Do you ever find yourself staring at a blank screen, trying to come up with an interesting new piece of content for your social media audience and yet all you can come up with is a list of groceries you need to buy for dinner? Or perhaps you’re trying to work out how to have a difficult conversation with your partner without it spiralling into a full-blown argument? Did you know that travelling, or doing something different, can help you to be more creative and even become a whizz at problem solving?
Now, I’m sure we’ve all heard the saying that ‘travel is great for expanding the mind’? However, did you know that it’s about more than just providing us with an appreciation of different cultures, landscapes and languages? When we experience something different to our normal routine, we create new neural pathways in our brain. These are the signals that get fired off in our brains in response to a trigger, such as formulating a sentence in our mind and moving our hands to start typing it out on the keyboard, or feeling thirsty and prompting us to get up and walk to the water cooler. Until fairly recently, it was believed that our brains were fixed, i.e. that the brain we were born with was what we were stuck with in terms of its capacity and capability. However, neuroscientists now know that our brains are in fact ‘plastic’, i.e. that they can grow and be moulded as much as we ask of them. It’s a bit like a muscle; if you sit around doing nothing all day, your muscles will become fairly soft and weak. However, if you start exercising or working out the gym regularly, you can see your muscles grow stronger and leaner, as they have different demands made of them.
So, how does this help with problem solving and creativity?
Each time we expose ourselves to a new experience, no matter how simple, we provide our brain with the opportunity to think and act differently. Rather than doing the same things in the same way all the time (and our neurons literally getting stuck in a neural rut!), we create new neural pathways and increase the possible routes that our thoughts can travel along, thereby laying open a whole new landscape for thinking, feeling, acting…and problem solving!
So, whether you need to come up with a solution or create a new filing system, being able to explore different angles and new perspectives can only be a good thing, right?
As Albert Einstein famously said: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
As you may know, I have recently been on a 2 month adventure with my 10 year old son, travelling 12,000 miles and back to travel around Australia and visit various family members and friends based over there. We explored lots of new areas and got stuck into lots of new experiences, from swimming with dolphins, to kayaking up rivers and across lakes to climbing up mountains! I must admit that I’m incredibly proud to have been able to share this once in a lifetime experience with my son, who threw himself into it with such enthusiasm, as well as completing school work as I was home educating him, that I’m certain I saw him grow before my very eyes; not just in height (as only 10 year old boys can do!) but also in confidence and ability!
However, you don’t need to get on a plane to expand your neural pathways, let alone embark on an epic 2 month adventure Down Under to benefit! Did you know that simply choosing a different route to drive to work, or opting to walk your kids to school, can provide you with sufficient new experiences, sights and sounds to create new neural pathways in the brain? By focusing on the different roads you need to navigate, the new signs and landmarks you encounter and listening out for the songs of birds that surround you, all enable your brain to get more creative! Plus, by allowing yourself to be fully present in the moment whilst doing this, you’ll also benefit from the side product of mindfulness, a win/win!
So, the next time you suffer from writer’s block or can’t seem to find a solution to a problem, here are some more top tips for maximising the neuroplasticity of your brain:
- Change your physicality – If you’re sat at your desk, head in hands, scratching around for a new idea…get up! Stretch and take a walk, whether just around the office, your house or even better – outside in nature! Physically changing helps us to break out of the mental state we’re in, thereby allowing our brain to take a new route and create a new perspective on things.
- Focus on your surroundings – listen out for any sounds around you. Focus on them 1 by 1, identifying what they are and immersing yourself in those you find enjoyable. By paying attention to things we may normally ignore or not even notice in the first place, we’re giving our brains the opportunity to see, think and do differently.
- If at first you don’t succeed – come back to your desk and try again! You may be pleasantly surprised by how much easier you find that tricky challenge!
If you’re interested in learning more about using the power of your brain to help you take on new challenges, whether at work, in your business or your personal life, pop me an email here or connect with me on social media: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn.