8 Ways to Tap into your Inner Kindergartner
Ask 25 kindergartners, how many of you are artists and you‘ll likely see all 25 hands in the air. While most young children will easily classify themselves as creative, the number drops to 50% by the 5th grade and plummets by adulthood.
And yet, Fortune 500 leaders cited creative problem solving and innovation as top traits in new candidates. What happened to that creative kindergartner?
The biological details says that the emotional mind fully operates at the age of 12. However, the prefrontal cortex (the part that controls exclusive functions like difficult cognitive behavior, decision-making and social control) doesn’t fully develop till the mid-twenties. During the primary standards, students create with freedom. The “purple cow” seems to be creative and imaginative
By high school, students are very aware of how others judge their work and most of their academic experiences have centered on “the right answer” rather than out-of-the box thinking. Cows are not purple and there are penalties for wrong answers. The maturation process of the prefrontal cortex trumps risk-free learning, creativity, and innovation.
"Discovery consists of looking at the same thing as everyone else and thinking something different." Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, M.D.
So what do we do now? As adults, our prefrontal cortex is done cooking, right? Yes and no. Neuroplasticity is an amazing thing and there are some simple strategies that will help you engage the whole brain and unleash the creativity within you.
1. Make Divergent Thinking a Habit
Since elementary school, we’ve been trained to find the right answer. Follow a specific set of steps to arrive at the correct answer. This is convergent thinking. In contrast, divergent thinking processes require the brain to search through the archives for stored ideas, data points, and related the facts from our experiences to generate as many possible solutions as possible.
When you do this, you engage several regions of the brain to recall, analyze, synthesize, and generate new ideas. The more ideas you have, the more likely you’ll have better ideas.
2. Merge the Mediocre
Once you’ve generated a big list of ideas, refine it according to quality with a three-column chart – best, average, not-so-much. The column with the best ideas will probably have fewer entries than the others, but the goal here is to look for combinations of ideas that could work.
Look for two or more ideas that could be merged. Maybe the mediocre ideas are simply incomplete, and pairing them with other ideas could spark something magical.
3. Tap Into the Power of the “Enragers”
We’ve all heard the brainstorming mantra: “No idea is a bad idea.” But our prefrontal cortex knows better and no one wants to be credited with the dumb idea. Turn that thinking inside out by intentionally generating a list of the worst ideas, or “enragers.”
Choose one idea on the list and assume it is the strategy you’re forced to implement. How could you spin it to make it work? This forces you to see the problem from a completely different perspective and opens your mind to new possibilities.
4. Let your Mind Wander
We once associated daydreaming with the inability to focus. Neuroscience says, when we let our minds wander and just daydream for a few minutes, it actually puts the brain into “default mode network.” DMN exhibits the highest overlap in functional connectivity engaging 60-80% of the neural networks.
Think of is as a neural reset button in the brain that shifts our brain waves from beta (where we typically function in our daily cognitive tasks) to alpha (where our imagination and creativity lives). So, open the door to your subconscious and poke your creative center by taking a breath and let your mind wander.
5. Doodle your Thoughts
Like daydreams, we used to associate doodling with not paying attention. Doodling is actually deep thinking in disguise. Einstein, John F. Kennedy and Steve Jobs were all inveterate doodlers. Doodling actually changes the brain by engaging different regions and connecting neurological pathways with previously disconnected pathways.
Often the visual representation of thoughts can enable you to see the problem or task differently. If you really want to kick it up a notch, grab a set of gel pens and sketch your thoughts in color!
6. Take it Outside
When you find yourself struggling to find a solution to a problem, take a quick walk around the building or just grab a seat on a bench outside. Being in a natural setting taps, all five senses and multi-sensory experience stimulates the imagination.
Also, colors have a big impact on cognition. Research indicates that blue and green stimulate the imagination because we associate the color blue with the openness of the ocean and sky and the color green with growth.
7. Tell a Joke
People with a sense of humor tend to be creative, less rigid and more willing to consider and embrace new ways. This is because laughing and smiling creates the conditions necessary for the brain to engage in divergent thinking, which is essential for creativity and complex problem solving. Humor links the unconnected areas of the brain which is the primary goal of whole-brain thinking.
The best jokes make us laugh because we find an unexpected meaning or connection in otherwise disconnected concepts. Laughter also reduces stress by releasing neurotransmitters in the brain, and is clinically proven to have a powerful and positive effect on physical, emotional and social health and wellbeing.
8. Let the Music Move you
It’s no secret that music has a direct impact on our mood, but recent neuroscience proves that music physically alters the frequency of the brain waves. Certain types of music create theta waves - which is where we experience peaks of creativity. Ambient, free-flowing impressionistic music will help you sync your brain waves in theta and unlock your creativity.
Creativity is within all of us. Simple things can poke your imagination and help you tap into it. Grab your sketchbook, head outside to a park bench, and turn the crazy ideas upside down. Fire up your playlist with some free-flowing mellow music and let your mind wander a bit. And laugh… don’t forget to laugh.