Creativity is the key to great writing, meaningful work, deep relationships and inspiring leadership. The key to knowing how to be more creative lies in understanding how our brains work. It’s more simple than you might think.
Everyday our brains are scanning the horizon of our circumstances in order to know what to do. Every email we read, each Facebook post we scan, and every conversation we engage, tells our brains what to do next and engages the appropriate behavior.
Our brains are built to function in one of two ways: (1) Threat or (2) Reward. Everyday we are constantly trying to avoid threat and embrace reward. The more we condition our brains to see less threat and more reward, the more creative we will be.
There is a simple reason for this. Stress and threat release hormones that shut down our creativity called adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol. These hormones are good for you when you are fighting or running for your life. But, they don’t work in your favor if you are trying to be creative.
When we see the world through a reward based framework, our brains release “happy chemicals,” such as dopamine, serotonin, endorphins and oxytocin. These chemicals help us to feel more creative and motivated. We are more likely to accomplish our goals such as, coming up with a brilliant idea, finish writing the next chapter of a book, excel at your next athletic event, or just simply having an incredible day with your family.
This is a simple shift but one that makes incredible impact in your life. Here are (3) simple ways you can teach yourself to focus on rewards and not threats. It will help your creativity go through the roof.
- Stop being defensive. Whenever we are defensive, we are in threat mode. It means we are afraid of something. When you are feeling defensive, ask yourself what you are afraid of? What are you trying to avoid or run from? A brief conversation in your mind will help you operate out of your neo-cortex, the thinking part of your brain. In most cases, you will recognize that the threat is not real and will keep stress related hormones out of your body.
- Learn to praise and reward yourself and others on a regular basis. Neuroscientist Matt Lieberman at UCLA has found that our brains respond to signals of belonging in ways that are similar to primal rewards. Meaning that even when you say, ‘job well done,’ or ‘I believe in you,’ those words help keep you in reward mode. It’s extremely healthy to tell yourself job well done too. Don’t be so hard on yourself and learn to reward your personal efforts.
- Set small goals and write down your progress towards them every day. Research by psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan at the Universtity of Rochester has shown that having a sense of autonomy and personal confidence is incredibly motivating. Creating these kinds of small wins helps you to perform better, feel better about yourself, and feel in charge of certain aspects of what you are doing.