In Search of Creativity

Do you need a change in your life? Do you wish to try something new, but wonder what that “new thing” should be? Or are you just bored with the way things are?

Researchers at Dartmouth’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences were curious to discover “what makes humans able to create art, invent tools, think scientifically and perform other incredibly diverse behaviors?” Their findings were published in late 2013 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

They found that creativity and imagination are not just “right brained” activities. Eleven different areas from all four hemispheres of the brain are involved in the creation of new ideas and problem-solving.

Surprisingly, these same areas are also involved in two of our most common activities: sleeping and exercise.

Sleeping? Or problem solving?

Have you heard the problem-solving phrase, “Let’s sleep on it?” The creative parts of our brain are fully engaged during several states of sleep. The same creativity that brings you vivid dreams can also help you during waking hours. Bring an issue or problem into your consciousness right before sleep—then sleep on it! Don’t be surprised if you have a new, more creative, way of looking at things or even an outright answer to your problem in the morning.

Aerobic exercise or other physically engaging activities such as biking, swimming, walking, rowing or jogging also activate the creative portions of your brain. When Albert Einstein was asked about the source of his theory of relativity he replied, “I thought of it while riding my bicycle.”

It is well known in the literary world that some of our most creative writers had a variety of physical pastimes. Louisa May Alcott ran everywhere both as a girl and as an adult. Henry Miller said his best work was done “away from the typewriter.” Ralph Waldo Emerson said of Thoreau: “The length of his walk uniformly made the length of his writing. If shut up in the house, he did not write at all.”

My recommendation for ending the creative doldrums? Take a nap, or get physically busy! Now that we know we can set the scene for a creative breakthrough, there’s no reason to be stuck in a life without joy or creativity. Whether it be creative problem-solving or looking for new direction or inspiration we can set ourselves up for success. Worrying about the solution isn’t the key. Trying to force your brain to be creative may just give you the equivalent of “writer’s block.”

Instead, take your issues and opportunities for a long walk or to the gym. Swim them into a new place of creativity. Or just “sleep on it” and find a fresh outlook in the morning.

Do these techniques always work? Perhaps not in every case. But you don’t have anything to lose and they do work for many, many people. The worst that can happen? You’ll be in better physical shape and caught up on your sleep.

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