication between these two hemispheres.
How can we capitalize on that as seekers of the Muse? Think of a line that splits your body in two from your head to the floor. We call that line the midline. Any time we cross the midline, we send information, a synapse, from one hemisphere to the other. Zing Zing Zing. We’re priming the pump, getting the brain at the ready for some quality thinking.
So, when we sing a song and point our arms across the midline, not only is it a silly good time, it’s activating the foundation of our brain’s functioning. We’re creating a nest for creativity.
When I chose the name of my company “Date with the Muse,” I wanted a title that encompassed two main components: time and creativity. Some people already have a ritual to set aside the time to create. My workshops, classes, and retreats offer that time set aside, a date. What we do on these dates is help jumpstart your creativity.
1) Exercise. The author on a walk in the countryside is a cliche as old as the hills. How did it become cliche? It works. When we exercise, we give oxygen to the brain, which increases the firing of synapses and its overall functioning.
Uplevel it by swinging your arms to cross the midline. Your neighbors might talk, but you’ll be doubling your efforts.
2) Breathe. Talk about cliche, right? No, really. Deep breathing brings oxygen to our brains. For even more benefit, stand while doing it. Now, we’ve got blood flow and oxygen flooding that brain with positive creativity starters.
3) Laugh. Remember how joy and creativity overlap in the brain? Stimulating joy helps stimulate creativity too.
4) Your brain seeks novelty. Take a risk. If you’re a poet, set a twenty-minute timer and write an essay. If you’re an essayist, write a poem. See what happens.
5) Give yourself permission to flop. FLOP leads to FLOW.
6) Sign up for regular writing tips straight to your inbox, and invitations to upcoming opportunities to write.
7) Runners warm up. NFL players warm up. Why aren’t you? Give yourself a twenty-minute warm up to get in the zone. What you write in the warm up may be a FLOP. No problem, because the point of it was to lead us to FLOW.
If you try any of these activities, please be sure to let me know how they work. For some writing prompt ideas to get you into flow and more explanations of the science behind them, click here.
Want to have Annalisa speak to your group about the creative process? Let’s make it happen.
I’m glad that I read this piece because when I start to write a paper or do a big project I sometimes forget the little things that keep me healthy and keep my brain working. I often find myself putting so much of my focus into the task at hand that I get burnt out. With my final paper I will be sure to stay focused, but also give myself time to keep my body and brain active.
Hi Hailee. Thanks so much for this great feedback. It is true that it’s hard to remember that brain health is an important part of health. I am glad you found this article helpful, and happy writing.
I appreciate this article because it gave me a bit of insight on how our brain’s corroboration with creativity, and the ways of boosting brain activity you suggested seem vital. Apart from exercise(which is mandatory for me of course) I’ll try to balance the other steps with producing successful output.
I am glad you take your creativity so seriously. It is good to stay in shape–in both body and brain.
The most important thing I learned was that it is okay to FLOP before you FLOW. My first draft of this essay was a mess of mixed ideas and subjects. I didn’t think of a clear thesis at first. I learned to not stress about it and try again. Eventually after some deep breaths and reorganizing, I finally found a good thesis that was debatable and my essay began to FLOW.
Thanks for your comment, Monika. I am glad this information can be helpful in writing your essay.