This question originally appeared on Quora, the knowledge-sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.
Answer by Paul King, director of data science at Quora, computational neuroscientist:
Children have a more active imagination than adults, and young adults are less constrained by their own prior patterns of thought.
As people become “good at life,” they develop habits of thought that serve them well. These habits are thought styles that “work” (get results, impress people, carry us through difficult situations). As we accumulate “thought techniques,” three things happen.
First, we become more effective and able to “effortlessly” (mindlessly?) navigate tricky waters.
Second, we adapt to social norms and accepted ways of thinking, making us more effective with people and society.
Third, we become a prisoner of our own success. Sticking with what works makes us both more successful and less creative. Why be random when you can be right? Unfortunately what works is what worked in the past and misses the enigmatic paths that lead to unexpected surprises.
People who are in creative professions develop personal systems to stay creative. They develop predictable habits that take them into unpredictable territory. This is a lifestyle choice to stay in the uncomfortable territory of the unknown. They may seek out people outside their profession, read random things, or force themselves to brainstorm whimsically. This systemization of creativity doesn’t have the bizarre arc of childhood imagination, but does combine life experience with creativity in a way that can be more impactful (and higher paying) in modern society.
Why are younger people more creative? originally appeared on Quora.
1. "Keeping in step with lifehacks for creativity...." In response to Reply # 0
MIND The Inspiration Paradox: Your Best Creative Time Is Not When You Think
Morning people have more insights in the evening. Night owls have their breakthroughs in the morning
By Cindi May on March 6, 2012
A bus company in China has launched a new “safe driving” campaign by suspending bowls of water over their drivers. To avoid getting wet, drivers must drive gently. In today’s technology-obsessed world, this solution is elegantly primitive. You might imagine that this simple yet ingenious idea was conjured by someone functioning at their very best, that such “aha insights” come when innovators are at their peak.
Not so. A recent study by Mareike Wieth and Rose Zacks suggests that innovation and creativity are greatest when we are not at our best, at least with respect to our circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms determine whether you are a “morning-type” person or an “evening-type” person, and are often measured with a short paper-and-pencil test called the Morningness-Eveningness Questionnaire. Circadian rhythms drive daily fluctuations in many physiological processes like alertness, heart rate and body temperature. Recent research indicates that these rhythms affect our intellectual functioning too.
Numerous studies have demonstrated that our best performance on challenging, attention-demanding tasks - like studying in the midst of distraction - occurs at our peak time of day. When we operate at our optimal time of day, we filter out the distractions in our world and get down to business.
In a study I conducted, for example, participants were given three related cue words (e.g., SHIP OUTER CRAWL), and were required to find their common link (SPACE). When misleading distractors were presented with the cue words (e.g., SHIP-ocean OUTER-inner CRAWL-baby), those tested at non-optimal times were more likely to be misled by the distractors and showed lower solution rates. Those tested at peak times were not affected by the distraction. In this and related studies, peak-time benefits are most robust when distraction would disrupt our thought processes and cause errors.
But distraction is not all bad, and Wieth and Zacks have demonstrated that we can use our increased susceptibility to distraction at off-peak times to our advantage. In their study, they asked participants to solve analytic problems and insight problems at peak or off-peak times. Analytic problems generally require people to “grind out a solution” by systematically working through the problem utilizing a consistent strategy. Here is a classic analytic problem: “Bob’s father is 3 times as old as Bob. They were both born in October. 4 years ago, he was 4 times older. How old are Bob and his father?” No innovation or creativity necessary to solve this problem; one simply has to work it out mathematically.
Insight problems, on the other hand, often initially mislead the solver. Finding the right answer requires the solver to abandon the original interpretation and seek alternatives. Insight problems often involve an “Aha!” moment where the answer comes all at once, rather than via a systematic, incremental calculation. Here is a classic insight problem: “A dealer in antique coins got an offer to buy a beautiful bronze coin. The coin had an emperor’s head on one side and the date 544 BC stamped on the other. The dealer examined the coin, but instead of buying it, he called the police. Why?”
Insight problems involve thinking outside the box. This is where susceptibility to “distraction” can be of benefit. At off-peak times we are less focused, and may consider a broader range of information. This wider scope gives us access to more alternatives and diverse interpretations, thus fostering innovation and insight. Indeed, Wieth and Zacks found that participants were more successful in solving insight problems when tested at their non-optimal times.
Other studies show similar results. Consider the task of finding the common link among three cue words (SHIP OUTER CRAWL). If the distraction presented alongside those cue words is not misleading (SHIP-ocean OUT-inner CRAWL-baby), but instead is helpful (e.g., SHIP-rocket OUTER-atmosphere CRAWL-attic), participants tested at off-peak times benefit from that distraction and solve more problems. Those tested at peak times do not solve more problems with helpful distraction, presumably because they filter out all distraction, even when it might be beneficial.
Thus, being at your best may be over-rated, at least for people seeking innovative ideas or creative solutions. To be sure, if your task requires strong focus and careful concentration - like balancing spreadsheets or reading a textbook - you are better off scheduling that task for your peak time of day. However, if you need to open your mind to alternative approaches and consider diverse options, it may be wise to do so when your filter is not so functional. You just may be able to see what you’ve been missing.
In case you are reading this article at your peak time and are struggling with your “aha moment,” coins were never dated BC because no one knew when (or if) Christ was coming. Are you a scientist who specializes in neuroscience, cognitive science, or psychology? And have you read a recent peer-reviewed paper that you would like to write about? Please send suggestions to Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist at the Boston Globe. He can be reached at garethideas AT gmail.com or Twitter @garethideas.
Everyone is creative, but in very different ways and to varying degrees.
Posted Oct 03, 2017
There’s a lot of controversy surrounding this question that largely stems from the question of degree. I’d say yes, people’s creative abilities can be improved. However, it’s unlikely you’re going to become a creative genius like Einstein or Mozart without some natural talent.
Is everyone creative? Sure they are, but in very different ways and to varying degrees. Our democratic longing to make everyone and everything equal has led us to make creative greatness indistinguishable from an act of personal expression. What is lacking is meaningful appreciation of the different levels of creativity and how we can use them as steps for increasing our own creative potential. Below are the five levels and types of creativity, from the easiest to the most difficult to master, along with suggestions for building creative muscle:
Mimetic Creativity: Mimesis is a term passed down to us from the Ancient Greeks meaning to imitate or mimic. This is the most rudimentary form of creativity. To improve mimetic creativity, travel to new places and meet new people. Be sure to look for patterns and benchmarks, as well as indicators of success or failure so that you have good ideas about what really works and doesn’t and why.
Biosociative Creativity: Biosociative is a term coined by the novelist Arthur Koestler in his celebrated book, The Art of Creation, to describe how our conscious mind, when relaxed, can connect rational with intuitive thoughts to produce eureka moments. Biosociative creativity occurs when a familiar idea is connected to an unfamiliar one to produce a novel hybrid. Brainstorming is an excellent example of biosociative creativity. You can find a variety of brainstorming methods to boost biosociative creativity on my website.
Analogical Creativity: Analogical creativity uses analogies to transfer information that we believe we understand in one domain, the source, to help resolve a challenge in an unfamiliar area, the target. In essence, analogies are bridges that allow our cognitive processes to quickly transport clusters of information from the unknown to the known, and back again. Analogies can also be used to disrupt habit-bound thinking to make way for new ideas. You can develop your analogical creativity through the “imaginary friend” role storming method whereby you imagine what someone might say or do if faced with a particular challenge.
Narratological Creativity: At its essence, narratological creativity is the art of storytelling. Our personal stories are perhaps the ultimate use of narratological creativity as we invent and reinvent the story of our life. In this way something that is deeply personal becomes allegorical or of mythic significance. You can improve your narratological creativity by practicing the art of storyboarding or by engaging in scenario making to project potential courses of action.
Intuitive Creativity: This final and most challenging level of creativity has often been promoted to the realm of spiritual and wisdom traditions. This is where creativity becomes bigger and possibly beyond us; it transcends our individuality. There are several methods for freeing and emptying the mind—meditation, yoga and chanting to name a few. The basic idea is to distract and relax the mind to create a flow state of consciousness where ideas come easily. The approaches to developing intuitive creativity are too numerous to chronicle here; however, free writing is a straightforward way to connect us with our intuitive self by simply observing what flows out of the pen or the tapping of the keys.
As with any learned ability, you have to practice. Even creative geniuses practice all the time. The following article from Fortune Magazine is a good place to find out more. This video about the five levels of creativity may also be helpful.
Here are five levels and types of creativity, from the easiest to the most difficult to master.
By Jeff Degraff Sep 13th, 2013 5:32 PM ET
(TheMIX) — Is everyone creative? Sure they are, but in very different ways and to varying degrees. There is a big difference between the folksong you wrote for your college sweetheart and a Beethoven symphony.
Our democratic longing to make everyone and everything equal has lead us to make creative greatness indistinguishable from an act of personal expression. What is lacking is meaningful appreciation of the different levels of creativity and how we can use them as steps for increasing our own potential.
Here are five levels and types of creativity, from the easiest to the most difficult to master.
Mimesis is a term passed down to us from the Ancient Greeks meaning to imitate or mimic. This is the most rudimentary form of creativity. Animals from Caledonian crows to orangutans have the ability to create tools simply by observing other creatures. Watch a mother and child together and it becomes clear that we do the same. It is the foundation of the learning process.
An often-overlooked form of creativity is simply taking an idea from one area or discipline and applying it to another. For example, a physician at the Mayo Clinic who wants to improve the patient experience may pay a visit to a Ritz-Carlton, which is known for its customer service.
The late Apple (AAPL, -0.06%) co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs saw this ability to move across boundaries to adapt ideas as the key to useful creativity: “Creativity is just connecting things. 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. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”
“Bisociative” is a term coined by the novelist Arthur Koestler in his celebrated book The Act of Creation to describe how our conscious mind can connect rational with intuitive thoughts to produce so-called Eureka moments. In the Zen tradition, this act of communion is called Satori, meaning sudden enlightenment. Bisociative creativity occurs when a familiar idea is connected to an unfamiliar one to produce a novel hybrid.
Though connecting ideas is often done through more contemplative means, it can be stimulated by bombarding the mind with a barrage of random thoughts to see what catches. The general description for this type of activity is called brainstorming. For example, in 1994, while coming out of a near bankruptcy experience and working on Toy Story, four of the original Pixar directors had lunch at a diner and brainstormed ideas about movies they wanted make. Building on each other’s concepts, from this one informal meeting came A Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo, and WALL-E. Hollywood outsiders changed the motion picture industry in an afternoon of throwing ideas together.
Bisociative creativity builds on the electrifying dynamics of the three F’s:
Fluency – It is more productive to have lots of unpolished ideas than a few “good” ones because the greater the diversity of ideas, the wider the range of possible solutions
Flexibility – Often we have the “right” idea but we’ve put it in the “wrong” place so we have to move them around to see where they best fit to meet our challenges
Flow – We aren’t creative on demand. We need to be both simulated and relaxed to draw out the energy required to create. Ideas pour out smoothly when we get into a groove
Great innovators, from Archimedes in his bathtub to Einstein riding his elevator of relativity, have used analogies to solve complex problems. We use analogies to transfer information that we believe we understand in one domain (the source) to help resolve a challenge in an unfamiliar area (the target). For example, vacuum cleaner design was largely unchanged for nearly a century when inventor James Dyson used a different analogue — cyclones — to separate particles through the spinning force of a centrifuge.
Analogies can be used to disrupt habitual thinking to make way for new ideas. In the same way that an analogy helps us make sense of our experiences by assimilating what we don’t know into what we do know, the process also works in reverse. That is, we can take something we believe we know and use an analogy to make it unknown. Artists call this defamilarization. Albert Camus frequently narrated his stories from the point of view of a housefly. Consider what your strategy development process would look like if it were done from the point of view of your children instead of your shareholders or customers.
Have you ever heard a child try to get a story straight? Or maybe you have a dear friend who always blows the punch line of a good joke. Both are examples of how hard it is to tell a coherent, meaningful and compelling tale.
Stories are a complex mash up of characters, actions, plots, description, and grammar. Most importantly, they have a narrative voice — our voice — authentic or personified. How we tell the tale can either energize the most mundane anecdote or dampen even the most rousing spellbinder.
Narrative is a story communicated in sequence. It is how the tale is told. Stories can be readily deconstructed and reconstructed to make different versions or new concoctions. For example, many American’s first drank Dos Equis beer in the 1970s during their college years while on winter break in California or Mexico. It wasn’t exactly a premium brand. Then the Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma Brewery, which had been in business since 1900, changed the story of the product with an advertising campaign about “The Most Interesting Man in the World.” This character was a combination of James Bond and Ernest Hemmingway and the commercials chronicled his manly feats of derring-do. By changing the narrative, Dos Equis experienced explosive growth in a shrinking market.
This is where creativity becomes bigger and possibly beyond us. Intuition is about receiving ideas as much as generating them. There are several methods for freeing and emptying the mind — meditation, yoga, and chanting to name a few. The basic idea is to distract and relax the mind to create a flow state of consciousness where ideas come easily. Disciples are typically apprenticed by acknowledged gurus and often take years to master these techniques.
Rabindranath Tagore, the first Asian Nobel Laureate, developed some meditative practices specifically to enhance personal creativity, as did Rudolf Steiner, the founder of the Waldorf education system. The approaches to intuitive creativity are too numerous to chronicle here. They range from autonomic writing to taking mind altering drugs (not recommended).
You may not be a Shakespeare, Rembrandt, or Leonardo, but you can always work to increase your own creative capacity. All of these approaches are within your power — you just have to keep trying new things. Remember, a creative life means you make it up as you go along.
is a professor, author, speaker and advisor to hundreds of organizations. You can follow Jeff at
Then you're obliged to tolerate the realities of the creative process.
Posted Dec 04, 2018
Do you want to be creative? Then you must tolerate the creative process. And that isn’t so easy. The creative process is harder to tolerate—and therefore harder to embrace—than most people, the majority of creatives included, imagine.
It is hard to tolerate the realities of the creative process for all of the following reasons:
• Only a percentage of the work that we do turns out well. And only a percentage of that percentage is really excellent. This means that we have many “failed” efforts to endure, including countless “okay” works that may pass muster in the world but that don’t thrill us that much, don’t internally count for much, or don’t do that good job of keeping meaning afloat.
• The creative process involves making one choice after another (for instance, “Should I send my character here or should I send him there?”)—and the activity of choosing provokes anxiety. Just about every decision we make, say about buying this car or that car, changing our day job or staying put, accepting this not-very-fair gallery contract or rejecting it, etc., produces anxiety: and the creative process is an endless series of choices. Given all that choosing and given that we do not really love the experience of choosing, it’s easy to see why you might not want to turn to your novel or your symphony the moment you wake up.
• The creative process involves going into the unknown, which can prove scary, especially if where we are going is into the recesses of our own psyche or to the place of re-experiencing trauma. Say that you are certain that you want to set a play during the Holocaust. But do you really want to spend hour after hour writing about Nazi torturers and their victims? Do you really want to be in that interrogation room? Your play may demand that you go there, but how likely is it that you actually will go there … or be able to tolerate the experience once you are there?
• The task we are setting ourselves—unraveling this scientific knot, creating that full-scale opera—may be beyond our intellectual or technical capabilities or may require information and understandingthat we don’t currently possess. As brilliant as Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, and the other great Greek thinkers were, and whatever excellent intuitions they had about the physical universe, could any one of them possibly get to the idea that you had to square the speed of light to understand the relationship between energy and matter? Each individual’s creative process is constrained by what he or she knows—or can know.
• The thing called “inspiration,” which is one of the great joys of the process and without which our work would prove lifeless, comes only periodically and can’t be produced on demand. We must show up for what may prove days, weeks, months and even years of slogging along with our creative project before a single brilliant ray of sunshine enlivens it and illuminates what we’re doing. That is an idea that is very had to tolerate—and even harder to tolerate as a reality.
And there are many other reasons as well. The above is a fraction of the longer list of reasons why tolerating the creative process can prove so daunting and why fully embracing the realities of the process can elude us. Most creatives do not fully grasp the extent to which this demanding process is itself stymying them. They chalk up the fact that their novel remains unfinished to personal weakness or to their unfortunate circumstances and do not credit the reality of process as the real culprit.
A main headline as to why the creative process can feel so daunting is that not everything creatives attempt will turn out beautifully, that many efforts will turn out just ordinary, and that a significant number will prove flat-out not very good. A composer writes a hit Broadway musical—and the next one is abysmal. No one can believe it’s the same person. A novelist pens a brilliant first novel—and the second one is unreadable. What a disappointment. A physicist comes this close to a breakthrough—but doesn’t break through, rendering his several years of work “worthless.” How demoralizing. These are everyday occurrences in the lives of creative and the rule rather than the exception. How to stay calm in the face of this?
Among his hundreds of cantatas, Bach’s most famous cantata is number 140. His top ten would likely be comprised of numbers 4, 12, 51, 67, 80, 82, 131, 140, 143 and 170. What about the other hundreds? Are some merely workmanlike and unmemorable? Yes. Are some not very interesting at all? Yes. Was Bach obliged to live with that reality? Yes. As must you. Yes, you might completely by accident produce a brilliant first thing and then never try again and so ensure your success rate at 100 percent. But is that a way to live a life? Or, rather, isn’t that the perfect way to avoid living?
Honoring and embracing the realities of the process and calmly living with those realities are choices you get to make. The word to underline in that sentence? Calmly. Anxiety is a natural feature of the human condition and a much larger feature than most people realize. A great deal of what we do in life we do in order to reduce our experience of anxiety or in order to avoid the experience of anxiety. Because life can feel dangerous in all sorts of ways—from walking down a dark alley to giving a two-minute talk at work—and because anxiety is a feature of our warning system that alerts us to danger, anxiety is a prominent feature of daily life.
It is also a very prominent feature of the creative process. When I ask you to embrace the realities of the creative process I am also asking you to embrace the reality of anxiety as a prominent feature of that process. You do not want to avoid creating just because creating, or the prospect of creating, is making you anxious. No; you want to manage that anxiety or, if it can’t quite be managed beautifully, then create while anxious. What you don’t want to get in the habit of doing is avoiding the creative encounter because of your anxious feelings. You know that you don’t want that to be your way of dealing with the everyday, ordinary anxiety that attaches to process.
“Creativity” is the word we use for our desire to make use of our inner resources, employ our imagination, knit together our thoughts and our feelings into beautiful things like songs, quilts, or novels, and feel like the hero of our own story. It is the way that we manifest our potential, make use of our intelligence, and embrace what we love. When we create, we feel whole, useful, and devoted. You don’t want your experience of anxiety to prevent you from having all that. The anxiety that is such a prominent feature of human nature can and does prevent us from creating. Now is the time to come to a deep acceptance of that truth.
Why do we get so anxious about creating? There are many reasons. We get anxious because we fear we may fail, because we fear we may disappoint ourselves, because the work can be extremely hard, because the marketplace may criticize us and reject us, and so on. We want to create because that is a wonderful thing to do, but we also don’t want to create, so as to spare ourselves all that anxiety. That is the profound dilemma that confronts and afflicts countless smart, sensitive, creative souls. And, as a result, most creatives spend a lot of time defensively avoiding creating.
Our quite human defensiveness is one of the primary ways that we try to avoid experiencing anxiety. Maybe we deny what we’re experiencing, try to rationalize away what we’re experiencing, misname what we’re experiencing as sickness, weakness, or confusion, get angry at our mate so as to have something else to focus on, and so on. We are very tricky creatures in this regard. It would be good if we did a much better job of frankly accepting that we are feeling anxious and then managing those feelings: that would give us a much better shot at tolerating the anxieties that come with the creative process. But most people are inclined to react defensively when it comes to anxiety.
What should creatives do instead of fleeing the encounter or instead of managing their anxiety in ineffective or unhealthy ways (say, by using alcohol to calm their nerves)? They should acknowledge and accept that anxiety is a regular feature of the process, assert that they won’t allow it to derail them or silence them, and demand of themselves that they practice and learn effective anxiety management skills.
It is too big a shame not to create if creating is what you long to do. The thing to do instead is to become an anxiety expert and get on with your creating. What can help in addition to mastering some anxiety management skills? The following. Create a vow in which you pledge not to let anxiety silence you. Your vow might sound something like the following. “I will create, even if creating provokes anxiety in me. When it does provoke anxiety, I will manage it through the use of the anxiety management skills that I am learning and practicing.” Or maybe you might prefer the shorter, crisper “Bring it on!”
Since both creating and not creating produce anxiety, you might as well embrace the fact that anxiety will accompany you on your journey as a creative person. Just embracing that reality will release a lot of the ambient anxiety that you feel. Since anxiety accompanies both states—both creating and not creating—isn’t it the case that you might as well choose creating? To begin with, you will have to learn that the creative process is exactly what it is and not what you might romantically wish it to be.
6. "Creative Quest (excerpt) - "Deciding what you're not before you..."" In response to Reply # 0
"....decide what you are"
Creative Quest by Questlove
Carve out the negative space around your idea....It's sometimes hard to see the heart of an idea, so chip away at all the things that aren't the heart. This also help to focus your overall artistic goals. Back in 2013, I did a joint interview with David Byrne at NYU's Skirball Center, and we talked about all different levels of creation. In our conversation, he echoed this idea: Don't imagine what you will become - imagine what you won't become. It helps to reinforce which parts of your creative identity you can't live without, and which parts might be there only because you've been told by someone else that they should be there. Imagining what you won't become is a necessary refining process.
Deciding what you're not before you decide what you are lets you stand strong in your own category.
7. "Psychology Today - starting off on the right foot (excerpt)" In response to Reply # 6
I didn't completely trust this article, but it stayed with me (and as I suspected, I had to dig way back page by page in the Psychology Today website to locate it because I didn't save it when I first read it).
Anyway, the Creative Quest excerpt teaches the importance of deciding what you're not first and this excerpt is teaching starting off on the right foot by declaring how (easy/pleasant/etc.) something will be, so I think it's an important contrast to see.
The Surprising Habit That Starts You Off on the Right Foot Doing this one thing can make your whole day.
Posted Sep 09, 2018
Here’s how it works. You give yourself to a certain performance as if it’s how you already feel. When you act "as if," the mood you pretend becomes a reality. It might sound too simple to be true, but science backs it up. Suppose you’re angry toward someone who offended you but you want to be forgiving. You can start to feel forgiving by acting as if you are forgiving. Perhaps you’re feeling envious of a friend’s good news but want to be happy for him or her. You can be happy by acting as if you are happy.
Twelve Step programs use this method to help recovering folks get through difficult emotional times. And author Tennessee Williams used it to jump start his writing mojo: “I believe the way to write a good play is to convince yourself it is easy to do then go ahead and do it with ease.” You, too, can apply this strategy to just about anything. If you’re having difficulty with something: Instead of fighting tooth and nail, try convincing yourself it’s easy, act as if it is easy, and see if you can tackle the difficulty with success.
Surprising Benefits of Taking Your Creative Mind for a Walk
Disrupting your routine with a walk can be the catalyst for creation.
Posted Dec 28, 2018
According to a Gallup poll, eight in ten Americans feel frequently stressed. The stress of work, finances, the political climate, even family life can prevent you from generating solutions or novel ideas when you need them. Maybe you’ve lost the ability to enjoy the wonder that comes with “going for a walk,” or maybe you’ve grown way too accustomed to prolonged sitting.
But here’s the real problem: You could be forfeiting one of the greatest tools for giving you a creative advantage at the office or studio. If you ever feel stymied by a challenge at work that requires a new approach, or if you’re feeling sluggish and unable to get through the day’s tasks with a refreshing angle, well, taking the right kind of break just might help you — and your brain — work better.
Numerous studies conducted in the past few years corroborate what Nietzsche and a slew of innovators in the arts, sciences, and business have sensed: Walking boosts our creativity. The German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, wrote, “It is only ideas gained from walking that have any worth.”
Here’s the thing: Not all movement and not all walks are equal in their effects.
Stepping out into the world increases our creative abilities.
What’s your typical physical posture when working and trying to come up with fresh ideas? Sitting? Maybe that’s not such a good idea for your creative brain — or your health. Sitting is harmful to our overall health. Research conducted by Annals of Internal Medicine reveals that sitting for too long, too often puts us at risk of heart disease. That’s one of the many reasons I advocate that you not just learn to work well during the day, but that you also train yourself to break better.
The National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS) reveals that Americans spend 87 percent of their time indoors. Being inside, you’re more prone to stagnation, the antithesis to energy. Without energy, you can’t wonder or create. This is why disrupting your routine with a walk can be the catalyst for creation.
But the consistency of walking is almost as crucial as the type of walking. A Stanford University study found a direct correlation between walking and generating creative ideas. Participants were more than 81 percent more creative when walking as opposed to sitting. According to the study, walking outside — versus on a treadmill — produces the most novel and highest-quality analogies in participants who walked and then sat down to do creative work. This means the factors surrounding our walks impact the effects of that walk.
Just in stepping outside, you are stepping outside of yourself and your comfort zone, which is necessary if you want to develop a new sense of wonder. You can walk through a tree-filled neighborhood. You can walk through a park and listen to the birds singing to each other from different branches. Even when you walk down a busy street, you can't help but get distracted by the sweet, cinnamon smells wafting up from the food cart, or the child on the street who’s pointing to a building or bird you hadn’t noticed before.
Although our brains work harder to process in different environments, walking outside forces our brains to churn out new ideas every time we take in new sights, new sounds, new smells, new flavors. Add in physical movement, which is scientifically proven to improve our memories and strengthen our cognitive abilities.
Engaging in aerobic workouts, like running or cycling or swimming, can also stimulate the Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), which can produce new brain cells, improve brain plasticity, and regulate energy metabolism and prevent exhaustion. The more energy we expend, the more energy we receive, both physically and mentally.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “exercise your creativity,” which refers to the brain as muscle. Our creative mindset is triggered by physical movement, which is exactly why walking — whether with your dog, with a friend, or alone — is beneficial to creative thinking.
Seek wonder in new environments.
Shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing,” is considered a common form of relaxation and medicine in Japan. It was developed in 1982, and science proves that being in the forest, walking amongst the trees, lowers your stress levels and relaxes you.
Imagine it — walking in the fresh air, staring up at the sky-high trees, listening to the sounds of the water floating down the mountain. There’s something tranquil and childlike about being in the vastness of nature.
The effects are so powerful that Shinrin-yoku is now a government-endorsed policy in Japan. The practice begins with using all five senses to fully engage in it. But you don’t have to live near a forest to receive the psychological benefits of Shinrin-yoku. Research shows that “immersion in nature, and the corresponding disconnection from multi-media and technology, increases performance on a creativity, problem-solving task by a full 50 percent in a group of naive hikers. Our results demonstrate that there is a cognitive advantage to be realized if we spend time immersed in a natural setting.”
Connect body and mind with purpose.
Beginning your journey to wonder and better daily creative problem-solving starts with mindfulness. Walking with a purpose is more beneficial than walking in frustration, anger, or to simply reach a 10,000-step goal.
Pay attention to your day-to-day habits. Do you spend four hours of the day sitting at the same desk, staring at the same computer, day after day? Do you get into your car, drive to the gym, and return home, without ever stepping into the sun? If you’re in a creative rut, if you’re struggling to find a solution to a work problem, you should probably look outside the internet and outside yourself.
To actually get to a state of wonder, it’s important to walk not just for exercise, but for immersion in a new experience. Rather than trying to reach a fitness goal, what if you try and engage more closely with your surroundings? Turn off your phone and give yourself the chance to be present in the world — to hear conversations and songs, to notice the way people walk, the way the sun creates a rainbow in the puddle.
As part of his daily writing routine, Kurt Vonnegut would take a break mid-morning from his office to walk, then swim, and, eventually, return to work. I would argue that this habit wasn’t just a habit, but an intentional, necessary element of his creative process.
Mindful movement (as opposed to mindless movement) is a catalyst for wonder. So yes, keep walking for your health, but also walk for new ideas.
For the last three years, I’ve been writing daily poems in response to the prompts in The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts For Your Writing Practice, by Kelli Russell Agodon and Martha Silano. It’s hard to believe, but in the course of that time, I’ve written over 800 poems. I’ve published some of them in journals and books, and yet, the real value of this practice for me has not been in the finished products so much as in the daily practice of creating them. It is, in a real sense, practice—and like any other kind of practice, it's all about strength-building, resolve, and just the simple joy of doing something every day.
There’s a power in daily practice that comes from committing yourself to a creative project and then, simply, doing it. Waking up every morning and doing that thing can help to give a sense of structure to your day, as well as a sense of personal power and fortitude.
The Daily Poet, by Kelly Russell Agodon and Martha Silano, provides prompts that can help foster a daily writing practice.
It doesn’t matter what the creative project is. It can be writing or painting or drawing or even simply going for a walk or meditating. What you do in your daily practice is up to you. If you’re stuck, or uncertain what to do, consider choosing something that you enjoy, that you want to do, that you want to improve on, or that you want to learn. You might draw a daily doodle or paint a daily picture. You might take a daily photo or write a daily journal page. The key thing is starting a practice and continuing it for some period of time.
Whatever you do, a daily creative practice involving that activity can help to focus the mind and give a sense of purpose, and it can also offer a sense of accomplishment in seeing that you can do what you set out to do. In this sense, a daily creative practice can spill over into the rest of your life, helping you to feel more creative and capable in your job, relationships, parenting or other activities.
The daily practice can also change—you don’t need to keep doing one practice forever. You might do one thing for a year or a month or forty days or a hundred days. There’s even an official #The100DayProject that you can take on if you’d like, which can help to give a sense of community along with your practice.
Whatever you commit to, and whenever you commit to doing it, a daily creative practice can transform your life. We tend to get in a rut, with particular habits and routines overwhelming us. That, I think, is the secret of committing to a daily practice. We already have daily habits. We have our routines, though many of them are the result more of happenstance than conscious choice.
Choosing a daily creative practice, on the other hand, promises a renewed sense of purpose. Doing some kind of daily practice helps to create new habits, and the experience of habit formation and reformation is just as important as the particular habits themselves.
I’ve grown to love my daily poem-writing habit, and I plan to continue it into the foreseeable future. It’s become as important to me as taking a shower or brushing my teeth. The fact that it’s resulting in hundreds of poems to play with, revise, and send out into the world is just a fortunate byproduct. The real joy, I’ve found, is in the daily practice itself.