Creativity? Train Your Brain to be an Idea-Generating machine

A guest post by Cheryl Craigie of  The Manageable Life

It seemed so easy at first, didn’t it?

Your blog posts came fast and furious. You were excited and inspired. The words came easily.

Then one day you went to your creative well and it was dry—not damp, mind you, but Sahara Desert dry.

As a survivor of the “dry well syndrome,” I can tell you that that this happens to all of us at some point. But it’s not you, it’s your brain.

First, the bad news:  Evolution is working against you.

Your brain evolved to be an efficient machine—it looks for easy, familiar answers based on past experience.  This works well most of the time, but because of that very success it is hard for the brain to break out of old thinking patterns and generate new ideas on command.

So sitting at your desk and commanding your brain to fill the well without doing anything to prime the pump is probably not the best strategy.

Now the good news:  The brain can learn new ways of thinking and create new neural connections.

Neuroscientists used to believe that your brain was fully formed by early adulthood and nothing you did could change it. But that conventional wisdom has been overturned in recent years.

Studies show that the brain is actually “neuroplastic,” which simply means that it is continually shaped and molded by experience–even well into old age. So you can improve your brain’s ability to think creatively by simply providing the proper stimulation.

4 ways to keep those ideas flowing

1. Use your brain’s reticular activating system (RAS)

The RAS is the part of the brain that acts as a filtering system, regulating what information reaches your conscious perception. You probably experienced it when you bought a new car and then suddenly noticed all the other cars like yours on the road. You never saw them before because they simply weren’t on your radar screen.

Deploy your RAS when you have a vague idea of a blog topic, but don’t know how to develop it.  Making a mental suggestion, like “ways to achieve happiness” is enough to get your RAS working. Then, while you are going about the rest of your day, your RAS is on the job.

It constantly scans your environment ready to bring to your attention interesting twists on material you’ve read, experiences you’ve had, and memories you’ve forgotten.  All of this happens without you having to pay conscious attention.

Remember to write the good stuff down when the RAS brings it to your attention.

Some may call the ideas that surface serendipity, coincidence or synchronicity, but most likely it’s just your RAS doing its job.

2. Think in high definition video

Because the brain seeks efficiency first, it provides only the minimum information needed to perform the task at hand.  When asked to imagine a beach scene, the brain will conjure up an image that looks like a postcard.

The key to improving your creativity and problem-solving ability, however, is training your brain to engage its full perceptual range. You need to be thinking in high definition video, evoking the sights, sounds, smells and emotions associated with a beach experience.

Visualizing in high def allows you to fully enter the scene and search for new information.

3. Embrace new experiences and learning opportunities

Going about your normal routine does nothing to shake the brain loose from it evolutionary limitations.

Challenge your brain so it can build new neural connections.

Provide it with new experiences and learning opportunities–it’s also a much more interesting way to live.

For example, the initial frustration that occurs when undertaking a new sport, along with the unbearably slow pace of improvement can be used in a post about the emotions you’ll face and patience you’ll need to make changes in your life.

You can also expand your brain power by doing simply exercises that force your brain to search for new insight.

Building Connections Exercise:  Pick three random words—if you can’t think of any, just open a magazine or book, close your eyes, and point—then imagine (in high def video, of course) how you could turn them into a blog post.

4. Use creative visualization

Athletes use creative visualization all the time. They visualize in meticulous, high def detail how they will prepare for, start and win the race. They do this not because it’s a fun exercise, but because it works.

The same areas of your brain light up whether you are actually doing the work or just thinking about it.

So go ahead.

Imagine yourself encountering a dry spell.

See yourself employing some of the techniques discussed. Your brain is learning what success looks like and it will work hard to create the right connections so you can succeed.

Becoming an idea-generating machine is well within your reach. All it takes is some trust in the process and a little practice priming the pump.

Then get out of the way and let those ideas flow.

Have you used any of these techniques or do you have other suggestions about how to move past creative blocks?

If so, please share so we can learn from your experience–and grow some new neural connections, too!

Cheryl Craigie is a former broadcaster and foundation executive turned blogger who is fascinated with the power of the brain. She shares her insights about how to choose a better, more satisfying life at The Manageable Life.

About the author

Cheryl Craigie

Cheryl Craigie blogs at The Manageable Life. Please check it out if you're interested in making changes in your life.

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