Brain Function Is Complex, but Boosting Creativity Is Achievable

Practicing meditation may help nurture your creativity.
Image Credit: kieferpix/iStock/GettyImages

Have you always thought you were right-brain dominant or is your left-brain in the driver's seat? Is the left-brain, right-brain thing even a real thing, backed by science? Well, the answer is that it's not really proven yet.

Right-Brain vs. Left-Brain

Conventional wisdom posits that left-brain individuals are the scientists and mathematicians among us. They're the ones who tend to think analytically, logically and rationally. By contrast, right-brain dominant people are supposedly the more creative free-thinkers. They're the ones who tend to see things from a more imaginative and intuitive perspective.

Does this popularly held distinction really hold up to science? Not necessarily. According to Harvard Health Publishing, it is undoubtedly true that for some functions the brain does operate in a one-sided fashion.

For example, stroke recovery research has shown that language is largely controlled by the left side of the brain and arm and leg movement is inversely controlled, with the left brain controlling the right side of your body, while the right brain controls the left side of your body.

Read more: Stimulate the Left Side of Your Brain With Exercises and Music

Sidedness Is Unproven

At the same time, Harvard Health Publishing also points out that there's really no hard evidence to indicate that personality traits are — or are not — exclusively "housed" on one side of the brain or the other.

For example, an August 2013 brain scan study published in PLOS One, concluded that individuals are probably not entirely right-sided or left-sided. In fact, after scanning the brains of more than 1,000 people, the research team found that people with very different personalities seemed to display similar brain activity across both regions.

"Let's just say that the differences between right-hemisphere functions and left-hemisphere functions are subtle, not completely understood and not nearly as clear-cut as most people seem to believe, based on the simplistic views presented in most media stories," says James E. Maddux, PhD, university professor emeritus and senior scholar at the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

The bottom line, he says: "There is no 'creative part' of the brain that can be activated the way you might crank up a car's engine."

How to Get Creative

Still, if you're looking to get your creative juices flowing, there are steps you can take to feel more "right-brained," so to speak. Consider these four:

1. Take classes to unleash creativity. "The research overwhelming indicates that the way to become 'more creative' is to choose an activity that you consider 'creative' and work at it and practice," says Maddux. "Taking classes is probably the best way to start."

"Basically," he says, "you need lots of practice and lots of feedback from someone who is already good at what you want to be good at."

That advice is seconded by Kit Yarrow, PhD, professor emeritus of psychology at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, California. "Craft is part of every great creative endeavor — writing, painting, singing," says Yarrow. "They're always more satisfying when you have skills to support your inspiration."

"But the key here is to be open to imperfection," she adds. "And to have patience and to find joy in the process, not just the product. For many, having the support of others through classes or workshops is key."

*2. Try meditation. *"Some also find visualization and meditation support their success," Yarrow adds. And Maddux agrees. "Meditation," he says, "can help you approach a creative activity with a little more concentration and calmness, and help you deal with the inevitable frustrations of learning something new."

*3. Consider newness your creative friend. * It's precisely the newness of a learning experience — or actually any experience — that can help grease the wheels for creative expression, Yarrow says, "because newness is mentally challenging, and awakens your brain to pay closer attention to the world."

"New things can be anything from taking a different route home from work to listening to different music," she says.

*4. Embrace the creativity of others. * Yarrow suggests that there's nothing more helpful than "feeding your creative self with stimuli," and that can be accomplished by strolling through a garden, visiting a museum, reading a book, attending a concert or even scrolling online through the pages and pictures of Pinterest or Etsy.

That's because, in the end, one of the best ways to stimulate your creative brain, she says, is to "do anything that exposes you to the inspiring work of others or nature."

Read more: 17 Exercises That Challenge Your Body and Brain

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