Why Your Beliefs About Creativity Matter More Than Talent

Are you in the camp that believes creativity is a gift or a talent? Perhaps you believe you aren’t creative, or you lost your creativity, or that you have a creative block. All these beliefs can be true…and false. 

photograph of a young child's hands holding a red plastic knife cutting through a ball of multicolored play dough. with unrecognizable play dough shapes in the foreground.

What Creativity Isn’t

Creativity isn’t like your teeth. You are born without teeth. Baby teeth grow in. Then, at a certain age, you lose your baby teeth. Those baby teeth are gone for good. Sure, adult teeth come in, but even they aren’t permanent. You may lose one or all of your teeth. That is not how creativity works. 

What Creativity Is

Creativity is more than a definition. It’s a mindset, a way of thinking. As children, you don’t need to be taught how to be creative. You believe you can, so you try. Sometimes those attempts are successful. Sometimes they are not. As you grew older, and hopefully wiser, you learn that tries that are unsuccessful are failures. Often that’s not an actual lesson in school, but it’s a lesson in attitude. If the authority figures and peers in your life treat your tries as successes, you learn that trying is the success. If they treat your tries as failures, you learn that trying is failing and failing is bad. 

How Your Beliefs Get Twisted

Very few of us ever want to do badly, so those who learned failure is bad stop trying. That mindset requires that you not be creative. But you don’t make that a choice, it is a default. So you stop trying to figure out a different solution or path. And that’s not the only reason some of us stop being creative.  

Some of you learn, in the same way, that being creative isn’t sustainable. You learn that you’ll never earn a living unless you do something practical. Others of you have critical life issues that consume your time and emotional and physical energy. For a multitude of reasons, you make the choice to set aside your creativity while you focus on being practical or dealing with life issues. 

Beliefs that Weaken Creativity

There is nothing wrong with being practical or not wanting to fail or with spending your time and energy on life issues. But watch out for:

  1. Inaccurate beliefs – It’s not creative unless it’s “original.” That (fill in any form of creativity) is an inborn talent. I am not gifted. I’m not good enough.
  2. Self-critical – I have no talent. I’m not as good as (fill-in-the-blank).
  3. Jealousy – I should have/could have created that, then I’d be just as famous or rich or whatever. Or, he got the lucky breaks I didn’t get. 
  4. Comparisonitis – I started at the same time as (fill-in-the-blank), but I can’t sell half what he does. I’ll never produce product as fast as (fill-in-the-blank) does. 
  5. Listening to Others – (fill-in-the-blank) says I’m not original enough. My mother says it’s cute that I try. 
  6. Fear of imperfection – If I try, I’ll just fall flat on my face. I’m not good enough. I can’t get it right.
  7. Fear of judgment – So & so said it was terrible. Or, what if so and so said it was terrible? My significant other (parent, peer, etc.) laughed at it. I can never show it to anyone else.
  8. Fear of the blank page (or canvas or screen, etc.) – I don’t know where to start.
  9. Feeling empty or a longing for something – I’ve got nothing left. I don’t know if that’s the right thing for me. 
  10. Can’t say no – I have an obligation/responsibility/duty to do (fill-in-the-blank). I don’t have time. The PTA, committee, team, etc. needs me.
  11. Too much unproductive time -Too much time watching tv, on social media, on the phone, or other forms of procrastination.

You may tell yourself one or all of those things. All of them have one thing in common: they help you avoid a fear. At least 99% of the time, all of those are a lie you’ve told yourself. Why? Because it protects you from your fear. It’s easy. It’s the path of least resistance.  

Overtime, that lie feels like truth. Especially if you “tried” to be creative again, and you “failed.” Obviously, you were correct in thinking you never were, or had become, uncreative.

Retrain Your Brain

Image of the side-facing silhouette of a person with a brain-shaped word cloud in his head and the words "retrain your mind" below that.

Your creativity has grown weak from disuse. Much like a muscle is weak when you haven’t exercised it for a long time, you will need to practice being creative. Practice thinking and trying. Just like weak muscles need training, retrain your brain. How do you do that? 

1. Stuck in a misbelief? 

Turn that misbelief upside down. Practice saying the opposite of what your misbelief is. For example, if your misbelief is that you aren’t original enough, repeat the phrases: “Nothing is original. Everything is unique. I am unique.” It’s a fake it until you believe it kind of thing. 

2. Too Self-critical? 

Do you honestly think Shakespeare or Dean Koontz or Nora Roberts never write a wrong word? Or that they never have a bad day? Maybe their bad day means they only wrote 3000 words instead of 5000 or maybe their bad day means the next day they threw away all 5000 words they wrote the day before. But after years of practice, they know how to mine those 5000 words for the gems that are there. 

Even Da Vinci painted over paintings. Did he do it to be cheap or because he didn’t like the first painting? Bet he wouldn’t have painted it over if he liked the first one. 

3. Jealousy. 

It’s difficult to see that other people’s success isn’t a reflection of your own skills or aptitude. Stop exposing yourself to whatever triggers that jealousy (Facebook, Instagram, Art magazines, etc.). Instead of focusing on the other person’s success or your lack of success, focus on learning the skills you need to level up your work. 

4 Comparisonitis

Remove the trigger for comparisonitis whether that is social media or television or some other source. Focus on yourself. Practice gratitude. Learn to compete only with what you did yesterday, the week before, or the year before. Record your growth and which skill you want to focus on in the future.

5. Listening to Others

You guessed it, remove yourself from the trigger if you can. If you can’t, try letting the ones telling you hurtful things how you feel about what they said. Or tell them you would appreciate them keeping their comments to themselves. 

6. Fear of Imperfection

Give yourself permission to be imperfect. Do it out loud if that helps. Sometimes you can trick your brain. For example, while writing my first draft, I tell my inner editor, “Your turn is the next draft. Be patient. You’ll get to fix all the problems soon.” Or trick your brain by telling yourself, “It’s okay, this is just for practice.”

7. Afraid of criticism 

Read the 1 star reviews of your favorite book(s) or product that you idealize.. Seriously, some of them may have valid points but you will find many that either missed the point entirely or never read the book. I’ll bet at least one of them makes you laugh out loud. If this is a difficult thing for you, don’t ask for or read criticisms of your work. You can have someone else read them for you and distill them into kind ways to help you grow as a creative. Or simply ignore them. Focus on learning and refining all your skills. 

8. Fear of the blank (page, canvas, screen, etc.)

Write or doodle the same thing over and over until your brain can’t stand it and writes something different. Free write about how you feel physically or emotionally. Or write about a passion: how someone pissed you off or how much you love and care for someone. Try setting a timer for 5 or 10 or 15 minutes and write nonstop for that time, then quit for the day. Write a letter to yourself or your hope or your favorite person. Re-write a scene or the end of a book you didn’t like. Copy the words directly out of a book you read and liked. Write about how you’d fix a world problem. The point is to practice a skill. Think of it as practice. 

9. Feeling Empty

This can be difficult. If this feeling is interfering with your daily life, with taking care of yourself, seek professional help. 

Sometimes, feeling empty is because you’ve exhausted yourself. Sometimes you have a creative slump — your creative mind needs a refill. Consume quality creativity. Go to a museum or gallery or library. Walk in the footsteps of a creator you admire. Read a biography about that person. Listen to inspiring music. Take a walk and appreciate nature. Explore your why. Why do you feel empty? What triggers that feeling? What would the opposite feel like? 

Read a good book, listen to great music, or get outside. Work in the garden or go to the nearest creek and dip your toes in. Study a master of your craft. Practice a basic skill. Do the easiest thing you can in your craft. Think of it as a warmup exercise before a marathon or like a singer running the scales to warm up her voice. Try something different — if you’re a sculptor, try writing a poem. If you’re a computer programmer, try moving to music. (Dance if you can, but if you can’t just let your body move in response to how the music makes you feel.)

10. Can’t say no.

You’ve got a good heart. You want to help everyone, be there for everyone. But you need to be there for yourself, too. Sometimes that 5 minute task or 30 minute visit can ruin your whole day. You worry about it beforehand, prepare for it, then worry about it afterwards. Just say no. 

Manage your commitments. Choose the ones you can do well within a limited time frame. Set a time to work on your creative project and protect that time. Let family and friends know this is your time and you won’t let non-emergencies interfere with that time. 

11. Too much unproductive time. 

Think you don’t have unproductive time? Log how much time you spend on what activities for a two- to four-week period. Then look at how you spent the time. If social media or computer games are sucking up your time, there are apps for that. They can “lock access” to programs for a time. You can also give yourself a time of day or number of hours per day you can enjoy those activities. Start small and increase it as you can. If that doesn’t work, try cold turkey. Remove the temptation for an hour, a day, a week. It might surprise you how much more productive you can be without that distraction.

It’s Your Creativity, Do it Your Way

We romanticize what being creative means. As if being creative comes from Hollywood, we think of creativity as breakthrough ideas, blockbuster movies, and Pulitzer Prize work. By doing that, we rob ourselves of the joy of smaller creative moments. 

Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.

Thomas Edison

Want to read more about improving your creativity skills? Read Your Enthusiastic Chaos is the First Step.

It’s your story. You have the power to change your beliefs, to be creative. Make a time and place to think about creativity. Appreciate the skills you’ve got and the ones you learn. Improve your skills. Observe. Practice. Dream. Do it the only right way — your way.

What is one misbelief you have or have had? What will you do to overcome it or if you’ve beat it, how did you do that?  

Image Credits

First image by elkimmelito from Pixabay 

Second image by John Hain from Pixabay 

Why we Believe in the Impossible

Since the beginning of time, people have believed in the supernatural to explain things they did not understand. As scientific knowledge and understanding grew, one would think belief in the supernatural would lessen or disappear. Turns out that’s not true. Why do we hold on to false beliefs? Why do we believe in the impossible? The bottom line? Why? We want to believe. (Every one of us.)

signpost states beware of: then points different directions to spiders, monsters, witches, skeletons, ghosts, and zombies--some of us believe in the impossible

What Are False Beliefs?

According to the American Psychological Association, the definition of false beliefs is “a mental proposition that is asserted with high confidence but lacks a basis in reality.” 

What is Reality? 

1: the quality or state of being real

2 a (1): a real event, entity, or state of affairs

his dream became a reality

(2): the totality of real things and events

trying to escape from reality

  b: something that is neither derivative nor dependent but exists necessarily

in reality: in actual fact

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Myths We Believe

Spooky image that could be fog on a camera lens or a ghostly face in the night sky--we believe in the impossible

A common myth many of us believe is that multi-tasking works. The facts show multi-tasking doesn’t work. “Research reveals that there are capacity limits when engaging in cognitively demanding tasks.”

We also like to believe that a loving and healthy environment can and will change any genetically determined attribute like intelligence. Nurturing is absolutely necessary, but “regardless of ability type, 50 to 70 percent of your talent potential is based solely on genetics.” 

There are people who believe Bigfoot exists, or the curse of a broken mirror, or that this group or action caused a natural disaster. 

From gods to ghosts to all kinds of monsters, despite no evidence supporting their existence, we believe.

Who Has False Beliefs?

We all do. Whether it was something we were “taught” as children, to beliefs we developed through experience, we each hold on to false beliefs.

Studies have shown that people who have and practice a religious belief are less likely to believe in the supernatural. But they may believe in multi-tasking or curses (sin) causing natural disasters.

And people who don’t have a strong religious belief are more likely to believe in the supernatural, like ghosts and Bigfoot and yeti.

There are people who believe that vaccines cause terrible diseases and disabilities. Yet, the science disproves that connection.

Every culture has its set of false beliefs. But not all cultures believe the same set.

Why We Believe in the Impossible

a ufo in the night sky shines a light down on two children--is it a false belief or is it why we believe in the impossible

Short answer? We’re wired that way. Our brains constantly seek cause and effect. 

The long answer? We don’t really know why people persist in their false beliefs despite evidence to the contrary. Some research shows that it’s not education levels or lack thereof. Many college students profess belief in ghosts and Bigfoot.

Do you know why you check your horoscope every morning? Or why you throw a pinch of salt over your shoulder?

I tell myself I do things “for fun.” And sometimes I can laugh and have fun with things like checking my horoscope. Sometimes I’m stunned at how relevant the horoscope seems. Intellectually I know I’m trying to find cause and effect because I want to repeat the good ones and stop the bad ones. Intellectually, I don’t expect those things to work—but I hope they will. Don’t you?

Why We Resist Changing False Beliefs

According to cognitive studies at Stanford, once we’ve formed an impression, we are remarkably resistant to change.

Scientists have identified many forms of “faulty thinking.” Confirmation bias is the tendency people have to embrace information that supports their beliefs and reject information that contradicts them. It’s the most studied of these forms of “faulty thinking.” 

Presented with someone else’s argument, we’re quite adept at spotting the weaknesses. Almost invariably, the positions we’re blind about are our own.

Elizabeth Kolbert, New Yorker, February 20, 2017

Can We Change Our False Beliefs? 

Psychologists think so. The site Psychology Today offers three steps to changing your false beliefs. Usually, psychologists are talking about false beliefs about ourselves. False beliefs like “I don’t deserve anyone’s love.” Or “I’m too clumsy to try to dance ” or “I’m too tone-deaf to sing.” Though with work we can change any false belief.

The problem with changing false beliefs is that the believer must want to change those beliefs. Observing all the hate mongering and tensions in America and other nations right now, I’m not sure anyone is up for the self-reflection needed.

Are All False Beliefs Bad?

snowy night in a pine forest with the flying reindeer against a full moon--believe in the impossible

Many false beliefs are bad for us. False beliefs can hold us back from our best lives. They create stereotypes that cause us to ignore differences between people. Some beliefs lead to a misinterpretation of evidence. These stereotypes and misinterpretations often lead to social disruptions, to hate and crimes against others.

Are some false beliefs good for us? Believing in Santa Claus and flying reindeer isn’t just fun. It might help develop counterfactual reasoning skills.

Engaging the border between what is possible and what is impossible is at the root of all scientific discoveries and inventions, from airplanes to the internet.

Jacqueline Woolley UT News

Legends of heroes and impossible tasks inspire us to be better people, to take leaps of faith. 

Things to Think About

In these days of contention and fear over politics, racial injustices, pandemic issues, natural disasters, and other important issues– both sides might consider reining in all the shouting and name calling. Confirmation bias means the position you’re opposing only sees the weaknesses in your argument no matter who’s “side” you are on.

Our arguing and fears have put us in a bad spot. Many of us feel a pressing need for change. Or is it for control? 

So many of the issues facing us today would be so much easier to deal with if we cooperated with one another. But too many of us are stuck in a “fight or flight” mode. Controlled by our monkey brains. Each “side” thinks the other side should do the “cooperating.” 

We believe in the impossible every day. Consider taking a moment to ask yourself what impossible thing you believe. Ask yourself how you are using confirmation bias. Honestly assess how you are cooperating with the “other” side.

And while you thinking—if we believe in the impossible—let’s believe we’ll have peace and a cooperative resolution to the problems we face today.