Creative thinking is a tricky thing to define. Some call it a skill; one that you either have or you don’t. Some say it requires inspiration, while others say it can be cultivated and “learnt”.
When I looked at creativity as a student, Einstein was viewed as a creative scientist, Leonardo da Vinci was seen to be a creative artist and composers like Mozart had their own version of creativity.
However, the definition is still hazy around the edges. Is creative art the same as creative science or even “innovative problem-solving?” Are engineers and mathematicians creative too?
What might the difference be between the Mona Lisa and the Theory of Relativity? Would you call one more creative than the other?
Despite these differences, two common aspects of defining a creative thought are purpose and novelty.
One of the purposes I can usually find for creativity is that it allows us to problem-solve. If you feel stressed and need solutions, or you’re faced with a new change, your creativity allows you to stand up to that event or situation, and find a way through it.
Therefore, nurturing our creativity is part of nurturing our resilience.
The scientific view of creativity and creative-thinking seems to have a short-fall in the literature. However, the explanations of some movement practises and anecdotal experience can give us a peek at the neuronal systems which support this event.
For those without a neuroscience degree, essentially, our brain is a bunch of wires which connect all areas to nearly all the other areas. However, the wires are not all linked to each other directly; but via many connections (i.e. A-B-C-D connects A-D, but there may not be any no wires from A to C or A to D directly).
In practices which utilise a mixture of skills, our brains can actually create these short-cuts and join areas which previously didn’t communicate at all, or only slowly (via ten little paths). This is where the “epiphanies” or new, creative ideas stem from: new or improved communication between parts of the brain that didn’t previous chat leads to insights we hadn’t previously accessed.
Connecting the Dots
Each time you act, neurons fire along the wires in your brain, and that path gets strengthened. For example, if you were to cross a field, you may find it slow-going. You trip over the molehills while falling down the surprise ditch and weave around the dog excrement and broken glass. It takes effort and time to watch out for danger and keep in line with your destination – a tiny gap in the fence at the other end which takes you onto the pavement.
After walking the route 5 days a week, for 2 years; the grass is flattened where you walk; the molehills are squashed down and you automatically hop over the ditch without even thinking. It takes you less time and energy to get across the field than it did before.
In your brain, there are little pulses of energy which travel down wires. In between two wires; there are ditches. If they use the same route enough; the neurotransmitter is increased; creating a kind-of bridge at the ditch so you save time; not even having to jump over it. The pulses slide down the wires instead of pushing through the bracken, so the whole journey is faster and more efficient.
So, creativity can aid our resilience: our ability to ‘bounce back’ from set-backs in our lives.
Want more creativity to flow your way?
1. Do Things Together
The best way to connect your brain is to learn new things; or do things differently. Mix these up with something you find easy or is automated to draw on an already-existent connection.
So for me, brushing my teeth is an automated process. I don’t have to think about how to hold the brush or which tooth to brush next; it just happens. So, I can change the hand I hold the brush with to start changing my neurons. My balance is mediocre, so maybe I’ll stand on one leg throughout brushing my teeth too. If that’s not your thing, what about re-learning the second language you took in school? Stick up a list of Irish verbs on the wall; and read them while brushing your teeth. (I did this every day for a year… “Go n-ithe an cat thú is go n-ithe an diabhal an cat!” is a useful phrase.)
2. Mix It Up
You want to mix the areas of the brain up; using a bit from each. So we have spatial, verbal, numerate, physical movement and visualisation/planning which all have their own areas.
This is why the above example uses movement (brushing teeth), spatial or balance (where my leg is in space), and verbal (second language learning), which will likely use visualisation if you visualise the action / object vividly.
3. Short but Strong
Do these mixed-up-items often, intensely, but for short bursts. And rest a lot between them. I brush my teeth 2 – 3 times a day, for 3 – 4 minutes each time. That’s enough for a big change, and is more efficient (and less time-consuming) than spending two hours on one day each week doing it.
4. Keep Changing It Up
Once it becomes habit, switch it up! Keep that brain learning new routes! Move onto algebra equations and tap-dance or hold one arm out while brushing your teeth. Or waiting for the kettle to boil. Put 100 new Italian nouns up to learn on the wall by your bed.