• The Power of Creative Thinking to Improve Your Memory

    The Power of Creative Thinking to Improve Your Memory

When you think of creativity, what comes to mind? Do you think of the great inventors, artists, and scientists of antiquity — or do you think of the innovators, movers, and shakers of today? As it turns out, both are right. There are many forms of creativity and creative thinking is great for improving memory as you age.

The Psychology of Creative Thinking

What does it mean to be creative? The standard Webster’s definition states creativity is:

“The ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination.”

Well, doesn’t that sound fancy? However, to better understand the psychology of being creative, we must look at the mental process involved in creating new and meaningful ideas. When we examine the definition above, it looks more like problem-solving than a whimsical endeavor. And — from a cognitive perspective– that is precisely what creativity is. Creative thinking as a cognitive process is generated by making new connections across different regions of the brain

Who is Creative

The simple answer is everyone. Or, at least everyone has the capacity to be creative. In the psychological community, there is a debate over whether anyone is born with innate creativity or if everyone who has it has developed a talent. Though some scientists believe certain individuals have a higher aptitude for creativity, many attest that creativity is actually a skill and anyone can learn a skill. 

The Impact of Creative Thinking on Memory

This is all well and good, but what does creative thinking have to do with the memory? 

When scientists study memory, they look to the hippocampus. This is the part of the brain responsible for the processing of episodic, working, and short term memory. This part of the brain may also function as a mediator between many other brain processes.

Many cognitive functions draw on our experiences to make the right cognitive connections. We know not to grab a hot pan out of the oven with our bare hands because we have touched hot things before. We know not to say certain things to our significant others because we have experienced upsetting people with words before. All of this is a form of problem-solving. 

Interestingly, this is the same process involved in thinking creatively — only taken a few steps further. If memory tells us not to grab a hot pan, we would solve the problem by covering our bare hands. Now, you might simply use an oven mitt, but can you come up with any other ways to get the pan out of the oven? Maybe using winter gloves, a towel, or even another pan. 

This is the integration of memory and creative thinking at work. Conventionally, we tend to think of parts of the brain specialized for one thing, one particular function at a time. However, neuroscientists attest that all parts of the brain are constantly interacting and building strong neural pathways is the best way to keep all parts of the brain healthy.  

According to studies conducted at the University of Texas’ School of Brain and Behavioral Sciences, engaging in creative activities can improve the strength of neural pathways to the hippocampus which in turn creates strong pathways to memories. Actively building these strong pathways is to actively build connections to memories and experiences, and the stronger the pathways are, the easier it is for you to continue accessing. And since creativity is a skill anyone can learn, there is no reason not to exercise the neural pathways to your hippocampus through creativity.  

Ways to Exercise Your Creative Thinking Skills

Not all creative thinking exercises require you to write poetry or paint — though those are great creative exercises. Here is a list of quick and easy ways to get your creative juices flowing: 

Change your routine.

Do you have a daily routine you stick to with little to no variation? Well, looks like it’s time to shake things up. You won’t experience anything new or give yourself a new experience to activate your brain or trigger your creative process if you stay in autopilot. Try changing something small or adding a new activity each day, this will snap you out of the well-worn neural pathways you have paved and start forging some new ones. 

Exercise

We have long known that exercise is good for your brain as well as your body. Want to start stretching your creative muscles, stretching your real muscles could help.

Learn Something New

 It doesn’t really matter what, just that it’s new. Pick a language, game, or skill, and the exposure to new experiences will give you more fodder for future creativity.

Take an Improv Class

 This particular type of comedy is dependent on making quick connections and responding playfully. This is great for creative thinking since you have to constantly come up with new and interesting things.

Go Dancing

Dancing requires us to process a lot of information and express that interpretation visually. We hear the beat and the lyrics and move to our interpretation of the correct steps.

Read a Book

Reading is a great mental exercise, and if you are into fiction there is all kinds of creativity involved in the genre. If you are looking for a new book, here are some of our favorite destination books.

Keep in mind, the study of linking creative thinking to memory is a reasonably new pursuit and we have only just begun to understand what these benefits could entail. One thing we do know is that creativity is linked to many mental processes, and practicing creativity is great for cognitive function.

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Twin Towers is a continuing care retirement community in Cincinnati, Ohio, offering patio homes, apartments, rehab services and more. We’re focused on supporting the vibrant and active lifestyles of our residents so they can age well. For more information, contact Twin Towers online or at 513-853-2000.