Activate the artist within and upgrade your brain

Humans have created and invented new things throughout history in order to survive, adapt, and thrive. Evidence suggests that the first microscopic trace of wood ash was created in a controlled fire approximately 1,000,000 million years ago—a watershed moment for Homo Erectus and the human species, as well as a monumental historical breakthrough.

Animals, like humans, can use innovation to solve problems. "Non-human animals innovate all the time," says primatologist Lydia Hopper, "whether it's chimps learning how to lure termites out of their burrow, Caledonian crows solving complex puzzles, or the family dog figuring out how to open the trash can in the kitchen to get to the treats inside."

"Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution."

Albert Einstein

Two learning mindsets

Art is a central feature of thriving cultures (visual arts, music, literature, dance, and theater) and is regarded as a defining feature of the human species due to its ability to convey ideas, concepts, and emotions through various means of visual representation.

Most importantly, because of its role in the development of language and communication, it has played an important role in human history. Art, like language, is a symbolic and referential system that, through images, sounds, and stories, strongly influences the values and belief systems of a changing society.

Artistic expression is also a very healthy behavior. According to research, it reduces stress, increases self-reflection and self-awareness, alters behavioral and cognitive patterns, and even normalizes heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels.

Now, in order to begin to realize your inner artist, it is necessary to briefly address two primary intelligence viewpoints: the incremental (growth) and the holistic (fixed) mindsets.

Incremental & Fixed

Entity theorists believe that intelligence is determined by heredity and thus fixed and immutable. Incremental theorists, on the other hand, believe that intelligence is malleable and that it is shaped by experience and environment.

When it comes to learning, people with a fixed mindset believe they are incapable of mastering a skill unless they understand it instantly and effortlessly. People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, believe that anything is possible if they put in the effort and take personal responsibility.

FixedIncremental
Determined by heredity.Determined by effort.
Fixed and immutable.Capable of improvement.

Several studies have found that entity theorists tend to react helplessly in the face of failure and make negative judgments about their intelligence as a result. This helplessness response pattern is characterized by a lack of persistence. Incremental theorists, on the other hand, try harder, devise better strategies, and persevere.

Can you distinguish between the beliefs "I am a terrible artist" and "I have the potential to become a great artist"? The fixed viewpoint becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy - a limiting belief that leads to a never-ending cycle of hopelessness and despair.

On the contrary, there is still some disagreement about how malleable our intelligence is. Breakthroughs in the science of neuroplasticity, on the other hand, demonstrate unequivocally that the possibility of forming new neural pathways exists at all times. All it takes is time and effort.

Progress is not in enhancing what is, but in advancing toward what will be.

Khalil Gibran

The Origins of a Fixed Mindset

While it is natural to associate an Entity Mindset with criticism and negative feedback, studies show that even high achievers in childhood can develop an Entity Mindset.

According to research, even gifted students are subjected to events that alter their attitudes toward achievement and their beliefs about intelligence as they grow older. Being in a new environment that does not reward good work can lead to underachievement.

Honors students in elementary and high school, for example, frequently feel unprepared and unmotivated for college. They believe that their "mediocre" grades are due to having maxed out in previous years. In this case, the mind associates poor grades with not being good enough.

When people underachieve, they develop negative beliefs that cause them to avoid new learning opportunities and challenges that could catapult them to a higher level of understanding and mastery.

Fueling the growth

A growth-oriented mindset emphasizes intelligence development through continuous learning and effort, motivation, and internalization of extrinsic motivation. Although failures and setbacks are an unavoidable part of the learning process, parents and teachers must understand that beliefs can be shifted.

According to studies, children who believe that intelligence develops through difficult tasks and hard work are more likely to succeed in academic and social settings. This is consistent with the brain's plasticity, which is constantly reorganizing and adapting in response to environmental or structural factors.

Functional PlasticityStructural Plasticity
Ability to switch functions from impaired areas to unimpaired areas of the brain.Ability of the brain to change its physical structure as a result of learning.

The brain, which has over 86 billion neurons, can adapt, rearrange, and rewire itself as it takes in new information over time. Learning a new skill or having new experiences causes the brain to rewire itself or store more memories in order to adapt to such internal and external changes.

While early research assumed that neurogenesis, or the growth of new neurons, ceased shortly after birth, numerous studies have shown that the brain has an amazing ability to reorganize pathways, make new connections, and initiate new neurons. These neurons are linked together by dendrites, which aid in the transmission of information from one neuron to the next.

The early years of childhood are a time of rapid brain development. This number had increased to approximately 15,000 synapses per neuron by the age of three. By adulthood, however, this number has dropped to an average of 1,000 synapses per neuron. When compared to adults, a typical toddler has significantly more synapses.

Psychological studies have shown that children who grow up in safe households with consistent communication, attention, vulnerability, and stability, as well as in a nurturing environment, are more likely to have a growth mindset.

While it is easier for secure people to deal with failures and setbacks, people who grew up in an insecure environment can shift to a growth mindset. You must begin with their stories about themselves, their mistakes, and new challenges, and work your way up to the limiting and fixed beliefs.

Although changing one's mindset and rewiring one's brain is possible, it takes conscious effort and repetition over time. Nonetheless, it is critical to continue learning and trying new things in order to keep the brain fit and adaptable.

Learning environments that provide new incentives and positive feedback are more likely to foster a growth mindset. Parents and teachers must understand that beliefs can shift. Children who believe that intelligence is earned through hard work and difficult tasks are more likely to succeed in school and in social situations.

To be an artist is to believe in life.

Henry Moore

Shifting to a Growth Mindset

1. Identify limiting beliefs

You must be able to step outside of your comfort zone in order to grow. Limiting beliefs prevent people from pursuing goals, creating new things, and solving problems. Once you've identified these, you can begin to reprogram negative beliefs about success, failure, and perfectionism.

2. Set goals

Limiting beliefs do not simply disappear after being recognized. To change negative associations related to growth, one must continually set goals to encourage a growth mindset.

3. Recognize triggers

It's normal to feel emotinally triggered. Recognizing these triggers as they occur is a sign of progress because action begins with awareness.

4. Make conscious decisions

It's vital to to set and enforce boundaries by making conscious decisions on your own and remove "victimhood" from the story.

5. Seek healthy pleasure and reward

To make the consistent pursuit of growth the new normal, create positive associations between achieving goals and stepping out of your comfort zone.

✏️ Start Drawing ✏️

According to a study of college students, a growth-oriented mindset is directly related to high social support and life satisfaction. A growth-oriented mindset starts with regulating limiting beliefs, setting goals, consciously identifying thoughts and feelings, and finally meeting your needs practically.

    Drawing is a good place to start if you want to build and strengthen new synaptic connections in your brain and awaken your inner artist.

    Even if it starts with doodles in your journal, studies on the brain while drawing have shown that gray matter increases significantly, resulting in improved fine motor skills and procedural memory.

    It's simple to get started. Draw a series of circles, triangles, squares, and rectangles of equal width and fixed spacing for 20 minutes each day. Make the lines as straight, with equal thickness, and with equal spacing between them as possible.

    Try it for at least five days and then reflect on the changes that occur after you have consistently put pen to paper. This exercise, like any other, helps to develop new motor skills. It's a great way to push yourself, and before you know it, you'll be sketching the world around you.

    Takeaways

    1. Everyone is capable of learning, growing, and innovating.

    2. By constantly challenging the brain, you can keep it plastic and malleable. Adopting a growth mindset is never too late.

    3. If you want to be the best version of yourself, change your perspective and recognize that you have the ability to direct your own growth, achieve excellence, and realize your fullest and highest potential at all times.

    References

    Bolwerk, A., Mack-Andrick, J., Lang, F. R., Dörfler, A., & Maihöfner, C.. (2014). How Art Changes Your Brain: Differential Effects of Visual Art Production and Cognitive Art Evaluation on Functional Brain Connectivity. PloS one, 9(7), e101035.
    Chamberlain, R., McManus, I. C., Brunswick, N., Rankin, Q., Riley, H., & Kanai, R.. (2014). Drawing on the right side of the brain: a voxel-based morphometry analysis of observational drawing. NeuroImage, 96, 167–173.
    Hopper, L.M., Torrance, A.W. . (2019). User innovation: a novel framework for studying animal innovation within a comparative context.. Anim Cogn. 22, 1185–1190.
    Leckey J.. (2011). The therapeutic effectiveness of creative activities on mental well-being: a systematic review of the literature . Journal of psychiatric and mental health nursing, 18(6), 501–509.
    Lefebvre L.. (2013). Brains, innovations, tools and cultural transmission in birds, non-human primates, and fossil hominins . Frontiers in human neuroscience, 7, 245.
    Mangels, J. A., Butterfield, B., Lamb, J., Good, C., & Dweck, C. S. . (2006). Why do beliefs about intelligence influence learning success? A social cognitive neuroscience model. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 1(2), 75–86.
    Ng B.. (2018). The Neuroscience of Growth Mindset and Intrinsic Motivation . Brain sciences, 8(2), 20.
    Plaks, J. E., & Chasteen, A. L. . (2013). Entity versus incremental theories predict older adults' memory performance . Psychology and aging, 28(4), 948–957.
    Stuckey, H. L., & Nobel, J. . (2010). The connection between art, healing, and public health: a review of current literature. American journal of public health, 100(2), 254–263.
    Zaidel D. W. . (2014). Creativity, brain, and art: biological and neurological considerations. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 8, 389.
    Zeng, G., Hou, H., & Peng, K. . (2016). Effect of Growth Mindset on School Engagement and Psychological Well-Being of Chinese Primary and Middle School Students: The Mediating Role of Resilience . Frontiers in psychology, 7, 1873.

    I love how impactful your choice of quotes are, I've been reading a couple of your blog posts lately and a lot of quotes resonate with me or have one or way another taught me something. Thank you! "Progress is not in enhancing what is, but in advancing toward what will be," I am a big fan of the growth mindset and its something I try to work on daily.

    Neuroplasticity is a key concept in the growth mindset. The brain can shift functions from impaired brain areas to unimpaired, and it can also change its physical structure through learning.

    Neurogenesis is the creation of new neurons, and it happens in two ways. The first is through neural stem cells, which are more like seeds that become neurons when they're exposed to certain signals. A second way is through neurogenesis or the development of new neurons from the death of neurons or glial cells.

    Your Fixed Mindset vs Growth Mindset visual is so helpful - easily explainable to anyone!

    I was taught that you never stop learning.  Our brain is capable of learning and mastering new things even as we age, contrary to some beliefs of “I’m too old to learn x, y, and z. The visual with the fixed and growth mainframe is true.  If your mind is fixed, then yes, you can stop yourself from learning. However with a growth mainframe, you can learn what you put your mind to.

    After re-reading this wonderful article I realized what a genuine gift neuro-plasticity is!

    super interesting article! I think it's important to develop more of a growth mindset for any kind of personal development

    Remarkable, neurobiology, cognitive science and creativity all bring the experience we call life to fruition! Simply adding in this practical drawing is brilliant.

    This is a very interesting article about developing a great stress outlet and enhanced creativity. I do feel that I express my creativity and trying new things through my work of fabric by taking different pieces I create a picture by using the fabric on quilts I sew them together to show different things like mountains or animals or just different shapes start to form. Sometimes I do like to set aside some time every day for doodling also Zentangle I have some books on that which is a lot of fun as well. My son has a hard time with drawing because he says he’s no good with anything so I try to motivate him by using the Zentangle or doodles. I’m just letting him have fun. I let him know that each piece of art is beautiful because nobody will ever make it the same as you and that’s why every piece of art is unique and one-of-a-kind and special.

    Great article about how we develop our mindset. Like any other great debate, I think that the true answer is somewhere in between. More specifically, I think that we are indeed born with this innate ability to complete certain tasks and acquire certain information, but I think that the limits are none existent from the very beginning. If you believe in the higher conscious then you know that we are all connected beyond what we see in this "reality". We are also born with all of the information the we need in life and are able to unlock it as we experience life. I myself have tried the drawing practice and it definitely does work and is quite enjoyable!

    I think this article is a great reminder on how crucial it is to consistently exercise the brain for continuous growth. Not only a reminder to continue learning, but also to continue learning out of our comfort zones for a growing mindset.

    Just listened to a podcast with Dr Andrew Huberman on this subject. Very interesting stuff!