The Neuroscience of Creativity
By: Dr. Yashar Khosroshahi, ND
CREATIVITY, in brain-science speak, is “non-linear” thinking. This means there is no pre-existing or easy answer to what you are trying to solve or create. You are attempting to give rise to an idea for which, as far as your brain knows, no road-map or answer yet exists. Once you are able to reach an insight, a new mental map is born. In other words, when you create what comes into being is a new understanding and a different perspective.
Self-directed and self-achieved insights make the brain come alive. When the brain achieves insight, high-frequency oscillations occur. This is the only frequency found in all regions of the brain. This means the brain is simultaneously processing information across different regions. The brain is now creating new mental maps linking many regions of the brain together. This is where the MINDSHIFT happens!
Here are four factors that are well within your control to increase your chances of becoming a more creative MINDSHIFT Ninja.
“The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.” Albert Einstein
- “Shhh….I’m thinking!” Sound familiar? The element of quiet often helps the brain detect “weaker” or ”quieter” neural connections. These less prominent connections are often distant memories or ideas that are buried within the subconscious space. They can often be ideas that once seemed to have nothing to do with one another. Creativity is essentially the brain’s ability to combine these thoughts, ideas, and/or memories in new ways. Once these distant ideas are combined, you then notice the blossom of a new thought, “AHA!”. This feeling is what lets you know you are making headway.
Q: When was the last time you gave yourself a few minutes of complete distraction-free downtime? What do you think your brain could come up with if you gave yourself some quiet time?
“There is a voice that doesn’t use words. Listen.” Rumi
- It has been shown in various research studies that the brain’s visual and auditory cortex “shut out” the external world just before an insight is generated. This helps the brain stay “within itself” and continue internal exploration. This ability to bring awareness to your internal experience and observe your own thinking is very beneficial to consistently producing insights. When you give yourself the opportunity to travel through your thoughts in this way, and not concern yourself with the external world, interesting things can happen.
Try this: One way to facilitate looking inward is to clear space for it. Before you start your day (or a particular task) grab some paper and empty out your mind. Write it all down, acknowledge everything you are thinking – whatever is on your mind – and get it out, and put it aside. When you are done, throw the paper(s) out. Clear the space for new insights.
“Happiness is a conscious choice, not an automatic response.” Mildred Barthel
- The ability to remain slightly happy is crucial for keeping your creative options open. Being positive and solution-focused increases your ability to create; as opposed to being worried, anxious, or depressed. This is not to say you need to be “swinging from the chandelier” in excitement. In fact, being in a highly ecstatic state has been shown to distort the brain’s ability to solve challenges and to accurately take in all the details required to evaluate the situation at hand. The goal is to train yourself to stay in a happy and grounded state. Try exercising your mind and body to remain in this state by incorporating yoga, meditation, physical activity, artwork, and/or music in your daily rituals.
Q: Which activity helps you stay in a grounded and solution-focused frame-of-mind?
“Wei-wu-wei, the action of nonaction.” Central principle in the Chinese philosophy of Daoism.
- It may be much more useful to stop yourself from continuously trying to think of a solution, than to repeat the same reel of thought. This is especially true when your brain is at an impasse, and you cannot resolve a challenging thought. If you are not careful, you will end up repeating the dead-end thought and limiting your insight possibilities. By repeating the same limiting thoughts your brain strengthens its focus on a broken solution. Inevitably reducing any room for the change of perspective to bubble up. Trying not to think of a solution seems very counter-intuitive. However, how many times have you thought of a great idea or solution when you are slightly distracted with a low skill (somewhat repetitive act) like: driving, showering, going for a walk, or falling asleep. A slight distraction from the task at hand can help your brain widen its perspective again. Believe it or not, your brain will still be working on the impasse, or challenge, even when you are not consciously aware of it. It wants to close the “loop of thought”, so to speak. So sit back and let your brain do its job!
Q: What are some things you can do to help your brain re-focus when you are at an impasse, and yet not think about the problem at hand?
Trying to work through something? New project you want to flesh out? Simply want to live more creatively? Try and create the time and space in your day with all four of these elements in mind, and see what happens.
Creativity, like any other mental skill, takes time to develop. Even then it might not ‘happen’ when you need it to. However, the more time you spend working with these elements, the better your chances are of consistently creating opportunities for insight to occur. Now that’s doing better by thinking better.
Want more science?
If you are interested in diving deeper into the science of change and creativity, we suggest reading The Challenge of Change: How Neuroscience Can Help.
Want more on creativity?
The Magic of Big Magic