Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


The Joy of Preparation: Bringing Creativity Alive

A Personal Perspective: Class preparation can spur creative thinking.

Key points

  • One question, posed 24 years ago, still reverberates in my brain.
  • Class preparation can be a joy-filled process filled with wonderment, particularly with an eye for creative thinking.
  • Thinking the new, allowing thoughts to self-liberate, and resting in awareness can enhance creativity.

About 24 years ago, a student asked to interview me for a class assignment. He posed an interesting question: “What is the most challenging part of teaching?’ I still periodically think about this question.

My response then: “Trying to make each class the best one possible in an imaginative way.” This challenge still holds true these many years, and hundreds of classes, later.

I am not the best at planning, something that my wife will readily confirm, but the process of preparing is joyful. Whether I am teaching a course for the first time or taught it a dozen times before, I wonder about the ways that I can engage students in the co-learning process.

As I prepare for classes, I lose my way into rabbit holes of curiosity. I am inefficient as I peer down a specific avenue leading to the visual cortex, learned optimism, sleep theories, or research on struggles and stress. I wonder how advances in technology will influence psychology and how our field will affect future innovation.

I am intrigued by cognition, and, as I was preparing for recent classes, I encountered two items that are reverberating through my frontal cortex.

First, I was struck by three words from Nancy Kanwisher, a Professor of Neuroscience at MIT. In a 60 Minutes interview about face blindness in 2012, Kanwisher found an unanticipated result in the brain scans of people highlighted in the story. Asked what this finding meant to her, she replied with a smile, “But see that’s the fun of science. It’s fun to be told that you’re just completely and totally wrong. Now you have to go back and think the new.”

“Think the new.” What a brilliant and simple way to summarize creativity.

The second item comes from the wisdom of Jon Kabat-Zinn, the academic known for his work in meditation and mindfulness-based stress reduction. In a Big Think video, Kabat-Zinn addressed the cognitive process. Toward the end of it, he specifically related how people are not their thoughts. Once coming to that realization, individuals can simply observe their thoughts with compassion.

Then, with a creative ear, I listened as Kabat-Zinn made a fascinating point: Most of our thoughts are rather “mundane and imprisoning,” even though thinking drives imagination and creativity.

He continued with this intriguing possibility: “Maybe we need to just create a bigger arena for our thoughts and watch how they not only self-liberate but also inform each other in some sense.”

According to him, the outcome is unique. “All of a sudden,” he said, “you see something no one in the history of humanity has seen before.” These profound insights are at the edge of how far thoughts can go, and then, in Kabat-Zinn’s words, “You rest in awareness.”

These concepts—“thinking the new,” allowing thoughts to “self-liberate,” and “resting in awareness”—aren’t easy ones to master, but can inspire us all in enhancing our innovative spirits. Now it’s time for me to do my best in “thinking the new” toward my next class.


Big Think. (2018, February 24). Your thoughts are bubbles-Jon Kabat-Zinn. [Video]. YouTube.

60 Minutes. (2012, March 19). Face blindness, part 2.

More from John McCarthy Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today