How to be more creative today [Neuroscience Hack]

How can you be more creative today?

Today, I’m giving you a simple neuroscience hack that you can apply to refresh yourself across your entire life. It’s also the key to being more creative in your personal life, your business life and throughout your career. Best of all, you can apply it today, right now.

The Best Ways to Be More Creative

It revolves around the basic question, what’s the best way to be more creative and generate better ideas? Is it in the shower? Is it taking long walks? Or is it sitting at your desk?

Shower Thoughts

A lot of people report they get their best ideas in the shower. But is that real? Or is it just an old wife’s tale? What’s your experience? Are you into shower thoughts? Do you get your best ideas in the shower?

Taking a Long Walk

I love Mason Currey’s book Daily Rituals – How Artists Work. He shares over 150 examples of the work habits of famous authors, artists, and great thinkers. Here’s a review of Currey’s book.

Many of the people in this book take long walks. And this is one of my favourite things. I walk for one to two hours almost every single day. But does this help you become more creative?

Sitting at a Desk

Most of us spend most of our working lives sitting at a desk. But is that a great place to be creative?

The Neuroscience of Creativity

Neuroscience - Scary faces and Cute Kittens
Scary face by BP Miller – https://unsplash.com/@bp_miller • Cute kitten by Tran Mau Tri Tam – https://unsplash.com/@tranmautritam

Neuroscience is the study of how our brains work and our nervous system.

Until recently, a lot of neuroscience had been focused on tasks. For example, you show a scary picture or a cute cat. And you notice which parts of the brain light up.

The prevailing thinking was that the brain was like a car, when you turned the key, the engine started. And when you turned it off, the brain went into quiet mode.

It turns out this is not quite accurate. When the brain stops working on a specific task, the parts of the brain devoted to that task do stop working. However, the brain doesn’t – other parts of the brain then kick into action.

Brain Noise

TV static or noiseOriginally, when researchers first noticed this, they dismissed it, they thought it was just noise. They thought it was like the static between the radio channels or the TV stations.

Scientists had looked at this noise and they looked at the level of energy it took to do task-focused work versus this background noise. And they noticed there was only about a 5% difference.

In other words, the brain used almost as much energy when it was at rest as compared to when it was doing a task. What was going on? What was the brain doing when it wasn’t working on a task?

The Two Types of Brain Function

The answer was that there were two types of brain function, the Uptime brain, and the Downtime brain.

The Uptime brain kicks in when we’re doing task-focused work, like writing an email or editing a video. This requires dedicated attention.

The Downtime brain is non-task focused. It’s for when we’re sleeping, daydreaming, wandering, doing the dishes, activities that don’t take a lot of mental concentration.

The Downtime brain or the Default Mode Network, is constantly creating a narrative or a story about the world in which we’re operating and our place in it. It’s scanning the bushes to see if there are any sabre-toothed Tigers that we need to be aware of. And it’s checking your boss or your partner to see whether they’re in a good mood or not.

Based on this scanning of our environment, the Downtime brain is connecting the dots between what’s happening and what’s the best way for us to move forward.

What causes Shower Thoughts?

Shower ThoughtsThere is a theory about shower thoughts that it’s all about the positive ions. When the water comes down, bounces off your head, bounces off your body, it releases a positive ion that makes you feel better. Does that contribute to better ideas?

That could have an effect. However, I think the Uptime Downtime brain is a simpler and more powerful explanation. It’s the change of task and thinking mode that makes the difference.

The only downside here is how long do you have to stay under the shower before your best ideas kick in.

When I take Long Walks

Long WalksI love my long walks. Sometimes I listen to podcasts, sometimes I’m making phone calls. Sometimes I’m listening to music, but not very often. But mostly I walk in silence. So not all walks are created equal.

And while podcasts and phone calls can certainly trigger ideas, I think my better ideas come up when I’m in silence – when I’ve been thinking about things for a while, and the idea just pops.

I think there are a few things going on here. But the first one and the obvious one we’re talking about here is that my brain is shifting from Uptime to Downtime. Whilst I might be walking to the coffee shop, which is a specific place, I’m also walking for long enough, but I’m wandering. I’m wandering, and then I’m wondering.

And the second thing is, I’m out in nature, and I’m moving my body, and that’s got to help as well.

The Culture of Creativity

Sleeping - Creative CulturesWhen Japan became an important business player in the 1970s, there were lots of stories about the culture shock that US executives faced when they travelled there.

One story was of a US executive being given a tour of a Tokyo office when he came across a man asleep at his desk. The US executive immediately said, ‘This man is sleeping, he must be fired’. And his Japanese counterpart replied, ‘He is not sleeping. He is dreaming of our next billion-dollar idea’.

In the Western world, we favour the Uptime brain. We favour productivity over contemplation. But this not only limits your creativity, but it also impacts your mental health. Have you got this balance, right?

The Best Place to Be Creative

Where’s the best place to be creative and have great ideas? Is it in the shower? Is it taking long walks? Or is it sitting at your desk?

To be creative today, it’s not really about the place. It’s really about the activity.

To be more creative today, you don’t need to do anything. In fact, you probably need to do less.

When you need to sort through an issue and find a creative solution, whether it’s a personal issue, a health issue, a relationship issue, a business issue, or a career opportunity, stop doing the task-based activity.

Take a break, tune in to your Downtime brain, switch off, change your activity and come back to it later. You’ll not only be more relaxed, but you’ll also be more likely to come up with the answer you’re looking for.

Steve Jobs Social Media and Creativity

Social media time is not Downtime. Your brain sees social media as more task-related activity. It engages your Uptime brain.

If you’re using social media time as break time, then it’s not working for you at a brain level. If you want to refresh your brain, then I suggest you choose a different activity. At the least, put down your digital devices. Even better, go and do something.

More on How to Be Creative Today

Want to be even more creative today? Read these three related posts to dig a little deeper into creativity.

Plus, I originally discovered this neuroscience hack from reading The Chaos Imperative by Ori Brafman and Judah Pollack. And I wrote a short summary here.

What do you do to be at your creative best? Is it a place you go to, or an activity you do?

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