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Take a break – Incubate

As was mentioned in the last blog, Copenhagen Institute of NeuroCreativity (CINC) attributes its point of difference to the fact that the creativity training offered through the Applied NeuroCreativity (ANC) course is based on a neurological foundation. The Five key concepts of neurocreativity; Remote associations, Priming, Fixation, Incubation and Cognitive Inhibition, can, if recognized and manipulated with the right creativity tools, enhance trait creativity with as much as 28%. This is an important finding that CINC has been working successfully with for four years now. Learning about how the brain actually works and being aware of the pitfalls you can fall into while solving problems or working on projects gives you the advantage of actually avoiding them. One such intervention is for instance to apply intentional breaks. Breaks lower Cognitive Inhibition levels and consequently lead to what is known as Incubation, a very known concept within the field of creativity and part of Wallas’ (1926) classical four-stage model. It is (cliché-ly) commonly associated with moments of enlightenment, so-called ‘aha-moments’ when an individual gets the breakthrough idea of his life while showering or jogging. Often these moments of enlightenment are mistakenly interpreted as the brain unconsciously continuing to work on the problem, however with the knowledge we now have of the brain, it is much more probable that the sudden insights are simply due to disinhibition.

However, and more importantly, it is a tool that can be implemented quite strategically for any problem-solving situation to avoid fixation. Fixation, one of the five key concepts of neurocreativity, refers to the mental ‘glitch’ that usually happens when you’ve been working on a task for a long time but always fall back on previously thought of solutions - you become unable to diverge to more Remote Associations and your Cognitive Inhibition field becomes more rigid. All in all, you become fixated on something, which inhibits you from coming up with creative solutions. Being able to form Remote Associations is one of the keys to creative thinking. For example Sarnoff Mednick (1962) argued in his Associative Theory of Creativity that less creative people are able to form a lot of close associations, but more creative people are able to diverge further and form more remote associations. The accompanying illustration shows one of the ways that CINC visualizes the associative network.

But back to discussing Incubation and the importance of taking strategic breaks. A recent study was conducted to investigate what the effects of taking breaks were and how exactly it worked. As it turned out, participants that were given breaks from the tasks at hand, but in the break given unrelated, but still challenging tasks, were able to perform 40% better on a well known creativity test (Alternative Uses test), thus being able to diverge and come up with more ideas. This means that when you feel like you’re becoming fixated and want to be more creative at your problem solving, stop what you are doing and perhaps answer some emails or organize your drawer for a while before continuing on your quest for creativity!

Dagny Valgeirsdottir

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