18 Things Highly Creative People Do Differently

Posted: 03/04/2014 8:48 am EST Updated: 03/10/2014 8:59 am EDT

Andy Ryan via Getty Images

Creativity works in mysterious and often paradoxical ways. Creative thinking is a stable, defining characteristic in some personalities, but it may also change based on situation and context. Inspiration and ideas often arise seemingly out of nowhere and then fail to show up when we most need them, and creative thinking requires complex cognition yet is completely distinct from the thinking process.

Neuroscience paints a complicated picture of creativity. As scientists now understand it, creativity is far more complex than the right-left brain distinction would have us think (the theory being that left brain = rational and analytical, right brain = creative and emotional). In fact, creativity is thought to involve a number of cognitive processes, neural pathways and emotions, and we still don’t have the full picture of how the imaginative mind works.

And psychologically speaking, creative personality types are difficult to pin down, largely because they’re complex, paradoxical and tend to avoid habit or routine. And it’s not just a stereotype of the “tortured artist” — artists really may be more complicated people. Research has suggested that creativity involves the coming together of a multitude of traits, behaviors and social influences in a single person.

“It’s actually hard for creative people to know themselves because the creative self is more complex than the non-creative self,” Scott Barry Kaufman, a psychologist at New York University who has spent years researching creativity, told The Huffington Post. “The things that stand out the most are the paradoxes of the creative self … Imaginative people have messier minds.”

While there’s no “typical” creative type, there are some tell-tale characteristics and behaviors of highly creative people. Here are 18 things they do differently.

They daydream.

Creative types know, despite what their third-grade teachers may have said, that daydreaming is anything but a waste of time.

According to Kaufman and psychologist Rebecca L. McMillan, who co-authored a paper titled “Ode To Positive Constructive Daydreaming,” mind-wandering can aid in the process of “creative incubation.” And of course, many of us know from experience that our best ideas come seemingly out of the blue when our minds are elsewhere.

Although daydreaming may seem mindless, a 2012 study suggested it could actually involve a highly engaged brain state — daydreaming can lead to sudden connections and insights because it’s related to our ability to recall information in the face of distractions. Neuroscientists have also found that daydreaming involves the same brain processes associated with imagination and creativity.

They observe everything.

The world is a creative person’s oyster — they see possibilities everywhere and are constantly taking in information that becomes fodder for creative expression. As Henry James is widely quoted, a writer is someone on whom “nothing is lost.”

The writer Joan Didion kept a notebook with her at all times, and said that she wrote down observations about people and events as, ultimately, a way to better understand the complexities and contradictions of her own mind:

“However dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable ‘I,'” Didion wrote in her essay On Keeping A Notebook. “We are talking about something private, about bits of the mind’s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its marker.”

They work the hours that work for them.

Many great artists have said that they do their best work either very early in the morning or late at night. Vladimir Nabokov started writing immediately after he woke up at 6 or 7 a.m., and Frank Lloyd Wright made a practice of waking up at 3 or 4 a.m. and working for several hours before heading back to bed. No matter when it is, individuals with high creative output will often figure out what time it is that their minds start firing up, and structure their days accordingly.

They take time for solitude.

“In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for constructive use of solitude. One must overcome the fear of being alone,” wrote the American existential psychologist Rollo May.

Artists and creatives are often stereotyped as being loners, and while this may not actually be the case, solitude can be the key to producing their best work. For Kaufman, this links back to daydreaming — we need to give ourselves the time alone to simply allow our minds to wander.

“You need to get in touch with that inner monologue to be able to express it,” he says. “It’s hard to find that inner creative voice if you’re … not getting in touch with yourself and reflecting on yourself.”

They turn life’s obstacles around.

Many of the most iconic stories and songs of all time have been inspired by gut-wrenching pain and heartbreak — and the silver lining of these challenges is that they may have been the catalyst to create great art. An emerging field of psychology called post-traumatic growth is suggesting that many people are able to use their hardships and early-life trauma for substantial creative growth. Specifically, researchers have found that trauma can help people to grow in the areas of interpersonal relationships, spirituality, appreciation of life, personal strength, and — most importantly for creativity — seeing new possibilities in life.

“A lot of people are able to use that as the fuel they need to come up with a different perspective on reality,” says Kaufman. “What’s happened is that their view of the world as a safe place, or as a certain type of place, has been shattered at some point in their life, causing them to go on the periphery and see things in a new, fresh light, and that’s very conducive to creativity.”

They seek out new experiences.

Creative people love to expose themselves to new experiences, sensations and states of mind — and this openness is a significant predictor of creative output.

“Openness to experience is consistently the strongest predictor of creative achievement,” says Kaufman. “This consists of lots of different facets, but they’re all related to each other: Intellectual curiosity, thrill seeking, openness to your emotions, openness to fantasy. The thing that brings them all together is a drive for cognitive and behavioral exploration of the world, your inner world and your outer world.”

They “fail up.”

Resilience is practically a prerequisite for creative success, says Kaufman. Doing creative work is often described as a process of failing repeatedly until you find something that sticks, and creatives — at least the successful ones — learn not to take failure so personally.

“Creatives fail and the really good ones fail often,” Forbes contributor Steven Kotler wrote in a piece on Einstein’s creative genius.

They ask the big questions.

Creative people are insatiably curious — they generally opt to live the examined life, and even as they get older, maintain a sense of curiosity about life. Whether through intense conversation or solitary mind-wandering, creatives look at the world around them and want to know why, and how, it is the way it is.

They people-watch.

Observant by nature and curious about the lives of others, creative types often love to people-watch — and they may generate some of their best ideas from it.

“[Marcel] Proust spent almost his whole life people-watching, and he wrote down his observations, and it eventually came out in his books,” says Kaufman. “For a lot of writers, people-watching is very important … They’re keen observers of human nature.”

They take risks.

Part of doing creative work is taking risks, and many creative types thrive off of taking risks in various aspects of their lives.

“There is a deep and meaningful connection between risk taking and creativity and it’s one that’s often overlooked,” contributor Steven Kotler wrote in Forbes. “Creativity is the act of making something from nothing. It requires making public those bets first placed by imagination. This is not a job for the timid. Time wasted, reputation tarnished, money not well spent — these are all by-products of creativity gone awry.”

They view all of life as an opportunity for self-expression.

Nietzsche believed that one’s life and the world should be viewed as a work of art. Creative types may be more likely to see the world this way, and to constantly seek opportunities for self-expression in everyday life.

“Creative expression is self-expression,” says Kaufman. “Creativity is nothing more than an individual expression of your needs, desires and uniqueness.”

They follow their true passions.

Creative people tend to be intrinsically motivated — meaning that they’re motivated to act from some internal desire, rather than a desire for external reward or recognition. Psychologists have shown that creative people are energized by challenging activities, a sign of intrinsic motivation, and the research suggests that simply thinking of intrinsic reasons to perform an activity may be enough to boost creativity.

“Eminent creators choose and become passionately involved in challenging, risky problems that provide a powerful sense of power from the ability to use their talents,” write M.A. Collins and T.M. Amabile in The Handbook of Creativity.

They get out of their own heads.

Kaufman argues that another purpose of daydreaming is to help us to get out of our own limited perspective and explore other ways of thinking, which can be an important asset to creative work.

“Daydreaming has evolved to allow us to let go of the present,” says Kaufman. “The same brain network associated with daydreaming is the brain network associated with theory of mind — I like calling it the ‘imagination brain network’ — it allows you to imagine your future self, but it also allows you to imagine what someone else is thinking.”

Research has also suggested that inducing “psychological distance” — that is, taking another person’s perspective or thinking about a question as if it was unreal or unfamiliar — can boost creative thinking.

They lose track of the time.

Creative types may find that when they’re writing, dancing, painting or expressing themselves in another way, they get “in the zone,” or what’s known as a flow state, which can help them to create at their highest level. Flow is a mental state when an individual transcends conscious thought to reach a heightened state of effortless concentration and calmness. When someone is in this state, they’re practically immune to any internal or external pressures and distractions that could hinder their performance.

You get into the flow state when you’re performing an activity you enjoy that you’re good at, but that also challenges you — as any good creative project does.

“[Creative people] have found the thing they love, but they’ve also built up the skill in it to be able to get into the flow state,” says Kaufman. “The flow state requires a match between your skill set and the task or activity you’re engaging in.”

They surround themselves with beauty.

Creatives tend to have excellent taste, and as a result, they enjoy being surrounded by beauty.

study recently published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts showed that musicians — including orchestra musicians, music teachers, and soloists — exhibit a high sensitivity and responsiveness to artistic beauty.

They connect the dots.

If there’s one thing that distinguishes highly creative people from others, it’s the ability to see possibilities where others don’t — or, in other words, vision. Many great artists and writers have said that creativity is simply the ability to connect the dots that others might never think to connect.

In the words of Steve Jobs:

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”

They constantly shake things up.

Diversity of experience, more than anything else, is critical to creativity, says Kaufman. Creatives like to shake things up, experience new things, and avoid anything that makes life more monotonous or mundane.

“Creative people have more diversity of experiences, and habit is the killer of diversity of experience,” says Kaufman.

They make time for mindfulness.

Creative types understand the value of a clear and focused mind — because their work depends on it. Many artists, entrepreneurs, writers and other creative workers, such as David Lynch, have turned to meditation as a tool for tapping into their most creative state of mind.

And science backs up the idea that mindfulness really can boost your brain power in a number of ways. A 2012 Dutch study suggested that certain meditation techniques can promote creative thinking. And mindfulness practices have been linked with improved memory and focusbetter emotional well-being, reduced stress and anxiety, and improved mental clarity — all of which can lead to better creative thought.


Making Sure Tech Makes You Smarter

Monday, January 27, 2014

Can a calculator make you smarter? The QAMA calculator can. You use it just like a regular calculator, plugging in the numbers of the problem you want to solve — but QAMA won’t give you the answer until you provide an accurate estimate of what that answer will be.

If your estimate is way off, you’ll have to go back to the problem and see where you went wrong. If your estimate is close, QAMA (developed by Ilan Samson, an “inventor-in-residence” at the University of California, San Diego) will serve up the precise solution, and you can compare it to your own guess. Either way, you’ll learn a lot more than if you simply copied the answer that a calculator spit out.

Ever since journalist Nicholas Carr posed a provocative question—“Is Google Making Us Stupid?”—in a widely-read 2008 Atlantic magazine article, we’ve been arguing about whether the new generation of digital devices is leading us to become smarter, or stupider, than we were before. Now psychologists and cognitive scientists are beginning to deliver their verdicts. Here, the research on an array of technological helpers:

Calculators. Cognitive scientists long ago identified the “generation effect” — the fact that we understand and remember answers that we generate ourselves better than those that are provided us (by a calculator, for instance). But a study published last year in the Journal of Educational Psychology found that adults who tried to solve arithmetic problems on their own but then obtained the answer from a calculator did just as well on a later test as those who didn’t use calculators at all. If you don’t have a QAMA calculator around, you can approximate its effects by holding off using a traditional calculator until you’ve tried to come up with a solution yourself.

Auto-complete. Frequent users of smartphones quickly get used to the “auto-complete” function of their devices—the way they need only type a few letters and the phone fills in the rest. Maybe too used to it, in fact. This handy function seems to make adolescent users faster, but less accurate, when responding to a battery of cognitive tests, according to research published in 2009 in the journal Bioelectromagnetics.

Texting. A study led by researchers at the University of Coventry in Britain surveyed a group of eight- to twelve-year-olds about their texting habits, then asked them to write a sample text in the lab. The scientists found that kids who sent three or more text messages a day had significantly lower scores on literacy tests than children who sent none. But those children who, when asked to write a text message, showed greater use of text abbreviations (like “c u l8r” for “see you later”) tended to score higher on a measure of verbal reasoning ability—likely because the condensed language of texting requires an awareness of how sounds relate to written English.

Search engines. The ready availability of search engines is changing the way we use our memories, reported psychologist Betsy Sparrow of Columbia University in a study published in Science in 2011. When people expect to have future access to information, Sparrow wrote, “they have lower rates of recall of the information itself and enhanced recall instead for where to access it.” It’s good to know where to find the information you need—but decades of cognitive science research shows that skills like critical thinking and problem-solving can be developed only in the context of factual knowledge. In other words, you’ve got to have knowledge stored in your head, not just in your computer.

Email. Email is a convenient way to communicate, but trying to answer messages while also completing other work makes us measurably less intelligent. Glenn Wilson, psychiatrist at King’s College London University, monitored employees over the course of a workday and found that those who divided their attention between email and other tasks experienced a 10-point decline in IQ. Their decrease in intellectual ability was as great as if they’d missed a whole night’s sleep, and twice as great as if they’d been smoking marijuana. For every technological trap, however, there’s a technological solution: When you need to get work done, use Freedom or another such program that will shut down your access to the Internet for a predetermined period of time.

Websites. Back in 2001, reading specialists Anne Cunningham and Keith Stanovich reported in the Journal of Direct Instruction that scores on a test of general knowledge were highest among people who read newspapers, magazines and books, and lowest among those who watched a lot of TV. Watching television, they noted, is “negatively associated with knowledge acquisition” — except when the TV watching involved public television, news, or documentary programs. Cunningham and Stanovich didn’t look at Internet use, but the same information divide exists online: high-quality, accurate information, and, well, fluff.

So does technology make us stupid, or smart? The answer is “both,” and the choice is up to us.


In Austin, College Board Announces Major SAT Changes

March 5, 2014

The SAT, a standardized test that for many students is an intimidating hurdle to clear en route to college admissions, is about to undergo a major redesign. Among the changes being announced by The College Board in Austin on Wednesday: The test will revert to a 1600-point scale, and the essay portion will be optional and scored separately.

According to the Texas Education Agency, more than 182,000 Texas public high school students took the SAT, the ACT (another test used in college admissions developed by ACT, Inc.) or both exams in 2011, the most recent year for which data is available. That total represents nearly 69 percent of all public high school graduates in Texas.

David Coleman, the president of The College Board, the nonprofit that develops and publishes the test each year, said in remarks provided to The Texas Tribune ahead of Wednesday’s announcement that such standardized tests can create “unproductive anxiety” for students and lead to expensive private test prep and coaching that “reinforces privilege rather than merit.”

“It is time to admit that the SAT and ACT have become disconnected from the work of our high schools,” he said.

In 2005, The College Board added an essay section to the SAT, taking it from a 1600-point scale to a 2400-point scale. In his prepared remarks, Coleman said that “a single brief timed essay has not historically proved predictive of college success.”

Other changes include a new emphasis on testing commonly-used vocabulary words whose meanings depend on context. “Today, when we say that someone has used an SAT word, it often means a word you have not heard before and are not likely to soon hear again,” Coleman said in his prepared remarks. “The redesigned SAT will instead focus on words students will use over and over again, that open up worlds to them.”

In the reading section, students can expect an added emphasis on passages from scientific and historical sources, including a guarantee that each exam will include a passage from one of the country’s founding documents or from what Coleman called “the great global conversation.” He cited addresses given by Abraham Lincoln, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Martin Luther King, Jr., as possible sources.

The math portion of the test will now include a portion where calculators, which are currently permitted for the whole section, are prohibited. It will also focus on narrower topics — described in a College Board press release as “problem solving and data analysis; the heart of algebra; and passport to advanced math” — that Coleman suggested will most contribute to a student’s college and career readiness.

“No longer will the SAT only have disconnected problems or tricky situations students won’t likely see again,” he said.

Additional changes include offering the test in a digital form, as well as on paper, and a new scoring system that does not deduct points for incorrect responses. Currently, students lose a quarter of a point for wrong answers, but no points for omitted responses. Moving forward, they will simply receive credit for correct answers.

According to TEA data, the participation rate in SAT or ACT testing for economically disadvantaged students in Texas was less than 60 percent in 2011. For non-disadvantaged students, it was more than 72 percent. Along with the upcoming tweaks to the test, The College Board also announced new policies that will seek to address such inequities nationwide.

In an effort to level the playing field heading into the day of the exam, The College Board has partnered with Khan Academy, which provides free online educational videos, to make test preparation materials available for free online.

Another plan, Coleman said, stemmed from the realization that most students in the lowest income quartile who perform well on the SAT still do not apply to selective colleges. The College Board is committing to offering every income-eligible student who takes the SAT — regardless of performance — four waivers for college admission fees.

“We do not want to slow students down,” he said. “We want to propel them forward.”

Coleman also announced that The College Board is launching a prize program for the best student analytical writing, as well as a partnership with The Atlantic to publish the prizewinners’ work. Coleman conducted an interview with Lyndon B. Johnson biographer Robert Caro on the topic of analytical writing earlier in the day at the SXSWedu festival in Austin. Caro was expected to be on hand for Wednesday’s announcement, as was Sal Khan, the founder of Khan Academy.

The complete details on the new exam and sample test items are expected to be released on April 16.


Summer Mathematics Institute

The Summer Mathematics Institute (SMI) is a 3-week residential program with an intense focus on mathematics. Students enroll in a single class and have the opportunity to complete one year of high school mathematics in this self-paced program. It is sponsored by the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science at the University of North Texas. Those who win this scholarship have the chance to live on a college campus and meet other gifted students who share their passion for mathematics.

2014 TAGT/SMI Scholarship Application – Must be postmarked by Friday, March 7, 2014

Thanks to the generosity of Summer Mathematics Institute, the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented (TAGT) has awarded two full scholarships to the SMI program, valued at $2,250.

K-12 Summer Enrichment Programs (TAGT does not sponsor, endorse or produce any summer programs)

Frequently Asked Questions

How to Improve Your Memory

How to Improve Your Memory, Instantly

      A crash course in training your brain for amazing recall
Published on February 14, 2014 by Christopher Taibbi, M.A.T. in Gifted-Ed Guru

Let me tell you something utterly amazing about your brain. Better yet, let me show you something you can do to increase your brain’s ability to memorize information easily…and for the long-term. In short, take a moment with me here and I’ll demonstrate a way you can consciously use your own brain’s hardware to make you feel—and seem to others—truly gifted.

First, consider this challenge. Pretend that I were to ask you to go to the grocery store for me to buy a particular list of ten items. Furthermore, suppose that I was going to dictate these items to you and that I would not let you write them down—yup, that’s right. All you can do is listen to me and do your best to memorize them. After that, you’d get in the car, drive to the store, and start shopping based on your memory of what I’d said.

How would you go about doing this? Would you make a mental acronym of the items? (POM, for example, might help you recall that you’ll need to get pizza, oranges, and mustard.) Would you make up a song about the items? Maybe you’d try to make a mental map of the store and walk through it to get the items. All of these are clever approaches, to be sure. And yet none of those are the approach most people would take which is to merely repeat the items over and over and over again, one continuous loop of “pizza, oranges, mustard… pizza, oranges, mustard….”

Regardless of the technique used above, the average person people can successfully recall seven or eight of ten items posed in such a fashion—and he can only do so in a scattershot fashion. He might recall that “mustard” was somewhere on the list, but he may not recall that it was the third item he was told to buy. The reason for this hit-or-miss memory is that, in most of the examples above, a relatively miniscule portion of the brain is being used to retain the information—the hippocampus. This portion of the brain is not really adapted to storing information in a sequential or long-term way. So imagine the power and efficiency of your brain’s ability to retain information if you could use a whole lobe of it, say 20 percent of your brain’s matter, to help you out—instead of something about the size of a lima bean. You can.

I’ve written before about the visual portion of the brain. We’ll put it to the test today. Let’s tap into the occipital lobe and, by doing a simple experiment, see if you’re not able to dramatically increase your own memory. We’ll use that simple list of 10 random grocery items to judge its effectiveness. As silly as what I am about to ask you to do may seem, I promise you this: if you really try it, if you really suspend disbelief, and if you really follow my directions, you will be able to recall that list of 10 items perfectly. I don’t mean that you’ll be able to eventually remember all the items; I mean you will have immediate recall of each item, in the order they were given, the very instant you want them, even if I were to ask you to list them for me out of order. (For example: “Tell me what the seventh item was, followed by the third and then the tenth.”)

It starts with this odd list at left. Keep it  handy. We’re going to use it a lot initially. You’ll recognize it as the words from an old nursery rhyme (“One two, buckle my shoe. Three four, shut the door.” etc.). Here’s what I’d like you to do with this list.

As I rattle off the 10 items (provided on the link you’ll find below), you are going to consult that nursery rhyme list and use it to create a picture in your mind. You’ll do this by associating the item I ask you to get with one of the items given in that list. For example, if the FIRST item I ask you to recall is a bag of oranges, then you’ll make a mental picture of “oranges” somehow associated with a “bun.” You might imagine a bunch of oranges nestled in a hot dog bun. Or maybe you’ll picture a sliced orange sitting in between the top and bottom of a hamburger bun. It’s entirely up to you, but I can tell you this: the odder the picture, the more details you create, the stronger that memory will be.

When I ask you to recall the SECOND item—say, a gallon of milk—you should make a mental picture that places “milk” and a “shoe” together. You’re drinking milk from the shoe, perhaps; or maybe you’re kicking that gallon of milk down the hallway with your high-heeled shoe. It’s up to you.

We’ll continue in like fashion. I’ll give the items in sequential order, you make the mental pictures. Initially, consult that nursery rhyme list—it’s fine! We are using that list as a matrix to help you organize the data I’m about to give you (the grocery list). Just DO NOT write down the list of items I ask you to buy—that’d be cheating. Go slowly so that you have enough time to really create each image. If I go too fast, just hit pause on the two-minute video you’re about to watch. When we are done, I’ll ask you to answer the questions in the paragraph below. Again, trust me on this: if you really try it, crazy as it seems, it will work. Ready? If so, then click this link and get ready to hear the 10 items I want you to purchase. Go!

You’re back! Great.

Now, breathe deep, relax and answer these questions. Again, you may consult that memory matrix as you complete this questionnaire. (The answers are at the end of this article.)

  • What was the third item I asked you to buy, the one you associated with the “tree”
  • What was the eighth?
  • In this order, what was item number 9, then 1, then 6?
  • Which numbered item was the “hamburger meat”?

So, are you amazed? You needn’t be. You were successful because you actively sought to use a large portion of your brain to do something that it naturally wants to do all of the time. Think about it: do you recall a time when you studied for a test and recalled that the answer to the test question lay in your notebook…it was on the right-hand page…in the upper right corner…. Or do you recall precisely where you were when you heard of the attacks on 9/11? Of all the ways your brain tries to help you recall information, for most of us, it does so in a visual format. By virtue of the experiment above, you’ve just proven that harnessing that power of the brain can dramatically improve your own abilities.

Now, it’s up to you to put that newfound talent and knowledge to everyday use.

Answers (in order): oranges, chocolate syrup, 50 lbs. of dog food, broccoli, air freshener, ice cream, 1 lb. hamburger meat, loaf of bread, blank data CDs, and heavy whipping cream

Follow Chris on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ctjuggles

Public Speaking Workshop!

FBCTC Public Speaking Workshop for Youth 2014

Friendship Baptist Church of The Colony Children Ministries will host a Public Speaking workshop February 22, 2014 from 9AM – 12:30PM. The workshop is open to all students in grades 6th through 12th and is based on the belief that every young person has the potential to become a good communicator and leader. The workshop will use the principles and practical examples of Toastmasters International to provide emphasis on specialized skills and the individual needs of each participant. The location of the workshop is in the Family Life Center of Friendship Baptist Church of The Colony, 4396 Main Street, The Colony, Texas 75056. Please visit http://www.friendshipbaptistchurchofthecolony.org for additional information.