“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift.” Albert Einstein.
Have you ever had a good idea in the shower? Or perhaps you sometimes notice your best ideas come to you when you go for a walk? While we strive to focus better and get ever more done, it’s only when you stop working, and your mind starts to wander, that solutions sometimes present themselves.
Neuroscience helps explain why. Research tells us that flashes of insight, experienced as ‘A-ha’ moments, are associated with a spike of high frequency ‘gamma activity’ in our brain, that happens 300 milliseconds before the A-ha moment. It is thought this spike in electrical activity represents the binding together of neurons, as a new creative association is formed. ( This reflects the writer William Plomer’s take on creativity as “the power to connect the seemingly unconnected”). Critically, these flashes of insight tend to be preceded by ‘alpha brain waves’: A-ha moments tend to happen when your brain is in a particularly relaxed state.
How to apply this to become more creative
To have more creative insights, you need to get better at shifting your brain to Alpha state, and to do this:
- Take a break , one of the simplest easiest ways to shift brain states
- Go for a walk. When he had a problem to solve, Steve Jobs would go on these long walks near the office campus. He instinctively knew that by not thinking about a problem he could relax and let his subconscious do the work.
- Do some light exercise.
- Sleep on it. Dmitri Mendeleev had the elements arrange themselves in his sleep to form what we now know as the periodic table, and August Kekulé’s dream of dancing atoms led to our understanding of the arrangement of the benzene molecule.
- Have a shower – you know it works!
- Meditate – mindfulness and meditation directly slow your brain down and turn it into a problem solving machine.
- Distract yourself with something unrelated. Einstein used to play the violin
We forget that our creative brain thrives under different conditions than those under which we tend to work. Your brain needs idle time to process and form new associations. So have more breaks and learn to switch off. Give your brain the space it needs to shift into its naturally creative mode.
Best of luck.
3 point review:
- ‘A-ha moments’ happen when your brain shifts state – into Alpha state
- When you need a creating flash, have a break, go for a walk, meditate or do something different
- Give your brain more time and space to wander and learn how to ‘switch off’, your creativity depends on it.
For more tips, check out The Brain Book. It’s packed full of techniques to help you get more from your brain every day.