Can you have too much stimulation?

On a recent visit to the Los Angeles area, I think I had too much stimulation. I’m embarrassed to admit it, since I know that to be creative, different inputs and stimulation are critical, but in this case, I was overwhelmed.

In less than three days, I visited what felt like six totally different cultures and spent about seven hours in traffic, which feels like a culture unto itself. I went to a one-hour production of “Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Zombie Joe’s theater in NoHo (North Hollywood), pretended I was a Great Gatsby extra at the opulent gardens and houses of the Huntington Galleries, zipped along on the superwide, supermanicured interstates of Orange County, and saw lots of skin, plain and inked, on Venice Beach. I even had a run-in with a man who may have thought I stole his soul with my camera.

“You pointed your camera in my direction. You cannot. Erase that photo. Now.”

“I will, I will.”

“Not will. Do it now. I must see.”

Geeee whiz.

To be creative, it’s important to get new input, but is it possible to have too much coming in? And why does it feel that way?

Three reasons.

First, for me, everything seemed “new” in L.A. and I couldn’t process it fast enough. From the intricate graffiti on the buildings to cars racing along the freeway shoulder before zipping into line to the range of footwear (at least 70 percent of all people wear flip-flops but oh, what a variety), I looked up and down and close and far away. I had FOMO — fear of missing out — and couldn’t not look.

Second, the place engaged my senses, fully. I’ve always thought of Boise as a bit antiseptic — the air is clear and clean (usually)m so we don’t have the scents that other places do, from food to people, plants to pollution. Idaho is dry, so I don’t “feel” the air, but in L.A., humid heaviness weighted down my arms. L.A. restaurant noise was enough to make conversation a strain and yet the languages (many I couldn’t identify) and topics at the nearby tables fascinated me.

And third, the switch factor — going from one culture to another so quickly — was harder than I expected. I’ve traveled a fair amount. Even compared to Europe, where cultures and languages are close to each other, L.A.’s diversity stands out. Fun, stimulating, exhausting.

The key, I suspect, is finding the kind of stimulation that works for you. For some people, big cities do the trick. For others, it’s nature.

So what works for you?

To find out, be more methodical in noticing when creativity happens. What conditions, what types of stimulation seem to help — or hinder — the flow? See if you can identify when you had “Aha!” moments for solving problems or finding new ideas. Who knows, it might even be in traffic!