How The Brain Makes Creative Solutions

‘The evidence that the brain responds to events that do not appear in consciousness is overwhelming’.  The Wayward Mind – Guy Claxton

I know that when I want to find solutions to puzzles or get into a creative flow, I need to access a different state of mind – make my brain work in a different way that never feels like work – to reach down into my unconscious to get the answers from my hidden seams of inspiration.  This isn’t news to creative people.  I’ve been reading Guy Claxton’s book recently, ‘The Wayward Mind’, and for the first time I came across the explanation of what is going on in the brain when we switch between expansive wondering and reverie to acting on the ideas and insights we retrieve from our unconscious and want to act on them. In other words what the brain does to trigger creative solutions.

Claxton writes that the most basic form of activation in the brain is excitation – when a pattern of connections becomes active and goes on to positively affect other patterns associated with it.  The yin to the excitatory yang is inhibitory, whose function is to suppress the activity in the connections further down the line.  Guy Claxton uses the analogy of the accelerator and brake in a car. Having both pedals gives us much finer control over our speed and consequently steering.  In the same way, the brain, with its ability to excite and inhibit has much finer control over its own stimulation, and instructions and information can be channelled much more precisely.

These are not recent discoveries. Over 150 years ago, the Russian physiologist Ivan Sechenov recognised inhibition in the brain of frogs and associated them with the human ability to override our own movements.

Sechenov argued that it was the inhibitory action that allows the brain to unhook thinking from action, allowing our minds to wander, meditate and come up with novel ways of ‘thinking’, keeping it internal without the need to turn into an external ‘thing’.

Through inhibition the brain can capture and constrict its own natural outpourings allowing its internal activity to become deeper and wider.

So, how does this affect creative solutions?  How is it that creative ideas just ‘pop’ into our heads (our conscious awareness) from out of the blue?  And is creativity nurture or nature?

According to what scientists have discovered, creativity has 2 phases: inspiration and elaboration and the thinking behind each process is different.

In order to encourage inspiration, we must let the excitation element in our brains have command over the inhibitory tendencies so that many ideas can flourish at once, overlapping, spreading out and allowing for new, expansive connections in the brain.  This musing means that different ideas can mingle together unconsciously, and when something gels, the concentration becomes increased so that it pops up into our conscious awareness.  

To arrest this phase of creativity, we want our brains to behave differently.  Rather than the wandering, random pattern of unconscious thoughts, we are looking to be more focused, purposeful and selective.  In other words, to inhibit the ideas that are no longer relevant so that we can keep the new thought process on track.

Creative people know intuitively that to lapse into reverie will allow ideas to bubble up.   But, when you let it, this is what the brain will do naturally.  

Creativity is, therefore accessible for everyone.  Recent research by Guy Claxton and Paul Howard-Jones at Bristol University, indicates that for those who seem to have forgotten how to use more of the excitatory aspect of their brains, undoing this rigidity is for many people quite easy.

Relax your brain and you open up to previously untapped inspiration and insights. 

The Moon And Creative Solutions… Really?

So what do you do when your creative solutions desert you?  Suck it up? Force it out? Tear out your hair?

For the last few weeks I’ve been bursting with ideas and creative solutions, on a high and full of energy, but during last weekend I noticed there was nothing there.  Flat, empty, imagine-less.  Those hidden seams of inspiration were no longer bubbling and popping.

Of course, this wasn’t the first time that this had happened, and it won’t be the last. But why do we get that feeling that it’s all fallen fallow?  Where does it all go?  As I was planning to draft my blog over the weekend, I began to think about this more deeply.

I have a confession.   I’ve always had a thing for the moon.  The word ‘lunatic’ comes directly from the Latin lunaticus– ‘moon-struck’ or from the late 13c – ‘affected with periodic insanity, dependent on the changes of the moon’ from Old French lunatique.  Obviously, we don’t use the word like this these days, but there has long been a sense that the moon can cause changes in our behaviour.

Is there a role of the lunatic in creativity?  Does the moon hold any sway over us as it waxes and wanes month after month?being at the cottage - moon creativity

I had heard about this possibility, and after a quick search online it appears that there are plenty of people out there who believe in the theory.   

Just as the tides are created by the pull of the moon’s gravity on the Earth, why couldn’t there be some effect on us too?  After all we are largely composed of water.

What if paying more attention to the phases of the moon could make a difference? Could it help us to develop a powerful rhythm and flow in?  An ability to predict our creative times and fallow moments.  Simply put, the perceived wisdom is that we are most creative after the start of a new moon and during the 2 weeks that it waxes into the full moon.

As the moon then begins to wane our creativity and its solutions also begins to wane and a period of reflection, consolidation and stillness sets in.   This lasts for around 10 or 11 days until the time of the new moon comes around again.

I have no idea whether there is any truth or scientific proof, but why does my Western mind and paradigm demand scientific proof anyway?  Sometimes, couldn’t it just be because it is?

At the weekend, I looked up at the sky and saw that the moon was indeed on the wane.

What do we do when our creativity dries up?  One of my favourite quotes, attributed to Lao Tsu, is – “Accept what is in front of you without wanting it to be other than it is. To try to change what is only sets up resistance.”  So, let things lie fallow – rest, surrender, allow.  We are only ever blocked if we believe we are.

being at the cottage - hidden seams of inspiration grand canyon

According to a moon phase calendar I found online, the next new moon is on 4th February.  Not so long to wait.  And, then, get ready, as like the sun forcing its way out from behind the clouds, those hidden seams of inspiration which have been lying quietly waiting for that moment, will be ready …… if you believe in the power of the moon.

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The Only Constant Thing In Life Is Change

When we observe and preserve an alert watchfulness over life, we can see the unfolding and enfolding evolution of everything – constant change.  It may seem banal, but this also includes holiday cottages.

I moved to Graig Ddu in 1991 – you can read the story here:  https://www.beingatthecottage.com/2019/01/14/synchronicity-at-its-magical-best/

For 9 years I lived and worked at the cottage as a ceramic artist. In 2005 I made some improvements and it became a holiday cottage.  Since then, this industry has completely transformed.

being at the cottage - graig ddu the cottage in the forest

For the next stage in Graig Ddu’s evolution, and mine, I was drawn into following an unusual direction.  One in which afterwards, I felt that I’d been transported into a parallel universe wearing a straight-jacket liberally lined with grit.  I developed an empathy for Rudyard Kipling’s story of How The Rhinoceros Got His Skin – (it was filled with stale cake crumbs by the Parsee when the rhino took off his skin to go for a swim).

The small but very successful agency that the cottage had been marketed by was bought out. Over lunch in September 2016, my friend, who’d sold this company, said there was a vacancy. Was I interested?  Weirdly out of character, applying for the job felt like the right thing to do.  A week later I was employed as the property manager for the Black Mountains area.

Marie had gently hinted that the company was ‘quite corporate’, and would I be ok with that?  As I hadn’t worked in a corporate environment in over 30 years, the answer was – Who knew? Time would tell.

I lasted 15 months.  During that time, I did my job, all the while craving creativity, initiative, inspiration and freedom.  However, throughout that time, as I went from property to property and visited the office in Devon, (in an evolutionary sense preserved in aspic, suspended in a 1970’s time warp), I got invaluable understanding and insights into the holiday cottage market.

Every cloud has its role in synchronicity.  I couldn’t have got these insights in any other way. They were the catalyst and the catapult for the evolution of Graig Ddu into its next role.  Being At The Cottage was born and so began the transformation from holiday cottage to boutique business retreat.

being at the cottage - every cloud plays its role in synchronicity

Over the months, as I have developed the details of the experience, I get the strongest impression that Graig Ddu has been waiting patiently for years for me to catch up in my own evolution so that together, we can fulfil a higher purpose, while at the same time, offering the opportunity and space for others to fulfil theirs.

The only constant thing in life is change.

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Hop Into The Bath And Unleash Creative Solutions

Create: ‘Bring something into existence’ – Oxford English Dictionary
‘To evolve from one’s own thought or imagination’

Creativity thrives in an expansively quiet mind.  It doesn’t happen while we are staring at a tablet or dealing with the daily grind of mundane problems in the office.  That’s why 72% of people get great ideas and insights in the bath or shower.   Being in water induces a meditative state and engages the brain’s default mode network.  Soaking in a steaming bath or being washed by a waterfall of water under the shower causes us to daydream in a way we wouldn’t when we remain focused on a particular task.

Activating the brain’s default mode network is extremely important for creativity.  The mind begins to relax and wander.  Free of stimulation, we are in the best position to produce some of the finest problem-solving and creative solutions that the mind can generate.

Being At The Cottge - 72% of people get creative solutions when they hop into a bath

Being creative doesn’t mean we need to be an artist, architect or sculptor.  Being creative is about bringing anything new into existence that wasn’t previously there – something that is demanding your attention.

Creativity is inherent in all of us and lying in a steaming bath can accelerate the potential for the creation of something extraordinary.

Sometimes group discussions, brainstorming and many heads are better than one.  At other times, the need for the solution we’re seeking drives us to take a break from the daily grind.  At those times, the sweetest answers often come while spending time alone in the bath or under the shower.

Taking time out to relax your brain, re-group your thoughts and recharge your batteries reassures the subconscious. As soon as the mind chatter and habitual distractions are put to one side then we can tap into the hidden seams of inspiration held by the subconscious.

Being At The Cottage - Bathe - soft towels and toiletries

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5 Reasons To Spend Time Alone When Pursuing Something Extraordinary

Reason No 1 – Get Away From Your Work Environment

When we separate ourselves from the white noise or our work environment, relinquishing the digital gadgetry that props us up, curious and wonderful things happen.

Continue reading 5 Reasons To Spend Time Alone When Pursuing Something Extraordinary

6 Important Things You Need To Know About Your Subconscious

Thing No 1 – Giving you the edge you need

Developing the relationship with your subconscious will give you the edge you need to succeed.  The more you can connect with your subconscious the more extraordinary results and eureka moments it will give you.

Thing No 2 – Dissolving barriers to progress

As you pursue something extraordinary, accessing the hidden seams of inspiration held by your subconscious, you will trigger eureka moments and dissolve barriers to progress.

Thing No 3 – Stimulate creative solutions

Leaving behind habitual distractions and spending time alone while tapping into the Subtle Dynamics at the cottage deepens your connection to your subconscious. You get an Access All Areas pass to the infinite well of creativity and innovation stored there, and creative solutions will be stimulated as you develop a deeper connection with it.

Thing No 4 – You get what you think about most

It’s not so much about trying harder to think smarter, it’s about learning a style of non-thinking thinking.  It’s about being more, and doing less.  Gradually learning to spend time with this expansive awareness is important because the subconscious does not think independently.  It follows instructions absolutely, and will deliver whatever you repeatedly imagine, feel and tell it to. You get what you think about most.

Subtle Dynamics of Being At The Cottage

Thing No 5 – It stores all your memories, beliefs, experiences and emotions

The subconscious is your gut feeling and intuition and works in harmony with the Subtle Dynamics of being at the cottage in the forest. The subconscious is extraordinary.  It holds onto everything and never sleeps.  You will never feel alone once you engage your subconscious.  It stores all your memories, experiences, beliefs and emotions and is continually processing upwards of 15 million pieces of information in any single moment. In contrast, your conscious mind is only able to process 7 bits of information at any one time, plus or minus 2.

Thing No 6 – It works according to your conditioning and beliefs – always

Your subconscious has the job of taking this almost infinite amount of information and filtering it down to what must be used by your conscious mind.  This will be different for each individual and will depend on the conditioning and beliefs accumulated over time, some of which will be barriers to progress.

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To engage with the subconscious is to be able to see and create whatever you choose because it has direct access to Universal intelligence (your higher self), which your conscious mind does not.   Until you take control of your relationship with your subconscious, information from your hidden seams of inspiration is only passed onto the conscious mind if the subconscious determines that there is a need for it to do so. Otherwise it holds onto that information until you trigger its release.  You can open a dialogue with your subconscious through connecting with any of the Subtle Dynamics, opening up the streams of consciousness which contain the eureka moments you are looking for.

As your awareness of the power of your subconscious mind sharpens, and you allow the process to unfold naturally, trusting that everything you need to know is already here, your subconscious will gratefully offer up to you everything it has been holding onto.

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Why Getting Away From It All Unleashes Creative Solutions

When our mind is free of stimulation, we are in the best position to produce some of the finest problem-solving and creative solutions that it can generate.  By allowing the mind to relax and wander, we activate the brain’s default mode network, which is essential for creativity.

Continue reading Why Getting Away From It All Unleashes Creative Solutions