You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition.
What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.”
— Alan Alda
Sadly, while IQ, the measure of our analytical thinking skills, appears to be on the rise,
our more expansive, creative thinking skills may be on the wane as our hyper-busy world promotes more narrow, analytical thought.
The thinking at one time was that all thought gradually flowed,
and that what people thought of as insight was just an emotional flourish,
an added “oomph” at the end of the thinking process that made it feel sudden.
But how do you study insight to see if that is so?
Studying insight poses challenges. You can't just stick a person in a MRI and say, "Be insightful, be creative."
People were given what are called “remote associates problems.”
Each consists of three words, like pine/crab/sauce,
and you have to think of a fourth word that would make a compound word or familiar phrase with each one.
By the way how creative were you? I know You thought about what the answer was.
The 4th word was APPLE.
Right at the point where the problem is solved with a flash of insight,
there’s a burst of gamma wave activity in the right temporal lobe just above the ear ...
So the Predator would've seen that part of your brain go Neon when you came up with the insight. :-)
Many of Life's problems are unbounded, unconstrained:
How do I become happy?
How do I become a good person?
There are no particular ground rules, no formula to follow for that.
People often solve those problems through a flash of insight, which is a form of creativity, and why it’s desirable.
So how do you summon creativity?
Insight is like a cat.
You can’t order it to appear. You can coax it. But you can’t command it.
Creativity and insight flows from a particular brain state.
And if you can put yourself in this brain state, you will be more likely to have these creative insights.
THE ROAD MAP TO THE CREATIVE BRAIN STATE
(no passport needed)
Research of decades indicates being in a positive mood improves creativity.
When you’re in a somewhat negative mood, a little anxious, that actually improves analytical thought.
Creativity flows from a state of feeling safe or secure. When you feel safe or secure, you can take risks. And creativity is intellectually risky.
But when you feel subtle, unconscious threat, you feel you can’t make mistakes.
Tension brings tunnel-vision. A good mood literally expands the scope of your thinking.
2.) HOME ON THE RANGE
If you’re in a CRAMPED SPACE, say your office is a little cubicle, your visual attention can’t spread out.
It’s focused in this narrow space.
Just as your visual attention is constricted, your conceptual attention becomes narrow and focused, and your thinking is more likely to be analytical.
If you’re in a LARGE SPACE
– a big office, with high ceilings, or outside —
your visual attention expands to fill the space, and your conceptual attention expands.
That’s why a lot of creative figures like to be outdoors, to take long walks in nature,
and they get their inspiration from being in the wide, open spaces.
If you can see far and wide, then you can think far and wide.
3.) AVOID THE JAGGED CLIFFS
Striking objects, ones with sharp edges, pointy features, like a sofa with angular sides,
or a letter opener that looks like a dagger,
it can cause this subtle, unconscious feeling of threat. When that happens, attention narrows.
The ideal environment for being insightful would be large, airy spaces with soft, rounded features.
4.) MIND THE COLORS OF THE LANDSCAPE
The color red
— we think of it as an emergency color, associated with blood, fire engines and stop signs —
grabs the attention and narrows it.
But the outdoor colors, like the blue of the sky or the green of the trees,
has been associated with relaxation, expansion, which creates a feeling of safety,
which helps the attention expand and increases creativity.
5.) RIGHT TURN ON DEAD
When you take a break from a problem that you’re stuck on and do something completely different,
you forget the bad idea that you were fixated on.
It allows other ideas, better ideas, to bubble up to the surface.
6.) DON'T FORGET YOUR BEDROLL
One of the most powerful tools for promoting insight is sleep.
If you’re stuck, take a nap, go to bed, you’ll more thoroughly purge the bad idea you’re stuck on,
and you’ll be more attuned to clues that might solve the problems.
When you acquire memories, they’re stored in temporary, fragile form.
Like cement ...
when you pour it, initially it’s soft, but when it dries and hardens, it becomes strong and durable.
Memories are like that.
They become hardened through a process of consolidation, which happens largely during sleep.
That’s why there are so many stories of people waking up in the middle of the night with a new idea or solution to a problem.
As how Paul McCartney awoke with the melody, "Yesterday," fully formed in his head.
Sleep supercharges creativity.
7.) WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH, THE SMART DO NOTHING
As Beetle Baily keeps trying to tell Sarge: Doing nothing is creative work.
Because when you’re consciously doing nothing, the conscious part is only a tiny part of what your brain is.
The rest of it, the unconscious, is chugging away all the time.
There’s this process cognitive psychologists call “incubation”
– the brain churning over associations.
And these associations can pop into awareness as insight.
The incubation process is supercharged during sleep,
and also when doing nothing, letting your mind wander and having no particular task to perform.
*But a fine balance is necessary:
Once insight is acquired, we must run with it (do something with it!)
8.) CLEANLINESS IS NEXT TO INSIGHTFULLNESS
Take a shower. I write my dialogue in the shower, speaking it aloud.
The shower is a great place to let your mind wander, to incubate thoughts and set the stage for insight.
In the shower, the water is warm,
you don’t feel a boundary between your skin and the outside of your body.
You feel sort of expansive.
There’s white noise in the background.
What you see is kind of blurry, so you turn your thoughts inward, like sensory deprivation.
It allows your mind to wander and your attention to broaden.
That’s why people tend to have great ideas in the shower.
Unless you're in Norman Bates' Motel.