Nourishing the Creative Brain

Although few neuroscience studies have targeted creativity itself, new research on learning and memory is shedding light on how the creative process is developed in the brain. This brain tip will look at some new answers to old questions on creativity.Is a creative person born with the gift or can it be taught?

Nancy Andreasen, author of The Creating Brain, says that children are born with wiring that could lead to something that is special and unique. And they may have an urge to create something as they mature. However, although creativity requires that we let go of what we know, we still have to have the knowledge in the first place.

Seeds of creativity need to be nurtured with training and practice. Creativity requires the building of strong synaptic connections, which occurs when we learn.

Then, when the creator puts aside this knowledge and looks out with a “creative eye,” (working from emotions instead of thoughts and feeling the birth of something new), the association cortices in the brain run wild. Knowledge coexists with creativity; something wonderful can emerge from this deep process.

Janet Eilber, the artistic director of the Martha Graham Center for Contemporary Dance says, “You must have the knowledge, then forget it.” Eilber says that we must spend as much time not thinking as we do learning. The balance is essential.

So the next time you think you are not creative, consider how much training you have had on the subject. Then take a class or two before you shut off the possibility.

What makes creativity flourish?

And, creative thinkers need competitors, mentors and coaches that push them to their limits, to encourage the release needed to think and perceive in new ways.

Creative people need to both be allowed to take risks and pushed to take risks. First, they need to be in an environment that encourages trying new things without worrying about failure. Failure is part of the process of learning.

Therefore, a little anxiety is good, coupled with the hopes and dreams of possibility. Always let someone try something new before you find fault with their ideas.

Also, creative people tend to draw on a reservoir of emotions. In a society that frowns on emotional expression, the boundaries we set to teach suppression actually teach the brain to resist creativity. It is better to learn how to identify and use emotions productively and creatively than to suppress them. If you want to know more about this, check out my book, Outsmart Your Brain, or email me for more information.

What stifles creativity?

In a world where creativity is vital to our economic success and personal happiness, it is a travesty that creativity is killed on a regular basis. From our schools to our corporations, the time pressures, schedules and even the pressure to come up with novel ideas work against what the brain needs to release creative expression.

  • We need time to stop thinking.
  • We need to play, physically and mentally, activating new associations and connections in the brain.
  • We need to make social interactions more important since these also stretch the brain in new ways.
  • We need to try new things as well as continue our learning on what we already know. The brain needs to be exercised regularly.

In short, it is time we consider putting creativity into the design of our environments and our lives, giving it the time, space and attention needed to flourish.
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