I’ve observed five types of responses to a question I frequently ask, “Do you think of yourself as creative?”
1) No, I’m not creative. (often emphasized emphatically)
2) I used to be creative, a long time ago, before… (insert a reason – current job, children, volunteer position, age, etc.)
3) Someone else in my family is “the creative one.” (insert mother, father, or sibling)
4) Yes, but (insert self-limiting example – I’m not a professional artist, but I take pictures. It’s nothing really.)
5) Yes. (rare)
Most folks who answer 1-4 often have a desire to be more creative. They’ve heard that creative individuals experience the benefits of greater self-expression, possess better problem-solving skills toward complex and open-ended challenges, and vibrant mental health, but are unsure where or how to get started.
I understand. Talk of creativity is everywhere and it is a bit overwhelming. Creativity is the millennial buzzword and big business! Every industry is trying to figure out how to get their employees to “be more creative.”
Creativity, however, is still one of the most misunderstood human traits. Why? Because we’ve absorbed a lot of myths about what “being creative” means and the way creativity functions in our lives. I’ve learned this, over the past 15 years, as a professor and creativity coach working with all types of people – professional artists who’ve had success in one medium – like sculpture, for example, who want to try their hand at painting but don’t know where to begin; writers who hate the marketplace so much that every time they meet an editor they are unintentionally obnoxious; town managers who need to find innovative ways to motivate staff to serve the often cranky and impatient public; and also students who by the time they get to college have trouble seeing themselves as creative beings.
When it comes to assessing our capacity for creativity we can make two mistakes, one is how we define creativity and the other is making comparisons to others.
When someone believes that they don’t have a single creative impulse in their body, I’ll ask, have you ever played with your kids, planned a successful dinner party, told a great joke, or taken a risk? How about created a recipe from scratch, moved furniture around, planted a garden, or helped a co-worker with a problem?
The scowl is replaced by a quizzical look and tentative nodding. But, I’m not out of the woods yet, because they might with a very righteous, “gotcha” look declare, “Those things don’t count – that’s not really being creative!” The scowl and skeptical face returns. At this point, I happily trot out my working definition of creativity.
Creativity is both product (what you make) and process (how you go about making a life).
Most people view creativity as only a product (e. g. a painting, a published book, an invention) and if they aren’t producing a thing, they don’t feel like they’re creative. They tend to ignore the intangible characteristics of creativity that include the decisions that you make, the joy, ease and everyday problem solving that you bring to life, and the enhanced capacity for learning. Elizabeth Gilbert’s successful memoir, “Eat Pray Love” is an excellent example of cultivating creativity as a life process built on self-discovery, pleasure and resilience. While we may not all get to visit Italy, India and Indonesia (nor write about it), Gilbert’s journey offers us a sensory rich roadmap about how to approach change when bad things happen.
The second reason why more people don’t see themselves as creative is because they compare themselves solely to super luminaries – the rarified world of professional artists, scientists and inventors. We have a tendency to view the scale of our creative efforts as inconsequential. Neuroscientist Nancy Andreasen (author of “The Creating Brain”) says we take for granted daily examples of our “ordinary creativity” including the generation of spontaneous, yet ordered language. Our inherent creativity helps us to advise a friend, join two unrelated ideas, conjure up the perfect gift for grandma and find new routes home from work.
How would you answer the question I’ve posed to so many others? If you want some new ways to stimulate your creativity try the following:
• Notice what inspires you. For the next month, actively notice what you’re inspired by and allow that to lead to a new relationship with the creative process. If you’ve forgotten what ignites your creativity: Keep finishing the questions: What inspires me? Where are some new places that I can look for inspiration? Treat the inspiration to create as a great mystery.
• Find Your Ten Minutes in Alpha: Our brains invite new insights when we slip into a quieter and relaxed state of mind. This brainwave state is known as alpha. Getting relaxed is different for everyone. Twenty minutes in the garden may produce lovely results for someone. Another person might relax by creating a collage or planning a dinner party. If taking a long bath helps to really relax you, then by all means make sure you do it!
Identify what gets you into a receptive “aha” state and commit to doing it for at least 10 minutes a day. Yes, you can create 10 minutes in your schedule. Regard those precious minutes as the down payment for a long and rich creative life.