Updated: Sep 20
Two techniques to boost creativity and/or help with problem-solving
You know how you always get your best ideas or clarity when you’re in the shower doing dishes, driving a car, etc.? Well, there’s some science behind that. And I’ve been using it to my advantage as a way to help boost creativity when I’m feeling stuck, and get things done that, well, need to get done.
A little about the science: I’m ignoring things related to right and left brain because we don’t all use the same side of our brains for the same things - that’s dependent on all sorts of things like whether we’re left or right handed, etc.
There are two theories I’m working with here: using our Default Network Mode and the big three - distraction, dopamine, and relaxation.
Default Network Mode
Default network mode is the idea that by letting our minds wander as we do tasks that are routine - those things we do on autopilot - the other parts of our brain are able to do that wandering in a more relaxed state, allowing things to flow more easily. Essentially, the focus has been taken off of the problem itself which allows our brains to better explore.
“It’s the spontaneous form, in particular, that allows you to combine information and ideas in new ways. “When your mind drifts away from a situation into an internal reverie, that’s where you can have creative insights,” Schooler says. “In this pleasurable state, you’re allowing thoughts to playfully cross your mind.” Keep in mind, he adds, “sometimes you have to do the work to create a problem space—that sets the groundwork for spontaneous ideas to emerge.”
This is often referred to as "the incubation effect," which occurs when you spend time away from a particular problem or challenge and your mind has the chance to wander and generate novel ideas through unconscious associative processes.
To discover when people get their most innovative ideas, Schooler and his colleagues asked professional writers and physicists to keep a diary for two weeks, in which they reported their most creative idea of the day, what they were doing when it occurred, and whether it felt like an “aha” moment. Approximately 20 percent of their most significant ideas occurred while they were engaging in an activity other than working or while they were thinking about something unrelated to the creative idea, according to the study published in a 2019 issue of the journal Psychological Science. More significantly, ideas sparked during mind-wandering moments were more likely to be associated with overcoming an impasse on a vexing problem and to be viewed as “aha” moments.”
This whole article is really informative and it took everything in me not to include more information - definitely worth checking out if this is your thing.
The Big Three
The other is based on my favorite - neurology.
Real quick: Brain scans found that creative improvisation (free-style rap) increased activity in the medial prefrontal cortex (emotional regulation, sociability, etc.) and decreased in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (executive functioning), believing the brain was allowing for a relaxation of certain functions in order to stimulate creativity. Pretty effing cool.
The first important component is distraction. One reason improvisation was chosen for this study was to demonstrate the brain’s functioning when distracted with non-routine tasks. They found this was a necessary component for the brain to “make the switch”.
The second thing found was that dopamine increases creativity which increases dopamine - and the loop continues. So we need to be distracted by something that gives us dopamine.
Last, the most important is relaxation. This again refers to the “incubation period” where we’ve been thinking about whatever we’re trying to solve for so long, and then by getting into a relaxed state of mind - like in the shower - connections we weren’t able to consciously make with our analytic brain start to flow.
“Why is a relaxed state of mind so important for creative insights? When our minds are at ease–when those alpha waves are rippling through the brain–we’re more likely to direct the spotlight of attention inward, toward that stream of remote associations emanating from the right hemisphere. In contrast, when we are diligently focused, our attention tends to be directed outward, toward the details of the problems we’re trying to solve. While this pattern of attention is necessary when solving problems analytically, it actually prevents us from detecting the connections that lead to insights. ‘That’s why so many insights happen during warm showers,’ Bhattacharya says. ‘For many people, it’s the most relaxing part of the day.’ It’s not until we’re being massaged by warm water, unable to check our e-mail, that we’re finally able to hear the quiet voices in the backs of our heads telling us about the insight. The answers have been their all along–we just weren’t listening.”
THAT TYPO IS FROM THEM AND I CANNOT HANDLE IT.
Okay, I think I'm over it.
Anyway, this one is also worth checking out and has some nice graphics, as well.
I looked this info up for myself as a reminder because I continue to struggle with hyper-focus and stepping away even though I know - rationally - it’s necessary and as always, I figured if it’s helpful for me, it’s hopefully helpful for someone else.
A couple more articles I used: