Coffee and Creativity: does coffee enhance our ability to be truly, and effectively, creative?

Dareshack Journal – Coffee and Creativity - does coffee enhance our ability to be truly creative - Working from Dareshack

Now, I’m going to start this article by addressing the complete opposite concept of which I am going to try and prove. There’s a line of thought that coffee actually decreases creativity. This comes from the school of thought that during the creative process we truly benefit from our mind wandering and not being tied down to one thought. However, in reality, we need that focus and lack of distraction to really bring our ideas to fruition. Coffee is, of course, a stimulant, meaning the nervous system is engaged, boosting the production of dopamine within our brain. Dopamine helps us focus and keep concentration on the task in hand. You must’ve had it where you’ve got ideas aplenty but not enough drive or focus to latch onto the right one. I know I have; my mind starts to wander, and creative ideas are thriving, however there’s a lack of discipline and focus. Before I know it, none of the ideas themselves have been locked down or developed, and I struggle to remember where I even started. I believe it’s quite a romantic idea that creativity just comes to us and is easy to put into practice; that musicians have fully ready songs come to them in an instant, writers complete books in days or that painters complete a masterpiece in an evening with ease. The truth is that true creative practice takes time and patience, often with a lot of trial and error along the way.

For me, once I have had coffee, I can truly dive into all my creative ideas, whilst latching onto the right ones. Coffee is the structure and backbone to bring all those creative ideas together in a logical and methodical way. Not only does caffeine increase dopamine, but it also elevates your mood, which for me, helps creativity thrive. If you are in a better mood, surely, you are more susceptible to allow those creative juices to flow? (That is unless you’re writing an incredibly sad piece of music, then maybe you should keep that mood low). Creating this general sense of feeling like anything is achievable once you are caffeinated… or am I taking this too far? Anyway, I digress.

I wonder to what extent it is the habit of ‘drinking coffee’ that’s contributing to this creative process rather than the coffee/caffeine itself. It is said that 45% of our daily life is taken up by habits and that these habits become autopilot behaviours. When these daily habits become second nature, like brushing your teeth, getting ready for work, eating breakfast etc. we have more mental energy to take on new ideas and challenges that come our way. So maybe drinking coffee is just part of this. You often hear people say they can’t start their day without a cup of coffee. Of course, this will largely be due to its psychoactive properties on us as humans and our dependency, although I imagine part of this will just be the habit itself. Just like if you shower every morning because it makes you feel awake. I’m sure you’d feel more tired than you technically are if for some reason you couldn’t have that shower.

Let’s make use of imagery for a second, and say that creativity itself resembles a spark which starts very small; a particular colour, maybe yellow. The spark then grows and molds, latching onto new ideas. Each time that spark is changing slightly in colour and becoming bigger and more exciting; like fireworks going off. The spark that starts it all creates a domino effect of creativity with new and interesting ideas growing and forming along the way. Certain colours shine brighter than others and it’s these that make it through to the end of that process. For me, this image intertwines with coffee and what it does to the brain. Increasing alertness, reducing fatigue and helping focus intensifies those colours and ignites those sparks. And maybe coffee gives that spark more direction, definition and motivation to get where it ends up.

I know we sometimes see creativity as this free-thinking care-free activity and that amazing creations happen overnight. But I don’t agree with this notion. True creative practice is hard. It’s one thing to have an idea but to follow through with it and turn it into reality is a whole other ball game. The infamous quote by Thomas Edison fits in quite well here.

Success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration.

Thomas Edison

I like to think that the 10% is that golden creative idea and the 90% is the perspiration of that idea. Coffee truly helps that perspiration, and therefore, creativity. There’s also an interesting article written by Alison Koontz (a biology graduate) which discusses how creative thinking works and what parts of the brain become active during the process. It shows that although, as you’d expect, the ‘Imagination Network’ within your brain is very active with creative thinking, the ‘Executive Attention Network’ is also very much at play.

As mentioned previously, creative thought relies not on just one of these networks, but in the constant switching of connections between the brainstorming capabilities of the Imagination Network and the decision-making and detail-oriented Executive Network…” “…it is the interaction of the spontaneity of the Imagination Network and the focus and sharpening tools of the Executive Attention Network that yield true creative thought as a final product.

Alison Koontz

Where amazing ideas may form within the Imagination Network, coffee truly helps the Executive Attention Network step in and really get down to business. Now, I’m not trying to say that more coffee = more creativity. I think that creativity itself needs to be there within you to start with, but I believe that the addition of coffee to an already creative individual is a perfect match.

SOURCES, Wrike, Caltech Letters.

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