The science of creativity

If you want to get creative give your brain some TLC.

That slightly odd looking grey matter found at the top of your head is a complex and amazing thing.

Not only does it keep you alive but its responsible for every mood, task and idea we have. To complete each of these things the brain produces a large number of chemicals or neurotransmitters, they can result in us having laser focus, put us on a creative roll or, on the other hand, can leave us not wanting to stray from the sofa or get out of bed.

So, how do the chemicals in your brain effect creativity?

This particular human trait is the result of two specific pathways in the brain. The first, being controlled by serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for how we feel between feel calm and anxious and the second, dopamine responsible for our state between bored and engaged. Low levels of serotonin cause us to become anxious and fearful whereas high levels of serotonin allow us to feel calm and relaxed. Low levels of Dopamine will leave us feeling bored and disinterested whereas high levels will mean we are engaged and interested. Therefore, to be at our best when it comes to getting creative we need high levels of both Serotonin and Dopamine.

All well and good in theory but how do we make sure that our brains are working to plan with us? We can hardly demand that the neurotransmitters be released on cue however, we can provide conditions and nutrition that will encourage the release of these two important chemicals.

Top tips for creativity

Avoid Stress
Easier said than done I know! When we put ourselves in stressful environments we cause our body to release the hormone cortisol. This hormone is released during both psychologically stressful times and also during periods of stressful metabolic activity. It acts to inhibit the production of serotonin and as such means that we are more likely to become anxious or fearful, not great when we are trying to get creative. Expert Sports Scientist Christian Finn said: “When it comes to cortisol release a little can be good and has its benefits. However, when we think of this data as a graphical representation the effect cortisol on creativity would be shaped a little like an inverted U.

So in a very low stress environment, concentration and productivity would suffer. In a very high stress environment, the same would hold true.

In other words, there is an “optimal” amount of stress/cortisol, above and below which creativity will be impared. This optimal level will vary from person to person and task to task.”

We can’t avoid stressful environments completely but try to find a place away from the hustle and bustle if you need to concentrate. It’s hard to let your brain do its thing if there are multiple conversations in the background or people multitasking around you.

Avoid overly strenuous workouts if you know your going to need to produce ideas. Although exercise gives you a serotonin boost, taking it too far will be counter productive and you’ll be feeling the worse for it later in the day.

Your body is a temple
You don’t need to be a health nut to get the best from your body but you do need to be thinking about what you’re eating and drinking.

Protein is your friend when it comes to brain food, eating a protein rich breakfast supplies your body with the ingredients it needs to produce serotonin and dopamine.

Coffee acts as a physiological arouser, this means that it will enhance whatever mood you are in at the time. This is great if you’re on a roll of creating great stuff, in this case have another cup and get cracking. However, if your not feeling it then coffee isn’t going to help so skip it and have a caffeine free drink.

Alcohol is a depressant and will inhibit the action of serotonin and Dopamine. It can also have an effect on your sleep patterns so you if you know you have a big meeting coming up stay away from the wine.

Sleep is essential!
Sleep is the body’s way of rebooting the systems and although you may feel like you don’t need it, you really do. Ideally you need a couple of hours of deep sleep to reboot your hormone levels, and when you consider that this non-rem sleep only accounts for a third of a persons average night sleep, your looking at a minimum of six hours.

When you wake up your serotonin levels are going to be at their highest so make the most of the morning and schedule brainstorming sessions or creative tasks for first thing if you can.

Train your brain
The brain is like any muscle in the body, the more you train and stronger it becomes and just like your gym trips a mix of exercises have the most benefit on your brain power. Try logical and spatial problem solving, and number puzzles etc., there are plenty of fun apps out there to get you thinking and that will strengthen the synapses giving your brain a good work out.

Get walking
Don’t feel confined to a desk, if you’ve got a brainstorming session coming up, get up and get out of the office. Light cardiovascular activity is perfect for getting the brain working and the ideas flowing. Natalia Komis from iamsociable says about walking meetings: “This particular tool is great for those who have too many ideas or who are confused about what they want to do. Somehow the element of movement allows their thoughts to move in a linear way with them. It is also great for igniting ideas.”