If you want a brain that quickly learns new information, remembers things easily and helps you cope with the problems of daily life, you need a well-connected brain.
What do I mean by that?
I mean the brain’s neurons need to arrange themselves in a wide variety of neural networks linked up for quick communication with each other.
If your network connections are fuzzy, your thinking will be, too.
And here’s a quick way to enhance those networks. . .
Start thinking creatively. Tackle tasks that necessitate thinking “outside the box.”
Creative mental exercises and activities can bolster the robustness of your neural networks. And that ensures that your mental flexibility for coping with what life throws at you won’t get boxed in.1
Creativity and Aging
I’ve found that a lot of people believe creativity is a young person’s game. That most us – including scientists and artists — do our best creative work when we’re young. That getting up in years means going down in your creativity.
Don’t you believe it.
A study at Ohio State looked at winners of Nobel Prizes in economics. And the researchers found something I haven’t seen asserted elsewhere: There are two separate life cycles of creativity.
According to this study, one of these cycles arises early in a career, in a person’s twenties, while the other appears later in life, often in the mid fifties.2
“We believe what we found in this study isn’t limited to economics, but could apply to creativity more generally,” says researcher Bruce Weinberg, who teaches economics at Ohio State.
Dr. Weinberg and his fellow researchers found that the creative activities among younger economists involved conceptual creativity – coming up with innovative ideas that didn’t fit into conventional wisdom. This creativity gives birth to sudden ideas about entirely new frameworks that don’t conform to accepted theories.
The older creative economists, in contrast, were more “experimental” – taking established results and applying new analyses and interpretations to them.
If you want to take advantage of the brain benefits of creativity, you have your choice of a whole host of methods.
Of course, you can spend time in the arts – playing music, sitting down to do some creative writing, painting or drawing, engaging in community theater or dance.
Many times, this publication has urged readers to take up painting or drawing, quilting, or a similar creative activity, or learn how to play a musical instrument. All those things stimulate and expand brain power.
Once you’ve chosen your creative activity, here are some suggestions to help you get better at it:
- Use expansive thought to widen your creative horizons: Research in Israel shows that shifting your focus from what’s immediately around you and, instead, contemplating distant perspectives and objects like the galaxies in outer space can help your creativity. So if you’re facing a problem that demands a creative solution, just looking at a picture of distant stars may help the creative process. “Psychological distance can help to foster creativity because it encourages us to think abstractly,” says researcher Nira Liberman.3
- Look for a particular geometric shape in everyday objects: For example, first thing in the morning, decide this is going to be a “triangle day.” Then be sure to notice all the triangles in your house, at work, outside or in stores you visit. “So much of creativity is about looking up from your daily focus and exercising your mind,” says creativity researcher Kevin Sawyer at the University of North Carolina. “Building a habit of being more aware and more mindful can have a big impact on your creative potential.”4
- Spend time by yourself doing nothing: Many experts say that our constant connection to devices (computers, phones, etc.) and the Internet interrupts our creativity. So spending time alone with no distractions may help you be more creative.5Plus, research at Northwestern shows that silence – without allowing even music in the background – may be essential to creativity for some people.6
- Try something new: Get out of your comfort zone. Folks who have investigated creativity have found that when you try new activities you’ve never done before, it can inspire a higher level of creativity. They suggest listening to a type of music you’re unfamiliar with, or visit a part of your city you’ve never explored before.7,8
In my experience, some of the most creative people I know seem to be the smartest and most vibrant of my friends. They should be an example for all of us. Go out of your way (outside of that often-mentioned box!) to keep your brain working at its best. It not only improves the brain, it’s fun!