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How immersion and exploration will make you more creative

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Everything you do will impact your ability to create.

Where you hangout (online or off), who you talk to, the things you consume – food, books, media, conversations – all of these things influence the ideas you have.

Science gives us insight into the idea that what we do and how we do it impacts our ability to create.

Our brains are incredibly active, even while we’re resting. The brain is constantly processing signals and sorting, prioritizing, and carrying them through our neural networks automatically. If we look at one specific type of input, our eyesight, we can see a stark example of what’s truly going on.

Computational neuroscientists report that only 10% of everything you “see,” which is processed in the first phase of your physical eye, is received through your retinas.

This is fascinating because it means that the other 90% of visually registering anything involves something other than just your eyes. Most notably, internal brain signals related to visual processing, as well as a minute amount of external factors.

We don’t realize how much is constantly going on in our heads, even when we aren’t actively aware of what we’re thinking or focusing on.

To quote neuroscientists Paul King: “There is extensive signal feedback throughout the brain, resulting in non-stop neural activity, even when the mind is ‘blank.’”[1]

You may see something out of the corner of your eye, but your brain actually sees it and everything around it, as well as the sounds near you, the temperature in the room, the smell of the air, and so much more we can’t scientifically pinpoint just yet.

Some studies have shown that as much of 80% of our thinking power is dedicated to autonomous processing of input, even when we’re at rest![2]

What does this mean for you as a creative?

It means that even if you’re not consciously aware of it, your brain is taking and processing nearly everything going on around you. For example, where you find yourself on a Saturday afternoon – whether it’s in a quiet and empty office, or a swarming artist’s studio – everything occurring around you is impacting your thoughts.

After a while of immersing yourself in a certain type of atmosphere (and after regularly providing certain stimulus to your brain) your own ideas will start to reflect the environments and inputs.

So, to continue our example, if you want to be a great artist, go where other artists are, and browse art blogs to see what they’re posting daily. Watch movies about art history and famous (or not so famous) artists. Have conversations with people about art, and talk to artists you look up to. Most importantly, of course, is to do the work yourself. You need to make art and do it consistently and often.

The challenging part for any creative person is that we have to find a healthy balance between surrounding and immersing ourselves with our ideals (becoming an artist, for example) and everything outside of those ideals that might influence us creatively (politics, cooking, dance, psychology, etc.).

If you find the right balance between immersion and exploration, your mentality will always be one that is focused on a central direction. Yet, when you go out and start to encounter other, things that have nothing to do with art, you’ll naturally be inclined to want to relate or connect them to your art.

This is the heart of creativity! Connecting the unconnected.

Again, the challenge is finding the right balance. How much immersion in one subject or the other is too much? On the other hand, how little exploration is too little to spur creative insights?

The answer isn’t a definitive one, which means I can’t tell you. You have to go out into the world and try things, experiment and fail, and find what does work for you. Only you can do that.

The important takeaway from this should be plain: immerse yourself heavily in the things you want to do, and the person you want to be. Once you’re satiated, explore the things outside of your focus once in a while.

When you find the right balance between the two is the moment when you’ll start producing truly creative work.