Volume one: [ Creative mind basics || The role of trance states in creativity || Hypnagogia and creativity || Synaesthesia and creativity || Psychedelic states and creativity || Convergent versus divergent thinking || Meditation, mindfulness and creativity || Flow states and creativity || Creative brainwaves ]
Volume two: [ Training yourself to be more creative || Using the past to be creative in the present and future || Hang around creative people || Hypnagogic creativity exercise || Open monitoring meditation || Image streaming || Mind mapping || Free writing and journaling || Getting into flow states on purpose || Using brainwave entrainment for creativity || Regular short bursts of exercise || Strategies of genius – the Disney creative strategy || Children and creativity ]
Until reasonably recent times it was thought that you were either born creative or you weren’t. And some would say that this is still a defining factor.
Creativity is now more widely known to be a skill that is learnable. Even a persons IQ can be changed with training.
Creativity is one of those skills that has and will continue to shape our world. And on a personal level, creative expression and idea generation is a valuable skill to focus on for many reasons. Problem solving being just one of those reasons. Sports, hobbies, business success and general day to day living and fulfilment can all be enhanced by creative thought.
In this first volume I will explore some of the ways in which creativity shows itself and how.
Volume two expands on these idea’s with a more hands on approach. There I cover actionable idea’s and techniques to use to increase your creativity based on the understandings built here in volume one.
Creative mind basics
No goal of being more creative can be accomplished without looking after your body and mind. And this means getting the basics right. Quality regular sleep (see ‘the better sleep series’ on this website), exercise and good nutrition.
I won’t cover these topics in any detail in this article but suffice to say that the usual recommendations for overall health apply to creative thinking also. IE: A diet containing fruits and vegetables, omega 3 fatty acids, adequate vitamins and minerals from food or supplements, and proper hydration.
Some people use or experiment with nootropics to enhance their mental power but in my opinion they are not needed if you take care of the basics. Be aware also that supplementing with this type of stimulant can lead to a reliance on it to even feel normal.
There are three vitamins that I would recommend you do some research on or get tested for in case you are deficient. They are often lacking and are important for more than just creative thinking. And those are Magnesium, Vitamin D and Vitamin K.
You can of course get these from food but unfortunately most diets don’t provide enough for optimal brain and body function.
And don’t forget regular exercise. The brain gets as much benefit from fitness activities as the body does.
For those of you into alternate ideas check out these studies of three quite common substances. All three of which I used for different reasons but brain function has now become one of them.
The role of trance states in creativity
It could be said that a creative state IS a trance state. In fact having trained extensively in hypnotherapy and hypnotic effects I would say that we only call a trance a trance because it is different from what we consider a normal alert state. And what is normal? The answer to that question is subjective and open to perception by each individual in my humble tranced out opinion.
Psychologists tend to agree that creativity is pre verbal and therefore more a trance state than a conscious one. IE: Creativity is in fact unconscious in it’s origins. It’s no surprise then that under hypnosis that creativity can be increased. That is except for verbal creativity. This fact alone supports the pre verbal nature of creative thought.
Some studies show that people prone to fantasy and/or are highly hypnotisable also tend to find it easier to be creative.
The intensity of focus and awareness that trance and hypnosis produce, makes the normally imperceptible stimulations of thought perceptible.
Many creative people will say that their creativity exists as a feeling or mood before they can put words or images to it. In fact less common but possible is the development of synaesthesia due to hypnotic suggestion (see synaesthesia section below).
Making the unconscious conscious again
Using trance for creative purposes is nothing new. Being in an ‘unconscious’ state gives access to information and memories that for ease of living are not normally accessible during our awake alert hours. I say efficiently because our mind/body system is set up to learn from experience.., then adjust behaviour, and move on without needing to relearn the same lessons every day.
If for example, we had to re-check that a glowing surface may burn us each time we come across one, we would spend every second of every day re-testing each moment for meaning. So assumptions are made, generalisations are created, and self made rules are followed.
Sometimes we learn the wrong lesson though and make an assumption that does not serve us well moving forward in life. Not all glowing things will burn us, and to make such a sweeping generalisation would make us scared of even a reflection off a window. This is where hypnotherapy and trance work can be valuable to reassess memories and learn a new more useful lesson.
This is also the basis of trance being useful for creativity. Creativity and inventiveness comes from combining current knowledge and idea’s from one context to another. We don’t know what we don’t know. It’s only by applying a known idea or technique in a unique way from inspiration that progress is made. And inspiration and creativity go hand in hand.
Trance has a number of effects that help with this inspiration and creative thought.
Access to ‘forgotten’ experience is one. An internal focus with no outside distraction is another. Like the hypnagogic effect (covered below), sounds and images/visions during a trance state are common. And as they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words”. Sometimes those pictures can lead to artistic inspiration or new creative idea’s.
Hypnagogia and creativity
The hypnagogic state can been used for help with creativity in a similar way to trance states and is described in detail in the article linked at the end of this one.
Hypnagogia is the term used to describe the in between state or transition point of awake and asleep.
With hypnagogia you are essentially in a balance point of unconscious sleep and conscious wakefulness. This leads to enhanced communication between both parts of your mind. How often have you said or heard someone say.., “I’ll sleep on it”.
Why would sleeping on it help? It’s due to the unconscious processing that goes on in your mind of the days events. All your memories and experience can be accessed and compared with the day, which often leads to idea’s beyond what you would come up with trying to do this all while awake. Some believe that while we sleep we also have access to the ‘greater mind’ where all knowledge, thoughts, and idea’s reside.
Flashes of visions, people and even voices are common in hypnagogia. Where they actually come from is less important than how useful they are.
So by purposely using the hypnagogic effect you can in essence get multiple chances at ‘sleeping on it’ in a short period of time.
Similar to a hypnotic trance state but the difference here is that multiple short ‘dips’ into trance can be accomplished. Using the hypnagogic effect is also easy to do yourself and makes it easier to remember and therefore take note of the information experienced.
Daydreaming on purpose
This potentially makes it a more useful target for creative thinkers. Almost like consciously daydreaming.
Geniuses of our past like Nikola Tesla are said to have purposely used the hypnagogic effect to their advantage by holding a ball in their hand as they drift off to sleep. At the transition point when sleep is about to take hold the ball would drop waking him up so he could take note of visions and inspiration. Thus he could get idea’s of inspiration and creativity on specific subjects just by purposely using a natural phenomenon.
The other thing that this hypnagogic state encourages is a specific style of thinking, that like certain styles of meditation.., has free flowing thought at it’s core.
This is called divergent thinking and along with the two different styles of meditation is covered later in this article.
Synaesthesia and creativity
Synaesthesia is the term used for people who can simultaneously experience one type of stimulation modality as another. For example some people when they hear music get a vivid display of colours in their mind. Or someone may even get tastes in their mouth from the feeling of being touched. The variations of synaesthetes are wide and sometime bizarre.
Not everything is understood about synaesthesia yet but a number of possibilities show promise. Most synaesthetes are born with the ability or develop it while still quite young. It is hypothesised that synaesthesia could therefore be mainly genetic resulting in increased connectivity between the parts of the brain.
You can imagine especially for artists how this could lead to some very creative idea’s and expression.
An excess of serotonin may also cause synaesthesia. Serotonin concentrations are one of the things affected by psychedelics , brain injury and autism. This is one way that people can suddenly acquire the ability in adulthood. The potential therefore exists for drugs that increase serotonin or technology like stroboscopic light machines (brainwave entrainment) to have this effect also.
Worth noting is that this brainwave entrainment also helps to increase inter-hemisphere communication and connectivity which as mentioned above may be typical of synaesthesia.
Some studies show that synaesthesia experiences can be trained by repetitive association even as adults (see link below). It is unclear if this training results in long lasting changes to brain connectivity or experience however. There was an unexpected result of one of these studies. The participants of the 9 week study gained an average of 12 IQ points from start to finish.
Psychedelic states and creativity
There’s a growing trend in even the corporate world for some people to experiment with psychedelics or mind altering drugs to boost creativity. ‘Micro dosing’ of a psychedelic substance is more common than most would believe. This is where a quantity of the substance too small to effect your alertness but enough to effect your neurology is consumed for enhanced cognitive abilities.
Results vary and I by no means recommend the use of such substances outside of medical supervision but people do report beneficial results. Preliminary reports of studies do show that micro-dosing can have a beneficial effect on creative thinking.
Ongoing clinical trials also show promise for very fast relief from PTSD and treatment resistant depression when done with professional help and supervision.
Switching off the default mode network
One of the results of ingesting these substances seems to be a switching off of what is called the ‘default mode network’. This is the part of the brain that has us identify as being an individual. IE: The default mode network when switched on, is what separates you from everyone and everything else.
When switched off, that separation is gone and the result for most people is that feeling of being connected to everyone and everything. Not only can this lead to deeper spiritual understandings and new ways of being or revisiting old memories.., but also creative idea’s and inspiration.
And as with other forms of trance states and sleep.., many believe that a psychedelic state can give you access to a ‘universal mind’ or higher consciousness. A state where limitations of thought and idea’s are dissolved.
One of the other effects of psychedelics is the switch from a mainly convergent style of thinking to a divergent style of thinking…
Convergent versus divergent thinking
Convergent thinking is more decisive and based on judgement and reason. Think visually of a list or series of steps written down or picture perfect art. Divergent thinking is more abstract, free flowing and lacking in judgement. Think visually of random scribbles and drawings on a page or abstract art. With divergent thinking, problems or subjects can be approached with a clean slate and no preconceptions or existing paradigms. This can lead to idea’s that are ‘outside the box’ so to speak. And it’s this type of idea that often revolutionises rather than progresses.
Divergent thinking is a style of thinking that allows many new ideas being generated in a context where more than one solution may be useable.
Both styles of thinking are valuable of course.., as is lateral thinking which is a label given to a combination of convergent and divergent thinking.
Convergent thinking is better for solving a specific problem in a top down approach where parameters are set. Divergent thinking is better for ‘brainstorming’ without limitations in a meta approach to a subject. Many of the idea’s that come from divergent thinking will be metaphoric or abstract but rich with interpretation.
Mood also has an effect on what thinking style you spend more time in. Stress will tend to hold you more often in convergent thinking. Relaxation will tend to hold you more in divergent thinking.
Studies of people on psychedelics seem to suggest that one of the changes that happens is a switch from convergent thinking to divergent thinking. Both are enhanced by the psychedelic experience but in particular the divergent style becomes dominant.
The use of hypnosis, and hypnagogic and trance states also encourage this divergent thinking.
Other ways to encourage divergent thinking include free-writing, image streaming, brainstorming, mind mapping and audio visual brainwave entrainment all described in volume two of this article.
And there is another way to encourage this style of thought that perfectly illustrates this convergent and divergent thinking style. And that is the two different ways of meditating…
Meditation, mindfulness and creativity
If you haven’t noticed already, there is a definite pattern developing here.
And that pattern is that creativity tends to be linked more to the above mentioned divergent thinking style.
IE: The more free flowing you can make your thinking, the more likely you are to come up with creative idea’s that you haven’t already thought of. As with anything, a balance of both will serve you well. On average though, people tend to spend less time in free flow and therefore benefit from extending time in that state.
There are two meta categories/types of meditation. Open monitoring (OM) and focused attention (FA).
In focused attention meditation, you focus on a particular thing like a mantra or your breathing. Everything else is a distraction to be ignored. Sensations, noise and thoughts are to be actively ignored by redirecting attention back to your focus point. In open monitoring meditation, you are open to perceive and observe anything. Sensations, environment and thought become part of the meditation without dwelling on any one thing. Therefore attention is flexible, unrestricted and free to wander.
And not surprisingly studies show that OM meditation therefore creates more divergent thinking.
You would expect therefore that FA meditation would encourage more convergent thinking. And this is partly true as the distinction is present in tests. Although due to the relaxing effect of any style of meditation there is not a clear switch to convergent thinking from FA meditation. As mentioned already mood has an effect on style of thinking also. Mindfulness done in a free flowing way can have this same effect. Do this by noticing your environment and activities in a new detail oriented way and letting this awareness ‘flow’ from point to point.
Flow states and creativity
Being ‘in the zone’.
I would loosely define flow as a state of intense concentration and focus where critical judgement and distraction are suspended but challenge is present.
Flow is a balance between something being a clearly defined ritual that you have some skill at.., and enough challenge and difference to be unique and therefore engaging. It is it’s own type of trance state and due to the lack of critical thinking is perfect for creative expression and inspiration.
Sports people, artists, musicians, writers and even gamers get into this state often. In fact anyone who is passionate about something and can spend hours doing it without being sidetracked is likely to get into the state often.
This isn’t just going into a trance like state watching TV though. Flow involves a type of feedback within the mind and body that is self improving and evolving. Being in a flow state leads to higher levels of intelligence and ability and is far removed from a mind numbing type of focus typical of distracting habits. We’ll go into greater depth on flow in volume two.
Creative brainwaves (Alpha, SMR, Gamma, Theta)
As with many states of mind or skill sets, there is no one definite brainwave pattern present in the brain during creative thought or expression. There are some commonalities though.
Using EEG (electroencephalogram) measurements, the most common range of frequencies present in the brain during creative thought are Alpha waves (8-12 Hz) as dominant.., with Theta (4-8 Hz) and Gamma (>36 Hz approx) waves playing a role at different times in a more subtle way. Sensory motor rhythms (SMR 12-15 Hz) are also present in place of Alpha in some tests.
The overall conclusion it seems is that creativity is a blend of trance state and alert flow state. And this makes sense as in order to be creative in real time, there must be a sense of focus as well as access to information stored unconsciously. Like previously mentioned, we operate primarily in a need to know only state. We cannot possibly hold all our knowledge in conscious awareness at once. Therefore to be creative, we need to be able to switch from awareness to trance quite quickly in a type of blended brain state. Uninterrupted focus combined with inspiration from outside that focus.
In volume two we build on this first volume and get into more hands on methods of improving creativity. Included is an outline of a powerful creative strategy used by Walt Disney.., arguable one of the most creative geniuses of our time.