The friends who are good for your brain


Creative thinking is essential for everything from solving problems to personal fulfilment. So, how can we do more to nurture it?
Every day we are expected to make hundreds of decisions and judgements.
These range from small ones like what to have for breakfast, to big ones like whether to take a new job.
Thet rouble is that our mental resources are limited – the human mind can only cope with so many things.
Given this huge challenge, we adopt mental shortcuts to function effectively. It is an approach which gets us through life, but which can also limit our growth as people.
Something as simple as thinking about the people we have around us can do a lot to change that and can even help us become more creative.
101 uses for a spoon
It may seem like an odd question, but what is a spoon for?
Your automatic assumption might well be that it is for stirring a cup of tea, or for eating cereal.
We do not tend to think about the many other uses a spoon could have. What about using it to dig a hole, wedge a door open, or catapult peas across the table?
The idea we reach first is a mental shortcut: it requires no thought and comes to mind without effort. It is a steretoype of the reasons for which we use a spoon.
This is an example of heuristic thinking, or what many people would refer to as a gut feeling.
Nevertheless, research suggests that there are some surprising ways in which we can think more creatively – breaking away from the many such automatic thoughts we have
One is by opening ourselves up to greater social diverstiy – in other words doing things like mixing with, or listening to, people who are not “just like us”.
There are many ways in which we differ from each other: age, race, education, home town and so on.
Being asked to interact with someone from a different culture or background requires us to take a leap outside our comfort zones. Even just imagining doing this can have an effect.
Put differently, diverstiy gives the brain a powerful workout. And, just like a physical workout, it can be incredibly good for us.
Beyond the obvious
However, we know that “birds of a feather flock together”. People tend to make friends with those who are similar to them – in terms of values, preferences, and personaltiyt raits.
Breaking with these habits helps us challenge the heuristic-based thinking that shapes our automatic thoughts.

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