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Control Creativity: Channel These Ways to Turn Your Creativity On and Off

Control Creativity: Channel These Ways to Turn Your Creativity On and Off

Whether you work in a creative field or just enjoy being artistic and creative as a hobby, it can sometimes be hard to work in the time you have available. We don’t always have the freedom to drop work, chores, or social obligations in order to follow our muse and see how artistic we can truly be. Check out these ways to turn your creativity on and off, and see how much you can control creativity.

1. Don’t over think anything.

Write down the first thing that comes to your mind. Defer judgment as long as you can; as soon as you let that critical side of your mind open up, you’ll be second guessing everything you do, whether you’re drawing, painting, writing, sculpting—anything! Just get something done before you look it over. The quicker you can get something done, the more creative you’re likely to be because you’re not letting the logical side of your brain take over.

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It’s so easy to let yourself over think every little thing, from what you’ll wear today to how your coworkers will react to your presentation. You second guess yourself once you consider your audience and what kind of reactions and critiques you’ll get. In reality, you don’t need to worry about this at all. Sometimes the craziest, strangest ideas are the ones that turn out the best, so don’t over think things on the front end. Creativity is all about you, so let yourself do whatever strikes your fancy. Have fun with it!

2. Look at things as if you were a child.

Remember when you were a kid and had to make up your own toys? I made dollhouse furniture out of bottle caps, boxes, and pipe cleaners. There are days now when I look at these supplies and wonder what I could make with them, whereas in childhood, I’d craft a table and chairs in no time. I used to color pictures of imaginary animals without worrying that they couldn’t really exist in our world. Do you have similar memories? Anything seemed possible when we were kids, but years of traditional schooling and falling into line in the workplace has trained us to think in a certain way. We have to think logically—everything has to make sense. We have to think in a linear manner—this leads to that which leads to this.

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Everyone says to think outside the box, but it’s harder to do than you might think. Instead of pushing yourself to think creatively, which will probably pressure and stifle you even more, look at things as if you were a child again. Nothing has to make sense, you just have to be able to imagine it. If you can think it up, it can be true. Use this whimsical, silly approach in your writing, art, and other creative endeavors. Letting go of traditional rules will help you feel more free with your creativity.

3. Find inspiration in everything.

Finding inspiration in anything around you will spark creativity. Let your imagination roam when you’re out and about, or even if you’re stuck inside your home or office! Look at what’s around you. The front yard looks a little overgrown, but instead of pushing away from your creativity and getting out the lawn mower, let your imagination loose. That tall grass would be a great place for elves to hide—maybe this inspires a story or drawing. Instead of sighing as you turn on your computer in the mornings, think of how things work behind the screen, and let your imagination wonder about how it was invented, what it takes to make it run, and see where your mind takes you from there. Instead of letting the mundane daily tasks get you down, turn them into something more fun and interesting.

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4. Strive for quantity.

The more you come up with, the more likely one will be worth exploring. If you’re a writer, don’t be afraid to jot down a dozen ideas, or start three stories at once. You never know which one will turn out to be your favorite. Don’t censor yourself and insist you just focus on one thing at a time—who knows what you’ll be missing out on! Same for visual artists: why limit yourself to one canvas or sculpture? Why not work on one until you can’t think of what to do next, and then start working on another? It’s only natural that being creative in one instance will keep your brain active enough to come up with more ideas, so don’t stifle that. Encourage yourself to come up with as many ideas as possible, and follow through on all of these to see where they take you.

Try any or all of these approaches to turning on creativity and see where it takes you and your art. You might be surprised with what you’re able to come up with!

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Featured photo credit: Johann Dreo via flickr.com

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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