“I never made one of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking” ― Albert Einstein
The night-time — you’re lying in bed and it’s usually fuelled with amazing ideas that pool inside of your mind. Nothing stirs in the darkness and creativity is blooming like a Victorian garden. You contemplate all of the changes you’re going to make in your life.
“Starting tomorrow”, you say to yourself. Tomorrow I’m going to be better, tomorrow I’m going to get those abs, tomorrow I’m going to work on my business venture, tomorrow I’m going to take up painting and become the next Vincent van Gogh (maybe keep both ears attached).
When the next day arrives, you’ve fallen back into the routine of self-doubt. The feeling that you just aren’t good enough to accomplish the things, that your mind attempts to veer you towards.
Like Yo-Yo Ma said, “Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity because if you’re passionate about something, then you’re more willing to take risks.” So why is it that our passion, drive and determination with our creative thoughts have dispersed by the next morning?
What’s Going on Up There?
The brain is a complex creature that can run wild like an animal. It’s constantly firing up neurons like the 4th of July but what’s actually happening in there? Why do you give yourself a logical explanation that the enormous, round rock floating in space is actually Earth? Why do you feel love, compassion and contentment when looking at the person you love?
History tells us that the earliest study of the brain/nervous system dates all the way back to ancient Egypt. Of course, they didn’t have the intellect and technology we have in modern society to understand the complexities and varying regions of the brain.
In the 1900s, a German neurologist by the name of Korbinian Brodmann was able to study the brain and give us our first map. This map has been the go-to A-Z and Broadmann discovered 50 different regions in the cerebral cortex of the human brain.
Since then, scientists have been able to update the 100-year-old map, with use of modern science and technology and have found new regions in the brain. in 2016, Matthew Glasser and his colleagues at Washington University managed to achieve the most comprehensive map known to date by combining the data from 210 MRI scans from test subjects. This led to the confirmation that there are definitely 83 regions that we already know of and 97 new regions that we weren’t aware of.
The left hemisphere of the brain is the conscious mind, this part of the brain finds meaning by use of symbols and language. This is the “scientific” side of the brain, that tries to answer how and why questions. Our thoughts and experiences are rationalized, categorized and given definition and meaning by use of logic. This gives us the perception of being safer and more in control of ourselves and the environment in which we live.
Meaning is given to your thoughts and experiences when the right hemisphere is involved in your thought process. This side of the brain, the subconscious mind is the creative counterpart to the left hemisphere and as oppose to categorizing the world and perceiving it as constructs, the right hemisphere views the world in its rawest form.
The right side of the brain predominantly forms meaning through emotions, feelings and sensations. Life is perceived as “in the now” and compels our impulses to any number of activities for gratification. Living in the moment is associated with your right brain, like looking at your puppy and feeling all warm and fuzzy, or looking at pizza and thinking “oh why not” so you just eat an entire pizza (I definitely haven’t done that).
As humans, we’re regulated by circadian rhythms, they’re physical and mental changes in our 24-hour day. The circadian rhythms are affected by light and darkness, this influences our sleeping patterns, the release of hormones, digestion and the regulation of body temperature.
Since circadian rhythms are also linked to our psychological abilities, when we’re at peak circadian arousal time, our brain power is at its highest.
So, Why is My Creativity Happening at Night?
It’s common amongst many people that the nighttime boosts creativity and optimism but the question is why?
In 2011, Mareike B. Wieth & Rose T. Zacks, published a paper in the journal Thinking and Reasoning. Mareike B. Wieth and her colleagues conducted a study to examine the effects that time of day has on thought processes when trying to solve problems. During the study, participants were faced with two types of problems: insight and analytic, at both optimal and non-optimal times of the day.
Volunteers were asked to fill out a questionnaire that asked if they were at their peak in the morning or at night. This would be indicative of when a person’s peak circadian arousal time is. Following the results of the questionnaire, the participants were then studied as they solved analytic and insight problems at different times of the day.
Prior to conducting the study, it was presumed that the decreased inhibitory control at different times of day would greatly affect performance when solving problems. In conclusion to the study, it was found that insight-based problems were easier to solve at non-optimal times of the day.
We would assume that when our bodies and minds are at peak circadian arousal time that our brainpower would be on full auto and we would have the highest success rate in solving problems.
Now we know, as our circadian rhythms are responding to less light and our body is beginning to slow down for a night’s rest, the right hemisphere of the brain can actively function and benefit our creative impulses when we’re not in our most attentive state.
How Do I Focus My Creativity?
Last night, the right hemisphere of your brain mustered up mind-blowing ideas (pardon, the pun) and subconscious wisdom. The ideas are oozing out of your being and you can’t wait to hop out of bed the next day and put them into action.
You can’t wait to quit your corporate job with financial stability to pursue your dream of being an artist, musician or writer. You can’t wait to put all of the visuals in your mind onto paper or write the book that you’ve wanted to for years. You can’t wait to wow your boss with a creative marketing strategy to go alongside your data.
You wake up and the left hemisphere of your brain is back online and is ready to keep you in check. The left brain starts telling you everything that you really don’t want to hear in the morning, or ever: “How are you going to afford that? You have a report due at the end of the week! You have to pay rent, so now isn’t the time to be creative.” Of course, the left brain is there to keep us connected to the reality of the world, so we don’t fly off into an existential crisis.
“I’ve learned that fear limits you and your vision. It serves as blinders to what may be just a few steps down the road for you. The journey is valuable, but believing in your talents, your abilities, and your self-worth can empower you to walk down an even brighter path.” — Soledad O’Brien
When I first discovered that I had a talent for writing poetry, I was pretty unsure about how to sculpt my words into something that was meaningful and coherent. I would make notes on my phone at random times in the day/night, in a very rough format (think sandpaper). Then I would develop that piece of writing later, into what I hoped would be a finely polished piece of Italian marble.
I felt scared to release my words to the world. I’m was putting myself out there with something that was buried under my skin and in my soul.
Many of us are held back by fear. We want to create, it’s liberating and gratifying and yet the fear of failure holds us back. What if my creative concept isn’t accepted by the world, and that’s our left brain telling us that this idea isn’t good enough compared to other people’s ideas. This creativity isn’t worthy of sitting on the mantle next to everyone else’s in the world.
The left brain will make a risk assessment as to why you’re feeling fear of releasing your creativity to the world. To overcome the fear you’ll need to establish three things:
- What is it that you’re afraid of?
- What’s triggering the fear?
- What’s the worst thing that could happen?
While they may seem like obvious questions, my own discovery led me to understand myself more. I was afraid of what the world might think of me (I’m a creative so I still do). But if you don’t throw yourself in the deep end and take the risk with your ideas then the fear monster will swallow you whole.
Once I had established that the worst thing that could happen is rejection or becoming demotivated by failing, I decided that I’d need to develop a thicker skin.
What we fail to recognize is that creativity flourishes with failure, like the Japanese proverb “Nana korobi ya oki” states, fall down 7 times, get up 8. The more we fail, the more we’re able to grow, learn and adapt to our experiences and surroundings.
In this day and age, we’re all very self-conscious. Everything is about image, take note of what Sylvia Plath said, “Opinions are like orgasms, mine matters most and I really don’t care if you have one”. Don’t shoot your own ideas down before your garden blossoms because you’re worried about what others may think.
According to Shelley Carson, PhD, Harvard researcher and author, we all have an “internal filter” that sifts through our thoughts and if our dials are set too high, our creative ideas don’t even make it to our conscious awareness in the left brain. Ergo — the beautiful and brilliant ideas that we got in the night, won’t even make their way to the conscious mind because we judged them prematurely.
To harness creativity to our full potential, Carson suggests not to censor ideas, keep the left brain and its logic in check, by reminding yourself that some of the world’s finest innovation has derived from the most foolish sounding ideas and this will help the brain not to be so judgemental with its own thoughts.
Flow Gives You Flow
When I’m feeling frustrated or unable to let my ideas flow freely my significant other always tells me to go and do something else.
She says “flow gives you flow” and that means go and flow into something else that you like to do, whether it’s painting, working out or reading. If you’re like me, then I like to cook or paint and that helps to release my mental blockages.
Personally, I like to articulate my creativity from one container into another, so when I’m stuck with coming up with creative ideas to write about, I switch my focus to another creative aspect of my personality.
According to research by Wendy Suzuki, Neuroscientist, and author of the book Happy Brain, Happy Life. Working out has a number of benefits other than strengthening muscles and improving health. Working out can benefit creativity and memory too because it encourages the growth of new brain cells by stimulating Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor.
So, to let those budding ideas from the night before flourish into the most beautiful garden you’ve ever seen can be achieved. The brain just needs a little motivation and by a little, I mean a lot. Keep the mind curious, inquisitive and keep it fuelled by learning; whether you’re learning new skills or academia, it all has the potential to stimulate the brain’s creativity.
Check out my Instagram for pieces of poetry and inspirational words — @noopface
My book is available here — From the Universe’s Lips to My Ear
Originally published at writingcooperative.com