Reflection at the Heart of Creative Expression


Have you ever suffered from the  infamous “creative block”? A bane to every artist’s  existence, the creative block often has us beating around the bush in hopes of finding an accidental epiphany.

Of course, such epiphany seldom comes in times of stress. In these moments, it is useful to take a step back and recharge in order to maximize productivity and enhance the creative process. Some suggest that even Isaac Newton discovered gravity while resting under a tree!

Creative incubation entails taking a break from actively working on a project after spending hours researching and brainstorming. The term, coined by Graham Wells in 1926, is the second in four steps of the creative process – with others including preparation, illumination, and verification.

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Whether it be through getting some sleep, going for a walk or having a chat with friends, various forms of incubation allow for the brain to make subconscious connections and may possibly lead to coming up with unusual and out of the box solutions. Ritter and Dijksterhuis describe this as mind-wandering.

The science behind it is fairly simple – being well-rested and in a positive emotional state are linked with better making of mental connections.

In the words of Michael Michalko, the author of Twelve Things You Were Not Taught in School About Creative Thinking, “Creativity is paradoxical. To create, a person must have knowledge but forget the knowledge, must see unexpected connections in things but not have a mental disorder, must work hard but spend time doing nothing as information incubates…”

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This may seem counterintuitive, taking a break in order to do work. But just as you need a rest day after a few workouts at the gym, the head needs its time to process information. 

Creativity does not apply only to the fields of art, it can be present in any area of life, from cooking to natural sciences.

Beware! It is very important not to fall into the trap of turning the productivity break into avoidance of the task. Incubating ideas, though it may last a day or two, should not be an excuse to delay work or sidestep due dates. Though procrastination and incubation go hand in hand as far as rhyme goes, they are not linked by reason.

Next time you struggle to think of a great hook for your essay, or can’t think of the next step to your scary calculus problem, instead of crying about your paper – take a break. Who knows, maybe you will think of the next groundbreaking theory.

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