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Public Transportation: A Creative’s Secret Weapon

I know what you’re thinking and I promise I haven’t gone mad.

Several people I know do everything in their power to avoid public transportation. The reasons range from logistical ones to their personal misgivings from a bad experience. While public transportation can be uncomfortable or unreliable at times, overall it’s a relatively mundane experience.

Public transit’s mundane nature is a fantastic incubator for creative thought. One important way this is accomplished is through spontaneous interactions with people from a myriad of backgrounds and beliefs.

An important component of creative work is the unique combination of novel experiences and ideas. It’s impossible for us to live through all combinations of these experiences; however, we’re given a small window into different beliefs and lifestyles when commuting together.

Since I’ve only really taken public transportation within the United States, my view of public transportation is primarily one of a US citizen. I don’t know how my observations compare to experiences in other countries, but I’d love to hear your experiences!

Creates Conditions for Creativity

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Although we like to believe that creativity isn’t something that can be manufactured, this seems to be at least partially false. Through studies of creative people, we can identify a few common traits present in people rated as more creative.

One of the biggest factors for creativity is being distracted. When our brain is distracted it enters the diffuse mood of thinking. In this mode of thought, our brain is able to look at odd, seemingly dissimilar things and draw new connections.

Assuming we ride a similar route everytime we take public transit, we don’t really need to focus on the route. Eventually, we intuitively know when we need to zone back in. Familiarity frees our brain to wander. A wandering brain is also predisposed to be relaxed.

Relaxation is another key element of creativity. If we’re not taking public transit during rush hour, then it can be a relaxing experience. During off-peak hours there are fewer people and things to put us on edge.

Even if we have to commute during peak hours, assuming we’re taking a larger commuter train, there is ample space for us to zone out and relax. Relaxation is also a state of mind. With a little practice, we can learn to be more relaxed in almost any environment.

The last key to creativity is dopamine. No, I’m not saying that we get pleasure from taking public transportation, that’d be ridiculous. What I am saying is that if we time our travel well, you’ll probably be able to do some mundane but rewarding task, like writing or reflecting.

Once these three factors combine together, we have a better chance of coming up with a creative idea. Public transportation easily allows for 2 out of the 3, and the third can be obtained with a little forethought. It doesn’t surprise me that at least a handful of creative ideas have been conceived on public transportation.

Both Einstein’s initial thoughts for relativity and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter were thought of while using public transportation.

Although public transportation seems like chaos, there is actually an order to it that we come to know with time. Once we learn the ordered chaos of our public transportation system, we unlock a new possible area for creative thought.

If we’re bound to a long commute anyways, we may as well take the opportunity to think of creative ideas for our craft.

Imposes Routine

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Wait, wait, wait! Before you run for the exit hear me out!

As creatives, we seem to dislike the mundane and routine. It feels suffocating and at odds with our work. Unfortunately, well-regarded creatives, like Stephen King, would disagree.

King’s whole position is that is consistently producing the work is where the magic really happens and when creativity can emerge. He argues that being in the thick of your work every day eventually forces you to form new connections with the other things you experience.

I’ve also grown fond of Jocko’s phrase that discipline equals freedom. At first, this phrase feels like an oxymoron. How can one be disciplined and free at the same time? Isn’t freedom the lack of restrictions and rules?

I’d argue no. Instead, I view freedom as the ability to do as you wish, not the lack of constraint. Although the routine may feel restrictive in the short term, there are two things that make us realize it’s not.

Firstly, we control the routine. If the routine is no longer in service of our goals, we can change it. This is the ultimate freedom because we’re constantly in control of the systems in our life which dictate our actions.

Discipline and routine also enable results. It’s hard to argue with results, especially towards goals we’ve selected and care about. Although in the short-term our routine restricts our choices, in the long-term our horizons are expanded beyond what we thought possible.

Having a routine frees up your brain from constantly having to decide what to do next since you already made that determination. More brainpower means a higher likelihood you’ll produce a quality product.

Public transportation imposes a routine because the train/bus/whatever runs at approximately the same time every day. Thus, we have to do X, Y, and Z, by a certain time to catch our lift to work.

As we become accustomed to this rhythm, we’ll find and carve out time for our creative endeavors. Further, because we know roughly what to expect throughout our day, we can better regulate our energy levels.

Better regulated energy levels will result in more consistent production and, gradually, an increase in the value of works produced. These two things combined increase the likelihood that we won’t be a starving artist.

The skill we gain from creative endeavors will translate well. Making our art for a living is the dream, but even if this doesn’t come to fruition not all is lost. Discipline usually translates between tasks, so our work will become more disciplined too. In turn, we’ll likely be compensated better in our day jobs which allow us to indulge our creative impulses.

Wrapping Up

Although public transportation sometimes gets a bad rep it’s truly a fantastic thing. It’s one of the most efficient systems we have for moving large amounts of people in relatively small periods of time.

The systems design and engineering feats that go into planning a public transportation system, as imperfect as it is, are awe-inspiring.

Public transportation also offers an abundance of opportunity for aspiring or established creatives. Its design allows for creative thoughts to emerge more easily. We also adhere to a routine, which can allow us to consistently associate a timeframe with creative work. Over time, this should improve the quantity and quality of our output.

People of all different creeds and experiences mingle in trains, buses, etc. Their daily interactions are a treasure trove of inspiration, especially for writers or fine artists. As we experience more of what life has to offer, our work has a greater chance of resonating with more people.

A direct consequence of resonant work is greater attention. In turn, we slowly gain an audience and platform to express our views and work with. Many creatives create because they’d feel miserable if they didn’t. I’m certainly not an exception to this norm. Everything outside of creation is gravy, especially if people enjoy our creations and find value from them.

Creatives should draw inspiration from everything around them. Public transportation should not be an exception to this rule. When viewed with the correct lens, public transportation is a whole new world of opportunity waiting to explored properly.

I’m a nonprofit professional who’s deeply passionate about effective learning, self improvement, and chasing my curiosity wherever it leads.

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