Novelty is an important component in fostering creativity.
Optical illusions work because of the perceptual shortcuts your brain has developed from past perceptual experience. This tendency of your brain to make snap judgments and statistical predictions is a very good thing. It occurs in many different areas of your brain and it reduces by many magnitudes the amount of mental resources required to function in your every day life.
The downside of this is that your thoughts tend to fall into ruts. Thoughts travel easily along well worn neural pathways. You get stuck inside a path and can’t easily get out of it.
You can’t think outside the box if you keep sitting in the same box. Imagination uses some of the same visual circuits as perception. In order to imagine new ideas you need create new visual wiring in your brain. You need new and loosely connected patterns to help trigger new ways of stringing ideas together.
Seeking out new experience does exactly that. Children squeal with delight at novel experiences because their immature brains are desperately trying to make sense of the world. They instinctively act in a way that produces discovery and learning. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get some of that delightful attitude back into our adult lives? Even more, there is evidence that novelty seeking is a key to long term well-being and brain health. See Todd Kashdan’s book Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life.
Since we are visual creatures and since visual circuits are used in imaginative thinking, novel visual experiences are very important to creativity. The richer the experience the better. Here are some ideas on things you can do to increase novelty in your life.
- New experiences involving both vision and movement. Your brain loves physical movement as long as that movement is attended to and is not automatic. Combining physical movement with a visual experience is ideal, so do something that makes you keep your eyes open. Whether it is dance, yoga, sports, martial arts, or something else, novel movement with focused visual attention is great for your body and brain. Be sure and change it up frequently. Play different sports, learn new dance moves, etc.
- People, people, people. There have been a slew of studies showing the mental and physical benefits of social involvement. For novelty, go further out into your social networks. Engage more with people you know who are not your friends or regulars in your inner circle. Going even further and meeting and socializing with brand new people from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds is a fantastic way to experience novelty. Your same old friends bring the same old things – lovely as they may be.
- Physical is better then virtual. Brain scans show that you have a richer pattern of neuronal activity when viewing an actual physical object than you do when viewing it on a two-dimensional screen. I am not opposed to computer stimulation (that sounds bad), but obviously being there and experiencing it in the real world is better than watching pixels flash on a two-dimensional plane.
- Change up your environment. Doing the same thing in the same room with the same furnishings is not conducive to creativity. Novel surroundings boost the creative juices. So instead of sitting in a bland office, talk a walk in the woods to do some thinking. Get out your laptop and do some work on a beach, a park, or in a different room. Change your furniture and decorations around. Do things in a variety of places.
- Drive, walk, and exercise using different routes. Just travelling a new route and seeing something different can trigger a new connection in your brain.
- Diversify your reading material. Read fiction and non-fiction, something technical and something light and breezy, thrillers, biography, philosophy, etc. I know you can’t read everything and I personally tend to focus on narrow categories, but I’m committed to expanding my reading horizons.
- Travel, travel, travel. This one activity can introduce you to so many novel experiences visually, intellectually, and socially, that it may be hard to beat. If you can afford it, actually live for a while in different locations. Even if you don’t have time or means to travel far, you can travel out of your neighborhood or city almost any time you want.
- Natural is better than artificial. I admit this is just a personal bias, but I have to believe our brains do better in a natural environment for which they have been sculpted than in an artificial one. I know there have been some studies showing the benefits of natural sunlight and green spaces, but mostly this is just an intuition of mine.
- Vary everything. Whatever it is you do, look for ways to vary it. The more variation the better. Look for the mysterious or the things you have never noticed before, even in the mundane. Just stop and smell the roses for once. You’ll be amazed what you see for the first time if you just stop and look.
- Think Laterally. This is a great way to generate novel ideas. Check out this Wikipedia article on lateral thinking, especially the tools section. Lateral thinking generally involves trying to put random and unconnected or exaggerated ideas together. It’s a way to challenge your default modes of thought.
Please add your own ideas on how to stimulate creativity through novel experiences. Leave a comment and join the conversation.
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