The Fear Family: Triggering the Brains on off switch
Fear is one of the 7 big creativity killers, from the book Who Killed Creativity? and how can we get it back” by Andrew Grant.
In this excerpt of a keynote talk, Andrew Grant shares a personal story where he had a accident resulting in his head being ripped open from a coral reef, whilst surfing at Uluwatu in Bali. This not only resulted in over an hours operation and 88 stitches, but changed the way his brain functioned.
In neuroscience, scientists have found real evidence that when people live in fear, most of their potential creative energy is often diverted to dealing with this fear. One confirmed example is a study from the New York University Center for Neural Science, which has shown that the brain should have a maximum of 3% of its neurons firing at any one time, otherwise the energy required to reset each neuron after it goes inactive becomes simply too much for your brain to handle. Under pressure (or danger) the body’s instinctive response is ‘fight, flight or freeze’, and under these conditions it is not possible to be creative. Siegel has shown that neuroceptive evaluation is shaped by ongoing appraisal of the significance of an event and the reference to historical events in the past. “With fear we become frozen & stuck in a state of terror which shuts down our sense of possibility, as we isolate ourselves from all involvement with others.Fear moves the brain from open possibilities to proclivity and probability.” This is what saved Andrews life and helped him get to the beach, however, there was no room left in his brain to be creative.
During trauma, the brain appears to be capable of temporarily shutting down connections where there is significant stress, perhaps to reduce pain and ultimately protect the individual. So stress can shut down an individual’s receptiveness and openness to learning.
This can be especially significant for creative thinking, which requires a relaxed state, the ability to think through options at a slow pace and the openness to explore different alternatives without fear. Since stress can ‘shut down’ or ‘switch off’ significant areas of the brain so they can no longer effectively be accessed — it becomes clear that inducing a relaxed state is critical for encouraging creative thinking.