You may have heard that right brain people are creative and left brain are logical. This is a complete oversimplification. Every person has access to both sides of their brain; however, some are better at shifting between their logical (left) and creative (right) sides. It is this shifting that makes someone really creative. Creative ideas are rarely perfect at birth and need to be problem-solved and tested, which is done on the left side of the brain.
A person who dwells mostly in their right hemisphere, will rarely produce anything and just having ideas with no follow through does not make you creative. On top of this ability to smoothly alternate between hemispheres, you must also have drive. As Thomas Edison said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”
While learning how to be more creative can result in a person making paintings or throwing pots, there is a much more important reason why you’d want to learn how to tap into your creative ability: to live a richer, better, and more productive life. What does this look like? You’ll be able to perform better at work, no matter what your job, you’ll have more fun, and you’ll be able to handle life’s curve balls with grace.
Creativity comes into play whenever you have the need to generate new ideas, solutions or approaches to anything, be it how to parent a problem child, decorate your house on a small budget, or come up with new product ideas for your business.
Creative people tend to live life in balance. According to Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, in his book Rest, creative people usually get up early and organize their lives, but not necessarily their days, around their work. They look for and put disparate things together. They try out their ideas. Coming up with a concept doesn’t make you creative but bringing it to fruition does. So basically, if you want to be more creative, act on your ideas. Creativity, and the ever-illusive inspiration, doesn’t get you working. Working drives creativity, which opens the door to inspiration.
Mr. Pang, also said the creative people such as Charles Darwin, writer Alice Munro, and Dilbert creator, Scott Adams, tend to devote four, focused hours to their work each day. People who practice this spend the rest of their time doing other things such as walking, resting, spending time with their families, or chores. That doesn’t mean that their brains aren’t plugging away on their own. The brain is never quiet; It shifts to the Default Mode Network, which means it is always running in the background working on problems. When it solves them, you may have a flash of inspiration or an “Aha” moment.
There is currently a movement in business to reduce the number of hours and days people work and the results are greater productivity. People who work fewer hours or have shortened days, get their jobs done efficiently. Their employers know that when their employees are spending time with their families, doing chores, or pursuing hobbies, they come back to work refreshed and with new ideas.
How does the creative process work? Whether you are writing a book, figuring out how to fit two cars and twelve bikes into your one car garage, or trying to discover a cure for cancer, you start with your idea or concept, and then you work on it and problem solve until you get to a satisfactory result. This is where the notion of the right/left brain comes in. Once you generate an idea on the right side, you test it on the left.
The best way that I can describe this is with writing a story. You write/create it with your right brain and then you edit/test it with your left brain. Or say you have an idea for a healthy but delicious chocolate cake. First, you make it (creative) then you test it/tweak the recipe, (logical).
I recently saw a painting of a coffee mug with a sky in it and was inspired to make an edible sky in a cup based on that painting. So I bought blue Jell-O and Cool Whip and made a batch. They didn’t turn out how I envisioned them. Switching to the left brain/test mode, I purchased some different ingredients and tried using icing for the cloud, and that also didn’t work. With trepidation, I purchased a gel icing and was pleasantly surprised when I got the desired effect. This wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t try out my idea, test it, and try again, until I was satisfied.
While the basic process of alternating between primary, right brain, or divergent thinking and secondary, left brain, or convergent thinking is the framework of the creative process, there is much more that comes into play to be creative. Learning to make that back and forth transition is not enough. If it were, it would be like saying if you just learn the mechanics of any endeavor, such as playing a sport or musical instrument, you will excel at those things. Aside from practice, there are many other behaviors that are needed to contribute to a richer creative experience. Thankfully, these behaviors known as exercise, sleep, and meditation, are also good for your overall health.
We now know the brain needs physical exercise for optimal health. While it is good to get outside, it’s actually taking a walk that will stimulate your creativity. When you sleep, your brain repairs physical damage, consolidates memories and information, and generates dreams. You’re probably hearing a lot about the importance of meditation. Meditation allows different areas of the brain to communicate with each other, which is optimal for creativity. So get off those well-worn paths, and become an adventurous traveler in your own brain!
In addition to these basic needs for survival, getting rest in the form of a vacation and engaging in hobbies will foster creativity. In order for your vacation to be effective in recharging your batteries, you must not engage in anything involving your work. This means no texts, phone calls, or emails. Not one! You also need to be able to be in control of choosing your activities, and engage in activities that give you pleasure.
While you may not be able to take vacations too often, you can take breaks in the form of pursuing a hobby. This will give you the needed time away from your work especially if it is challenging, allows you to use your work skills in a new way, offers you satisfaction, and has a connection to your past. One of my most pleasurable memories as a child was building a candy castle out of boxes and milk cartons for under the Christmas tree. When I’m not reading, my most pleasurable hobby is building things from wood.
In a nutshell, you can foster your creativity by alternating between creative and mundane pursuits, such as writing and editing or planning your dream vacation and working out the logistics of timing and funding. You can also alternate between unrelated creative and mundane activities such as sketching and house cleaning. Exercising, getting good sleep, and meditating will put your brain in a healthy place to function better.
Lastly, give your brain experiences in which to nurture creativity by going out into the world, look around, chat with people, read, visit museums, go to sporting events, and do physical activities. Look at your surroundings. Look for relationships and take notice of ideas that pop into your head. Carry a pad of paper and a pen and go creative my friend!
Kathleen Thometz is an artist, writer, and founder of Doodle Art & Design, a teaching studio, art gallery, and retailer of its signature art kits in Western Springs. She lives with her husband, kids and doodle dogs. You can contact her at email@example.com.