Stretch your Brain!
As part of their training, London taxi drivers have to take an exam called The Knowledge. This involves memorizing every single street in London as well as learning 300 of the most common routes.
In 2000 Dr Eleanor Maguire from University College London led a research project which proved that the hippocampus, the part of our brain responsible for navigation, is significantly enlarged in those who have taken the knowledge. The taxi drives literally grow new brain cells.
We can increase our creativity in a similary way and I’d heartity recommend Edward De Bono’s excellent book How To Have Creative Ideas as a starting point for anyone who wants to create their own mind gym.
How we Learn and How we Stop Ourselves from Doing Things
We learn by attaching new information to things that we already know. Try teaching calculus to someone who can’t add up a couple of numbers and you’re asking for trouble. Teach the same person how to count, then how to add, multiply and divide then suddenly calculus isn’t so much of a stretch.
There is a theory of learning which says that when we are presented with a new fact we look for something that we already know and begin to make connections.
The same is true for practical things too. A recently client was terrified about speaking to a group of people and literally had a panic attack even at the thought of it. Interestingly he worked in sales and excelled at presentations in groups of up to 3 people. However speaking to a larger group was too big a step for him. As we talked it though and spotted similarities between speaking to a group and speaking in a sales meeting, his fear shrank. After all, it was just like something he’s good at with a few minor differences. The more similarities he found the more confident he became.
Spot the Similarity
The difficulty for my client was that because he had convinced himself that he couldn’t speak with groups, he found it difficult at first to find any similarities. It took quite a lot of work before his mind began to work in that way.
This could work for you too. If you’re good at knitting and would like to learn how to juggle. Just tell yourself that both require good hand to eye coordination, both activities are easier the more relaxed that you are and both need a good level of feel (in knitting you need to feel how tight to pull the wool and in juggling you need to feel how high to throw the balls.) Once you begin to tell yourself that you already have all of these skills then learning to juggle suddenly becomes more possible.
Playing the Game
Next time that you want to do something new or different and you find yourself unsure or procrastinating, think of something that you’re good at and begin to look for similarities If you’re struggling to find things in common then this little game, in the style of De Bono’s book, will help you to develop your creative process. Who knows, perhaps like the London cabbies you will even grow new cells in the creative part of your brain!
The game is very simple and you can play it anywhere, alone or with others. Choose 2 seemingly unrelated things and find ways that are connected.
Here are a few examples for you:
- How is swimming is like listening to music? – both relaxing and both things that you can do alone or with others
- How is eating chocolate cake like watching TV? – both be pleasant or unpleasant depending on the type of cake or show
- How is reading poetry like vacuuming the carpet? Both be either boring or mildly therapeutic depending on your point of view
And here are a few for you to try:
- How is yoga like basketball?
- How is fishing like hairdressing?
- How are apples like wallpaper?
You can play this anywhere, while you’re driving just think of 2 random things and then come up with as many ways as you can to connect them. At first it may seem difficult but before you know it, you’ll find your creativity increasing.
One other benefit that should never be underestimated. It’s kind of fun too!