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. 

Part 3 – 6 Shortcuts To Insights And Inspiration

What Makes A Boutique Business Retreat?

Packing your vision and leaving the rest behind to spend time alone.  Here are elements 5 and 6 of what makes a boutique business retreat and this blog wraps up the last of the fundamental elements that define Being At The Cottage.

In all, there are 6 fundamental elements that make Graig Ddu – The Cottage In The Forest a unique business retreat. Three are synonymous with many beautiful places to stay, but three elements are game-changers which elevate the experience at the cottage into something unique, and the combination of these elements make up more than the sum of their parts.  You can read Part 2 here:  https://bit.ly/2X9CyTN     

Part 3 – Meeting your unconscious mind through conversation. 

Our unconscious mind is one of the most under-utilised human resources.   It has an infinite capacity and guards all the answers that you presume you don’t know yet.  If your unconscious is doesn’t know you want to develop a relationship with it, it will continue to hold onto the secrets it could be sharing with you.

‘If the unconscious is the turbid bottom of the lake of the mind, you have to be peering down into the lake to notice it.’  Prof Guy Claxton – The Wayward Mind

One of the most powerful ways to help you to peer down into the lake is to have a conversation.

We can all spend time on our own and not always get the answers and outcomes we want.  Having a conversation with someone who’s good at listening and asking the right kind of questions, can unlock a wealth of inspiration and insights.  

The conversations are a pivotal part of the process and spirit of Being At The Cottage. They are a potent and powerful way to gently sift through all the information that gets absorbed into your streams of consciousness which are naturally kindled by spending time alone.

Conversations with an intelligent stranger

Your unconscious doesn’t have free will like your conscious mind does.  It takes instructions from you.  As you understand and deepen your relationship with the unconscious it will begin to dissolve any barriers to progress and it will gratefully offer up information and insights it has been holding onto. 

Your unconscious is your gut feeling and where your intuition lies.  The more you can connect with your unconscious, the more extraordinary results and eureka moments it will give you.

Putting a conundrum into words by taking it outside your internal mind chatter, releases new insights and perspectives from your unconscious, creating expansion and possibility.   A good conversation sculpts the fragments of insights gleaned into more than the sum of their parts.