Your lifestyle and approach have a huge effect on your creative ability.
And time away from the problem may be the key to a breakthrough.
Be open to new things
If your thought processes are rigid and inflexible, you risk rejecting ideas too quickly.
If Galileo saw the world as his parents, teachers and spiritual leaders taught him, he would never have championed heliocentrism, moving us towards a better (not correct, better) understanding of the universe.
The same goes for most scientific breakthroughs. These academics were able to immerse themself in the problem, paying very little attention to how everyone was telling them the world works.
“One prerequisite for originality is… that a person shall not be inclined to impose his preconceptions on the fact as he sees it.
Rather, he must be able to learn something new, even if this means that the ideas and notions that are comfortable or dear… may be overturned.”
– David Bohm.
To come up with new ideas, remain open to new things and ways to look at the world.
“Never trust a man who, when left alone in a room with a tea cozy, doesn’t try it on. ” – Billy Connolly
Keep your brain healthy
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to build new connections and repair itself.
If we maintain good levels of neuroplasticity throughout life, our brains can adapt to new environments, come up with new stuff, and thrive in difficult circumstances.
Maintain plasticity by looking after your brain:
Creativity is connecting – fill your brain with good stuff
“Creative people are better at recognising relationships, making associations and connections, seeing things in an original way – seeing things that others cannot see.” – Nancy C. Andreasen
Advertising genius James Webb agrees in his brilliant book on how to come up with new ideas:
“An idea is nothing more or less than a new combination of old elements.” – James Webb
Neuroscientist Nancy C. Andreasen interviewed a bunch of highly creative people (her subjects included George Lucas and Kurt Vonnegut – how?!)
She noted, “I’ve been struck by how many of these people refer to their most creative ideas as ‘obvious.'”
Steve Jobs agrees:
“When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something.
It seemed obvious to them after a while.
– Steve Jobs
It seemed obvious because they were able to connect experiences.
Jobs went on to say that a lot of people don’t have ‘enough dots to connect’ so they end up with linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem.
How can we give ourselves more dots to connect?
Activities such as travelling (ok, staycationing), learning a new language, visiting museums, talking to a diverse range of people and/or reading fiction can help provide a deeper ‘creative well’.
“Creation comes from an overflow, so you have to learn to intake, to imbibe, to nourish yourself and not be afraid of fullness.
The fullness is like a tidal wave which then carries you, sweeps you into experience and into writing.”
– Anais Nin
Better yet, involve other people from different backgrounds in your creative process, and see whether your combined experience creates sparks.
Just as with food, you are what you eat. Writer Annie Dillard warns:
“The writer… is careful of what he reads, for that is what he will write.
He is careful of what he learns, because that is what he will know.”
– Annie Dillard
Once the work on the problem is done, allow your brain to combine thoughts on the problem so far with the archive of everything you’ve ever experienced, while you take a well-earned break.
Einstein relaxed by playing the violin. Douglas Adams took baths, an idea he stole from Archimedes.
Joan Didion took an hour before dinner, with a drink, to go over what she’d written that day. She wrote, “Also, the drink helps. It removes me from the pages.”
I’ll have what Joan’s having.
Ideas might occur to you while you shower, nap, or go for a walk.
The brain is freed up from actively working on the problem, and combines elements of it with your experiences while you take pictures of trees and squirrels.
“What you do is to take the different bits of material which you have gathered and feel them all over, as it were, with the tentacles of the mind.
You take one fact, turn it this way and that, look at it in different lights, and feel for the meaning of it. You bring the two facts together and see how they fit.
What you are seeking now is the relationship, a synthesis where everything will come together in a neat combination, like a jig-saw puzzle.”
– James Webb
So remain open, keep your brain healthy and full of good stuff, do the work, then give your brain a rest to work on the problem for you.
I’d love to hear how you come up with new ideas. Drop me a comment and let me know.