Brain Food for Writers

Sue Emms

The mechanism of motivation

Dopamine is a brain chemical, and Alice Flaherty, a neuro-scientist researching creativity, suggests that the more dopamine that is released in the brain, the more creative we are.

There’s a lot to know about dopamine but I’m not going to head into a science lesson except to say that scientists call it a ‘mechanism of motivation’. In other words, dopamine creates an expectation of a reward. “If I buy this new handbag I’ll feel really good about myself.” “If I place this bet, I’ll win big.”  For the writer, it’ll be something like, “If I sit at my computer for three hours I’ll get my story finished.

The writer low in dopamine may well be low in inspiration and creativity. Here are six tips for increasing dopamine levels.

1. Eat foods that increase the chemical
Meat, fish, eggs, milk etc., dopamine-avocado
Chocolate (dark)
Drinks – coffee, green tea
Fruit – apples, avocados, bananas, watermelon
Green leafy vegetables, beetroot
Nuts and seeds – almonds, sesame seeds, walnuts
Oatmeal, wheatgerm

2. Exercise
Doesn’t all advice come with ‘exercise more’? In this case, though, it is true. Exercise is proven to increase dopamine levels. Any kind of exercise will do, but many writers and artists take long daily walks – Stephen King included – as part of their writing routine because walking is a flexible activity (any time, any place, any pace) and because it doesn’t take concentration.

3. Create checklists, complete tasks
Studies have shown that dopamine increases when we are organised and complete tasks, when we write lists and tick off a task as it is done. It’s the writing and ticking that seems to make the difference, so do it for large and small tasks, for the daily activities and the long-term projects.

4. Listen to music for a temporary lift
Hey, classical music works for dairy cows, why shouldn’t it work for us?  Realistically, any music you like will do the job but be aware it is only a temporary lift and won’t have the same long-term benefits of healthy eating, exercise, and reflection

5. Take time out for quiet reflection
The world is busy, noisy, and full of distractions. Take time to simply be and to not think.  Consciously switch off the brain on a daily basis and allow yourself to be still.

6. Be creative
Create something. Doesn’t matter what. Your goal may be to write the next Game of Thrones or Harry Potter series but if you’re stuck with the writing, any kind of creativity will do. Arrange flowers. Bake a cake. Build a rock garden, throw a pot. Decorate a wall.

“being creative encourages creativity”


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