Creativity can be the key to a fuller, more enjoyable life. Fundamentally, creativity is the ability to use the imagination to come up with original ideas. Many people think that the aging brain loses its ability to think creatively.

However, in an article in Psychology Today written by Dr. Shelly H. Carson the claim is that “the aging brain resembles the creative brain in several ways.”

He says that the older brain is more likely to make novel and original associations. Whether harnessed for art or literature or music or simply for living day-to-day, the aging brain finds novelty where others miss it.

I recently read an excellent book by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire, Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind. It summarized ten habits that research has revealed to be typical of the creative mind. It outlines habits that even the aging brain can cultivate to improve our own creativity.

Imaginative Play

Creative minds often ask themselves, “What if?” Like children at play, they put themselves into unusual, fictional situations. The Wired to Create authors quote George Bernard Shaw, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” Our roles as parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, or even baby-sitters, can offer opportunities to continue childhood play, too.

Passion

A passionate interest in something fuels creativity. The results reinforce the passion. We see that passion in child prodigies, like cellist YoYo Ma, but also in mature artists, like Grandma Moses. Steve Jobs urged us to do what we love, as have many others.

Sometimes, we have to immerse ourselves in the endeavor to become passionate about it. Your garden may be the canvas for your work of art.

Daydreaming

After retirement, we often have more time available to just daydream. This is a characteristic of many creative people. In that zone, associations are made that would not develop without our letting our minds wander. Creative solutions are often the joining of seemingly contradictory elements. Sweet and sour pork, anyone?

Solitude

Creative people often prefer to be alone, and they don’t feel lonely. The noise of the world is reduced, so they can think more clearly, make more creative connections.

Kaufman and Gregoire quote Henry David Thoreau, “I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.” We can turn absence into advantage. Perhaps this is why so many women over 60 decide to live alone.

Intuition

Reason carries us only so far, and then we tend to rely on our intuition. Awareness is somewhat a product of our experience, and as we mature, we have more of it. Intuition allows us to think unconventionally, creatively, outside of the now-proverbial box. Such feelings often guide us and may have sources in our unconscious minds.

Openness to Experience

Experience… we definitely have plenty of that! Paradoxically, we need to be open to getting even more of it. Creativity is inspired by situations different from those we’ve already enjoyed or endured. We can seek out these new situations, new people, new endeavors, and we can also just decide to view our current circumstances in new ways.

How often do you ask the question, “What if…?”

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is awareness coupled with curiosity and attentiveness. Socrates is credited with affirming that “The unexamined life is not worth living.” While certainly an over-statement, this has more than a grain of truth. The mystic Ram Dass urged, “Be here now,” which may be more profound than Nike’s “Do it now,” though the latter has merit, too.

Sensitivity

When I say something that particularly pleases my wife, I maintain that I’m a sensitive ‘60s guy. I attribute my sensitivity to the period when we were encouraged to get in touch with our feelings. Heightened awareness can lead to creative responses.

Being sensitive is a bit like turning up the volume on the television; you hear some things you might otherwise miss, but at the risk of overwhelming your thinking. Others may not appreciate your sensitivity. Having a thin skin leads to unnecessary inter-personal friction.

Turning Adversity into Advantage

With the experience of maturity, we’ve learned the wisdom of “this, too, will pass.” Moreover, we can creatively find ways to turn lemons into lemonade. This is perhaps because we remember how we did that once or remember how someone we knew did it. We mutter that every knock is a boost. We pick ourselves up and learn from experience albeit from an altered perspective.

Thinking Differently

When you reach a certain age, you are more likely to be willing to march to the beat of a different drummer. You are often a non-conformist in thought, if not in dress or speech. Original thinking is characteristic of creative people.

Your willingness to non-conform, coupled to the lessons you’ve learned, produce unusual viewpoints. In our sixties, the accumulation of our unique experiences can put us in positions from which we get unconventional, creative viewpoints.

Go Ahead, Be Creative

The message? Harness your inner novelist, memoirist, poet, painter, sculptor, composer, choreographer, or actress. Pursue an artistic hobby, or simply find creative ways to improve your life and the lives of others.

You’ve got the mature, creative brain to do it.

Is there a creative endeavor you have started recently or hope to start? Have you found ways to be creative in everyday life? Would you say you are a non-conformist?

Douglas Winslow CooperDouglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D. is a former Harvard science professor. He still publishes and helps others write and publish their books, via http://WriteYourBookWithMe.com. Douglas’s life’s central theme has been a half-century romance with his wife Tina Su Cooper, now quadriplegic due to multiple sclerosis and receiving 24/7 nursing care at home, as discussed at their website here.

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