Friday, August 19, 2011

Trade-off of the Day: Creativity vs Self-Control

A few years ago there was a research article showing that simple walks in a park, sleeping, gardening, and meditation restore people's thinking and self-control abilities, while a walk on a busy street does not. The key to restorative brain activities is low requirements for attention.

Today’s world presents numerous challenges to maintaining one’s focus. It offers a plentiful supply of interesting but unimportant stimulation, whereas many important stimuli lack interest.

Thus, people must ignore much of what surrounds them. This act seems to require frontal and parietal brain mechanisms that mediate cognitive control and are susceptible to fatigue.

In order to replenish these resources, a person should engage in activities high in soft fascination that will activate involuntary attention in non-conflicting ways.

...what makes an environment restorative is the combination of attracting involuntary attention softly while at the same time limiting the need for directing attention.

Watching TV or browsing the web are not restorative activities because the media is designed to draw our attention.

Along the same lines, two days ago, NYT published a general interest article: Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue? Among other things, it talks about how our brain resources are depleted by attention-demanding tasks, with self-control being one of the more important ones.

Since problem-solving and willpower draw on the same resource, it probably makes sense that people come up with creative ideas, i.e. experience an aha moment, in soft fascination environments. How can we break the trade-off and improve our creativity? One way would be to routinize creative efforts, so that they require minimal involvement of will power. Another, would be to intersperse information acquisition (learning) or focused thinking/writing with low-attention activities, e.g. walking in a park, etc. One more, engage in free-form, divergent thinking "what if" exercises, e.g. "if we could solve any problem, which problem would be worth our blood, sweat, and tears?"

tags: creativity, psychology, trade-off, dilemma, separation, reverse brainstorm, brainstorming, control

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