How to Be More Creative: The Neuroscience of an Inventive Mind

There’s a room full of PhDs that meet annually to look at why some people’s brains allow them to be more creative than others. At Blended Sense we interact with creative professionals every day, so we have a sense of what makes a creative “different” but also the same as a scientist or a data analyst or even your grandmother. In this article we look into cutting edge research into creativity from a neuroscience perspective, and also show you ways to be more creative, no matter what you do for a living. 

Millennials are Changing the Creative Workscape

First, let’s look at why creativity has become a hot topic again. In a recent Harvard Business Review, Millennials take center stage. Millennials are now the largest labor market (and consumer market) in the United States. 

21% of Millennial workers left their jobs last year to do something ELSE. That’s 3 times higher than non-Millennials. 

Millennials will job hop more than previous generations, and while we can’t assume the reasons, there are a few that stand out according to the research:

  • Statistics suggest that Millennials are the least engaged generation ever, but perhaps it’s because the jobs they’re normally tasked to aren’t creatively challenging. 

A Gallop poll listed that an organization’s ability to encourage creativity was one of the top reasons that Millennials look for a different job!

  • Millennials want to do jobs that align with their personal interests, core values, and goals. Many of them are swimming in student loan debt in a contracted labor market, so they seek alternative economic paradigms to serve both their financial and personal needs – including the desire to flex some originality and ingenuity.

Creativity in the Mind/Brain

The “experts” use this boilerplate definition of creativity: it’s our capacity to generate original, unusual, or novel ideas.

One of the hardest things for scientists to measure when it comes to creativity is that it involves rather complex neurological functions, and some scientists believe it cannot be prompted; however there is ample research in an adjoining field of consciousness development, that creativity can indeed be prompted, cultivated, and even called upon at will with the right tools and training. 

As neuroscientist Anna Abraham explains, had we been able to look at Mozart’s brain postmortem, we might find that the habenular nuclei were atypical, and this might account for his staggering ability to compose original music. However, it isn’t just the neuroanatomical structures of the brain that indicate higher levels of creativity. 

The whole-brain is involved in creativity. Both the left and right hemispheres connected by the corpus callosum and over 200 million nerve fibers can turn us into a creative thinking, problem solving powerhouse when we know how to trigger certain functions within that neural-network. 

For example, just ten minutes of certain types of daily meditation once called open awareness, and the other called ​​focused attention (where you focus on one object, mantra, or visual cue and ignore all others) have proven to increase creativity in the brain by inducing “divergent thinking.”

Creative visualization allows our minds to step into territories they haven’t yet explored, and when used with intention, can even help us achieve big goals and solve problems in new, novel ways. If you’ve ever doubted the power of creative visualization, consider these scientific findings: it can help heal pain, redirect the body towards a physical goal like getting nothing but net at a free throw line, or winning a 300 meter swim at the Olympics. 

Utilizing hypnosis, we can also access portions of our stored knowledge and creativity to re-frame our deeply held subconsciuus beliefs. In this practice, essentially, the brainwaves are altered from a Beta  state, our normal, waking state of consciousness which is very analytical and not super creative, to an alpha or theta state (4 to 12 Hz) where our subconscious mind can be reconditioned at will. 

Breathing practices developed like pioneers like Wim Hof,  spoken of in ancient yogic texts, and even used by Navy Seals, help to alter chemical and physiological states in the brain and body to induce more calm and creativity.

Many top-performing athletes, artists, musicians, and other creatives use these types of technique to help transcend mundane thought and enter the creative headspace. 

Developing FLOW

Creativity thrives in a state of flow. This term was coined most recently by positive psychology researcher, Csíkszentmihályi Mihály, who looked at the experiences of a whole bunch of creative people, including artists, painters, musicians, and dancers, and found that they all experienced a loss of time, a feeling of ecstasy that was induced, not by drugs or any external triggers, but by a person’s participation in a project with the perfect mix of challenge, novelty, and acquired skill. 

When people enter this state, “work just flows out.” It doesn't take any seeming effort. As many creatives describe it “flow,” it is the merging of Self and the Work so that there is no distance or difference between the two. 

As a BBC article suggests, “Flow is associated with subjective well-being, satisfaction with life and general happiness. At work, it’s linked to productivity, motivation and company loyalty.”

Seeking More Visionaries and Creatives?

Companies that want to attract and retain Millennials will have to provide space for creative flow. There are millions of gifted, ingenious, and original creatives willing to work under the auspices of sharing their vision.

How You Can Create More Flow

Meditate using an open awareness or focused attention technique.

If you practice meditation just 10 minutes a day you can experience amazing results, but 25 is even better, and the effects are cumulative. Open awareness is when you just observe whatever thoughts arise in your mind without getting too attached to any of them. Just observe your thoughts like clouds passing through the sky. Focused attention is a form of meditation where you focus on a single mantra, a candle flame, or an external visual cue and keep bringing you rmind back to that thing when it tries to stray to other things like your to-do list, past grievances, future worries, etc.

Practice creative visualization.

Sit in a comfortable place without distraction. Close your eyes and take a few centering breaths. Use your imagination to conjure, in as much detail as possible, the solution to a problem or a final goal. You don’t have to know how it will happen, just visualize the final result. What does it feel like? Who is there with you? What conversations do you have about it? What environment are you in? What smells, sounds, tastes do you experience. Imagine without force for ten minutes, then take a deep breath and release the image. When you practice creative visualization, the subconscious mind gets busty thinking of novel new ways to make the final result happen in the real world.

Try self-hypnosis.

There are thousands of self-hypnosis sessions on YouTube, or get creative and develop your own to address specific goals or creative problems you want to tackle. Here’s one for developing more creativity while you sleep. Yoga nidra is essentially the same practice. You can also try some of the many yoga nidra sessions online. 

Practice Wim Hof’s breathing method.

Find a comfortable seated posture or lay down. Close your eyes and begin to focus on your natural breath.  Inhale deeply through the nose or mouth, and exhale without forcing the breath, through the mouth. Fully inhale through allowing your belly to expand, then the chest. Release the exhale without force. Repeat this cycle of breath 30 to 40 times in short, powerful bursts. You may experience light-headedness, and tingling sensations in your fingers and feet. These side effects are completely normal and harmless. After 30 to 40 cycles, inhale one large breath filling up the lungs as much as possible. Exhale and HOLD without inhaling any more air until you feel a deep urge to breathe in again. Breathe in as much air as you can and hold for 15 seconds or so. Repeat this last cycle 3 to 4 times and then lay still and just observe any sensations that arise in the body. You may find that stored stress rises to the surface when practicing this breath. Just let your emotions arise and release them. 

Take a walk.

Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple was notorious for his walking meetings. He knew that our minds are more creative when we walk. A Stanford study proves that walking increases creativity, too. The next time you need a creative spark, just go for a brief stroll. 

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