Dr. Alton Barron discusses the importance of creativity, how it influences your health, and how you can resurrect creativity after it has been stamped out.
- The scientific link between creativity and health
- Why boredom is good for creativity
- The role of clutter in creativity
Dr. Barron is a fellowship-trained shoulder, elbow, and hand surgeon. He is an Associate Clinical Professor of Orthopedics at NYU-Langone and the Univ. of Texas Dell Medical Centers, practicing in both Austin and Manhattan. Dr. Barron has been surgeon for thousands of competitive athletes (a team doctor for Fordham University for 15 years) and professional musicians, including the NY Philharmonic and Metropolitan Operas in New York for over 20 years. He publishes and lectures extensively nationally and internationally. Founder/director of the nonprofit Musician Treatment Foundationhttps://mtfusa.org/. Co-author of The Creativity Cure with wife Carrie Barron published by Scribner in 2012. https://www.facebook.com/TheCreativityCure/ Founding member, Team Continuum cancer charity https://www.teamcontinuum.net/
Items Mentioned in this Show:
- Sponsored Message: Native deodorant offers trusted performance from trusted ingredients. PROMO code: AWESOME for 20% off at checkout.
- Alton’s book: The Creativity Cure: How to Build Happiness with Your Own Two Hands
- Research: Comparison of Pen and Keyboard Transcription Modes in Children with and without Learning Disabilities
- Research: Effect of intensity and type of physical activity on mortality: results from the Whitehall II cohort study
- Series: Tidying Up with Marie Kondo
- Book: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: A Memoir by Haruki Murakami
- Book: Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John Ratey
- Book: Zadig by Voltaire
- Book: Lifting Depression: A Neuroscientist’s Hands-On Approach to Activating Your Brain’s Healing Power by Kelly Lambert
- Book: Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra
- Book: Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
- Book: Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv
- Previous episode: 384: Bringing More Joy into Work with Bruce Daisley
Alton, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.
Pete, thanks so much for having me. I’m very excited to speak with you.
Oh, me too. Well, you’ve got a lot of interesting things going on in terms of your professional life. You do some work with creativity and you’re also an orthopedic hand surgeon. I understand that sometimes these worlds come together when you are treating musicians’ hands. How often does that happen and how is that a special experience for you?
Right, that is super special. It’s been a significant part of my entire career, my 20-year career. But it’s very frequent because I’ve been kind of a team doctor for the New York Philharmonic and Met Opera for 20 years really and see a host of other musicians from all walks to music from jazz to blues to rock n’ roll. It ends up being a big part of each day actually.
Yeah. I imagine that there’s some extra intensity associated with doing that treatment because of what’s at stake. Everyone wants great use of their hands, but even more so if it’s your entire livelihood to be able to have great precision there.
Right, that’s true. I think it’s two-fold. One is clearly in our culture and in many cultures, musicians can often be at the very highest level but struggle to actually be able to pay the bills. Some of the highest level musicians really live relatively hand-to-mouth. That leads them to become highly anxious and upset if they lose function in their upper limb, which is what they typically use to make music. That’s one component of it.
The other component of it is that unlike people who may do very creative work at a keyboard, that can be – not a musical keyboard, but a typewriter, a typing keyboard, those people can often use voice recognition software and other things to get through their day in whatever capacity they’re doing it, continue their work. A musician who is creating the music with their hands needs that both for their psychological wellbeing, but also to produce what they give to the world.
Those two components are so undermined potentially by whatever injury or condition they might be suffering from.
But you deliver the goods.
I hope I do. I think I do. I try to.
That’s good, that’s good. Well, we’re going to mostly talk about creativity, but while we’re talking about the use of a keyboard for typing as opposed to pianos and music creation, right now as we speak actually, one of my podcast teammates – shout out to Vida, who’s been doing a lot of great work – she’s having some wrist and finger pain. My wife gets that a lot too.
Could you give us your quick pro-take on what are some of the top do’s and don’ts for office professionals who do a lot of typing and mousing to not find themselves in a painful situation?
Right, well, there’s a couple of things. One that’s most important is that you say office professionals, but what has become much more common if not ubiquitous around the world is people working on the move or from home or from the coffee shop where they live, etcetera, etcetera. There are all sorts of ergonomic snakes in the grass that we can suffer from.
I know that my wife, who’s a great writer, sits up in her bed kind of propped to one side with her knees up and wrists flexed down and working on the small laptop. That’s a disaster waiting to happen with regard to creating some of the typical tendonitis and nerve compression problems, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, one of the biggies, that I’m sure most everyone who’s listening is aware of. I know you are.
But one of the cool things is that so many people come to me and say, “I think I have carpel tunnel syndrome,” and the vast majority do not.
One simple way to know is that carpal tunnel syndrome only affects the nerves and ultimately some of the muscles of the thumb, but the key component to it is numbness or tingling, especially when you’re doing the activity and also at night. If you don’t have numbness or tingling, then it’s highly unlikely that you have carpal tunnel syndrome. That’s an easy layman’s way to just rule that out for yourself.
But really these positions that we get ourselves in and do repetitively day in and day out are the real conundrum. That is because one, they are not physiologic positions. They are often crunched up with the wrist flexed, the elbow flexed, the shoulders tight in. That creates a lack of movement and a lack of stretching that can then lead to a lot of the tendonitis type problems, the cramping, the overuse strains that I see so ubiquitously.
Okay, so watch out for the tensing and the flexing. What is, would you say, the optimal position to be in and some of the best tools that can help you get there easily?
Yes, the best position is to be in the position of whether you have only taken one or never taken a piano lesson but just you’ve seen plenty of pianists. Generally the position would be at that level of height, where your elbows are slightly bent, your wrists are in a neutral position, meaning not bent down and not stretched up too much as if you’re playing at a keyboard.
That’s a nice flow position that keeps your shoulders up and out, your elbows slightly bent, and that’s a beautiful, fluid way to be able to maintain many, many hours of typing. But also more importantly is to take little breaks all the time and really stretch your arms out and jump up and down and move around.
Standing desks are fine and there’s various types of ergonomic things, but mainly it’s that position where your hands aren’t too high, your hands aren’t too low, your wrists are in a fairly neutral position, and your elbows are slightly bent.
Okay. Now I’m reminded of my own piano lessons, so I need to be on a bench sitting perfectly straight.
Posture is important, which we may talk about. That’s an important part I think of productivity and creativity actually, but it was in areas of my book. We talked about that because it is important. Yes, posture, one of the great things about music lessons in general is the teachers are usually pretty ferocious about maintaining and teaching posture.
I’m sitting up straighter right now as we speak.
Me too actually.
I think my chair encourages me to slouch because of the way it goes. But anyway, thank you. We’ve got our ergonomics lesson from the good doctor. Thank you. Now I want to hear a little about your book, The Creativity Cure. What’s the main story here?
Wow. That was a culmination of a lifetime of work on my wife’s part and a lifetime of my work that then helped to influence parts of it. It was her brainchild and my contributions as a good editor, but also knowing a little bit about the hands and about creativity through the hands and so forth.
It was a really fun partnership, where I was lucky enough that she did the bulk of the writing and the hard work and I was able to kind of walk in and do some editing and some thinking. We discussed it over many glasses of wine and long walks and so forth.
But it was a culmination – it kind of morphed as many I think creative projects do. It started out as sort of her philosophy of trying to find an alternative treatment regimen, if you will, for mild to moderate anxiety and depression that was not the psycho-pharmacologic agents that have obviously a lot of side effects and have been written about to a great extent.
Again, I emphasize mild to moderate because the medications provide a very critical role for many people, but there are also a number of people who may not need them. It was an attempt to provide an alternative to that. That’s how it started.
That’s what excited the publisher and so forth, but then – of course, because it was a new idea about using creativity, and we can go through that in different forms in our life, to combat anxiety/depression and to generate more, frankly, just a happier existence, not a purely happy existence. That’s impossible to achieve, but more happy moments in our days.
But then as the book, once it came out and we were on a book tour and giving a lot of talks and we still give some talks, it was interesting because it morphed into a little bit of a social commentary on where our culture had been and where we have gone. A big part of that is the meaning of our hands, what our hands meant to us maybe 75 years ago versus what they mean to us now. That’s not just an indictment of culture, but it’s actually an observation of culture.
I’m 58 and my childhood was very different than my children’s childhood. That’s something that started bubbling up from this. Again, sort of we learned from the people asking questions and it would generate incredible discussions.
Then we became involved in the maker movement, meaning we were asked to speak about that and the vogue knitting and all these different hand-based really creative activities that can be so life enhancing and life affirming. That’s kind of how it evolved. It’s been a really fun exciting road, really.
That’s cool, certainly. Well, I’d love to get a bit of a picture for the why here to start. Can you share some of the most compelling evidence that you’ve gathered or seen and would that suggest creativity is really a critical element to health and success as opposed to just something that’s just kind of fun to do when you have some free time?
Right. I think there’s several ways to look at it. Some very, very extraordinary writers, researchers, but also artists have been quoted to understand the importance of creativity in our lives. One of the greatest, of course, was Picasso.
One of the maybe little bit sardonic almost observations he made was that everyone is born creative and then it is gradually taught out of us or it is leaked from our soul and we don’t maintain that. Then we become maybe worker bees, maybe preoccupied with the exigencies of life. That is a huge impediment to some of the beauty that maintaining creativity in our life can generate.
There have been many books written about the – John Ratey, a Harvard psychiatrist, wrote the book Spark. That looked at the actual brain science and effects behind not just – but physical, manual activity and what it does for the brain.
There was a great study out of the University of Virginia that looked at children. It seemed like a simple study. It was comparing handwriting versus working at a keyboard for adolescent children. They were given a writing assignment. Then their brains were monitored. Half of them were handwriting that information and half of them were working at a keyboard.
Quickly, what became evident was that the kids who were handwriting were generating longer sentences, using bigger words, having more complex ideas, and writing more volume. They were given the exact same assignment as the kids who were typing at a keyboard. That showed that handwriting, which is widely known, especially through calligraphy, is an art form, is an art form. We’ve eliminated that, in fact, from many, many schools.
This type of cumulative scientific data that book is replete with that gives us these – sometimes it’s saddening to me, sometimes it’s exciting because it gives us somewhere to go, it gives us something to do, something to achieve, which is to in a way go back to the future a little bit.
That’s cool. Thank you. All right. That’s pretty compelling stuff. You also have some content that suggests in some ways creativity or lack thereof can in some ways be life or death. Can you unpack that a bit for us?
Wow, yeah. Once you have been exposed to the possibilities of creativity and most of us have been given crayons, have been given LEGOs or erector sets or something and it’s in us. We feel that joy, that extreme joy.
An example is that my son, who liked to do things, I went down to the basement and I heard a bunch of clatter down there. He was sort of beating up on a broken CD player, beating up on it and trying to see how it was made. I said, “Nicholas, let’s take it apart,” and so we took it apart. We found the speakers and the different component parts of this little speaker.
Once we took it apart, it was already broken, at that time we didn’t have the capacity to fix it, but he took those component parts and he made an amazing robot. We put some casters that were sitting in a corner and so forth. It ended up we still have it in our house. People comment on it all the time. It was just put together from the broken pieces of a box. He is still – every time he sees it, he becomes happy.
I, frankly, I didn’t do enough of that with him. One of my shortcomings of working too much, is that I didn’t probably do enough of that. But they did also get it from exposure to their grandparents, my parents.
That is a critical thing is being able to tap back into something that is intrinsic in us all and probably is lying there latent from not having been stimulated enough because of standardized testing and trying to make the best grades, and moving forward, and trying to get the best job, and so forth and so on, and we forget that.
I think the biggest thing to hold on to with regard to creativity is the fact that it’s still there in everyone and you just need to find your unique ways to tap back into it because it can be a huge improvement on your day-to-day happiness and in feeling okay.
Right. It’s funny you share that story about making the robot. I’m reminded of there was one day I was just hanging out with some buddies after we had had a party at our apartment the previous day.
Lying around we had some extra bamboo skewers from some appetizers or desserts. Then there were some balloons hanging around as well, as well as some rubber bands. We ended up making a crossbow out of the bamboo skewers and rubber bands. I’ll tell you, the moment we successfully launched a bamboo skewer from this crossbow into a balloon and heard it pop, we were just elated.
Yes, yes, exactly.
It was the coolest thing ever. Then it got me to thinking, I was like we used to do this sort of thing as kids all the time, just in terms of it’s like, “Hey, I’ve got some random idle time, got some random items in front of us. We’re just going to do something and see what happens.”
It just got me thinking, I’d say, not to be that old guy, “Like kids these days,” but I imagine if you have the problem quote/unquote of boredom and ubiquitous iPhones, iPads, apps, games, infinite Netflix, etcetera options, you will likely address your boredom in ways that require a lot less effort and creativity just because you can.
Yes. I’m so glad you said that. I’m so glad you mentioned boredom because boredom is the engine for creativity. If we are hyper-stimulated, and certainly there are many, many great things about technology. I was an engineer. I had the first Mac that Steven Jobs invented. I bought it. It was 128 K hard drive.
Yet, now we are so technologically supersaturated, there’s just so much information coming at us. In our elevator in my office building, there’s a little window that gives information about the weather but also about new studies that have come out. It’s everywhere. We have it always at our fingertips. That’s great.
Everyone, especially kids, knows so much more information than I knew as a kid, but the price you pay for that is no downtime, no allowance for being bored and not hyper-stimulated because that’s when ideas sublimate. Just like they did, you all were a little bored. You had the day you found these bamboo things. You said, “We’ve got to do something because we’re a little bored.” Sure enough you came up with a cool invention.
What’s funny is that they did a study looking at award-winning scientists and these were Noble Laureates and so forth and winning all the major prizes in science. They were trying to find the common denominator for that level of success in scientific research and innovation.
The single criteria or denominator that was ubiquitous for all of them was they all had a little workshop and a place where they puttered, a place where they just played with gadgets and gizmos and maybe repaired watches or lawnmowers or whatever.
They had that mental freedom of using their hands, doing something that wasn’t intensely mental and education-based, but they were doing something that was allowing the sublimation of new ideas to come. This was where they were actually having their sometimes their eureka moments, which is just super cool.
It’s where they were getting flow too, which you know in jazz music and so forth, flow is where improvisation comes from. It comes from improvisation, where you lose yourself. Time becomes immeasurable. It feels like you’re just in another world. It stimulates brain chemicals as well as the soul.
Yeah. Well that’s cool. I like that notion of the puttering and the non-intensity. We had a previous guest, Bruce Daisley, mention that. Aaron Sorkin, the writer, found he had his best ideas in the shower, so he had a shower installed in his office and took something like six-plus showers a day to get more of these ideas. I love that kind of just extremeness. It’s like, “This works. It’s a little odd, but I don’t care. I’m going to do it.” And it worked for him.
I’m going to do it six times more than everybody else.
That’s great. I like that.
Then you sort of lay out a bit of a specific game plan in terms of a five-part prescription in your creativity cure. What are these five parts?
Yeah, so the five-part prescription or the five PP, as we call it, are insight, movement, mind rest, your own two hands, and mind shift.
Insight, if you’d like for me to just go through them quickly, insight is based on why we make good decisions, why we make bad decisions knowing ourselves. How we got from point A to point B.
Often it’s some hindsight involved and some wisdom gained from failures, from successes, from putting that all together and really looking at having that – one of the psychological terms is observing egos, where we can step out of ourselves and look objectively at ourselves and say, “Okay, well, I was kind of a buffoon when I said that or did that. That’s a pattern there,” or, “I have a tendency to always to want to support the underdog.”
Sherlock Holmes was an infracaninophile, one of my favorite early words. That is lover of the underdog. I find that when I turn on – unless I’m a rabid fan of one particular team, if I turn on any sports thing, I generally am supporting – I want the one who’s losing to win. That’s just a weird thing.
But the point is that’s who I am. That’s part of me. That’s some insight. That can be great or it can be not great if you’re making business decisions and so forth and so on.
Movement is, as you would imagine, is based on the enormous body of evidence that shows that how important psychologically, cognitively and physiologically exercise is. It can be any form. It doesn’t need to mean we need to be running marathons every day. It doesn’t mean we need to be doing Pelotons and everything else. It just means that we need to be moving our bodies.
We can be walking, especially if it’s in nature it’s even better. But we need to be moving our bodies. We can’t be sitting sedentary and expect to have a bountiful and curious life both physically as well as cognitively and psychologically.
That very good study came out of Harvard that showed that just doing household chores, home improvements and if you do that consistently on a daily basis, you had a much better health index and much better longevity with better quality of life during that longevity.
I’d love to get your take, when we talk about movement from a creativity perspective. They say studies have shown that walking’s great and nature and such. I’m wondering if you’re doing upper intense movements, like sprint intervals or deadlifts and squats, I think that does plenty for your body, but does that do as much for you creatively or is just me? When I’m sprinting, it doesn’t seem like I’m getting the same great ideas I get when I’m ambling along at three miles per hour or slower.
Yes, I think you’re absolutely right. You’re absolutely right. I think it’s a very, very good point. If it’s too intense, then it’s probably going to become more core physiologic, almost primitive. You go down to your primitive reflexes, your breathing and you stop thinking.
However, the upside to the more vigorous exercise if you’re capable of it is the beta-endorphin factor. You can actually stimulate the brain with the beta endorphins, which are also pain killers. Those are stimulants. That can kind of play into that. That can become a form of addiction.
Haruki – what was his name – Murakami wrote that book, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. It’s really not what he talks about when he talks about running. It’s really about the mental freedom and the thinking that goes on when he’s doing not sprinting, but the longer distance running, as you deduced.
Many, many people have talked about walking their books, jogging their books, whatever they’re coming up with that that’s the way that they really stimulate the new thought and the new chapters and the new ideas for any creative project that they’re doing.
Okay, cool. What’s next?
Yeah, so mind rest, that’s kind of the opposite really, but not always. Mind rest is where we must, must give ourselves that downtime, that unplugging, that boredom, that ability to create the space for ideas to rise up and bubble up and help us with our insight and so forth.
Mind rest can take many, many forms. As you know, yoga is an excellent, excellent expenditure of time for that regard because it is so body/mind linked and based to relax you and allow the ideas to come up.
I know that there have been times – and I don’t do much yoga myself. I’d love to, but I just don’t really have the time for it – but there have been times when I’ve been doing yoga in a random class somewhere and I’ll just start crying. I’ll just start crying. It just does something. It makes something rise up. It’s not like I’m having a specific thought or a sadness or anything, but it will happen. So it’s really cool.
But mind rest can also come from just this unplugging. As you may know there’s the science that talks about the dopamine release when we get pings and pongs and various notifications coming from our devices. Every time that happens, especially for younger people, it actually releases biochemicals in our brain. That can actually become an addiction.
The ability to step away from that and give yourself that respite from that intensity of the constant onslaught of information and connectivity is critical to one’s psychological and physical wellbeing.
That brings us to what I think was probably the most original part was Carrie’s and my ideas on your own two hands. We did a huge amount of research – Carrie did more of it than I did by far – looking historically and then up to date on what is the importance of your own two hands in terms of mental and physical wellbeing and cognitive health.
The coolest pure neuro-scientific fact I can give you is that when you’re in medical school you learn about something called the homunculus, which is this funny little person, cartoon figure, that shows the mapping of the different parts of our body on our somatosensory cortex, which is the upper, bigger most important part of our brain that grew when we started making tools in prehistoric times.
Sixty percent, fully sixty percent of all the neurons in our somatosensory cortex are devoted just to our hands, just to our hands. We stimulate that by touching, by tactile, by something as simple as folding clothes, washing dishes, reading a book, handwriting, calligraphy, knitting, all sorts of hand-based activities, carpentry, gardening. But what’s interesting is we do not stimulate that part of our brain when we are typing at a keyboard or texting on a smartphone.
How about that.
Yeah. It’s just weird because it’s not one of the primitive hand-based movements that how we evolved. Maybe one day in another 200 years, maybe that will be stimulating our brain, but it’s not now. That’s why it’s so important to do other hand-based activities.
It was really cool when people sort of latched back onto this idea. It was extraordinary the stories that people would tell thinking back to recent times when they did something that just made them super happy and so often it was something random and hand-based.
I know that one of the things that my dad used to do with the kids is take them, find a piece of driftwood. They would come back and they would sand it down. They would clean the dirt off. They would sand it. They would stain it. They would build a little base for it. They would use a router to go around the edge of the base.
It would be a day-long project, but that involved the human connection of doing that. It involved being outside in nature. It involved using their hands meaningfully. It was kind of the whole package. It was really bountiful for them in that regard.
But the hands are critical. Anaxagoras I think said the “man was given hands because he was given spirit.” That is a really cool idea. It’s true because they become our way of touching, feeling, interacting with the world, but also giving back to the world. Of course, the most beautiful example of that are the artists and musicians amongst us, who produce such beautiful works that make us better people and happier people.
That’s lovely. Thank you.
Then mind shift is the last. Mind shift, you can think of it more as the wonderful pie you’ve made from all the ingredients of the other four. It’s that actionable, if you will, who we become if we can really deeply go into the insight, movement, mind rest, and your own two hands. We shift our minds. We feel differently. We behave differently in the world. We treat ourselves differently. That’s really the culmination of that and the hope.
That’s a lot of fun. Thanks for orienting us to the big picture that. Could you give us your take in terms of boy, if there’s something that just seems to really release a lot of creative new idea brilliance per minute of effort on our part, what would some of those very top practices be?
Well, I think that it really is different for everyone, so what I would say the exercise would be to think back to something you did that was hand-based. It could have been last year, it could have been 30 years ago, it could have been 10 years ago. Think back to something that you remember that created a strong sense of pride, freedom, self-esteem, happiness, joy, glow, something like that.
Think back to that one thing and see if you can reclaim that. Reclaim that and see if you can’t start incorporating that in little bits and pieces into your life.
What’s cool about any project and art form is that it doesn’t have to be great; it just has to be from you. It can be objectively the ugliest thing around, but if it made you happy to make it, who cares? Who cares? It’s about the process and the project. Sonja Lyubomirsky, a very well-known researcher, said “Show me a happy person and I’ll show you a project.”
It can be – oh, one of the most recent things is cleaning up clutter, decluttering. That’s a really interesting idea about tending to your space, tending to your space.
But honestly, I wish I could give you one, but it’s so different for everyone. Everybody has that. Just it’s taking the time, giving yourself the mind rest to – but do the actionable thing, which is to think about it. Think hard on it and figure out one or two things that once brought you great pleasure and try to reproduce them.
If not, just go out and go to a maker fair or go start drawing something or building something or take a cooking class. Cooking is a wonderfully creative and manual-based activity that many of us don’t think about when we’re doing it. I think that’s what I would say.
That’s lovely. Thank you. I do want to hit that clutter point in particular, Marie Kondo on Netflix now, very popular. We went to town decluttering a baby closet and it was quite satisfying to have all those container store bins neatly labeled, etcetera. What is the impact on clutter and creativity?
My wife and I spent all this weekend talking about that. All this weekend we talked about Marie Kondo. She is so excited about her and her work. She knew about her before, but somehow since she’s now on Netflix, it’s just, she’s a really special person.
It’s really cool because the impact is that yes, there are stories about – I use the term very loosely – but the mad scientist. The image, the caricature, if you will, of someone with just stuff everywhere, not knowing – piles of papers and manuscripts and everything everywhere and tools and beakers and so forth and not knowing where anything is and somehow inventing. But in reality that doesn’t happen that much.
But we need to be careful, if you see a perfectly pristine desk, there may not be anything happening on that or someone may be extra obsessional about that. That may not be stimulating creativity in any way. On the other hand, an overfull desk, where you can’t remember where you put this or that, can be frustrating. It’s balance. It’s about balance.
Now, Marie Kondo carries that to one arena of extreme. I don’t use the term extreme in a negative way. It’s really organizing your life. There is great peace and almost quietude that can come from your space being tended to and being organized. It’s not just about being able to see things and find things; it’s about the act of doing it.
That’s a mechanical, manual activity, organizing your space, whether you’re throwing out, putting in boxes, or putting all your shoes in boxes or putting all your tools and organizing them and all the little random nuts and bolts and so forth, it’s a form of tending to you and your space in your home and wherever you might live.
There’s no question that it’s I think very similar to weeding a garden. I think it’s very similar because you’re allowing things to grow, ideas, your space, your life and so forth.
Look, she’s far smarter than I am, but I’m fascinated by it. I think it’s a really cool way to start the process of creativity. Start it by just what you did, clean out that space. You have the connectivity, the familial connectivity of doing that, the side-by-side doing a task, but you also have – it’s a clear task that’s somewhat disconnected from technology, from the buzzes and bings and so forth. It also makes you feel just frankly good afterward. Good, more power to you.
Yes. I guess in my experience when it comes to being surrounded by clutter or not clutter is that the – I forgot the scientific term for it. It’s almost like SIDI or something like that, the notion that my resources are limited.
It’s similar to not having enough time or money or energy or manpower to complete something that’s important to you and you feel a little bit of that stress, that tension, that anxiety, that “I don’t know if this is going to happen,” and thus that kind of can short-circuit some creative resourcefulness in the brain.
Likewise, if the space as a resource is non-conducive to accomplishing that, which is important and top of mind to you, I think in my experience that further contributes to the stressed, uncomfortable position of feeling resource constrained. It’s sort of like not just the process of tidying, but the end result of “Ah, what a lovely clear space,” puts me in a better state of mind to feel resourceful and creative.
Yeah, that’s a great way to put it. That’s very eloquent. I like that because you’re saying space becomes a resource, a raw ore that can be used to build on and build with. Space as an emptiness can then be filled by a feeling, by ideas, by whatever. The clutter can be a distraction.
Yes, I like the way you put it. You’ve got more poetry on there.
Well, anyway. It’s cool. It’s just funny that you brought that up today, it’s perspicacious because that’s all we talked about this weekend.
Well, I’d be curious, Alton, anything else you want to talk about creativity and getting more of that flow in in the work place before we shift gears to talk about some of your favorite things?
Right. I think we’ve said a lot. I love the way you covered it. But I hope that one of the biggest components to creativity I believe is curiosity, and it’s also humility, and being willing to just entertain anything, be open and curious and humble enough to think that something else can enhance you and make you feel better, make you better. I think that’s a big part of creativity is that curiosity and that humility to take on new ideas.
Awesome. Thank you. Now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?
Oh gosh, well, my wife gets tired of hearing my quotes. I have so many quotes that I love because of the people that wrote them and so forth and really who those people were. One of my favorite was from Voltaire in his short novel Zadig or Man’s Fate, where the quote is that “On such slender threads as these do the fates of mortals hang.”
You think, “Oh, well that’s dark,” but it’s actually not. It was a guy who was accused of having an affair with one of the sultan’s mistresses or wife or whatever and he was about to be executed. Then the parrot, who happened to be in the room, actually parroted and spoke and basically showed that he had not had an affair because he spoke about who had had the affair, so Zadig was freed. It was “On such slender threads as these do,” as a random parrot.
But the fact is that I think that was metaphorical for so many things that can happen in our life. It goes back to creativity is just you never know who you’re going to meet, what you’re going to hear, and what you’re going to find. I think allowing yourself the mental freedom to explore and absorb and be open to and be curious about is I think critical to a fairly bountiful existence in my opinion.
One of my favorite quotes of all time was by Winston Churchill. I happen to collect books. Every book I’ve ever read basically I’ve collected a hardbound version of it. I’ve been doing that since I was kind of an adolescent, but now I don’t have enough time to read.
He made me feel better because he said, “Always surround yourselves with books. Even if you don’t have time to read them, just fondle them once in a while.” It’s true. I’ll do that sometimes. I’ll just open it up and just read five lines of some book I’ve read before. It just makes me happy. It just takes me back to a different place. Those are a couple of I guess fun ones that I like.
Thank you. Could you share with us a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?
Wow. Of mine or just -?
Just anything that you’ve encountered that made you go, “Wow, that is amazing insight from this research.”
Yeah. Oh gosh, because I’m steeped in this, it’s hard to separate from the research that I work with day-to-day and talk to patients about versus what in the book and so forth. I think that one of the most exciting ones really was the Kelly Lambert did a significant amount of research on lifting depression and showed that the meaningful hand use actually changes the brains biochemistry.
That to me is so profound, not just about making you happy and making you feel satisfied and making you feel productive and so forth, but actually changes the brain’s chemistry, actually changes serotonin uptake, changes dopamine release. It’s just fascinating to me that we can change our brain chemistry by using our hands.
Yes, thank you. Amongst all these books you fondle and have read, do you have a favorite?
Well, my all-time favorite is Don Quixote. I read it too many times. I don’t know, for some reason it has been – it just continues to fascinate me. It’s part about fantasy, part about just living in a dream and having goals, whether they’re achievable or not. I think we should always have goals for that. That’s one of my all-time favorites that I still talk about.
And Of Human Bondage spoke to me greatly, Somerset Maugham, because it was about a boy who then went to medical school and had a bad leg and so forth. It spoke to me. I ended up going to medical school, but I don’t think it was because of that book, but it influenced me greatly in terms of the trials and tribulations that one can work through and persevere through and still achieve.
Thank you. How about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?
Favorite tool. This may not seem like a tool, but it is to me and that is the ability to make true human connection. What I mean by that is the ability to make a true human connection I think involves empathy. It involves creativity. It involves a curiosity about that other person, more curiosity about that person than you are about yourself.
If you show those capacities along with being honest and telling the truth, I think that the power that that can engender in you is that you then can take that person and a piece of that person and use it, use them – I don’t mean use them in a derogatory way – but use that to build your foundation of life because we need people.
We are intrinsically social creatures. We need to have people around us that we understand, who understand us, who trust us, and whom we trust. You cannot do that without making a true connection with them.
How about a favorite nugget, something you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks when you share it?
Well, you mentioned posture. Studies have been done on it. I’m saying this half-jokingly, but it’s true because I end up talking about it with a lot of people, a lot of patients because it can generate muscular-skeletal problems if we have poor posture. But also posture is so critically important to how the world perceives us and how we interact with the world.
I’m always telling my kids, I tell patients, especially younger patients, our culture because of our involution of our bodies from reaching down and hugging our smartphones, which are close to our bodies, and our heads our down, we tend to close ourselves off to the world.
Posture, and I mean that in the broadest sense, opening up not just our breathing, but it opens up our world to us. It makes other people perceive us differently. Posture is the most important thing in a certain way. As long as we are already taking care of character and truth-telling and taking responsibility for our own actions.
If folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?
Well, look, I think my wife is pretty wicked smart and I’ve learned so much from her in life. She was the brains behind the book. It’s not a silly read and it’s not a quick read. It takes some time to get through it, but it’s based on a lot of science. I have to say that that would be important.
But beyond that I would say reading anything that stimulates you and takes you away is what – I hate to generalize in that sense rather than giving you specific books, but I believe in that.
The other great book that I would recommend to anyone who has younger children would be the Last Child in the Woods. It’s about the importance of nature and the importance of getting back to the basics. It’s based on a great body of research.
Okay. Alton, thanks so much for sharing this good stuff. I wish you and your wife much luck in your medicine and your speaking and writing and sharing and creativity and all you’re up to.
And cleaning out our closets.
Absolutely. You may need some luck for that.
I’m going to need some. It was really, really a pleasure to talk to you, Pete. It’s very stimulating and it made me think in ways that I haven’t thought in a while. I appreciate the time and the interest.