Using Mood to Enhance Your Creativity

Scientists studying human cognition have found that memory and mood are inextricably intertwined. Even more interesting is that we can take advantage of this situation by using a simple technique known as nuance priming.

Moody Night Scene on the River

We can deliberately use mood to enhance our ability to notice relevant information within ourselves and in the world around us. (Image: Vintage Printable)

Nuance priming is also a creativity research term. It means recalling or getting into a particular mood in order to exploit the brain’s habit of using feeling tones to sort and store information in related clusters called emotional cognitive structures. This is a fancy way of saying that the brain files ideas and memories in groups according to their feeling tone. Recall feeling tone X and we will get access to other things stored with the same, or similar, mood. This is a kind of deliberate associative (as opposed to logical) thinking. However, we are not actually doing the associative thinking. We are setting up a scenario to make use of the brain’s natural associative way of doing things.

The process of nuance priming is akin to prayer. When praying about something in particular, a mood is set up which prompts the unconscious (God to many religious folks) to put forward mood-related memories, thoughts, and ideas. This personal inner wisdom may seem like divine guidance to those who refuse to recognize their own unconscious resources. As far as they are concerned, they prayed and they received an answer.

In a like fashion, we can gather “data” from the physical world. We set up a particular feeling tone to help notice those things in the world around us that generate a similar mood within us. To give a crude example, when we feel sad, we will tend to notice other sad things, or the sad aspect of things. Some people refer to this as “attracting” rather than noticing, but that is pure (and unhelpful) mysticism. Creative people do this almost automatically when working on a project and often tell tales of how incidents or information useful to their current work fortuitously came their way. At times, the process can seem almost uncanny. In reality, the mood established by the work in progress has made the creators sensitive to anything related to that mood.

To sum up: the purpose of nuance priming is the drawing out of relevant information from our inner and outer lives. The basis of priming is resonance or association, with the priming nuance or feeling tone acting as an organizing focus. When done right, the technique can be so effective as to take on mystical or religious overtones.

Author: Thomas Cotterill

I am a manic-depressive made philosophical by my long struggle with the disruptive mood disorder, during which I spent sixteen years living as a forest hermit. I write philosophical essays, fantasy, and science fiction. My attempt to integrate creativity, psychology, philosophy, and spirituality imbues everything I write. You will find hundreds of related essays and articles on my blog. I live quietly in British Columbia's scenic Fraser Valley, a beautiful place in which to wax philosophical.

19 thoughts on “Using Mood to Enhance Your Creativity”

  1. This is awesome. I got this link from another one of your articles, of which I’m about to comment on. I write comedy when I’m high, and drama when I’m low. I can’t do either inversely, if that makes sense – I can’t write comedy when I’m low.

    Mood became a really powerful tool for me after I understood that.

  2. I know what you mean about mood and writing. In my case, I can only write fiction when I’m “normal” or depressed. When I’m manic, I stop writing fiction and start buying things! Strangely, I have the reverse problem with non-fiction. I find it hard to think in high gear when I’m depressed, but really fly when I’m manic. Because I suffer from irritable mania, I have to be careful not to get over-critical or downright nasty.

    Something else that’s a bit odd: since I started this blog (entirely non-fiction), I have had no trouble with long-term depression. (Touch wood!) I suspect all the thinking is keeping me in the “normal” to slightly-manic range with just my usual “drop-outs” where I take a sudden plunge into depression that I fight off in a few hours.

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