Why Inspiration Happens Where Productivity Isn’t


Why Inspiration Happens Where Productivity Isn’t

January 30, 2020

We place such an important emphasis on societal productivity. We glorify productive habits and give them such a high worth, creating a sort of illusion where we think productivity is the direct highway to success.

Evidently, I agree — productivity plays a huge role in our capacity to work efficiently. But if our productivity isn’t preceded by inspiration, it is really worth anything?

Ironically, we have all the tools we need to develop efficient productivity practices. While we know exactly which blogs, books, and podcasts to turn to when we need motivation, meaningful inspiration is much harder to find.

How exactly do you go about generating creative ideas? Where do you find inspiration? How do you make them work together?

Understanding the Brain on Creativity

Inspiration takes place in the anterior superior temporal gyrus, which is located on the right side of our brain (slightly under our right ear).

On a neurological level, brain activity recordings have shown that an inspired brain fires gamma waves throughout the visual cortex (located at the back of our head), where all of our visual input is processed. Gamma waves are the fastest form of brain activity we produce, and they are responsible for cognitive functioning, learning, memory, and information processing.

On the other hand, your brain produces alpha waves when you’re not focusing too hard on anything in particular. When you finally do step into a productive flow, your brain begins to fire beta waves — responsible for alertness, attentiveness, problem-solving, decision making, and any other focused mental activity.

In other words, if gamma waves are preceded by alpha and beta waves — inspiration is preceded by productivity. However, to be productive, you need inspiration; the endless loop basically feeds itself.

Logic and neuroplasticity

Now you see, what makes creative brain activity so fascinating is that the frontal cortex (the area of our brain we use to make decisions) is, for the most part, inactive, and alpha/beta waves are insignificant. When we are inspired, our logic is entirely turned “off”.

The medial prefrontal cortex, however — responsible for associative learning, context understanding, and emotional responses — is shown to be extremely active when creativity strikes.

In light of this, neuroscientists conclude that the best way to allow inspiration to surface is to disengage your logic, allowing your thoughts and emotions to free flow. Doing so helps your brain form new connections, connect impulsive ideas, and enhance its neuroplasticity.

The more “malleable” your brain is, the more you’re able to form creative or inspirational thoughts, and logic isn’t malleable. Logic is already ingrained into your mind and set into your ways. Logic impairs creativity by blocking the free flow of emotions, novel thoughts, and unique connections.

To give rise to new ideas, you must disengage logic and give your brain the chance to breathe. Just as you reboot off your phone and your computer when something isn’t working right, your brain needs the chance to do the same in order to create.


Words & Photos by Mathilde.