Your brain is lazy. Don’t worry. It’s not your fault. That’s just how it evolved. It is always trying to conserve energy to be constantly ready it in case our survival is compromised. It hoards energy to be able to spark into action with the popular fight-or-flight response to a threat. Since brain processing consumes a lot of energy, when facing an intellectual challenge like solving a math problem, the brain first looks for the answer from the information already acquired. Such as a previous solution to a similar problem. The brain doesn’t want to strain itself or spend energy, it prefers to follow patterns and thought structures already acquired by our previous experiences.
To find an innovative solution, a new idea, a creative thought, your brain has to use more energy. At first your brain will try to search for information within your knowledge base (reproductive thinking), so it can conserve its energy. Then, it will search for other concepts or experiences and start creating associations between them all. Mixing two or more concepts into one single thought is called conceptual blending and is the basis of creative thinking that leads to the generation of new ideas. When we were children, we were experts in conceptual blending, our creativity was spontaneous. Unfortunately, as we grow older, the way of life, the education system, and our structured work life has a negative impact on our creative abilities and they start declining.
But don’t you worry, creative thinking can be exercised. It is a skill that requires effort and work, but it is possible! Here are some tips that can help you start breaking with established thinking patterns and generate ideas:
- Read a lot. It is clear that the more prepared you are on a topic, the more likely you are to identify related problems and find ideas to solve them. This is why it is important that you perpetually read about your area of expertise. However, reading unrelated topics is also an important factor in developing creativity. It allows you to come up with “outside the box” ideas by pulling together disparate information.
- Break your patterns. As mentioned earlier, you need to break the patterns that your brain has established to enhance your creative potential. Some options might be to alter your daily routines, such as going to work on a different route, watch a different TV show, drink juice instead of coffee, read a different newspaper, try a new restaurant, or start a new hobby.
- Change perspective. If you spend all day surrounded by the same people, listening to the same opinions and reading the same things, it will be hard for your brain to refocus on a new idea. Try to interact with new people. This way, you will listen to new ways of thinking and have the chance to reframe your own experiences. You can do this easily by starting conversations with your social media contacts, such as LinkedIn or Facebook, participating in forums, or going to networking events. Talking to different people will give you new perspectives and perhaps new solutions the challenges you face, which can result in a new idea.
- Do not discard ideas. The more ideas you have, the more likely you’ll come up with an innovative one. Try to write several ideas each day. It doesn’t matter if they are ideas that at first seem terrible, or similar to previous ideas. You must train your brain and expose it to a multitude of information so it can form its own unique constructs. As time passes, ideas will come to you more easily and you will start associating different concepts and generating new ideas.
- Just relax. A study revealed that 97% of people get their best ideas while they are resting or enjoying leisure time (in the shower, before bedtime, meditating, etc.), while only 3% get their ideas at work. Personally, I think of some of my best ideas while driving, or when I am lying in bed before I sleep. This happens when beta brain wave activity decreases and alpha waves increase. The shift links regions of the brain that are not usually connected. Science has shown that an increase in alpha brain activity increases creative thinking.
Your brain is not fixed. No matter how old you are, you can break patterns and increase your creative capacity. All it takes is good habits, practice and a positive mindset.