We all agree about the value of creativity, but until recently we knew little about the brain processes underlying it.You may know that the two brain hemispheres are specialized: the left is important for verbal and symbolic processing; the right is important for visual-spatial information and is involved with emotional perception and expression. Your brain uses the most appropriate hemisphere for a specific task, with assistance from the other hemisphere.
Creativity is based on three thinking patterns: verbal language, in which unwarranted assumptions can trip us up; music and math, which require an understanding of fundamentals: and visual thinking, which is often the key to creative thinking by envisioning and manipulating information.
Mind wandering (a.k.a. daydreaming) is the mind’s way of powering down. There’s nothing wrong with it: mind wanderers tend to score higher on creativity. When your mind wanders, your brain’s executive centers are activated along with a default network. The combination of these two networks may explain the link between mind wandering and creativity.
So let your mind putter around for a bit so your brain is free to wander productively. But don’t overdo it. It’s best in small doses. You need to allow your mind to wander if you want to be creative, but you also need to catch the creative idea. Important contributors to creativity are sleep (with or without dreams) and meditation. Meditation allows your brain to relax and stay focused at the same time, to allow for deeper insight and creativity in your life.
Both creativity and divergent thinking involve fluency, which means rapidly producing multiple possible solutions to a problem; elaboration, which means thinking through the details of the problem; flexibility, which means entertaining multiple approaches to the problem simultaneously; and originality, which means coming up with ideas that don’t occur to most people.
The goals for divergent thinking are 1) to achieve a spontaneous, random, unorganized and free-flowing manner of thinking and 2) to loosen control of the left hemisphere and allow the emergence of less structured, non-verbal material to emerge from the right hemisphere. Meditation gives you the capacity to make giant steps in these directions. Brainstorming, mind mapping and free writing are also avenues to pursue.
Another way to enhance brain function is through creative play. Puzzles, word games, and humor are marked by uncertainty and ambiguity, which test our brains in unaccustomed ways. We tend to resist not having answers to questions that we are asked, which leads to premature closure—reaching a conclusion or accepting an explanation before examining the facts and the logical conclusions flowing from these facts.
I suggest that you embrace ambiguity as a means of enhancing your brain. Puzzles are uniquely appropriate for this. Here’s one: What occurs twice in a moment, once every minute, yet never in a billion years? Think in terms of the words and letters; moment, minute, and a billion years. The answer is the letter “m”.
Develop an interest in word games. We are verbal creature, and out brains thrive on words. As we learn new words, we expand our mental horizons word puzzles call on our left hemisphere, which mediates words and language.
Here’s a fun word puzzle: have a friend cut the words from the caption of a cartoon and rearrange them. See if you can restore the punch line by putting the words back in their correct order. Puzzles involving cartoons strengthen the brain’s ability to switch points of view and think about things in unusual ways. They also challenge the brain to work with ambiguity and uncertainty. As another word challenge, have someone cut and scramble the frames of a comic strip, and then see is you can rearrange them into their correct order. This exercise tests your problem-solving ability, sense of timing, and logic.
So how should we approach solving puzzles? First, just try something! Getting started mat be the hardest step. Even a wild guess is fine, because figuring out why the guess doesn’t work helps you decide where to focus your efforts. Second, persist! The biggest reason for not solving puzzles is giving up. If you feel you can’t persist any longer, then look up the answer. It’s okay: looking up the answer isn’t cheating but simply helping your brain learn principles that will be useful in future. Understand why the answer was correct, and then imagine how you might have gotten the answer yourself. You can also try setting time limits. The brain can almost always work faster if you ask it to.
Puzzles, riddles, and jokes enhance the brain by encouraging reasoning, logic, visual imagination, spatial thinking, working memory, and creativity. Equally important, puzzles, riddles, brainteasers and jokes are just plain fun!
Brain teasers can help you enhance concentration, visual thinking, and creativity. Here is one of my favorites:
You are in a room with 3 light switches that turn on 3 light bulbs in another room. You can turn on only 2 of the switches, and you’re allowed only 1 trip into the room to check which 2 light bulbs are on. How do you decide which switch turns on which bulb?
There is an unwarranted assumption here—a premature closure. The terms “light bulb,” “lights,” and “turn on” suggest a visual approach, but think about what other senses might be even more helpful in solving the puzzle. Touch, the most primitive sense, will actually provide the solution.
Have you come to a solution yet? Turn 2 switches on for 10 or more minutes. Turn 1 of them off, and then go into the other room. The bulb that is still lit is controlled by the switch you left on. Now touch the other 2 bulbs. The switch you turned off controls the one that is warm. The third switch controls the other light bulb.