A simple way to understand creative thinking is to consider it as the process of coming up with new ideas. The ideas don’t have to be new for the world at large (that’s a different process altogether), they just have to be new for you.
So when you have that moment of “eureka!” when you solve a problem, or when see something you overlooked before, that’s you experiencing a creative insight. New ideas are the direct result of millions of neurons – the cells that carry and process electrochemical signals – in your brain suddenly connecting in a way that they weren’t before. That’s really it.
Those connections between neurons is an interesting part of creativity that is occasionally overlooked, though it is really the driving point of all creative thinking.
Between the hippocampus and cerebral cortex of your brain there are about 10 billion neurons alone. Those two sections make up the primary parts of your brain that deal with your knowledge about the world and memories, so they’re crucial to creative thinking and idea interpretation. 10 billion neurons, millions and millions firing every second, to process ideas.
Here’s the thing: neurons function in a way that is important to understand for anyone looking to be more creative (or more rational, or more analytical): the more certain neural connections are made, the stronger those connections become.
For example: if you practice doing crossword puzzles every morning for a year, the part of your brain – the neural connections – that deals with solving crossword puzzles are going to be strengthened and ultimately you’re going to be a bit of a crossword puzzle‒solving champ.
Computational Neuroscientist Paul King explains for us: “…The brain adapts according to use. So if the brain is used extensively in a certain way…then it will get better at that. The way it gets better is that more and more neurons are ‘recruited’ into that function, and the function becomes increasingly organized and exerts an increasing influence on the rest of the brain. So what you are exposed to and what your brain spends its time doing really does shape who you become and what mental skills you (and your brain) have.”
If you really want to be more creative, do creative things regularly. Solve puzzles, doodle, daydream, paint, play a musical instrument and makeup your own songs. But most importantly: do new things every day. Experience more things and you’ll be more creative.
The more things you do, the more connections you’re strengthening in your brain. So go to new places, try new things, explore music and art and movies that you aren’t really interested in. The more you experience new things, the more neural connections you’re strengthening in your brain. The stronger those connections become, the easier it will be to come up with new, creative ideas when you need them most.
It’s a science really, but this is the gist of it. To be more creative, experience more things as often as you can.
Read more about Paul King’s explanation here: If creative and logical thinking take place in different parts of the brain, does switching between these processes frequently inhibit the development of these areas?
Photo by Shiv.