How to Drive Your Imagination

by Laura M.

“Only when the brain is confronted with stimuli that it has not encountered before does it start to reorganize perception. The surest way to provoke the imagination then, is to seek out environments you have no experience with.” By Gregory Burns

How’s that for a concept? Pretty cool, huh? Ellen introduced me to it last summer and I absolutely love it.

Even small changes in your everyday routine can have a positive impact on your creative output – for instance, taking a different route to work everyday, or taking on new hobbies and activities. These changes:


  •          keep the mind sharp
  •          0pen neural pathways
  •          shake loose cobwebs

As an experiment for the blog, I decided to drive different routes than I normally take to work/run errands. Before I got behind the wheel, I drew a picture of a car on a post-it and stuck it on my dashboard:


I’ve gotta tell you: this part is a pretty critical step for me. It’s really easy to get behind the wheel and go on auto-pilot. I need a visual reminder or else I’ll totally forget. Even tonight as I was leaving work feeling exhausted, I got in the car, saw the little post-it and was like, “Oh yeah! Gotta shake things up!” So if you’re going to try this particular exercise, I highly recommend using the post-it prompt.

Here’s what I found:

I discovered ALL kinds of things by going a different way:

  • New businesses
    • Filling Station on Halcyon. This is in the popular 12 South neighborhood in Nashville. The thing is it’s off of 12th, tucked behind another building – you would likely not see it if you were on 12th.
    • There used to be this really cool cheese shop called Corrieri Fromageria on Caruthers, again, in the 12 South area. Something new is going in its place. I’m excited to see what it will be!
      • [Update: It’s a new bakery! Five Daughters. Ellen says they have the best cronut in town.]
  • Incredible view – It’s never even occurred to me to go down Ashwood, East of Belmont. But I did so and discovered it features an awesome hill at the crest of which, just as you’re approaching 12th, has an incredible view. Who knew?


  • Stained glass – I drive up and down 10th Avenue constantly and apparently drove past this church all the time and never noticed it. But when I came down Caruthers to the intersection at 10th, I got a full frontal view of it and it turns out it has amazing stained glass windows. I couldn’t see them before but seeing the building from a different angle provided this.


  • Fond memories – One of my alternative routes took me down Blair and so when I approached the intersection at 21st, I could see the old laundromat I used to go to when I first moved to town. It made me smile to think about that time in my life.


  • Reminder that waiting can be a gift – I thought I was going to be all clever and duck down an alleyway to bypass a congested intersection. I was foiled by construction – the alleyway was blocked. While I sat waiting for the light to change I remembered: sometimes waiting can be an opportunity to take a breath and relax. I’ll get there when I get there.
  • Being present – When I’m not on auto-pilot, I’m more likely to be present (and because of that, be a better driver.)

I know what you’re thinking: ok, you tried something new so how did it spark your imagination or stoke your creativity? The truth is I don’t know. This is an exercise through which you might not see immediate results or be able to draw a direct correlate. But I still think it’s worth investing time in. I tend to get a kick out of the process rather than the outcome. It’s always been that way with me. Hey, if nothing else, you might find a cool new shortcut.

Let’s be clear: I totally get that time is a precious commodity and that meandering down side roads is not something that fits in everyone’s schedule. Maybe you have a long commute from, say, Nashville to Murfreesboro and you’ve got it down to a science and don’t want to fool with it. Or maybe you’ve got kids and have to figure out how to be in 5 places at the same time. I understand this might not be a feasible exercise for everyone.

If that’s the case, maybe ask yourself “What else can I do to break up my routine?” Perhaps you go for a walk each day and have a favorite path. What you could do is reverse the route. It’s amazing how things look different when you come at them from a different angle. My friend Alecia is great about encouraging us to do this when we run together.

So, why not try it? Everyday in the next week, drive/walk/bike a different route to work or the grocery store. Then come back and post in the comments. Did you see/feel/think anything new because of it?




7 thoughts on “How to Drive Your Imagination

  1. So true abut taking a familiar path and doing it in reverse. Bob and I do this often when hiking. A familiar trail is totally new, almost unrecognizable, when done in reverse. Now I want to try exploring alternate ways to and from work!


  2. I love trying new streets and working myself back home when I’m not in a hurry. I’m often surprised by the time because it didn’t feel like it took any longer because I was constantly sparked with we images the whole way. I find it much more fulfilling than racing down the toll road. I’m not sure if I’m more stimulated by the new imagery or by slowing down the pace?


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