TAPPING INTO CREATIVTY WITH THETA BRAIN WAVE CYCLES,
by Brad Hines 12-3-12
The most elemental aspect of creativity- the spontaneous "light bulb" kind where an awesome idea just comes to a person- is that it most frequently occurs while people are in what's known as, a Theta brain wave cycle. Amongst the four different brain wave cycles, Theta-for the Greek letter, is the 3rd slowest in the human range measuring electrical activity in the brain. Theta is the brain wave state we are in when we are most relaxed, but not asleep. It's a state of relaxation and foggy alertness where the brain waves on an EEG are measured between 4-7 Hz to be exact. This relaxed but aware quality is exactly why so many people claim to have their best ideas while in the shower, driving, or drifting off to sleep. The repetitive or calming aspect of those activities puts people in this slower brain state that is more conducive for creativity than a mental state like normal or aroused/agitated thinking-Beta and Alpha brain waves respectively. What's so interesting is the way creativity in this brain state just "comes to us" as people so often describe it.
Playing to improve work
"Damn. Every time I need to be creative-for work, I seem to get creative block", said on occasion by anyone who was supposed to be creative for a living. There is a very evident catch-22 that when we are pressed to be creative, this will make people overly alert and stressed out, and very much in the opposite of a Theta cycle. Some ways then, to encourage creativity, are literally to play. Playing-fooling around with anything is the type of thing that will get the mind in a creative state. You can even schedule this time. One day recently for this sort of thing, I built a wooden toy helicopter-shown left-in my office I had purchased for a dollar at the supermarket. Anything different like this to break us out of our routine, and certainly that is fun, is key. This is why so many startups now have things around the office you'd expect to find in a toy store (please see: How to be the next big web start up, 5-12-12).
There is a whole category of toys up at NerdPlaythings.com called "kinesthetic toys", toys that you move with, or play with mindlessly, that can also induce a theta brain wave state.
Homer Simpson once said: “Homer no function beer well without” and there is some
creative truth to that, no pun intended. Many people claim that they are also more creative after about 1-2 alcoholic drinks, and there are various studies indicating this is so, likely also for the reason of the Theta brain wave cycle, as alcohol of course is a depressant to the brain. Of course, however as true as this is, this approach is rendered useless beyond a few drinks as your thinking becomes too foggy.
A Theta brain wave cycle is not something you can obtain safely popping a pill-not yet anyway. One way is through meditation, and in that regard, I discovered that there is a specific way supposedly where you do so by listening to binaural beats. Binaural simply means that there is a different sound for each ear, and that the both are interpreted by the brain to be heard as one. The concept has had inconclusive evidence for some time now as to its ability to induce various states when listened to (there is every kind on YouTube, from designed-to-hypnotize, to aiding memory, sexually arouse and more). Curious about this fringe science-binaural beats' effect on the brain is not nonsense, but it's also not well researched-I tried it myself by listening to some of the many available on YouTube that were promising to induce a Theta state and in turn, a creative mood. Most are recognizable right away by their eerie pulsating sound, that I can only seriously describe as flying-saucer like.Listen for yourself. So I listened to several of them, at different times of day and in different moods-and as well it's worth noting, the majority of the time I wrote this article. So did listening to binaural beats put me in a relaxed Theta-state and make me more creative? It's hard to say. Was I feeling amused and entertained listening? Yes. Pulsating sound stuck in my head later on? Check. But, more relaxed or creative for that matter? I just don't know, the reflexive and unquantifiable nature of it makes it hard to affirm, and fraught for opportunities to have confirmation bias- a concept that I was aware of as I listened. So I would never say it doesn't work simply because it didn't work on me, for all those reasons and more.
Similarly, people can take advantage of their sleep patterns to be more creative. If you have the luxury, instead of waking up from an alarm clock, spend the first ten minutes after you wake up lying in bed and thinking about the things you are working on. Let the thoughts percolate in your mind, revel in how they bounce around-don't talk to
"Memory is extremely ephemeral in this thinking state, and often when you think you will remember your creative flash, you seldom will if you don't write it down."
anyone, don't use electronic devices, just lay and think in a foggy state for ten minutes. The semi-dreamy state you will be in, if preserved, is incredible for its ability to foster creative thought. Stoke this even more by going to bed the night before thinking about a few of the problems with work you are trying to be creative about, this will easily get you dreaming about it, and you may very well dream up the solution in your sleep, awake in the Theta cycle, and re-call your dream. Be sure to keep a pad of paper by your bed side for recording creative thoughts in the Theta brain cycle, for memory is extremely ephemeral in this thinking state, and often when you think you will remember your creative flash, you seldom will if you don't write it down.
Obtaining Theta, and what to do with it
So I think the easiest way to capitalize creatively on the Theta brain state is to do so through sleep-not sleep per se, but as we are drifting to sleep, or awakening from it. A mid day nap for example is the perfect situation. Have you ever paid attention to thoughts as you are drifting off to sleep? If you do it consciously sometime, you may notice those moments that begin when your thoughts become oddly disjointed, the "why-did-I-just-think-of-that?" moments. Those moments indicate that you are well into the Theta state, and in that moment and even before hand, we can put our brain to work for us by allowing creative problem solving. When we wake up in the morning. As I already have said, this relaxed state won't likely happen awakening with an alarm clock or any other way abruptly, rather you will need to be able to wake up naturally. Please understand as well another caveat about creativity as a consequence of the obtained Theta brain state—it's not a panacea for creativity in general. Although the Theta brain state allows for more "spontaneous style" creativity, remember that the heart of practical and applied creativity comes from being able to make unique connections between things in a functional way, and this requires a wide knowledge base of disparate topics. In other words, to get the most from the Theta brain state, it does't hurt to be well read, and a colorful observer of life.
I highly recommend the book to the right by Josh Linkner. Linkner has put together an excellent formula for being creative. Please as well watch his Ted Talk below which is fantastic:
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About the author: Brad Hines is the president of YumDomains.com, the founder of HungryKids.org, an Internet analyst and digital marketing strategist. He is a writer who typically writes about Internet, tech, and business trends; and sometimes health & science. He is most creative at night. He can be followed on Twitter: Follow @BradHines