What's the secret tonic of creativity?

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I step off the plane and I see people. Yes, I know people. Roads. Yep seen roads before. Relationships. Laughter. Boredom. Yes, yes and yes. I know all these things but (somehow everything seems unfamiliar and strange) they aren't quite the same. It’s different. 

Last week I took a short trip to Copenhagen and experienced that exact feeling, it’s like folding your arms the wrong way so you feel slightly uncomfortable. My daily habits, safe patterns and normal routines that keep me, ‘me’ were disrupted for a brief period of time. 

When we travel we notice things that seem unusual. We see, smell, hear, taste, and touch new things. Our senses are heightened with unfamiliar stimulus. Our brain is literally trying to make sense of cultures, local behaviours, languages and everything new that makes a place and the people in it so unique and interesting. 

We become more alive when we travel.

The most seemingly mundane of activities like buying a metro ticket becomes 'an experience'. Jonah Lehrer said

‘We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic to creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has changed and that changes everything’.

Feeling like this is perfectly normal and psychologists have confirmed the truth behind this with experiments. New sounds, smells, language, sensations, and sights spark different synapses in the brain and have the potential to alter our rivers of thinking in the mind, leading to enhanced creativity. 

‘Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to take deep connections between disparate forms,’ says Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School who has conducted many studies on the connection between creativity and international travel.
Galinsky goes on to say “The key, critical process is multicultural engagement, immersion, and adaptation. Someone who lives abroad and doesn’t engage with the local culture will likely get less of a creative boost than someone who travels abroad and really engages in the local environment.”

But do we need to travel far to get more creative?

I don’t think so. We can easily replicate the sensation and create new connections without even leaving our county, we just need to try and re-wire our brain a little. Give these five things a try over the next week and let the new ideas start rolling in.

  1. Take a different route home from work.
  2. Swap the order of your morning routine.
  3. Take a trip by a mode of transport you don’t normal take to a local town you’ve never been.
  4. Take a recipe with at least two ingredients you’ve never heard of and make it for a friend.
  5. Buy a magazine you don’t normally buy and read it cover to cover.

Let me know how you get on, and number two is harder than it sounds. Trust me.

Last thing, be wary of the Internet

The web has connected the whole world and done some pretty amazing things like bringing us together to campaign against injustice or introduced us to Dimdim the heart-warming penguin but it has also shrunk the world into a screen in the palm of our hands.

An experience on screen will never beat a real world experience. So even though we are so virtually connected right now - it’s even more important to experience new things too so we can physically connect.

So I guess that leaves us with just one question, where are you going to go?

And if you fancy going to Copenhagen here are four creative solutions that made the city that little bit better.

 Areas for commuters to stand while they wait for people to get off the train. Genius.

Areas for commuters to stand while they wait for people to get off the train. Genius.

 Someone added a bike helmet– since everyone cycles in Copenhagen this was a particularly nice touch.

Someone added a bike helmet– since everyone cycles in Copenhagen this was a particularly nice touch.

 Cute dogs who worked in a cool Sneakers and Coffee shop.

Cute dogs who worked in a cool Sneakers and Coffee shop.

 Fish tanks in the train station. Making it a more relaxing place when queuing.

Fish tanks in the train station. Making it a more relaxing place when queuing.