Using Creative Stimulus to Increase Awareness, Shift Perspectives and Play with Possibilities

by Marcy Nelson-Garrison

If you do not have at least a few "right-brain" processes in your tool kit, your clients may be missing out on essential non-verbal wisdom. Right-brain processes access information and understanding through a variety of non-linear methods including: the body, movement, visual imagery, metaphor, play, humor, music, stillness, prayer, and meditation.

I’ve rarely experienced a deep internal shift or transformation without the body, creativity and non-verbal knowing engaged in some way. Verbal language and linear thinking play a part but are not always sufficient on their own.

There are two important things to know about engaging the right-brain or non-verbal ways of knowing: creativity requires stimulus and right-brain processes often bypass the left brain censor.

Creativity requires stimulus.

If you have a client who is stuck, the tendency is to try to “think harder,” which sends them circling over the same territory. This rarely yields anything new. New ideas show up when you put two things together that you haven’t put together before. Try introducing an alternative to the normal way a challenge is perceived. Open-ended questions are a form of stimulus. If the goal is to generate new ideas, the open-ended question needs to draw something in that’s not part of the current thinking. Right-brain processes introduce stimuli such as metaphors, images, random words, movement, music etc. This generates new associations that can lead to new solutions or perspectives.

Right-brain processes often bypass the left-brain censor.

Most of us are very fluent in cognitive language and have very skilled censors. One of the reasons I like using visual imagery in particular is that we are just not as adept at censoring visual data. This is also true with movement and body wisdom. Right-brain processes access our knowing differently — it’s like a different language. Imagery leverages the mind’s ability to make associations. An image can invite new meaning and new insights by putting things together that were previously unrelated. In general, more information gets surfaced than using verbal, left-brain processes alone.

Favorite tools.

I have my favorite tools: a card deck of ‘hat’ metaphors, several card decks with photographic images, a tin of tiny objects, powerful words or quotes, and a fun deck of cards that invites humor and shift energy. If I don’t have a “tool” handy, there is always the old standby: simply ask your client to look around the room and find a symbol for whatever topic you are coaching.

The fun thing about these tools is that you can use them in combination with just about any type of open-ended question or topic and you will get new, fresh and often surprising information. Use them to explore a concept, access inner guidance, shift energy, create a pause, and to create ritual.

If you are new to using these types of approaches, experiment with creative stimulus to initiate a ritual at the beginning or the end of each session. Here are a few suggestions: have your client draw a card (from a deck they have or one you have given them), ask then to find a symbol in their environment that reflects a take-away, invite them to take on a body posture, choose a color or a type of music that reflects how they are feeling in the moment. It's a great opportunity for you to get creative.

Once they have a symbol or image or color, spend some time with it. As coach, invite your client to get really curious about it. The trick is to keep the focus on the client’s associations rather than interjecting your own. These approaches are effective on the phone or in person and are very powerful in group work. Be prepared to be surprised at the amazing insights that show up.

Marcy Nelson-GarrisonMarcy Nelson-Garrison, MA, LP, CPCC: Marcy is a creative catalyst, coach, product mentor and Choice Magazine feature writer. Marcy founded the Coaching Toys online store to provide a venue for products created by coaches. The store carries a wide selection of innovative tools and products for workshops, retreats, team building, client work and personal development. Visit

2 thoughts on “Using Creative Stimulus to Increase Awareness, Shift Perspectives and Play with Possibilities”

  1. What a great article, Marcy–thank you!! You inspired me to put together a box of creativity to bring into the office!

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top

IAC Login