What one thing does your brain actually want to do?

Sarah Healy
Jun 3, 2019 · 5 min read
Illustration by Sarah Healy

Over the weekend I succumbed to the lure of Netflix.

Generally, I try to avoid its far-reaching clutches at all costs.


Mainly because it is where my productivity goes to die. A slow and painful death. Any sense of motivation is lulled into a deep state of relaxation. I can lose countless hours, gorging on sitcoms, films or documentaries.

When I choose the latter I feel slightly better. As I am absorbing information while also being entertained.

(By the way, Ice Guardians and Made to be Broken make for excellent viewing and also got devoured this weekend. Damn Netflix.)

Yet this weekend I watched The Creative Brain, a documentary featuring David Eagleman. A Neuroscientist who speaks to people from a wide range of industries who have been able to tap into their creativity to create revolutionary progress in their respective field of expertise.

David seeks to debunk the myth that only a few humans are creative.

He makes a convincing case that we are all wired to be creative, and it is the one thing that our brain actually wants and perhaps needs to do.

Creativity is what humans brain do

Illustration by Sarah Healy

David suggests that the human brain is wired specifically to promotes the ability to be creative.

Let us distill the complex brain processes by focusing on two key areas: Input and output.

First, we will explore these two key areas within the animal brain, and then investigate how these compare to the wiring of the human brain.

Illustration by Sarah Healy

Animal brains:
In animal brains the pathway between the Input and Output is short. The path is also quite direct.

What does this mean?
If an animal sees food, it generally goes towards the food and eats it. End of story. Usually, there is not much thought or ambiguity between Input and Output. It is a direct path.

Now let's look at the human brain.

Human brains:
Firstly the Input and Output are much further apart in comparison to the animal brain.

This developed over time, as the brain developed, got larger and evolved. The resulted in the pathway between Input and Output expanding. It became less direct and more complex.

The expansion of this path has huge implications.

It means the human brain is capable of

  • Forging new ideas
  • Making new connections
  • Has an unlimited way of processing new ideas

This can make life a little more complicated but also utterly fascinating.

The greatest gift the human brains offers us is the ability to imagine. In our mind, this amazing capability to imagine or create something which does not yet exist.

It can be easy to forget how truly magical this is.

How we are able to this is more fascinating.

Do not confuse originality with creativity

This was probably the most refreshing part of the documentary for me as a creative.

As a creative being, I have got caught up in the quest of trying to be original.

Yet being to be creative does not mean to be original.

As director Kirby Ferguson said

Art cannot be created or destroyed — only remixed.

Without previous inventions, we would not have the products like the iPhone, the Model T Ford, Star Wars, Warhol’s soup cans, or the electronic musician Girl Talk.

Looking at what has gone before and trying to emulate it is not an act of copying if we inject it with our own life experiences of personal perspective.

To look at what has gone before is a way to research how others have solved the very problem you are trying to solve. This can serve to inform your creativity or encourage you to look at the problem from a different perspective.

We can choose to learn from what has gone before and use it as a way to keep evolving rather than a reason to stop us in our tracks.

The documentary did not just focus on artists, musicians, and writers. It expanded its focus to scientist, physicists, and teachers who all looked at solved complex problems in their area of expertise by tapping into their own creativity.

What they all had in common uncovering a new way to blend together things which already existed, yet had never been connected in this way before.

They did not seek to create something new or original.

They were searching to solve a problem and found through creativity a solution to the problems.

Through this, they created a new entity and created revolutionary progress in the area of science, education, and physics.

While the most interesting part of the documentary was offering creativity as an outlet in an unexpected place.

Transformation through the creative process

A writer began creative writing workshops in a prison.

What unfolded shocked him.

Prisoners and creativity are usually not two words uttered in the same breath.

Yet much to the writer’s surprise, he found that creativity in abundance within the walls of the prison.

Here he was faced with a collective of humans, who were reduced to the single worst act, crime or decision they had ever committed.

Yet through writing, through this act of creating, they went through a surprising transformation.

It gave them a right to express emotion.

As one prisoner said

When I write I can put myself in order, put things in order

They felt whole for the first time in their lives when creating.

Being creative is a struggle

While creativity can be transformative and essential for happiness it is not easy.

It is a struggle.

When being creative you are fighting a fundamental quality within the brain.

The brain by default like the animal brain is lazy and wants to take the direct path — the path of least resistance.

Creativity is a path filled with resistance. You have to continually push to be creative. Although it is what we are wired to do, it is not an easy thing to do.

You have to dig deep.

To be creative is to try or learn something new.

This is not easy.

You may feel confused or frustrated.

You may feel stupid.

You will have to accept that you might be wrong.

Worse still, you might have to accept being right while everyone around you tells you, you are wrong.

While creativity may be what we are wired to do, it is not an easy path to tread.

If you are on a creative path, I applaud you.

I encourage you to continually create, fight against the resistance and look forward to seeing what you create.

About the Author

Sarah Healy is a writer, adventuress, and designer focused on presentation design and visual storytelling. She authors content on Design Digest and Happy Human.

Follow her on Twitter, Dribble, Behance or her website.

Design Digest

Design Digest publishes curated stories weekly on…

Sarah Healy

Written by

A multidisciplinary designer, storyteller, and adventuress with a penchant for exploring blank spots on the map. https://healysarah5.myportfolio.com/

Design Digest

Design Digest publishes curated stories weekly on creativity, design and why it matters.

Sarah Healy

Written by

A multidisciplinary designer, storyteller, and adventuress with a penchant for exploring blank spots on the map. https://healysarah5.myportfolio.com/

Design Digest

Design Digest publishes curated stories weekly on creativity, design and why it matters.

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