I was recently discussing the idea of memory and how a realtor can use simple clues, like the smell of baking cookies, in a new home to help trigger memories and associations in the minds of potential buyers. Studies have shown that our memories tend to recall information better when all of our senses are involved. The memory of an event gets linked to the smell, the sound, and the raised emotional state of the moment.
We then started discussing why we doodle when we take notes, and that for some reason we remember more than when we don’t. I’ve always believed that it’s because the piece of information retained is tied to a physical act. Part of your brain is focused on the circles, the other part has no choice but to focus on the information being presented. It might be keeping our mind from wandering.
The idea of keeping the body occupied with repetitive, remedial tasks to improve memory, and even inspiration, happens to everybody. I think that some of our best ideas and solutions have come while taking a shower. We are participating in a fairly automated task, there isn’t a lot of external stimuli to distract, and our conscious mind is not occupied. Edward de Bono calls situations like this (showers, a walk in the park, exercise, doodling) a “creative pause”. We have created an environment where our mind is prepared.
I’ve always found the same effect happen to me when I’m cleaning my desk or studio space. I go through the same motions each week, and each time a bit of inspiration hits me for the problem at hand. Not to draw correlation between my level of creativity and that of Brian Eno, but I had to smile when I read / watched this interview of his:
Inspiration doesn’t just happen. You have to start doing something: you have to build a trap to catch it.
I like to do that by starting the very mundane process of tidying my studio. It may seem like it has nothing to do with the job at hand but I think tidying up is a form of day dreaming, and what your really doing is tidying up your mind. It’s a kind of mental preparation. It’s a way of getting your mind in a place to notice something.
And that’s what being creative is really: it’s noticing when something interesting is starting to happen and then building on it and asking yourself, “Where can I go with this?”
It’s like Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” My version of that is ‘Luck is being ready’, because luck is about noticing changes and acting on them.