The Nature of Creative Thought

Where do creative concepts come from? I personally think each person is different in regards to the origins of creative thought. Inspiration has no set rules for any one form of art, or individual artist. I once had the idea of a short film I made from staring down at my drain hole while showering in a half-asleep state. I also got the idea for a short story I wrote from seeing an armless beggar on the subway. Ideas can come from anywhere at any given time. The question is; how can we induce creative thought, or at least give it a little push?

The Attention Restoration Theory (ART) suggests that spending time in nature, taking in all aspects of it, can restock our cognitive reserves and it suggests those of us living in urban areas are way overdue for a restocking. Studies have shown that sitting in a park for a half hour, or an hour, or more, and looking at the flowers, feeling the breeze, listening to the birds, can all improve our attention spans. It suggests that our attention is restored due to changing our environment. It mentally forces us to use different parts of our brain, as opposed to the continuous use and abuse one specific part. Not only does it improve attention, but it also reduces stress that would naturally inhibit clear and detailed thought.

“Nature is a place where our mind can rest, relax and let down those threat responses. Therefore, we have resources left over — to be creative, to be imaginative, to problem solve — that allow us to be better, happier people who engage in a more productive way with others. Constant distractions and stimulations of modern life are a threat, they sap our resources to do the fun thinking, things like creativity, or being kind and generous, along with our ability to feel good and be in a positive mood.”

–       Ruth Ann Atchley (Department Chair and Associate Professor of cognitive/clinical psychology at the University of Kansas)

Another professor suggests you don’t even have to spend a large amount of time in nature to reap the benefits on your creative side. He suggests just going for a walk to clear your mind, and surrounding yourself with just a few flowers can have the same effect. It can even make people more caring in general. But when you do, leave your cell phone at home. If you must take it, leave it on mute and only use it in case of emergency. No rocking out to your favourite Slayer album on this walk, listen to the sounds of nature around you.

“Think of it as a dose-response effect; the bigger the does, the bigger the benefit.”

–       David Strayer, PhD. (Professor of Psychology, University of Utah) 

The age-old argument has been that the effects of various drugs can have a huge impact on the creative thought process. While it has been proven that a lot of drugs can in fact open the mind to perceive many things that may go missing otherwise, I personally believe it is an individual and drug combination that has to be met. In other words, what works for one person may not work for the other. In my teens I used to play in a band that performed live shows frequently. Members of another band we played with often used to be able to get smashed and perform, improvising beautiful arrangements on the spot that sounded like they been slaved over for creation. I on the other hand, had to wait to get my drunk on after the show, as I could barely concentrate enough to pluck the strings properly while intoxicated. Everyone is different.

A study in 2011 states that cannabis does in fact produce psychotomimetic symptoms that could possibly help the user to connect dissimilar concepts. This act of connecting dissimilar concepts is known as divergent thinking and is considered to be a primary aspect in creative thinking.

“I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.”

–       Hunter S. Thompson (Author)

So where drugs may only work some of the time, and for some of the people, it appears that nature will have positive effects on everyone. Now, if you can’t figure out how to move forward in your novel, or connect the verse to the chorus, or start your next painting, put down your tablet, turn off the Xbox, shut down the PC and go for a nice hike through the woods, or visit the nearest park. Feed the ducks, they like it, and leave your smartphone at home!

By Adam S. House