Keeping Creativity Alive as Long as You Are

I’ve worked in and with ad agencies for much of my career, and truth be told, you just don’t see a lot of gray heads in those cubicles. The belief in this arena seems to be that the most original creations spring from young artists, writers, producers, etc., and as these right-brain innovators age past their creative prime, it becomes harder and harder for them to come with fresh ideas.

But the fact of the matter is that creativity isn’t a spring that runs dry over time. In fact, as we age, a process in the brain’s frontal lobe, called demyelinization, which loosens associations and often diminishes our ability to be as precise and focused as we used to be, can conversely allow our creative ideas to flow more freely, according to Rex Jung, assistant professor in the department of neurosurgery at the University of New Mexico.

That means that there’s a fount of creativity in many older folks just waiting to be tapped into. Here are some ways to keep your stream of ideas flowing:

Don’t stop. The old adage, “Use it or lose it” also applies to creativity. When you stop reigniting that creative spark on a regular basis, the flame can start to flicker out. Even if you’re not engaging in a patently “creative” activity like painting or writing poetry each day, continue to challenge those neurons with pursuits like reading books and articles that are out of your area of interest, learning a new language, and listening to and perhaps debating opinions that differ from yours.

Be mindful. Remember as a kid how you were always looking forward to Christmas and summer? Then you couldn’t wait ‘til you graduated from college, got married or made a certain amount of money. When your mind is preoccupied with the future, it tends to miss out on the present. Luckily, as we get older, it becomes easier to focus on the here and now and the world around you where all the great ideas are just waiting to be discovered.

Experiment. Don’t be satisfied with the same subject, style or medium for creating. That’s how ideas become stale or dry up altogether. If you enjoy crocheting sweaters, try a blanket or completely switch your craft to knitting. Picasso changed his artistic style repeatedly throughout his life and was creating until he died at 91. His last well-known self-portrait, Self Portrait Facing Death, was created in pencil and crayon (yep, crayon!) about a year before his death.

Think positively. As soon as you buy into the idea that you can’t be as inspired and original as you were in your youth—or worse yet, that you should give your brain a break now that you’re retired—you’ll probably find those creative juices drying up. The brain is pretty tricky that way. Stop thinking … and start creating!