The possibility of a link between the way our bodies move and the way we think is not a new idea. But can the right kinds of movement improve your the quality of your creative ideas?
The Greek philosopher Plato, father of Western science and philosophy said: “In order for man to succeed in life, God provided him with two means, education and physical activity. Not separately, one for the soul and the other for the body, but for the two together. With these means, man can attain perfection.”
Perfection, eh? Well, I’m not sure about that — but rootle a little deeper into current thinking and you’ll find there are many studies that have established a link between movement and creativity. They even suggest the right kinds of movement can improve your the quality of your creative ideas.
Granted, there’s a long way to go before we discover a crack-shot formula that works for everyone to increase our inspiration, but here are four creativity hacks that might help next time you’re feeling stuck for ideas…
#1 — Step away from the desk
There’s a whole body of research that suggests when we do a repetitive activity such as running or swimming we can enter a ‘zone’; a space where connections and relationships can jostle and emerge rather than be placed under direct scrutiny. It’s possible that even repetitive movement such as that of a train may produce a slightly hypnotic effect which is conducive to idea generation and creative thinking.
You’ll be in good company, with many writers and thinkers having recognised the importance of activity in their routine. Dickens and Stephen King chose walking, Goethe and Burns composed on horseback whilst Mozart would ride in his carriage. Mark Twain used to pace and dictate.
#2 — Reach out!
Cretenet and Dru wrote a paper in 2009 on flexing and extending the arms and the resulting impact on cognitive flexibility. They observed that flexing your arm, or pulling your hand towards your body, creates an “approach” movement. While extending your arm, or pushing away, creates an “avoidance” movement.
They believe that the right and left-brain react differently to approach and avoidance with the right side of the brain more strongly associated with avoidance actions and the left with approach. The movement of each arm is controlled by opposite sides of the brain (still with me?)
When the type of movement you do matches the preferred movement of the brain hemispheres, your behaviour is more flexible, enhancing creativity.
Next time you have a creative task to perform, try sitting at a table and extending your left arm whilst flexing your right. The best way to do this is to press down on the table with your left hand and up with your right. See if it makes a difference.
#3 — The eyes have it
Research published in the journal Brain and Cognition (2010) suggests we can improve the number and quality of our original ideas by increasing the interaction between the two brain hemispheres — boosting our ability to produce super-creative, yet practical ideas.
One method thought to increase this cross-flow is to follow a target moving horizontally from left to right for 30 seconds.
#4 — Doodle squiggly lines
Slepian and Ambady’s study at Stamford University in 2012 looked at increasing creative generation, cognitive flexibility and creative thought through fluid rather than non-fluid movement.
Participants were asked to trace a fluid or non-fluid pattern before completing several tasks to assess the above with the result that for all three areas, improvements were observed in those who traced the fluid shape (A).