Yes, you read that right. Some of you might think I meant to put ‘drawing on the right side of the brain’, which is the title to a drawing book by Betty Edwards. Her book is about learning to drawing by training the right side of the brain with appropriate exercises. An excellent book for anyone wanting to explore that aspect of creative growth, it supports everything I teach my students.
Well, I didn’t intend to refer to that book, but it makes sense to. What I want to share is my recent tour of Ireland by car and the practice it takes to retrain the brain to do something unfamiliar. Driving on the opposite side of the road is a perfect example of how we can learn new things by over-riding habits of the brain. I’ve been driving a stick shift since I was 16 years old. Initially, it was about getting better gas mileage, but more so it was to stay physically involved with the process of driving, so I’d be more aware and safer on the road. New rules require new habits.
Driving in Ireland required that I not only keeping the car to the left and looking to the right when making a turn, but sitting on the right side of the car with the shift (thank God automatic) on the left. Training myself to deliberately and consciously scan every other car, bump, turn and roundabout along the road I had to create new response pathways in my brain to create new habits of thinking. I hoped I would eventually relax while driving, but that never happened. I was always on guard. I couldn’t trust my right brain road habits not to take over unconsciously. I did once, actually twice, make a right turn into the wrong lane and it wasn’t until the end of the week that I stopped feeling lost when I looked to my right for the rear view mirror that wasn’t there (it was to my left). Most roads were barely wide enough for two cars. Even in Connecticut, country roads are wider and main roads are slower. Spatial relationships are tested when you have to judge how close you are to the wall next to the passenger door (your left) and take corners when those same walls block your vision of on coming traffic. I left the rental car with reminders of bramble bush caresses and more than a few stone wall hugs. The good news is that by the end of the week, I had repeated new driving habits often enough that I felt more confident of learning new ways of doing something opposite from what is so familiar.
What has this got to do with creativity? Everything. The key is to exercise our brains to do new things, so that we keep learning. Creativity requires both sides of the brain. Life requires both sides of the brain. I do believe that even though I use my whole brain, habits create little pathways that can become ruts if we don’t change them up now and then. Imagine that with left brain activities as well. Language is a matter of practice, balancing one’s check book is a matter of practice, playing a musical instrument is a matter of practice, as is art making. The key to creative growth is the diversity of the practice to take the skills to new creative levels. Improvisation strengthens creative commentary. Not that one should make up new road rules, but believe me, my driving experience in Ireland allowed me to see more. I didn’t just see new places, but I developed a keener awareness of the spaces I traveled through. Roundabouts all look the same, but each offers the possibility of several roads to take or a bumper to crash into. One cannot look at each round-about the same way.
“I’ve seen all good people turn their heads each day, so satisfied I’m on my way.” -Yes
You’re creative task is to do something backwards or opposite (make safe choices). Try writing your name backwards or upside down or with your opposite hand. Walk backwards (in an open space, it’s just the act of walking backwards you want, not the obstacles). Drive to work another route. Get out of bed on the opposite side (better yet sleep with your head on the opposite end of your bed). Change the order in which you normally do a task. It doesn’t matter whether or not it’s more efficient, it’s just an exercise to strengthen your brain. Creativity comes from what we know and what new experiences we bring to it.