Look after your grey matter and get creative

Many are aware that to get a good day of work done or to stay productive we need to look after our bodies, but how many of us think about how we treat our brains?

I was recently talking to a friend of mine who had knocked themselves out falling down the stairs. Listening to him talk about the consequences of a severe concussion it got me thinking about how little attention we pay to our brains. After all we spend time exercising and training the muscles in our bodies, but what do we do to look after our brains?

How do the chemicals in your brain dictate not only how productive you are but also how creative you are?

Baba Shiv, a professor at Stanford Business School, has a particular interest in the creativity and role the neural networks play in a person’s creativity. Talking to inc Shiv says explains this particular human trait is the result to two specific pathways in the brain.

The first being Serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for our state between calm and anxious, and the second controlled by the neurotransmitter Dopamine responsible for our state between bored and engaged.

Low levels of serotonin cause us to become anxious and fearful whereas high levels of serotonin allow us to feel calm and relaxed. Low levels of Dopamine will leave us feeling bored and disinterested whereas high levels will mean we are engaged. So to be at our best when it comes to getting creative Shiv points out that we need high levels of both Serotonin and Dopamine.

So how can we make sure our brain is working to plan with us? We can hardly demand that the neurotransmitters be released on cue, but we can provide conditions and nutrition that will encourage the release of these two important chemicals.

Top tips for creativity:

Avoid Stress

Easier said than done I know! When we put ourselves in stressful environments we cause our body to release the hormone cortisol. This hormone is released during both psychologically stressful times and also during periods of stressful metabolic activity. It acts to inhibit the production of serotonin and as such means that we are more likely to become anxious or fearful, not great when we are trying to get creative.

We can’t avoid stressful environments completely but try to find a place away from the hustle and bustle if you need to concentrate. It’s hard to let your brain do its thing if there are multiple conversations in the background or people multitasking around you.

Avoid overly strenuous workouts if you know your going to need to some up with new ideas. Although exercise gives you a serotonin boost, taking it too far will be counter productive and you’ll be feeling the worse for it later in the day.

Sleep is essential

Sleep is the body’s way of rebooting the systems and although you may feel like you don’t need it, you really do. Ideally you need a couple of hours of deep sleep to reboot your hormone levels, and when you consider that non-rem sleep only accounts for a third of a persons average nights sleep your looking at a minimum of six hours.

When you wake up your serotonin levels are going to be at their highest so make the most of the morning and schedule brainstorming sessions or creative tasks for first thing if you can.

Your body is a temple

You don’t need to be a health nut to get the best from your body but you do need to be thinking about what you’re eating and drinking.

Protein is your friend when it comes to brain food, eating a protein rich breakfast supplies your body with the ingredients it needs to produce serotonin and dopamine, so drop the carbs, they will make you lethargic and your body will start to concentrate on digesting your food rather than coming up with great ideas.

Coffee acts as a physiological arouser, this means that it will enhance whatever mood you are in at the time. This is great if you’re on a roll of creating great stuff, in this case have another cup and get cracking. However, if your not feeling it then coffee isn’t going to help so skip it and have a caffeine free drink.

Alcohol is a depressant and will inhibit the action of serotonin and Dopamine. It can also have an effect on your sleep patterns so you if you know you have a big meeting coming up stay away from the wine.

Get walking

Don’t feel confined to a desk, if you’ve got a brainstorming session coming up, get up and get out of the office. Light cardiovascular activity is perfect for getting the brain working and the ideas flowing. Natalia Komis from iamsocial says about walking meetings:

“This particular tool is great for those who have too many ideas or who are confused about what they want to do. Somehow the element of movement allows their thoughts to move in a linear way with them. It is also great for igniting ideas.”

Train your brain

The brain is like any muscle in the body, the more you train and stronger it becomes and just like your gym trips a mix of exercises have the most benefit on your brain power. Try logical and spatial problem solving, and number puzzles etc. There are plenty of fun apps out there to get you thinking and that will strengthen the synapses giving your brain a good work out.serotonin cause us to become anxious and fearful whereas high levels of serotonin allow us to feel calm and relaxed. Low levels of Dopamine will leave us feeling bored and disinterested whereas high levels will mean we are engaged.

So next time you wonder why you’re not in the zone, think about your brain!