Create more than you consume

But it’s how you consume that’s vital to creative inspiration

Mikael Cho
Published in
6 min readJul 15, 2013


A few nights ago, I did something for the first time in my life.

I listened to a full album (Jay-Z’s Magna Carta…Holy Grail), from the first song to the last, without any interruptions.

I put on my headphones, closed my eyes, and just listened.

I have been working a lot on reading more thoughtfully so I can retain more but this was the first time I tried it with music.

After listening to that album (in that way), I seemed to build a deeper connection with the work. I researched Jay-Z and listened to the whole album again the next day.

That experience of deep connection was rewarding enough, but it led to something more.

It inspired me to write this piece.

So while I may not have done anything “creative” while listening to the album, it still inspired creation.

It’s important to always be creating, but integrating doses of mindful consumption is often an important part of the creative process.

What happens in your brain when you consume thoughtfully

When I was in University, I worked at a psychology research center under the direction of one of Time Magazine’s Top 100 most influential people, Dr. Richie Davidson.

Dr. Richie Davidson at work with a Buddhist monk

One of the studies reviewed by our lab was on meditation and how being in the moment decreases the noise in your brain, leading to improved scores on working memory and intelligence tests.

When you allow yourself to fully immerse in an experience, you give your brain a chance to make deeper connections, thus enhancing your ability to recall these connections in the future.

The importance of getting emotional

We all have vivid memories of certain moments in our lives. Maybe it was a song at a live concert or that one thing we experienced on a trip that we will never forget.

Those experiences are memorable because they probably made you happy, sad, or angry.

When you tie an emotion to an experience, a hormone is released that greases the wheels at certain chemical locations in the brain where nerves rewire to form new memory circuits:


This is why moments in your past that made you feel something often come up when you need to think creatively.

An experience that connects with your emotions is easier for you to recall.

If you make yourself available to focus deeper on what you’re consuming, you’re giving yourself a better opportunity to connect at an emotional level, retain more of what you consume, and use that to your advantage when you need to be creative later.

The Learning Pyramid: A technique to retain 90% of what you consume

I’ve found myself guilty of skimming through tweets, articles, and videos, thinking that I’m retaining everything.

The reality is, most of what I thought I was learning will slip right through.

When you consume in a passive way, by skimming and moving to the next thing, you’re at a learning disadvantage.

The Learning Pyramid explains the most effective way for you to learn is by either teaching someone or trying to immediately put what you learned into practice.

The Learning Pyramid states that people retain:

90% of what they learn when they teach someone else/use immediately.
75% of what they learn when they practice what they learned.
50% of what they learn when engaged in a group discussion.
30% of what they learn when they see a demonstration.
20% of what they learn from audio-visual.
10% of what they learn when they’ve learned from reading.
5% of what they learn when they’ve learned from lecture.

This is often why great writers also happen to be great readers. They immerse themselves in a topic because in order to create a meaningful dialogue, they must.

Self-taught individuals, also called autodidacts, are masters of retaining information largely because of their ability to reflect and put into action most of what they consume.

Leonardo Da Vinci was an autodidact, and he used a system of practical actions and rewards to retain information.

These actions resulted in mistakes along the way and it was these mistakes that would solidify his learnings.

As Sean D’Souza, author of, states:

Listening or reading something is just listening or reading.
It’s not real learning.
Real learning comes from making mistakes.
And mistakes come from implementation.

How to turn consumption into creation

Reading a book or watching a movie is an important part of my creative process, but I always try to make sure I’m fully immersed in these experiences.

Here’s some things that have worked for me to use consumption as fuel for creativity.

Take a stance

Instead of just trying to get to the end of your Twitter feed or articles that you saved for later, read each article as if you would need to tell a friend about it after.

This is fundamental to retain more of what you consume and absorbing information rather than glazing over content, and simply hitting a retweet or like button.

Psychologist Robert Cialdini uses a technique where he takes out a piece of notebook paper and writes a 1-page summary immediately after every chapter he reads.

Research shows this technique can help you retain over 50 percent more information than if you were to read the same chapter over and over and try to memorize it.

Consume like you’ll have to teach

When you consume, think that you will need to teach someone about the topic. Better yet, actually do that.

Whether it’s your child, significant other, or your parents, consume and share what you found or try to put it into practice.

No one said it better than Ms. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus:

This learning through action and making mistakes is one of the main reasons why research suggests that people who travel or study abroad have been found to be more creative.

Researchers noted that people who studied abroad were able to make quicker mental connections suggesting that full immersion in new experiences may enhance your creative juices.

Nothing will help you absorb more of what you consume than trying to do. It’s through the mistakes made where the real learning happens.

Seek out the weird: Make opportunities for idea collisions

Studies show that unusual experiences introduce new neural connections and increase the chances for you to find unique concepts as these connections collide with your existing thoughts.

Go out with different types of people or try things you’ve never done before. When you meet new people or try unexpected events, it creates an idea cocktail in your brain.

Inspiration could come from something as simple as a sign on a wall or an interaction with a waiter (an experience you’ll never get if you’re not fully present).

Whether it be a dinner with close friends or a night at the movies, by focusing on being present, your senses can soak in every element of an experience.

It’s not necessarily how much you consume, but how you consume that makes the difference.

Instead of fighting to win the battle to consume all the information you can, come to terms with the fact that you lost the war.

This will make consumption much more enjoyable and coincidently, help you do better work.

Got an idea?

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