The creative gateways. That’s what I like to call them.
They’re the things you’ll often come into when people recommend ways to get creativity flowing.
The things you do before that “A-ha” moment. That flash of insight. The apple on the head.
Yes, you’ve probably heard most of these before, but does that mean you should stop reading? I hope not. I want to give you a little insight into why these things help creativity first, then I’ll tell you again what you already know.
Fork In The Road
There are two ways you can work, two ways your brain can function, two modes.
The TPN is active when you’re focussed on the outside world — you’re doing some math homework, having a conversation, crossing a busy road.
The DMN is active when you disappear into your inner world—you’re thinking about your future self, you’re reminiscing about past loves, you’re mind wandering.
You’ve probably heard some bad things about mind wandering—it’s procrastinating, a waste of time, there’s even a couple of studies that suggest it makes you unhappy.
But that’s all wrong.
Mind-wandering can help with achieving personal goals, it can help to form memories and learn material, and it can help with creativity.
Being creative requires us to think outside the box and make connections we normally wouldn’t. When we’re focused on something, we’re narrow sighted, that’s the definition right? you’re focused because you’re eliminating the outside distractions to concentrate your attention on one thing in particular.
The default mode network is a creative machine.
So to be creative is to be unfocused, to let your mind wander and make those unusual connections, which is what the DMN does.
Oh, and the only way it makes us unhappy is if we let it—just because we’re daydreaming doesn’t mean we can’t decide where to go, so go somewhere nice, use Positive Constructive Daydreaming, stay in the now and beMindful, don’t let bad memories or the obstacles you’re going to face next week intrude on your thoughts.
Open the Gate
So if the Default mode network is such a boon for creativity, how can we best engage it?
Evidence shows that, while mind-wandering is great for creativity, there’s a certain level of activity we need to engage in to perform at our best. While we shouldn’t be focusing on something, we also shouldn’t be all the way down the rabbit hole either.
In other words, we shouldn’t be concentrating on the problem that requires creativity, for the same reason we shouldn’t have our attention focused on anything else—we won’t make the unusual connections or think outside the box.
Those “a-ha” moments of insight come when we don’t expect them, so the trick is to let yourself be distracted by something else, something monotonous.
The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind. — Albert Einstein
Sounds difficult right? In the stages of creativity, this is the Incubation Phase, and it’s actually not that hard.
The times when we’re most creative are when we’re engaged in menial, easy tasks, when we can do an activity that barely requires cognitive recognition.
Welcome to the Creative Gateways.
- Take a walk: Through nature, not city streets as they’re rather stressful. Driving works too, in the countryside preferably, you’re aiming for one of those trips where at the moment you arrive, you have little recollection of the actual trip.
- Exercise: Run, do pushups, get the motor running.
- Take a shower: Perfect for after that workout. Take a long one, and sing.
- Listen to music: This is my favorite. Relax and close your eyes, let the music take you to where it wants to.
- Clean the house: Yip, it’s an activity that doesn’t require much mental muscle, and leaves your house spotless too. If you’re more of a mess maker, you could try cooking.
- Doodle: You know, those little pictures you’d make in class instead of paying attention, they’re actually good.
- Free writing: Write whatever comes to mind, it doesn’t need to be grammatically correct or free of spelling errors, just make it up as you go along.
There are plenty of others, you can come up with them yourself. They should be activities that require you to keep occupied but that don’t suck all your attention, they should put you in a state of flow.
You need to let your mind loosen its grip on the situation, let your mind simmer and stew your ideas to perfection, that’s the idea of the Creative Gateways.