What is the prefrontal cortex and what’s it purpose? And more importantly why do we want to turn it off? Well in layman’s terms it’s basically a part of our brain associated with critical thought and we don’t want it off all the time. However there are times when deactivating this region of our brain proves to be very beneficial. For instance, doing anything creative will be enhanced by turning this part of our brain off.
This prefrontal cortex has been implicated in planning complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision making, and moderating social behavior. The basic activity of this brain region is considered to be orchestration of thoughts and actions in accordance with internal goals. The most typical psychological term for functions carried out by the prefrontal cortex area is executive function. Executive function relates to abilities to differentiate among conflicting thoughts, determine good and bad, better and best, same and different, future consequences of current activities, working toward a defined goal, prediction of outcomes, expectation based on actions, and social “control”.
In other words, it’s the logical part of our brains. But why would we want to turn off a part of brain? Like I said earlier, we don’t always want it off. But there are times when it’s beneficial to have this part deactivated. When we deactivate the prefrontal cortex, our minds basically become more creative. We block out our surroundings which gives us the ability to have more interesting and unique thoughts flock to our heads. In this mode, our brains start producing alpha waves which are the waves our brains produce when we are in REM sleep. This makes sense why some of our dreams during sleep are wildly creative and unique.
How do we deactivate the prefrontal cortex? We can achieve this state by doing many different things. Sleep, mild exercise, mediation, listening to a similar type of music or artist, and many more can help achieve this state. Different methods work best for different people so don’t be shy to try out a few of the methods. How you achieve this state is completely up to you. The common denominator behind all of these methods include blocking out distractions and silencing the mind. When your mind is overwhelmed with data, your prefrontal cortex is activated and it starts to analyze. This is bad for creativity. That’s why all creative work should be saved for right after you do one of the activities that I listed. Many writers like writing first thing in the morning for this reason. Their brain is still producing alpha waves as it slowly transitions from sleep to awake and writers and artists like to capitalize on being in that state.
There are many other methods to try to deactivate the prefrontal cortex. One of my favorite methods is to go for a walk. Especially when I’m at a roadblock with my work, going for a walk and stepping away for it is a great way to clear my head and deactivate my prefrontal cortex. For those who struggle with overthinking and overanalyzing, this method should be on the top of their list to try. Once the mind is quiet, it is much easier to hop back into what you’re doing and you may even have better ideas this time around.
Another one of my favorite methods for achieving this state is by concentrating on one task for a long time. This helps quiet your mind from the distractions going on all around you and turns off the prefrontal cortex. When this phenomena happens, our sense of self and time evaporate. We become so focused on the task at hand that it may feel like we aren’t even in control. Professional athletes relate to this very often. When a basketball player seems to make everything or is on fire or simply can’t miss, that’s when he or she is fully in this flow state. They’re in the zone. We get there by challenging ourselves and having the courage to take on that challenge. That basketball player was so focused on that task, that everything around him stopped and he was just going with what felt right. This is a beautiful state to be in. When in this state, it’s as if we are just a passenger and have complete trust in what our body wants to do. This state can also be replicated through creative work too. Whenever we focus on one thing and every distraction around us gets silent, then we turn off our prefrontal cortex and simply do instead of think.
One important note to make is not to bring awareness to your mind when you finally get into this state of flow and creativity. Bringing awareness and recognizing that you are in flow will bring your prefrontal cortex back online and bring you out of that blissful state. When you are in that state, try not to think about it. Instead, just keep going with what feels right. There is a time and place for your prefrontal cortex, but it’s not good for creativity. For instance, I mentioned writers like to get their writing done first thing in the morning because their prefrontal cortex isn’t fully activated yet. However, when they proofread their work, they always do it with an analytical mind. That’s why writing and proofreading should be two separate tasks. Proofreading is usually saved for later in the day when it pays to have the prefrontal cortex turned on so there is more analytical thought.
The benefits of turning off our prefrontal cortex are obvious to anyone in the creative field. It’s a way to turn off the analytical part of our brains and have more creative thoughts. There are a number of methods of getting there, but they all require concentration and quieting the mind. Deactivating the prefrontal cortex takes practice and patience. But over time, this will become easier and easier to do and you will start overflowing with enjoyable and creative work.