Sparks to Light Your Creative Flame
by Kari Pederson
I wonder what Emily Dickinson used to do when she needed some inspiration. I have long been curious about this mysterious poet because of the deep passion she expresses in her work. Did she have a constant stream of creativity at her fingertips? Or was she like the rest of us who often need a spark to ignite the creative flame for our next project?
The subject of inspiration can be a tricky one. What works for people varies widely, and inspiration cannot be forced or consumed as a magic elixir.
You can, however, give inspiration a helping hand by consciously taking simple actions already on your to do list. Before we delve into how to encourage inspiration to strike, let us examine the science behind why certain strategies promote creative thinking.
Welcome to the concept of neuroplasticity. Scientists used to believe our brains stopped developing in childhood, and any damage was irreversible. However, new research confirms that not only can the brain regenerate to compensate for injury, it also can reorganize itself and create fresh neural pathways. One of my favorite research studies on neuroplasticity involves a group of London cabbies. Their brains grew significantly to hold the geographical information needed to be good at their job.
Keep in mind the brain loves to be efficient and will travel the same old pathways unless given a reason to deviate from the expected path. Novelty is the key ingredient to promote neuroplasticity, because anything new literally jolts the brain out of automatic pilot and into a state where you can be more creative. Every novel circumstance or environment forces your brain to make new connections, which are crucial for imagination, creativity and fresh perception.
Want to supercharge your opportunities for inspiration? Take these simple actions:
- Eat, sleep and breathe new. Write in a different style or location. Take a different route home from your day job. Experiment with the new paint set you have been drooling over. Cook with a new spice. My taste buds are on a mission to test sea salt from every continent.
- Notice the detail. Take time to notice the curve of a chair; a vibrant flower; a sign on the freeway. Any small detail can provide inspiration. Yesterday I spent 20 minutes observing the details of a blossoming cherry tree.
- Take breaks. We also know break time and periods of play help our brains be ready for new connections. Many visionaries get their best ideas during downtime.
- Go for the giggles. Find anything or anyone who makes you laugh. I love watching funny cat videos. Did you know Grumpy Cat’s real name is Tartar Sauce?
- Be still. Getting quiet is an incredibly effective technique. Practice some form of mediation or mindfulness for five minutes a day. Take a break from social media. Turn off your cell phone for an hour. My favorite way to be still is to indulge in a multisensory daydream and make it as realistic as possible.
- Be patient and change your focus. Give your brain a rest and think about something completely unrelated. Inspiration will often creep in when your mind is completely distracted. Have you ever found your missing keys after you stopped looking for them? Although, I’m still trying to forget about the time my house keys ended up at the bottom of the garbage can.
- Make time for self care. Our brains do not have the energy for neuroplasticity when their resources are spent helping the body make it through the day. Grab a catnap. Eat well. Splurge on a massage. Listening to soul-stirring music is also a great mini-break. Find a soothing pick-me-up like English breakfast tea with lots of milk and sugar.
- Do something physical. Go to the gym. Use your hands. Finish neglected household chores. Stand and stretch at least once every two hours. Get out into nature or take a walk around the block. Some of my best inspiration comes when I view the world from my bicycle seat.
Inspiration often comes when we least expect it, but we can substantially increase our odds of receiving inspiration. Consciously take action to create favorable conditions and be ready.
Or in the words of Emily Dickinson, “Not knowing when the Dawn will come, I open every Door …”
Kari Pederson, MSW, LCSW, is a writer, clinical social worker and wellness coach who has worked with children and adults for over 25 years. An avid student of positive psychology, she loves helping people live their best lives. Kari is a new writer to VoiceCatcher’s community website and thrilled to be part of its mission.