HOW TO: Use Brain Teasers to Increase Your Creative Thinking!
Rosanne Bane, author of the innovative guide to solving writer’s resistance AROUND THE WRITER’S BLOCK (Tarcher/Penguin paperback; out now), has two decades (and counting!) of experience in teaching writing and creativity. We asked her about why it’s so important to improve our creative thinking, and how we can do that easily and on a daily basis, and we’re pleased to present her thoughts below:
According to a recent study (Journal of Aging and Health, June 2012), open-minded, creative people live longer. Openness is defined as curiosity, creativity, cognitive flexibility and a preference for novel ideas. But it is the creativity component of openness – not intelligence or overall openness – that’s associated with living longer. One reason creative people get more years to live (and enjoy those years more) is because we respond better to stress. Stress has been implicated as a direct or indirect contributing factor the top six causes of death in the US.
Nicholas Turiano at the University of Rochester’s Medical Center suggests “Creative people may see stressors more as challenges that they can work to overcome rather than stressful obstacles they can’t overcome.” Seeing what’s missing or less than optimal as an opportunity, rather than a problem or a situation to be endured, is the first stage in the creative process. Perhaps because creativity requires multiple areas of the brain to interact, Turiano says “Individuals high in creativity maintain the integrity of their neural networks even into old age.” People who scored higher on openness tend to have more robust white matter supporting the connections between neurons in different areas of the brain.
So what are you waiting for? Start thinking creatively. Here are some brain teasers to get you started.
Beyond the Brick: A classic test for divergent thinking (one form of creative thinking) is to name 20 uses for a brick. Give this a twist by challenging yourself to come up with 50 uses for any object.
For an extra brain boost, don’t allow yourself more than 10 variations on the typical use. For example, if you’re trying to find 50 things to do with an apple, don’t list more than 10 variations on eating the apple (bake a pie, make applesauce) but do count ways that step beyond the ordinary use (bake a pie to throw at a clown, make a sauce that looks like gore in a horror movie).
Beyond the Obvious: Pick 3 or 4 letters at random. Then look at a picture (any picture from anywhere) and find things in the picture that start with that letter. After you’ve found the obvious matches, look for descriptors and stories that go beyond the obvious.
If you have a picture of a woman wearing a bracelet and your letter is B, you have not only bracelet, but also bling, bounty, bauble, brilliant fashion statement, brought from Romania by her great-great-grandmother. The woman in the picture is not only a beauty or beauty queen, but also bride, buxom, bounty hunter, beautiful face hiding a twisted mind, barren, bored out of her mind, butt-ugly, British, born in the USA, bold, brilliant, barely able to operate a doorknob.
Beyond Belief: Play with optical illusions. You can find Escher prints and classic examples like the Penrose Triangle in print or online. BrainDen.com/optical-illusions.htm has a nice collection. The November 2011 issue of Scientific American Mind provides an explanation of what’s going on in your brain as well as examples.
But before you read the explanation, observe what you experience both emotionally and physically. Do you feel off-balance or get a slight headache or tired eyes? Do you feel confident that the image is one thing and one thing only, confused and frustrated when you can’t see what else is supposed to be there, satisfied or delighted with the “a-ha” of seeing the other interpretation or recognizing the impossibility of the object?
Beyond the Blog: Create your own brain teasers. How do you challenge your brain to switch things up? What keeps your brain, and hence your body, young? Please share your strategies in a comment.