Creativity is a mysterious state of being. It’s also incredibly valuable in the information age we are now in the middle-beginning of. Hence, scientists, psychologists and self-helpers each have hypotheses and ideas about how to conjure a mental state that produces new ideas in both quality and profusion, but frankly, we don't yet know much. I use conjure in the preceding sentence for a reason — because for the most part, it seems alchemical, mysterious, and has thus far (mostly) confounded those who study it.
While we know how to quicken mental states (drugs like caffeine), and know what happens to the brain during meditation, creativity is not only tricky to measure, but also to track. Most people can achieve the much-studied "flow state" which seems to be an integral component of the "getting it done" part of the creative equation. But where does the spark come from? And is there a shortcut?
I’ve struggled with this question. As a writer and artist, I’m continually curious about the provenance of my creative ideas; both my stepmother Kris Vartan, an impressionist painter, and musician Tori Amos say that their inspirations come from outside of themselves
, well-formed, and they see it as their job to simply fill out the details of what has been bestowed upon them from the universe. Other artists claim that parts or details of a whole are revealed, and then they use their own experience and proclivities to put them together in a way that makes sense to them. Plenty of writers say they have no idea where a story is going when they start (Stephen King, for one), and others say they can only see the end and have to figure out how to get there.
I find that the majority of my most lastingly creative moments happen in two places: when I am on the move while traveling (especially trains or when driving), and when I’m in natural spaces, specifically wooded areas (as much as I love the beach, the sound of the ocean tends to send me to relaxo-land, which is when my brain is wiped free of thought).
Turns out my peripatetically inspired bouts of creativity may have a basis not in what’s happening to my mind, but what’s going on with my body (or more properly, the effect the latter is having on the former). According to an article in the New York Times
by three researchers who are looking at this question, physically taking ourselves out of the "box" (which may differ depending on one's life and lifestyle) might be the biggest boon to new and better thought.
"Our team examined the originality of ideas among 104 students at Singapore Management University. First we showed students pictures of objects made of Lego blocks. Then we asked them to think of original uses for the objects, either while walking along a fixed rectangular path indicated by duct tape on the floor (marking out an area of about 48 square feet) or by walking freely as they wished.
The differences were striking: students who walked freely were better at generating creative uses for the objects — coming up with more than 25 percent more original ideas. Such creativity was assessed in terms of fluency (the number of ideas generated), flexibility (the number of unique categories that described the generated ideas) and originality (as judged by independent raters)."
Several other experiments suggested the same thing, that creativity is more easily found by changing our environments and moving our bodies within them.
How do you find creativity in every day life? I think this research is a good excuse to get out of the office, but what other changes could one make?