Why are children so creative? The link between childhood and creativity
As Albert Einstein once said, “To stimulate creativity, one must develop the childlike inclination for play.” So, what exactly is the link between childhood and creativity? How can we generate more creative energy in adulthood?
Ask any child how many uses there are for a paper clip, and you’re likely to get an earful of imaginative, and often hilarious, ideas. Children are divergent thinkers, capable of producing a range of ideas — freely, generously, and without an inner critic taking notes. Which begs the question: Why do we often struggle with this same ability as adults?
Blame the frontal cortex
The frontal cortex is the part of the brain responsible for cognitive skills, including problem-solving, language, and rule-based behavior. As we enter our early 20s, the frontal cortex becomes more “rational,” allowing us to make better value judgments and decisions. One side effect is that we start to lose our ability for divergent thinking, which can be a real creativity killer.
To make matters worse, adults tend to view a mistake as a failure, instead of a natural and healthy part of the creation process. While errors can make you cringe, it’s important to remember that messing up is not necessarily a sign of failure. It’s a sign that you’re, well, creating. Watch any child at play, and you’ll see this is true. In fact, the more you allow yourself to make mistakes, the more likely you are to come up with an unexpected solution.
Yes, you are creative!
The good news is that creativity is an innate quality that everyone possesses (no matter what the frontal cortex says), so it can never be truly lost. Here are some fun challenges to stimulate your creative brain.
- Take a play break. Throughout the day, stop to listen to music, play with a toy, or doodle on a piece of paper. Stretching your brain in different ways and daydreaming can stimulate your imagination. Challenge: How many things can you make with a pile of paper clips?
- Allow yourself to mess up. Making mistakes can open doors to new possibilities and solutions. Challenge: Wear something you wouldn’t normally be caught dead in, and pay attention to the feelings and sensations that arise. Notice that these feelings are fleeting.
- Move your body. Regular physical movement can help stimulate your hippocampus, which some researchers believe can enhance your imaginative abilities. Challenge: Go to the park and fly a kite, play frisbee, or get swinging on the swing set.
Want to be more creative? Then think more like a kid. Play, try new things, and make mistakes. Wear something weird. Daydream and look at the clouds. Deep fry a Twinkie. Kids are masters of making their own rules, exploring new ideas, and most of all — play. The beauty is that you can be too.
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