The ABCs of Creativity: Thinking

While thinking may seem like an obvious trait in creativity, it’s important to examine what people think is obvious and what it means to the subject at hand. It’s part of being curious. In creativity, there are two accepted modes of thinking: divergent and convergent.

Creativity is filled with diametrically opposed qualities. The thinking required to get you there is no different. Divergent thinking is being open to new ideas and is the important part of the idea generation process. It’s usually done at the beginning of a project and when more ideas are needed. Brainstorming is a popular form of divergent thinking.

Convergent narrows down the ideas to come up with one that will work for the problem at hand. If you continually think divergently, you’ll never wind up doing anything. Convergent thinking allows you to focus on one idea and bring it to fruition, or at least far enough along to find out whether or not it will work.

Both types of thinking have their places in the creative processes if you’re looking to bring something into the world. If convergent thinking is applied too soon, it could limit creativity. Divergent thinking brought in at the wrong time could derail a project for something seemingly better. Learn to apply these to your deep thinking, and get better at creativity.

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Harry Potter, the Boggart and Anxiety: Curious?

In “The Prisoner of Azkaban,” Professor Lupin is teaching the students at Hogwarts how to protect themselves from a boggart. Boggarts take the shape of what the person fears most. Lupin advises the students to picture what they fear most and use the incantation “Riddikulus.” However, just using the incantation isn’t enough. “What really finishes a boggart is laughter. You need to force it to assume a shape you find amusing.”

Todd Kashdan offers similar advice for dealing with anxiety in his book “Curious?”. The incantation he uses is “I’m having the thought that…” followed by whatever the anxiety producing thought is. Kashdan points out that we aren’t our thoughts. Our thoughts do not always reflect reality. By adding the observation that you’re having a thought, you’re able to separate the thought from reality and look at the situation more objectively while limiting the power of the thought.

After exploring the incantation, Kashdan talks about other ways of dealing with anxiety, including imagining the anxiety as an animate object, like a purple puppy dog or a tiger with candy cane claws and licorice teeth. “It becomes a lot easier to confront unwanted experiences and prevent fusion (the strength imbued in a thought when it is taken as literal truth) when they look silly and nonthreatening.

So, imagine your anxiety as a black widow on roller skates it can’t control or as Snape dressed like Neville’s grandmother and start getting control of your anxiety. Who knew that Harry Potter had insights on how to deal with anxiety and fear?

Want to Create a Better Experience? Think about Dessert

In “Curious?,” Todd Kashdan writes about the “peak end” experience. Memory is a reconstruction not a recall. This means that the way we remember experiences is different than the objective event itself. In this case, Kashdan explores the fact that an experience that ends well will be remembered more positively.

Kashdan offers up the unappetizing and unappealing example of research conducted on people having a colonoscopy. Apparently, this procedure can be painful and uncomfortable. Two people have the same procedure. However, when the procedure is over, the first person has the tube removed immediately; the pain is over. The second person has the tube left in for an additional five minutes; the pain is over, but the tube still feels uncomfortable. Who reports having a better experience?

Against all logic, the person who had the tube left in an additional five minutes rated the procedure higher than the person who was done immediately. In a second experiment, the scientists performed the colonoscopy for different lengths of time from four to 69 minutes and found that time had no effect on the reporting of experience. Because the, um, end of the procedure for those who had the tube left in felt less painful, the entire memory of the colonoscopy was colored as better.

Kashdan uses this research because of its scientific validity. More than one experiment reproduced the same result. However, for those who want a more tasteful representation of the “peak end” experience, you might consider the last time you had a great meal. Did it end with an amazing dessert? If so, you might wonder if the rest of the meal was as good as you think it was.

Kashdan recommends using this knowledge to improve experiences you don’t like, and he offers several examples of people doing something at the end of an activity to help make them feel better about the activity. For example, a person ends a gym session with a soak in the hot tub.

In my own life, I used to love going to the dentist when I was a kid. Our dentist had video games in the waiting room and never rushed me when I was on the hunt for a high score. More importantly, at the end of the visit, I would get to choose a toy from the toy box to take home with me. As a child who didn’t have enough toys because of our financial position, the dentist was able to end an experience that most people don’t enjoy, in such a way that I was able to remember the visits as great. For other businesses, it’s important to figure out how to end the transaction in a positive way, especially if someone has a bad experience.

Get my book and read more about “My Life in the Projects: a kid’s-eye view of HUD housing in the 1980s.”

Want a More Fulfilling Life? ‘Curious?’

In “Curious?,” author Todd Kashdan writes about several different ways to get more out of life. From taking on mundane tasks to exploring once-dismissed activities, Kashdan says curiosity is the way to make life more fulfilling. Too many times, we shut off our attention to a task, which leads to a missed opportunity to be in the moment while opening up the mind to negative self-talk.

Kashdan urges people to engage their curiosity through practice. The steps of practice he suggests are:

  1. Choose something you consider an unappealing activity.
  2. Do the activity and look for three novel or unique things about it.
  3. Write those down and discuss them with someone else. (Use our comments section below!)

Kashdan uses this technique when he changes his daughter’s diaper, and when he does, he always finds something pleasant. He gets “a moment to reflect and feel close to my little one. Instead of losing a moment, I gain one” (p. 82).

In much of the first part of the book, curiosity is linked to creativity. Be curious, be more creative, and live a fuller life. For more on creativity and curiosity, check out “Disneyland Is Creativity: 25 Tips for Becoming More Creative,” and “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories: Improve Your Creativity for a Better Life and World.” Preorder “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.