Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity, being task-focused, and how much information I’m consuming. News reports, social media, podcasts and even my beloved books (if I’m trying to read too many), can all contribute to a sense of mental overload, I think. Where there’s mental overload, one consequence for me is a sharp downturn in my creativity – never a good thing for someone who likes to be creative. I’ve been trying to free up more ‘brain space’ for ideas and those flashes of inspiration that don’t come easy when your brain is besieged with a constant influx of information, imagery – and remembering whether it’s packed lunch or school dinners for the kids.
I notice the creativity drain a lot – when I have a few projects on the go, when I’m busy, or when I’m just hopping about from one thing to another. Suddenly my brain feels too full to make up stories, think up blog post ideas or just come up with a solution to everyday problems – AKA getting on with normal life. On the flipside, when I’m taking life a bit slower, enjoying a walk with the dog or just relaxing in the bath I can find myself literally brimming with inspiration (you’d be surprised how many bright ideas I’ve had just soaking in a tub of Epsom salts, honestly 😉 ). And this isn’t unusual of course – how many people get their best ideas while they’re out running , emptying the dishwasher or generally doing something that involves ‘switching off’ their brain for a little while?
And it turns out that this isn’t just common sense, it’s science (at least according to a podcast I listened to lately – episode 41 of Dr Chatterjee’s Feel Better, Live More series on the modern stress epidemic, if you’re so inclined). Apparently, when we’re not focused on a task, something called the Default Mode Network of our brain, a powerful ideas generator, goes into overdrive – thus explaining those curious lightbulb moments when we’re apparently doing nothing (and quite possibly strengthening the case for doing nothing a bit more often, too).
And it’s not just adults who can benefit – I found myself nodding along to an article in a magazine lately on why it’s good for kids to be bored now and again; and why as parents we might want to think twice about filling up their every out-of-school hour with organised activities, after-school clubs and pre-arranged playdates. Apparently having a bit of quiet downtime (and sorry kids, that doesn’t mean hours spent on the PlayStation), can boost kids’ creativity, imagination and a sense of independence in having control of their own time. None of this really aligns with our modern culture, where being busy, and informed, every second of the day (while simultaneously ferrying our kids to every club imaginable) is often seen as a sign of our validity as human beings and parents. The fact that I might jokingly refer to myself as ‘lazy’ for not taking my kids to more after school clubs says a lot I think, about the way we perceive allowing ourselves a bit more time to simply ‘be’.
But in spite of that, I’m not ashamed to admit that I allow (or at least try to allow) myself some time to turn my brain off. If you need some suggestions to get you started try yoga, baths, running, walking, or listening to a whole album on – wait for it – CD. Go offline for a bit, carve out some time in the day when you avoid social media, carry a notebook with you everywhere to jot down inspiration – heck, be a rebel and go analogue.
A handy consequence might be that you find your bank of ideas once again brimming.
Because where creativity is concerned, it seems that less is most definitely more.