By Bennett Flaum, PsyD and Mitchell Flaum, Ph.D.

 


"Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine, and at last, you create what you wish."                                                                                                                     - George Bernard Shaw

 

We all admire the creative process.

We marvel at a symphony composed by Beethoven or Mozart, artwork produced by Rembrandt or Picasso, or a novel written by Robert Ludlum or JK Rowling. Especially in today's ever-evolving technological society, we revere those who can innovate.  Yet most of us believe that creative ability resides only in the hands of a select group of fortunate, gifted individuals.

But what about the rest of us?

Learning Creativity:

  • Can regular folks learn to be more creative, or are creative geniuses born that way?
  • Where exactly does creativity stand in the "nature versus nurture" debate?
  • If indeed creativity can be cultivated and nurtured, what factors contribute to enhance or inhibit creative performance? 

Let us first define what we mean by creativity.

The word implies a sense of inventiveness, originality, the ability to see things in novel ways, and to synthesize ideas in a unique fashion. Creative individuals are able to generate new possibilities, or more than one solution to a problem. They are skilled at what is known as "divergent thinking."

Cognitive Disinhibition:

According to the latest research, creative people seem to be more adept at “cognitive disinhibition", whereby our cognitive filters are dissolved, thus allowing more internal stimuli to flow through into consciousness.

Brain wave research further suggests that this process involves the interplay of the subconscious region of the brain, known as the thalamus, relaying internal signals to the frontal cortex, which orchestrates conscious awareness and problem solving skills. Research also suggests that we can train ourselves to become more skilled at encouraging this process to take place.

Indeed, environmental factors may play a crucial role in promoting creativity. Studies have shown that children entering first grade often show a decrease in creative output after completing the first year of school. It is believed that this decrease is caused by the negative messages the students receive from teachers who insist on doing things “the right way." Thus, positive messages and a supportive environment can indeed boost creative output.

Creativity is a Skill:

Most experts on creativity would agree that it is a skill that can be improved upon and mastered with practice. In the world of business, many methods have been proposed and developed to help boost creativity. The traditional approach assumes that creativity is unstructured and doesn't follow any patterns or rules.  In this light, "brainstorming" groups are typically formed, whereby participants are encouraged to think and explore wild ideas "outside of the box", in order to come up with breakthrough solutions.

Conversely, Professor Jacob Goldenberg, co-author of Inside the Box, believes that we innately possess certain mental templates or patterns for creative problem-solving.

However, according to the author, these are most effectively elicited and utilized by limiting our focus of awareness rather than expanding it, thus imposing "closed system" constraints to boost our creativity. Finally, another concept employed by those teaching creative thinking skills is to encourage us to challenge and contradict previously held beliefs. In other words, rather than copying or imitating what others have done, you need to consider breaking the rules of the industry and then re-define them.

Creativity & Mood:

Creativity and mood also appear to be related. Research suggests that being in a positive mood state increases one's creativity. In various studies, subjects put in a positive mood scored higher on divergent thinking tasks, such as naming more uses for common objects. Thus, while it is easy to feel sad, angry or frustrated at times when struggling to find a solution to a problem, taking a "time out" might be of help.

At such times, why not engage in some fun, playful activity that can improve your mood? Later, when refreshed and rejuvenated, you will probably have greater success with your problem solving efforts.

Setting the Stage for Creativity:

Consider the following tips to help boost your creativity:

1) When problem-solving, let yourself run wild with zany ideas, and assume a non-judgmental attitude.

2) You never know when you will be visited suddenly by your "creativity muse." Always carry a pad with you to jot down inspirational ideas as they emerge.

3) When feeling stuck, take a walk, jog, dance, or skateboard. All physical activity and exercise is good for thinking as well, as it causes the release of endorphins (those happy mood chemicals) in the brain.

4) Avoid drugs that can interfere with brain function, especially those that are depressants.

5) Expand the mind by regularly taking classes in new subjects. Try activities that challenge you, and don't worry about failure. It's all good for you.

6) Connect with like-minded souls who make you feel alive. 

7) Find ways to generate laughter

8) Find uplifting and inspirational music, and let your soul soar. 

9) De-stress yourself. Go to a spa. Get a massage. Meditate. Generating those "alpha waves" in the brain when in a relaxed state appear to be a precursor to creative output.

10) Keep a dream journal. Many great ideas come to us in our sleep.

 

 "Think left and think right

  And think low and think high.

  Oh, the thinks you can think up

  If only you try."          

    -Dr. Seuss

                                                                                                                            

 

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Bennett Flaum, PsyD and Mitchell Flaum, PhD are both writers. Mitchell is also a psychologist in private practice who can be reached at: dreamguru36@aol.com

 

For more from Dr. Banschick:

The Intelligent Divorce - Taking Care of Your Children (Kindle)

The Intelligent Divorce - Taking Care of Your Children (Amazon)

The Intelligent Divorce - Taking Care of Yourself (Kindle)

The Intelligent Divorce - Taking Care of Yourself (Amazon)   

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