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 2 – 6 Shortcuts To Insights And Inspiration

What Makes A Unique Business Retreat?  Packing your vision, leaving the rest behind and spending time alone.  These are elements 3 and 4 of what makes a unique business retreat.

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 1 here: https://tinyurl.com/yy3rbymx

What may be one person’s nemesis is someone else’s bliss.

Spending time alone is an overlooked and under-rated element on the road to succeeding. Having only your vision to mull over is a luxury, while spending time alone is an inspiring leveller.

Being At The Cottage - Notice The Small Stuff

Notice The Small Stuff 

When you leave behind the thrum of city life and all the stuff that’s competing for your attention, you have time to stand and stare.   Time to notice the small stuff.  Being able to choose the rhythm of your day will help you condense and distil your thoughts.  You can empty your head, stop the mind chatter, and then wait and see what fills the space.

Packing your vision and leaving the rest behind means going offline, unplugging, disconnecting from habitual distractions and reconnecting with yourself.   There is richness in being rooted in the present moment, and you’ll find that you’re able to evoke your most inspired ideas when you settle in to being by yourself for an extended period of time.

Muse

Spending Time Alone

The extended period of time matters.   David Strayer, cognitive psychologist at the University of Utah who specializes in attention and is researching the psychological benefits of being in nature, says there is a 3 day effect.  â€œIf you can have the experience of being in the moment for two or three days, we don’t only feel restored, it seems to produce a difference in qualitative thinking and mental performance.”  Through EEG scans of his students while out backpacking in the wilderness, he has now been able to show this.

When you give your brain the chance to adjust into relaxation, then you begin to connect to your hidden seams of inspiration.

When you’re immersed in your vision, there’s a sense of anticipation and completeness. A blending of you with it and it with you.  Spending time alone with your vision allows you to re-calibrate, re-evaluate and re-group.

Earl Nightingale said that success is the realisation of a worthy ideal.   Sometimes to have success you need to get away for a while.

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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4 Reasons To Have A Conversation

Conversations – The Counterpoint To Spending Time Alone

Being At The Cottage is about using the power of spending time alone to deepen the development of something extraordinary.

However, in order to add perspective and depth to that experience, the time spent alone is enhanced by conversations.   But calling them conversations doesn’t really do justice to what can happen when two people sit down and talk together with purpose, so I’ve borrowed a phrase from a special friend which conveys much more eloquently what it’s all about.

‘Conversing with an intelligent stranger with no agenda.’   

These words are the words of Ted Simon – a journalist and legend among the small tribe of overland bikers and a self-deprecating cult figure among motorcyclists generally, describing the importance to him of anticipating sharing the experience, insights and shifts in perspective that are triggered by spending time alone.  And he should know.  He spent 4 years travelling alone around the world on his motorbike – not once, but twice and 30 years apart.  So I value his words about the importance of the conversations at Being At The Cottage.  His Triumph Tiger 100, which he rode on his first journey, is in the Museum of Transport, Coventry.  

I realise that for many, the thought of coming face to face with yourself for an extended period of time may make the hairs stand up on your arms. After all, isn’t it just easier to let the habitual distractions roll over us while we succumb to the backlog of mundane problems that swirl around us like autumn leaves on a gusty day.

Having conversations with an intelligent stranger who has no agenda has the potential to stir the sediment that lies unexplored in the subconscious and create a space for expansion.

Being At The Cottage - Conversations Creating A Space For Expansion

There are at least 4 good reasons why, wherever you are and whatever you do, seeking out conversations like these are uplifting, affirming and food for the soul.

Dynamic interruption

Good conversations should be dynamic involving give and take, timing, patience and preferably well-judged humour. Dynamic interruption helps to organise and prioritise the flow of the conversation. Intentionally provoking, it challenges ideas and encourages development and clarity of a theme, or stream of consciousness that has arisen. Smoothing and teasing out the strands of thoughts, untangling and arranging them into well-organised skeins so that they may be used to weave the idea into existence.

Discovering And Discarding Potential Barriers To Success

We’re all governed by our conditioning and beliefs. They shape the reality that we perceive by distorting, deleting and generalizing the information.   This is what we want most of the time, because if the subconscious shared all of the 60,000 thoughts that we have on average each day we would achieve nothing.

However, to have a belief that deletes, distorts and diminishes the possibility of creating something extraordinary is a barrier to progress. During the course of the conversations if barriers to progress are discovered then they can be dealt with.

The Perfect Counterpoint To Spending Time Alone

Mulling over an idea while spending time alone encourages the mind to expand.  Warm but candid conversations assist the organisation of disparate patterns of thought and investigate the significance of apparently random thoughts. They create space for movement around persistent and under-developed ideas and provide refreshing, new perspectives.

Bringing It All Into Sharp Focus

While spending time alone stimulates expansive thinking and creativity, by its nature the process is introspective. Like photography before the digital era, the images and ideas need to be brought into sharp focus manually. Having conversations with an intelligent stranger with no agenda intentionally draws the mind back from the unstructured, free thinking and brings thoughts and ideas into sharp focus.

So, borrowing Ted’s description of ‘conversing with an intelligent stranger with no agenda’ sums up the process beautifully for me because each conversation provides delicate balance and is the counter point to spending time alone.   

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What Is The Boutique Business Retreat?

‘What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare. No time to stand beneath the boughs And stare as long as sheep or cows.’                
W H Davies 1911


It’s over 100 years since W H Davies wrote those words, and most of us are now hurtling through life so fast that when we do trip up, the momentum is so strong that we metaphorically end up taking those wild and uncoordinated strides, trying to avoid the impending crash to the ground. – Often we can’t stop ourselves falling.

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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.

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