Ten Habits of Highly Creative People

Written by on February 16, 2016 in Conscious Living, Thrive with 0 Comments
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finding your passion

By Scott Barry Kaufman, Carolyn Gregoire | Greater Good

What exactly is creativity? So many of us assume that creativity is something we had as a child but we lost, or something allocated to rarified individuals that we can only admire from afar.

But science has shown that, in many ways, we are all wired to create. The key is recognizing that creativity is multifaceted—on the level of the brain, personality, and the creative process—and can be displayed in many different ways, from the deeply personal experience of uncovering a new idea or experience to expressing ourselves through words, photos, fashion, and other everyday creations, to the work of renowned artists that transcends the ages.


Related Article: How to Get Into “The Zone” for More Creativity & Flow

Neuroscientists who study creativity have found that creativity does not involve a single brain region or even a single side of the brain, as the “right brain” myth of creativity suggests; instead, it draws on the whole brain. This complex process consists of many interacting cognitive systems (both conscious and unconscious) and emotions, with different brain regions recruited to handle each task and to work together as a team to get the job done.

The discovery of the “default network” of the brain—the part of the brain at work when we are not purposefully engaged in other tasks—is one of the most important recent discoveries in neuroscience. The default network enables us to construct personal meaning from our experiences, imagine other perspectives and scenarios, comprehend stories, and reflect on mental and emotional states—both our own and those of others.  It should come as no surprise then that the activity of this network—as we like to call it, the “imagination network”—also informs our most creative ideas.

The “executive attention” network of the brain is also crucial to creativity, however. Executive control processes support creative thinking by helping us deliberately plan future actions, remember to use various creative tactics, keep track of which strategies we’ve already tried, and reject the most obvious ideas. They also help us focus our imagination, blocking out external distractions and allowing us to tune into our inner experiences.

When we generate new ideas, these networks—along with the salience network, which is responsible for motivation—engage in a complex dance. Researchers have observed this cognitive tango in action through the brain scans of people engaged in their personal creative processes. Initially, their brain states resemble a state of flow or complete absorption in the task. The imagination and salience networks are highly active, while the more focused executive domain is relatively quiet. However, as creative people further hone and refine their work, the executive attention network becomes increasingly more active.

Creative people are particularly good at exercising flexibility in activating and deactivating these brain networks that in most people tend to be at odds with each other. In doing so, they’re able to juggle seemingly contradictory modes of thought—cognitive and emotional, deliberate and spontaneous. Even on a neurological level, creativity is messy.


So, what can we do to augment this cognitive flexibility? In our book, Wired to Create, we explore how to develop creativity as a habit, a way of life, and a style of engaging with the world. We present many paradoxes—mindfulness and mind wandering, openness and sensitivity, solitude and collaboration, play and seriousness, and intuition and reason—that contribute to the creative process. We encourage people to embrace their paradoxes and complexities and open up to a deeper level of self-understanding and self-expression. It is precisely this ability to hold the self in all of its dimensional beauty that is the very core of creative achievement and creative fulfillment.

Here are the some of the habits of mind we recommend to foster more creativity in your life.

1. Imaginative play

Observing children in imaginative play reveals a wellspring of natural-born creativity. When engaged in pretend play, children take on multiple perspectives and playfully manipulate emotions and ideas.

As adults, cultivating a childlike sense of play can revolutionize the way we work.

Research shows that hybrid forms of work and play may actually provide the most optimal context for learning and creativity, for both children and adults, and that play and intrinsic joy are intimately connected, creating a synergy that naturally leads to greater inspiration, effort, and creative growth.

Related Article: Adult Playtime Makes Your Brain Better

2. Passion

Passion often stems from an experience or a relationship that moved us somehow and can lead to inspiration. It is often the emotional fuel that starts one down a creative path, but it’s only a start. People who fulfill their creative dreams over the long haul balance the excitement about the future with realistic strategies for getting closer to their goals; inspiration with hard work; and dreaming with doing.

When someone advises you to “Follow your passion,” use caution: aside from being one of the most common clichés out there, it’s not very helpful advice. You must look for passion that is in harmony with your authentic self and is compatible with your other activities. Passion to prove yourself to others will probably not result in creativity, as it relies on your avoiding challenges that would otherwise lead to growth. So, while you should be open to what inspires you, don’t follow passion blindly. Make sure it truly resonates with you and your skills.

3. Daydreaming

Creative people know, despite what their parents and teachers might have told them, that daydreaming is anything but a waste of time. A review of the latest science of daydreaming has shown that mind wandering offers very personal rewards, including creative incubation, self-awareness, future planning, reflection on the meaning of one’s experiences, and even compassion.

Idle though it may seem, the act of mind wandering is often anything but mindless; it can lead to improvements in creative thinking. So, the next time you’re working hard on a creative project or work assignment that requires intense focus and creative chops, try taking a five-minute daydreaming break every hour. Try engaging in a simple activity that will allow your mind to wander, like walking, doodling, or cleaning, and see how it affects your ideas and thinking.

4. Solitude

The metaphorical “room of one’s own” is a basic need for many creative people. Now, science has reinforced what the work habits of countless artists have demonstrated: Time for solitary reflection truly feeds the creative mind.

Neuroscientists have discovered that solitary, inwardly focused reflection employs a different brain network than outwardly focused attention. When our mental focus is directed towards the outside world, the executive attention network is activated, while the imagination network is typically suppressed. This is why our best ideas don’t tend to arise when our attention is fully engaged on the outside world.

It’s important to make time for solitude, to give yourself space to reflect, make new connections, and find meaning. Unfortunately, solitude is widely undervalued in society, leading many people to shy away from alone time. We tend to view time spent alone as time wasted or as an indication of an antisocial or melancholy personality. But the ability to enjoy and make productive use of our own company can trigger creativity by helping us tap into our thoughts and our own inner worlds. So, don’t avoid it…embrace it!

5. Intuition

Intuition arises from unconscious, or spontaneous, information-processing systems, and it plays an important role in how we think, reason, create, and behave socially. Over the past thirty years, cognitive scientists have made huge strides in demystifying the power of the unconscious mind, leading to the recognition of a dual-process theory of human cognition—or the “fast and slow brain” theory. Intuition is part of the fast brain system.

Related Article: Tips and Guidance on Living Your Passion and the Most Direct Path to Your Intuition from the Author of ‘The Celestine Prophecy’

The fast brain is structurally more sophisticated than the slow brain. It helps us assimilate new information into our existing knowledge structures, and aids us in complex pattern recognition and in making unconventional connections that lead to more original ideas and solutions. The fast brain plays the largest role when generating creative ideas, while the more deliberate slow brain play a larger role when exploring those ideas and playing around with them, to determine their uses and applications. Both the fast brain and slow brain have a role to play.

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