How dopamine plays a part in creativity

Flying monkeys. Talking lions. A whole city in green! Erm, I don't think so. 

All sounds a bit sceptical right? Well, one aspect of switching on our creative mode and seeking novel ideas is the ability to completely remove internal judgement (all the self-talk inside the mind that no-one knows about but everyone does) and external judgement (basically everything else in the world) on the novel ideas that pop into your head. Thank goodness L. Frank Baum the author of The Wizard of Oz could remove judgement so he could come up with a master piece. 

For many people, and this includes some of the most prolific creative minds. The ability to filter our thoughts can be the difference between carrying on with our creative project or just chucking it out the window.

But, while the mind can self-sabotage, the brain actually wants to help us out.

The science bit
Let’s say hello to Dopamine. Dopamine is a brain chemical that likes to show up with a mild hit of euphoria when we have done something to aid our basic survival. Like, when we eat when we’re hungry, drink when we’re thirsty and have sex to reproduce. Because it makes us feel pretty good, we are encouraged to keep behaving in this way. Very clever stuff. But it gets better.

Your Creative Brain
After reading Shelley Carson’s PH.D, brilliant and fascinating book Your Creative Brain I learnt that when we are in a creative mode or absorb brainset*, you’re also rewarded with dopamine for paying attention to novel aspects of your external and internal environment. She says

‘This enhances your chances of coming up with novel ideas – perhaps Mother Nature’s way of making sure we survive by creatively adapting to our ever-changing environment.’

I love the idea that as a species we have evolved to reward creativity. It makes perfect sense really. If we didn't we might not have witnessed Judy Garland land on the Wicked Witch of the West. As the world evolves we need to adapt, shift and create to move forward. And the more we do it (which takes practice) the easier it will be to think up novel and new things. 

So, next time you start a creative project – remove all judgement and let the rewards happen. 

*Absorb brainset. 
This is an extract from Shelley’s book and explains one of the brainsets (there are 7 altogether) which she encourages for creativity. 'When you access the absorb brainset, you open your mind to new experiences and ideas. You uncritically view your world and take in knowledge. Everything fascinates you and attracts your attention'.

Shelley Carson’s book is fascinating so if you found this article interesting I’d recommend looking her up.