Updated: Apr 11
You have a wild creative spirit in you that is more powerful than you know. And in order to use the power that it contains, you have to really listen to your inner voice.
When I say “inner voice”, don’t take it too literally. It would be more accurate to say, “inner monologue, pictures, feelings, patterns, and lots of other stuff that scientists haven’t figured out yet.” But that’s rather long for a blog post title. You see, I started out on a quest to find out how the creative mind works. My first question was, “Do our inner monologues match our artistic persuasions?” For example, does an artist think in pictures, a musician in music, a writer in words, and an actor in voice? It seemed so for me. I’m a musical theatre performer and writer. I hear music constantly in my head, I have an inner monologue, and I often see written words when I speak them. That last bit has been really helpful for me in spelling.
I did a lot of research on this. It turns out that the study of the inner voice is pretty new and there’s some disagreement among scientists. Some scientists believe that there are three major types of thinkers: verbal thinkers, visual thinkers, and pattern thinkers (They make connections of actions and emotions.). Other scientists believe that everyone uses all three types and that we really can’t say what our inner process is. After all, a lot of it is subconscious. And by asking someone what their process is, it triggers a verbal response, which leads us to hear an inner voice which matches our outer one. There is actually proof of that last bit, as it has been determined that our larynx actually makes tiny movements as if it were speaking when we are not actually saying anything. And inner monologues and outer speech have been shown to involve the same parts of the brain.
I asked my Facebook group about their thought processes, and those who answered all indicated that their inner voice was a combination of all three types of thinking. I asked friends and the answers were similar. I recognized my own processes in almost everyone else’s answers. So it seemed that everyone thought in the same jumble of images, sounds, words, feelings, etc. We use all of it in every endeavor, not just our creative ones. But just how do our inner thoughts affect our creativity?
All this study about inner voice reminded me of a book I read a couple of years ago: Barbara Oakley’s A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science. She describes a way to use your thought patterns that is not just helpful for math and science, but anything really. She describes how you can actually give your mind a break from actively thinking about a problem and it will solve it by using the subconscious. Her challenge is to look at a difficult problem, take it in, focus for a few minutes, then put it away and do something else for a little while. She claims that when you come back to it, you will easily see the answer. I tried it and it worked every time. It works because your subconscious has a greater tendency to think “out of the box”. So, if your subconscious mind can solve problems better than your conscious one, it must have a greater capacity for creative thought too. And if I can access that, then I can boost my creativity.
So, my challenge as an artist is to access that creative subconsciousness and harness it. I set out to do just that. But since thought is a jumble, it is impossible to completely record it, as you have to be able to communicate it in order to do that. And you can’t communicate it as fast as you can think it. By the time you’ve communicated one thought, you’ve already had five others. So I compromised. Of all the mediums of communication, I decided that speech, though imperfect, was the fastest mode of communication for me and the best at switching subjects quickly.
I set up an experiment. I would record myself saying whatever came to my mind for ten minutes and then transcribe it to my journal. Recording it would help me make it spontaneous and writing it would force me to slow down enough to reflect on it. The results were fascinating. I became aware of ideas that I didn’t know I had. And I learned things that I’d like to share with you so that you can access the power of your inner voice also.
1. Think positive thoughts. Your thoughts are powerful, and so important to your self-esteem. And although you want to be able to evaluate your art, you don’t want to tear yourself down. If you want to be successful, don't say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to your best friend.
2. Slow down. I thought that I would rattle on and on when I was recording. But it turned out that there were times that I didn’t know what to say, even to myself. So I had to pause. Sometimes those pauses were filled with an image. But sometimes they were blank. I never expected that. The blanks were usually preceded by a trailing off of my voice and followed by a sudden change of subject. Other times, there was no blank but the change still happened very quickly, sometimes cutting off my previous thought before I could articulate it (but not before I could finish thinking it). But the exposition of the thought between the blanks or changes was slow and thoughtful, making connections with memories and emotions. It seems the pace needed to be slow enough to make those connections.
3. Allow yourself to feel emotion. I noticed in my recording that my voice had a lively cadence, much livelier than when I am speaking to someone else. This was the one advantage that the recording had over my transcript. I could hear the emotion in my voice. And it was true emotion, as the recording was only meant for my ears. It’s obvious that emotion is a part of our inner thoughts, but hearing it out loud helped me to process it. Human emotion is such a big part of the creative arts. It is what makes the arts come alive. Whatever your art, you use your emotions for inspiration.
4. Be observant. Sights and sounds can be a distraction, but I discovered that this is an advantage when trying to access creativity. The biggest idea that came during my stream of consciousness recording was from my observation of an object in my room. It was a small painted rock that had been lying on my fireplace mantel for two years, something that I pass by every day and completely ignore. But I noticed it and let myself expand on it, and it turned into a new idea.
5. Write it down. I can’t overstate how important this step was for me. I would highly recommend replicating this exercise on a regular basis. (Just a bit of advice, though: Ten minutes is too long to record. It took me forever to transcribe. Try five instead.) It wasn’t until I transcribed my stream of consciousness thought that I could cull the ideas from it. What the writing did was force me to slow down and process my ramblings which enabled my mind to translate them into actions that I can take. In short, the creative ideas would not have emerged if I had not written my seemingly random thoughts down on paper. (If you want to know more about the importance of journaling, read my post, Seven Reasons Why You Should Be Journaling.)
Though this experiment wasn’t classically scientific (After all, I’m not a scientist.), I did learn a lot about myself. I got a glimpse of how the creative process works inside of me and learned something about how to harness it. I invite you all to try the same process and see if it works for you too. Let me know in the comments how it goes.
As a side comment, I did think it would be a nice addendum to the experiment to have a dream journal. It seems like it would be a great way to access the creative subconscious. But alas, no matter how hard I tried, the minute I opened my eyes in the morning, the memory of what I had dreamed had gone. I knew I had dreamed, but had no clue what it was about. If you try a dream journal, please let me know if it works for you.
And as always, I did a lot more research than I could fit into one post. So if you’d like to learn more about the inner voice, try these sites:
Do you know more about the inner voice? Do you have another trick you use to increase creativity? It's easy to get stuck and feel like you don't seem to have any ideas. You can discuss how to overcome with other creatives on forum post for this article. The forum is for members, but you can join for free if you're not already one.
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