I came across this question on the Internet while searching for some creativity resources:
“How can I start using my brain more? And how can I become more creative? Should I read more books, study, etc?”
It was interesting to me that this person wanted some ideas on how to use their brain more and become more creative, as I had just given a talk last week to a retirement community about brain fitness. One of the key components for healthy brain aging is to continue to challenge your brain throughout adulthood. By continuing to stimulate our brains with new learning, we create and strengthen our neural pathways (connections between brain cells) which can protect our brains throughout the aging process.
As I’ve worked with elders in the rehab setting, I’ve enjoyed watching those that continue to learn, grow, and do. Usually, people like that never become clients who need to work in speech therapy on cognitive skills. Instead, I have the benefit of engaging with them as they work with my physical and occupational therapy colleagues. And, if they happen to have a stroke or a head injury and require speech therapy services, they progress much more quickly in therapy and have better outcomes.
But what about creativity? How can a person become more creative?
Creativity can be defined as the ability to not only think up new ideas, but to also take unconnected ideas that already exist and combine them to make something new. So, the answer is to do the same things you would do for healthy aging: continue to challenge yourself throughout your life by exploring new concepts, people, places, and things.
Here are five ideas to help you get started:
• Pick something that you have an interest in but never had the time, money, or guts to try. When I was a kid, I was fascinated by dance (especially when MTV hit our little hamlet) but we didn’t have any dance teachers or studios. As an adult, I consciously chose learning how to dance to satisfy that desire from childhood.
• Try something new that’s a little uncomfortable. The reason why some new tasks are uncomfortable at first is because we don’t have strong neural connections to support them. It’s like when you first start lifting weights: it’s uncomfortable because you’ve never done it before and your body needs to grow muscle fibers. Just like with exercise, in time and with continual practice, the neural connections will develop and it will get easier and more enjoyable. Added bonus: not only do you end up with a new skill set, but you’ll have a healthier brain as well!
• Leave your ego at the door. A lot of people I know have trouble trying something new because they are so afraid of not doing well. Really? What is up with us that we feel we need to be good at something that we’ve never done before? We quit before we’ve even given ourselves a chance. Give yourself permission to screw up. Laugh at yourself and learn from your mistakes. You’re brain will thank you.
• Have fun! Brains learn better when they enjoy what they are doing. And, when we are having fun, we stick with tasks longer, thus reinforcing those neural connections.
• Take a friend. It’s fun to learn stuff with someone else! And, if no one will go with you, remember that your new activity will open the door for new friends to add to your social group.
As I said earlier, dance was the hobby I never got to do until I grew up. It’s not the only one and I’m looking forward to exploring my other interests as time goes on. What fun new activity is calling your name? Get out there and start exploring it! You’ll have fun and end up with a healthier brain.