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The happy 😃 thought leader
Think. Write. Lead. - Issue #61. Why a good mood helps you come up with creative ideas.
This is the first one in a 7-part series about the neurobiology of thought leadership. You can read the introduction to the series here.
Some of my best ideas have come while working out at the gym.
And some of my best writing times (when I enter into the zone) happen right after waking up—an idea that was fuzzy the night before, is now floating in my mind fully formed.
And it turns out there’s a scientific explanation for this.
A few weeks ago I began this series about the neurobiology of thought leadership.
TL;DR: Creative ideas are the result of the interaction between three systems in the brain—attention, imagination, and salience.
I promised to show you the 7 tactics to help your brain produce novel and useful ideas.
Here's the first one: a good mood.
But let's backtrack a little bit (I'm gonna get geeky for a minute here).
You see, the way you get novel insights is by activating the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) in your brain, so your salience network can detect non-obvious ideas.
The brain is not good at multitasking.
So it switches some networks on and off, depending on the circumstances.
When you're trying to solve a problem, the most obvious solutions are strongly activated in your brain.
The non-obvious, long-shot, creative ideas are usually weakly associated in your mind.
When the ACC is activated, your brain is able to detect those non-obvious ideas and switches off the default mode to focus its attention on them.
So what activates the ACC? A good mood.
Science has shown that a good mood increases creativity while a bad mood increases analytical thought.
"Bad mood amplifies analytical thought. When we’re scared, the brain limits our options to the tried and true. It’s the logical, the obvious, the sure thing we know will work. When we’re in a good mood, it’s the opposite. We feel safe and secure. We’re able to give the ACC more time to pay attention to weak signals. We’re also more willing to take risks. This matters. Creativity is always a little dangerous. New ideas generate problems. They can be flat-out wrong, tricky to implement, and threatening to the establishment. But this also means we pay a double penalty for negativity. A bad mood not only limits the ACC’s ability to detect those weaker signals; it also limits our willingness to act on the signals we do detect."
— Steven Kotler in The Art of Impossible
And the best way to be in a good mood is to practice gratitude and mindfulness, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep.
Gratitude trains your mind to focus on the positive, filtering out the negative that the gator brain is always looking for.
Mindfulness allows you to be calm, focused, and nonreactive (activates your attention network). Breathing exercises and open meditation will let you consider novel ideas with freedom.
Exercise lowers stress and increases the levels of happy hormones in your brain.
A good night's sleep increases energy levels and allows your brain the downtime to search for hidden connections between ideas.
What is your default mood when you're writing?
Are you practicing gratitude and mindfulness to activate the ACC?
What about exercise and sleep?
What is one thing you can do today to improve on the above?
Before your next writing sessions, try the following:
Write down 5 things you're grateful for and meditate for a few minutes on positive stuff.
Go for a walk or a workout and come back to write.
Plan your writing session the night before and go to sleep with a question in mind (your brain will work it out during the night). And make sure you get at least 7 hours of sleep.
Writing like a thought leader means having unconventional ideas and backing them with solid arguments.
Those ideas are not created on a whim, just sitting down and expecting the muse to inspire you. Instead, they're like seeds that grow in the right environment.
That environment is a brain primed for creativity.
And now you know what to do. Just be happy.
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