Guest Blog Posts

Enhance Creativity by Shifting Brain Function – (part 3/3) guest blog post series by Kimberly Burnham, PhD


Creativity it turns out is not a magical quality that some lucky people have and others don’t. The spark of genius is in the ability to switch perspectives quickly--seeing each new challenge or event from different perspectives almost simultaneously and then choosing the best or most interesting viewpoint. Brain research supports this idea, whether we are talking about designing a striking poem or an architecturally stunning building.

Great poets have this creative fire, the ability to connect with and then surprise the reader. Comparing love to a red, red rose has been done too many times. Try to compare love to something new.

Love a lioness / loyal, roaring with a deep hunger / crying for more / slumbering when sated.

Love like the twin towers / strong and rich / one sunny day hit by a traveling missile / leaving death and destruction in its wake.

Several brain exercises can enhance creativity and the ability to quickly shift focus. Many children, and for that matter adults have trouble shifting quickly from one task to another. Research indicates that creative people are not smarter than less creative people but rather posses the ability to rapidly change from one task or idea to another. Creative people have extra flexible minds and behaviors when compared with their less creative peers.

Ingegerd Carlsson, a psychologist from the University of Lund in Sweden, and her colleagues found that, “when people were performing a creative task--trying to list as many uses for an object as they could--the frontal lobes of their brain were noticeably more active. The frontal lobes are thought to help people change tasks and strategies and to shift attention from task to task” (Helen Phillips, “Looking for Inspiration,” 2005).

To encourage creative flow generate a set of index cards which have different activities on them. Spend five minutes a day drawing random cards and doing the drawn activity for a minute or two before pulling another card and following those instructions. Practice swiftly switching from one activity to another.

This research also suggests another task designed to inspire. Pick an item in your house and try coming up with ten uses for that object. Here is a poem, I recently wrote in response to this exercise.


A Pen’s Purpose

A smooth black pen
ink set against snow
writing the anguish and insights
a poet ponders
feeling an opening in the world
sensing the power
communicating just the right word

A powerful black pen
can declare war
create peace
serve as a distraction swiveling in the hand
for the powerful and the impoverished

An artistic black pen
creates a masterpiece
smooth lines quickly sketched
juxtaposed contrast
drawing in one’s eye

A solid black pen
brushes away a fly
slicing through the air
like a baton leading music
or acts as a pick on an air guitar
a wand
to stir creative juices

A strong black pen
a blunt instrument pokes a hole
patterns form in clay or sand or dirt
art to some

A shiny black pen
knifes open an acceptance letter
tears through the tape
on a package from a loved one

A polished black pen
fuels dreams and realities
important ideas spread
to the ends of the earth
words sent on their way
an open heart pouring out

--Published in The Year of the Poet, October 2017 (Inner Child Press).

Go back to the index cards. How easy is it to switch between activities? Does it get easier with practice?

Draw the index cards randomly. Follow the instructions you have placed on each card, for example, “take three deep breaths,” “visualize the color green,” “pay attention to what you hear right now and figure out what is causing the sound,” or “blink your eyes and look around at how many trees are in sight.”

A more recent study reinforces the link between creativity and brain flexibility. “Creative individuals often achieve creative insights or problem solutions either through flexible switching among approaches, categories, and sets or by overcoming "functional fixedness" Scientific Reports, 2017).

“Several researchers have argued that creativity involves a process that is similar to biological evolution: creative individuals are able to easily generate a large set of ideas, and although most of the new ideas will be useless and discarded as a result, the generated ideas may occasionally be both novel and appropriate. The chance of generating a creative idea is small, but the chance increases when more ideas are generated" (Scientific Reports, 2017).

And it is never too late to increase creativity . . . “Recent evidence indicates that consciously directed effort to think more creatively yields more semantically distant connections. This "thinking cap" effect (trying and succeeding at being more creative) is commonly experienced.” Researchers went on to say, “potentiation of frontopolar [forehead area] neurons might enhance the capacity of an individual to deliberately become a more semantically distant thinker” (Cerebral Cortex, 2017).

In other words, practice enhances relationship recognition, brain flexibility, and the ability to use language creativity.

As another practice, consider the following pairs of words. What do they have in common? Are some of them more similar than others?


From this same article participants had to match pairs of words. For example, the word pair:  Watermelon Rind could be matched to Planet Soil or Orange Peel. Wool Sweater could be match with either Cotton Sweatshirt or Spark Fire.

Practice switching between activities smoothly and quickly. Consciously look for unique connections and relationships between ideas that at first seem incongruent.

Do you have something say about poetry? An essay on being a poet, tips for poets, or poetry you love? is now accepting pitches for guest blog posts. 

Contact me here if you are interested! 

See yourself in the pattern. As a 28-year-old photographer, Kimberly Burnham appreciated beauty. Then an ophthalmologist diagnosed her with a genetic eye condition saying, “Consider life, if you become blind.” She discovered a healing path with insight, magnificence, and vision. Today, a poet and neurosciences expert with a PhD in Integrative Medicine, Kimberly’s life mission is to change the global face of brain health. Using health coaching, Reiki, Matrix Energetics, craniosacral therapy, acupressure, and energy medicine, she supports people in their healing from nervous system and chronic pain issues. A current project is taking pages from medical literature and turning them into visual poetry by circling the words of the poem and coloring in the rest--recycling words into color and drawing out the poem.


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