I am asking you to be creative, now. I am sure you are facing a creative challenge of some sort. You might be working on a screenplay, or planning the coverage of a scene or maybe pondering on how to light the next setup. Please, fully concentrate on the creative challenge and process before you. Pay attention to the details, analyse them. Now, just focus and create. Can you feel the flow of creative force energising your mind? No? That is because I have just killed your creativity.
When asked to be attentive and concentrated we tune our brain to a different set of frequencies from the ones believed to be more adapted to the creative process. By concentrating on the creative task we are hindering creativity, ‘polluting’ our mind with a cognitive and analytical mindset.
In the late 1920’s, Hans Berger discovered Alpha brainwaves, a series of brain activities identified by electrical frequencies of 8-13 Hz. When the brain experiences peaks of activities at those frequencies, the mental state becomes one of a relaxed and effortless alertness. Alpha brainwaves are believed to be very important for creativity. More creative people seem to often generate big bursts of Alpha brainwaves, resulting in moments of insight, visualisation or inspiration.
Concentration, on the other hand, is associated to the Beta waves, with a signature ranging from 13-40 HZ. This type of brain activity is essential to our survival. We become attentive and focused on the task at hands, be it hunting or navigating a threatening environment. Think of a cat hunting, totally focused on his prey.
When brain activity slows down bellow Alpha levels, we enter the realm of Theta waves, at around 4-7Hz. This mindset is associated with deep meditation, a waking dream with visualisations moving beyond our conscious awareness. We naturally go through Theta activity when waking up or falling asleep; a twilight state.
Finally, at the bottom end of the spectrum we find the Delta waves, at around 0-4 Hz, associated with deep sleep. Our brain vibrates at different frequency depending on our state of mind, resulting in very different operation and results.
Altough he seemed to dislike people sleeping 8-10 hrs a night and label them as lazy, Thomas Edison had developed a system of nap sessions aimed at tapping into the more creative frequencies of his brain activity. In order to recharge his internal imagination factory, Edison used to sit in an upright chair holding a steel ball in his hand with a metal saucer placed right beneath it. As he would start to doze off, his hand would relax an release the ball, resulting in the awakening noise of the metals colliding. At that moment, his mind would have been mainly operating in Theta waves, and would slowly rise through Alpha range before reaching the Beta wave attention state. Edison believed that this state of mind was ideal to the creative task of problem solving.
Leonardo Da Vinci had also developed a sleeping pattern aimed at maintaining his mind in a Theta/Alpha state. Instead of ‘consuming’ his sleep in one continuous stretch. Da Vinici’s method, now also referred to as Polyphasic sleep, involves breaking the totality of your sleeping hours (2 to 4 hours) in chunks of 10-20 minutes spread throughout the day. This (deprived) sleeping system allowed Da Vinci to spend more time awake, and to maintain his mind in a creative mindset. History is full of creative minds having achieved great breakthroughs or having created highly celebrated works while in a state of ‘enhanced creativity’.
From Mendeleev thinking his Tables of Element while playing cards, drinking and smoking to C.V. Raman interpreting why the sky is blue while dozing off on a chair on board of a ship gazing at the horizon, thinkers have relied on a different type of intuition generating from a ‘dreamy’ state of mind in order to overcome creative challenges.
I do not feel guilty of wandering and wondering, I believe it is part of the process. We, as a society, spend too much time in a Beta state of mind and the results are stress, anxiety and lack of originality. I am not advocating adopting the more extreme methods of Da Vinci and Edison, but I encourage you to slow down whenever you can. Have a nap. Exploit the twilight zone late at night and early in the morning. Beware of drugs and the false sense of satisfaction they provide. You might be tempted to try experimenting with light and sound mind machines developed to tune your brain to specific frequency, but I would not abuse them if I were you. Or, you could simply learn to meditate and lower your brain activity to tap into your creative well. For some people a short walk or a repetitive task might do the tricks; activities where one stops thinking.
Ray Bradbury once said “Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things”. In that case, I must do. I know the parameters of the creative problem before me, it is time to trust my intuition. But before that, I think I might have a short nap. The creative doctor says I should do so.