The next time you have a weird dream that makes no sense, celebrate! The brain practices what we need to learn and/or remember while we sleep. Nonsensical dreams are your brain’s way of practicing stepping beyond the limits of rational thinking.
Of course your rational, practical mind wants to call that kind of thinking “illogical” and therefore worthless. But the ability to see the unusual and unique in typical situations is essential to creativity.
Creative insight arises from the openness to see new ideas and make new associations. Creative geniuses don’t live in a different world, they perceive the world differently. They are not as bound by the brain’s default assumptions and prior experience. They learn to stop seeing/thinking what everyone else sees/thinks.
Researchers are working on a magnetic “creativity cap” that could give anyone temporarily access to the mental freedom of creative geniuses. Allan W. Snyder, Sophie Ellwood and Richard P. Chi are testing the effects of transcranial direct-current stimulation, a mild electric current that temporarily reduces activity in selected areas of the brain. (November/December 2012 issue of Scientific American Mind)
Their hypothesis is that reducing activity in the left anterior temporal lobe, an area that allows us to categorize or combine concepts, will “reduce the influence of prior knowledge” thus increasing creative problem-solving. So far, the results are encouraging.
In all likelihood, it’ll be years before you can buy a “magnetic creativity cap” to cure writer’s block or resistance, but in the meantime you can boost creative thinking with methods writers have been using for centuries:
- Get into hypnagogic (sleeplike) states by staring off into space, at the flames of a fire or at a mandala
- Welcome the weird — weird dreams, weird ideas, weird places or people
- Relax your way into the writer’s trance (for more help with this consider my upcoming Entering the Flow class)
- Let yourself nap or nearly nap (as I wrote in Around the Writer’s Block, “Thomas Edison is well-known for napping with ball bearings in his hands; as he relaxed, he would drop the ball bearings, the noise would wake him and he would record whatever insight he had in that moment.”)
- Step away from words with Process play like sketching, doodling, making a collage, manipulating clay or play-doh, or riffing with a musical instrument,
- Ask “what if” questions about the things you take for granted (e.g. What if there is a way to make tofu or liver taste good? What if it was possible to live someone else’s memories? What if cows revolted?)
- Surrender expectations, set your intention and keep showing up!
How do you let yourself see differently? What brings you into your writing?