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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Why Bother with Writer’s Block? Because Creative People Live Longer!


Maya Angelou’s writing just keeps getting better

Struggling with writer’s block and other forms of resistance can be frustrating and exhausting. So why not just give up?

Because solving your resistance could mean you get a few more chapters – not just in your book – but in your life!

According to a recent study (Journal of Aging and Health, June 2012), open-minded, creative people live longer.

Openness is defined as curiosity, creativity, cognitive flexibility and a preference for novel ideas. But it is the creativity component of openness – not intelligence or overall openness – that’s associated with living longer.

Creative People See Possibilities Where Others See Reasons to Stress

One reason creative people get more years to live (and enjoy those years more) is because we respond better to stress. Stress has been implicated as a direct or indirect contributing factor in the top six causes of death in the US.

Nicholas Turiano at the University of Rochester’s Medical Center suggests “Creative people may see stressors more as challenges that they can work to overcome rather than stressful obstacles they can’t overcome.”

First Stage in Creative Process Is Both Cause and Effect

Turiano says “Individuals high in creativity maintain the integrity of their neural networks even into old age.”

This may be true because creativity requires multiple areas of the brain to interact. People who scored higher on openness tend to have more robust white matter supporting the connections between neurons in different areas of the brain.

Seeing what’s missing or less than optimal as an opportunity, rather than a problem or a situation to be endured, is the first stage in the creative process.

This ability to see problems as opportunities depends on different areas of the brain communicating with each other. And the habit of looking for creative possibilities challenges those areas of the brain to create more neural connections. Chicken and egg.

So what are you waiting for? Start thinking creatively. Here are some brain teasers to get you started.

Brain Teasers

Beyond the Brick: A classic test for divergent thinking (one form of creative thinking) is to name 20 uses for a brick. Give this a twist by challenging yourself to come up with 50 uses for any object.

For an extra brain boost, don’t allow yourself more than 10 variations on the typical use. For example, if you’re trying to find 50 things to do with an apple, don’t list more than 10 variations on eating the apple (bake a pie, make applesauce) but do count ways that step beyond the ordinary use (bake a pie to throw at a clown, make a sauce that looks like gore in a horror movie).

Beyond the Obvious: Pick 3 or 4 letters at random. Then look at a picture (any picture from anywhere) and find things in the picture that start with that letter.

If you have a picture of a woman wearing a bracelet and your letter is B, you have not just bracelet, but also bling, bounty, bauble, brilliant fashion statement. The woman in the picture is not just beauty or beauty queen, but also bride, buxom, bounty hunter, beautiful face hiding a twisted mind, barren, bored, butt-ugly, British, born in the USA, bold, brilliant, barely able to operate a doorknob.

Beyond Belief: Play with optical illusions in a collection of Escher drawings or online. (BrainDen.com has a nice collection. The November 2011 issue of Scientific American Mind provides an explanation of what’s going on in your brain as well as examples.)

But before you read the explanation, observe what you experience both emotionally and physically. Do you feel off-balance or get a slight headache or tired eyes? Do you feel confidence that the image is one thing and one thing only, confusion and frustration when you can’t see what else is supposed to be there, the satisfaction of seeing the other interpretation or recognizing the impossibility of the object?

Beyond the Blog: Create your own brain teasers. How do you challenge your brain to switch things up? What keeps your brain, and hence your body, young? Please share your strategies in a comment.

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One Comment on “Why Bother with Writer’s Block? Because Creative People Live Longer!”

  1. Joel D Canfield August 22, 2012 at 4:07 pm #

    Okay, this is going on my list of favorites. Deep brain practical stuff.

    Like

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