Up until about five years ago I used to think that genuine creativity was something only artists, musicians and makers got to have and use, which made me a bit sad. Sure, I’d mucked around making things from time to time, but never thought of myself as a creative person and I realise now how much this belief held me back from bringing a more creative approach to my life and work. I also wasn’t sure whether being creative was something that was valued or required in the “real world.” How wrong I was!
I’ve found myself spending quite a bit of time over the past few years delving into creativity as a concept and have pleasantly surprised myself by changing my view about this and as a consequence, I’ve been able to become a whole lot more of what I like to call an “ideas factory.” After all, whatever we believe about ourselves to be true, will be true. If my belief is that I’m uncreative, that’s what I’ll be! I wanted to change this belief so that I could see whether I actually could become more creative.
I have read a few books about this – my favourites being Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic” and Tom and David Kelley’s “Creative Confidence” and I’ve also watched some documentaries about this subject, most recently the Netflix documentary “The Creative Brain” to test my own theories and put some of the advice into practice.
So how do you go about becoming more creative?
You may need to change your beliefs about creativity
Human beings are creative (of course some more obviously so than others) but creativity is something we all have in us right from being tiny babies. If we can believe this about ourselves and understand how to embrace it in our own way, who knows where it can lead!
Knowing how to unleash your creativity can make your life, relationships, work EVERYTHING – so much easier, more fun and interesting along the way, so it’s worth learning how to change your belief from something like: “I’m not creative” to something like “everyone is creative, including me.”
We also individually and collectively continue to have new problems to solve and they’re going to require new solutions, so being able to tap our creativity more has surely got to help with this.
Sounds good, but how?
There might be something you need to write or a presentation to prepare, something to make or maybe you need some fresh ideas in a certain area. Or, it could be that you’ve said yes to creating or doing something unfamiliar and now you have to work out how on earth you’re going to bring it to reality.
It can feel so daunting, particularly if you’ll be exposing your creation to others who you’re afraid might judge you. And it’s not just being worried about what other people might think of you and your creation, you might be your harshest critic.
Start by cutting yourself some slack
Judgment stops creativity in its tracks. It could even be its ultimate enemy. It can be so daunting to put yourself out there that naturally the easiest thing is to stay where you are and maintain the status quo. To turn down the potential opportunity or say no to stepping up or exposing something we have created. Many times I have felt my cheeks sting with the imagined embarrassment of making a fool of myself, and also whilst in the moment of putting myself out there to be judged. It can be painful to dwell on.
Here’s the thing, though. Judgment makes us second-guess ourselves before we even get started and when we’re in this headspace it’s almost impossible to get the creative juices flowing. This makes it much harder for us to access different ideas and perspectives, make decisions, look for linkages and see possibilities – in other words everything we need to be creative. The annoying voice in our head kicks in and starts chattering away with all sorts of unhelpful “who do you think you are? You can’t do that! It’s not going to work” messages. Add to this the voices and maybe even overt shaming of past naysayers and critics, it’s easy to see why we are so risk-averse. We have a strong biologically-based need to belong, so anything we do which may ostracise us or see us banished from our tribe, feels highly risky.
If you want to become more creative, you’re going to have to give yourself some room to – dare I say it – risk failing. How can you experiment and come up with new ideas and ways of doing things if you’re frightened to explore? You simply can’t. I think harsh self-criticism and an inability to be comfortable to not succeed first (or 20th) time around (i.e to fail, maybe even repeatedly) are both things that stop many people from experimenting and innovating.
Is there a way you can reframe the concept of “failure” to one of “trial and error”?…
The chief enemy of creativity is good sense – Picasso
Try something new to jolt yourself out of autopilot
SO much of what we do and how we operate on a daily basis involves repetition and unconscious patterns. To make things easy, we allow ourselves to get into habits of thinking and doing. It’s the most comfortable and obvious thing to do, saving us time and freeing up headspace. We even can allow ourselves to get addicted to the certainty this gives us. Trouble is, it’s not going to help our creativity.
What are some new paths you can travel to shake things up a bit? Even freeing ourselves from busyness can be a challenge. By keeping ourselves occupied it means we don’t have to sit with stillness and space, which can be threatening to many for fear of what might bubble up for them up in these quieter moments. Yet it’s these moments that can prove golden for allowing new ideas to seep into our awareness.
One of the reasons I’m such a rolling stone is that I love the stimulation and feeling of alertness that can come when you’re travelling and putting yourself in novel situations, experiencing things for the first time. Your mind has fewer tried and true reference points to fall back on, so you are literally forced to think more and think differently. I am sometimes blown away by the ideas that come to me when I’m out of my daily existence in a new environment or situation.
Push the boundaries
I love this idea so much!
Like pretty much any new habit you’re trying to cultivate, you can dip your toe into the waters of becoming more creative, and hopefully your confidence in this area will start to grow. Start with a small relatively non-threatening step and learn to silence those voices of doom in your head.
To pioneer or explore you’re going to naturally push your own and maybe other people’s boundaries. Can be a challenge in New Zealand with our often-referred to “tall poppy syndrome.” Yuck. Listening to the crowd will never be encouraging for anyone keen to develop their creativity, so you’re going to have ignore that and carry on regardless. In this regard, I draw endless inspiration from and greatly admire the highly creative people in many fields who put themselves out there and share their brave and sometimes challenging offerings with the world. They don’t know it, but they give me courage to pursue some of my bigger, more crazy ideas.
Wherever you have kernels of ideas – that’s where I’d suggest starting. You can take a big piece of paper and start mind-mapping your project or problem to solve by scribbling down idea “bubbles”. Get as many things as you can think of out there and only start reining them in them later.
Tell yourself that this is just a starting point that you can build on or polish further down the track. Get something on your drawing board rather than trying to get it perfect in one go. You’ll find that usually just by starting you’ll create some energy and get in the zone so ideas start flowing. Don’t be afraid if the initial ideas are weird – they are just “in development” and who knows, they might ultimately end up becoming part of the solution (or not) so get comfortable being expansive and not limiting yourself in the early stages of ideas generation.
Creativity is like a muscle – you can build it up, so get using it and start telling yourself you’re creative. We all are if we only just believe it!