The More You Know
Creative people are always looking for ways to expand themselves creatively. What if it was as easy as taking a long vacation to a different part of the world?
It’s an old adage to “write what you know.” While this may seem like a piece of advice that is trivial or simply logical- because of course writing about something you know is simpler than writing about something you don’t know – it might also have some implications for those who know and have experienced more. The more experiences a person has, the more they have to draw on when it comes to creative projects.
This idea of having more to draw on stimulating creativity means that doing things like travelling and participating in other novel activities are beneficial for writers, artists, and other creative professions.
The fun doesn’t stop there, though; new studies have shown that travel actually alters the pathways in the human brain!
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s aptitude to redirect pathways and thinking patterns to better accommodate new experiences. Studies show that building new pathways in the brain by way of exposure to new things markedly increases neuroplasticity, and people with greater neuroplasticity are more creative. The mind that is literally, physically changed by life experiences is better equipped to perform creative tasks.
Doing novel activities and travelling legitimately alters the brain, increasing neuroplasticity, which increases creativity.
All new physical stimuli have the potential to affect neural pathways, because the wiring in the brain is initially constructed from gathering information from the surrounding environment. Changes in environment can cause change in neural pathways. New smells, sounds, languages, sensations, sights make different synapses in the brain fire, and this refreshes and grows the brain’s capabilities.
Creative Minds Think Alike
Quite a few of history’s favorite creative people were avid travelers. Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, and Aldous Huxley all made a point of seeing different sides of life. InInnocents Abroad Mark Twain said that travel is “fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” By traveling and relocating, these famous creators literally expanded their brains by way of neuroplasticity, increasing their aptitude to have creative thoughts.
There’s a reason a lot of creative people tend to head to unfamiliar destinations to do their craft: it gets boring and underwhelming at home. Many novelists, J.K. Rowling most notably, hole up in hotels when finishing their projects. First and foremost this probably removes the distractions at home, but it also provides a new environment. This change of scenery stimulates the brain and helps increase creativity and productivity.
Milling around home all day, it’s hard to feel inspired. Creativity isn’t a static task for the mind; it’s not like assembling IKEA furniture or repairing a leaky faucet. There are no instructions for creativity, and no starting or ending point. Creativity occurs organically, and it needs stimulation to grow. Travel provides the impetus for an idea, and ideas are the seeds of creative actions.
Dedicate Yourself to New Things
Studies on neuroplasticity show that there are some guidelines to the real, chemical impacts of travel on the brain. The optimal creativity-boosting travel is longer, immersive trips. Staying in a 5-star hotel in a different country that looks exactly like the hotels back home, never bothering to leave and walk the streets and meet the people, won’t do much in terms of physical brain changes. To get the benefits, exposure to a different way of life is essential. Study-abroad trips and overseas sabbaticals are prime examples of this kind of travel.
The research shows that people who take a couple of trips likely see more improvements in their creativity over those people who take one trip or people who take a dozen trips. In the case of the frequent flier dozen-trip traveler, so many life experiences can’t possibly be as well absorbed as two or three well-researched and thoroughly-involved trips. Jet setting won’t earn you the creativity points you’re looking for; deeply involved, day-to-day life experiences in other locations are what build neural pathways.
A travel experience that introduces new sights, sounds, language, rituals, practices will maximize the neural benefits, which in turn maximizes the effect on a person’s creativity. Multicultural experiences take a person outside of what they are familiar with, which pushes the boundaries of their existing neural pathways and builds new neural channels to accommodate.
By dedicating yourself to new things by way of immersion, you brain has a chance to build new pathways to accommodate the new experiences.
Applied Neuroplasticity and Creativity
To show this increase in creativity, the portfolios of two hundred seventy fashion houses’ creative directors were examined. It was found that, over eleven years worth of fashion lines, the ones that belonged to creative directors who spent concentrated, immersed time abroad were characterized by more “creative innovation.”
The creative directors who traveled and had more creative portfolios grew over time. Their knowledge grew, as did the neural pathways in their brains.
They saw different sights and sounds and heard different languages and conversed about different topics than their counterparts that didn’t leave home. They stepped into different cultures and learned as much as they could, applying bits and pieces of that in the fashion lines they were developing.
Being able to track these differences in creativity over the eleven years worth of fashion lines is a poignant nod in the direction of neuroplasticity’s effect on creativity. The same would likely be seen if the novels of various writers were studied over a similar length of time. Authors who leave home are more likely to have imagination-sparking experiences than those who stay at home.
Push All Boundaries
Heading out into the world doesn’t just benefit you in terms of neuroplasticity; travel benefits your brain in terms of sense of self too.
When you travel, you meet new people. Learning to interact with people from different backgrounds not only gets you outside of your comfort zone and provides a new experience, but it also forces you to learn how to connect across barriers – whether they be language, background, income, or race barriers. This requires that you develop your sense of self. When a stranger says, “Hi, I’m ___,” you need to be able to say “I’m me,” and know what that means.
Having more experiences to compare yourself to provides contrast in your personal life. We grow to best fit our environments. If you live in the Midwest, in a small town, and you never leave, you’ll be most similar to others in the same situation, If you live in the Midwest and spend five months in Mexico, you’ll borrow aspects of each experience. The aspects you choose to claim as you own better represent and build your sense of self.
In terms of creativity, a well-defined sense of self is key, so travel improves creativity in this way too. The artist who only knows how to mimic others’ art and doesn’t know how to find their own style isn’t really an artist at all. It’s okay to like what others do, and to attempt to recreate aspects of that, but the best writers, artists, and musicians find their own forms of expression and build a personal identity within their work.
The world is full of different viewpoints and beliefs; travel simultaneously challenges and strengthens a person’s system of values and beliefs by way of comparing existing values and beliefs to those held by others. Having more cultural experiences expands one’s own personal definition of their culture.
Meeting people from other cultures also narrows the gap between ourselves and others. It’s easier to trust humanity on a whole when you’ve met others from different walks of life.
People who make sweeping generalizations about other cultures often have trouble thinking outside of those generalizations. Those people are also most often the ones who haven’t had any opportunities to experience different cultures. By meeting people from other cultures, they transform from being a category of human to being an individual. Rounding out their character makes it harder to generalize about any other individuals, which is a positive thing for thinking creatively. The ability to recognize and represent individuality is key in creative pursuits.
Expand All Horizons
Even if long-term travel isn’t an option, creativity is still fed by small journeys to new destinations and the experience of novel things. By taking karate lessons; joining a knitting circle when you don’t initially know how to knit; going hiking in a part of town you’ve never seen, you experience more and give you brain more to work with. Neural pathways are best built through long, immersive experiences, but don’t discredit the little things.
And, neuroplasticity and sense of self aside, the fact remains that knowing more provides more content for you to draw on. If you’ve never flown on a plane or tried horseback riding, you can’t as authentically communicate those things in your writing. If you’ve never watched the sun set over an ocean, you can’t portray that in a painting with as much realism. Look at life experiences as the metaphorical color wheel of creativity; if you never leave your hometown, never try new foods, never listen to music outside of your typical genre, you’re limiting yourself to the colors you were born with. The instant you try something new, you gain a new color, which allows you to create a broader range of creative things.
The more you do, the more you can relate to, and by way of relation, you better define your sense of self. Expand in any direction you can in your search for new experiences.
Creativity is Personal
Creativity isn’t something fixed; you aren’t born with a limited supply of creativity, and once you use it up, you’re out. Creativity is something that you grow and nurture, and it’s best fed with life experiences.
Travel is one of the best meals you can feed your creativity. Immersive travel literally builds new neural pathways, and having the kind of large life experience that comes with travel builds your sense of self. Doing novel things build your novel individuality, and individuality is key to creativity.
While it seems like inspiration is something that “strikes,” in reality it’s something you have to hunt for. It’s not a predatory snake; it’s a fearful hare, hiding in the underbrush. You have to journey deep into the thicket to find it, and along the way you’ll see new plants, new birds, new terrain. Once you reach the hare, you’ll already have all the new experiences you need to create your next great thing.
You have to experience life to be able to encapsulate elements of life in writing, art, and music. Travel and doing novel things provide the fuel for creativity. Learn the most you can about as much as you can. Immerse yourself in new experiences. Teach your brain new things, and in return, your brain will be more creative. Life is vibrant and exciting, and your life experiences should be equally vibrant and exciting to best feed your creativity.