The Simple Way to Boost Your Creativity

The Simple Way to Boost Your Creativity

New research has shown the close connection between the mind and the body and the simple but important thing we can do to stimulate parts of the brain.

You’re sitting down, urging that creative spark to come. You can feel it. Almost there. But not quite. There it is. Nope. Gone again. It’s hiding like a hunted thing, peering from the distance, shyly darting from you as soon as you get close.

Frustrated and empty, you get up from your chair and start to walk, one foot in front of the other – and there it is, straight in front of you, then upon you, like it’s been waiting for you patiently the entire time.

The scientists at Stanford University would not be surprised.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, they have demonstrated that walking indoors or outdoors, as opposed to sitting, can increase creative thinking by up to 81% with an average increase of around 60%.

This creative boost lingers beyond the walk for 5 to 15 minutes.

Walking outside seems to have the greatest effect on creativity, but there’s no need slather on sunscreen to entice your creative energy to life. The act of walking is more important than where you walk. Even when participants in the study walked on a treadmill facing a wall in a small, bland room they showed a strong improvement in their creative thinking during and straight after their walk.

Interestingly, not all thought processes improved under the influence of walking.

The study looked at two types of thinking.

The first was divergent thinking – a creative process that requires opening up to many possibilities. (Think arts and humanities or brainstorming possible themes for your next party.) Ideas come from anywhere and flow freely and spontaneously. There is no one correct answer and often the outcomes are unexpected.

In the Stanford study, participants were asked to come up with alternative uses for common objects such as a button. Responses included ‘a tiny strainer’, ‘to drop behind you to leave a path’, ‘a door knob for a doll’s house’. Walking enhanced this type of thinking.

The other type of thinking tested was convergent thinking. This draws on logic and decision making to come up with one correct answer. (Think maths and science or trying to figure out why there’s no music coming through the speakers at your brilliantly themed ‘I-can’t-believe-you-wore-that-to-my-party’ party.)

Participants in the Stanford University study were asked for a word that goes with each of three words, such as cottage, Swiss and cake. (There’s only one answer – cheese.) For this type of thinking, performance after a walk was slightly worse.

Studies such as these show the close connection between the mind and the body and the importance of physical movement on stimulating parts of the brain.

At this stage, it’s unclear whether the improvement in creativity is specific to walking or whether any form of mild activity would see the same result.

Also unclear is exactly how walking fuels creativity. Walking seems automatic but that’s because we’ve been doing it all our lives. In actual fact, walking requires its share of mental energy to keep us upright, balanced, steady, left foot … right foot … breathe … left … right ….

It is plausible that occupying the mind with the act of walking means that there is less energy available to screen (read ‘block’) ideas. More unlikely, unfamiliar and unexpected ideas are able to seep through. Think of it as distracting the gatekeeper. Creativity requires that ideas be allowed to have air-time. Sometimes it’s the wildest ideas that have the juice and lead to something brilliant.

The capacity for brilliance is in all of us, but breaking through can feel like taking to granite with a splintered toothpick. Next time the stirring of something is there, looking for a way out, start walking.

 

[irp posts=”93″ name=”What to Feel Differently? Start With This (And It’s Not What You’d Expect!)”]

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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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