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.
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:
- 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.
- Self-critical – I have no talent. I’m not as good as (fill-in-the-blank).
- 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.
- 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.
- Listening to Others – (fill-in-the-blank) says I’m not original enough. My mother says it’s cute that I try.
- 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.
- 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.
- Fear of the blank page (or canvas or screen, etc.) – I don’t know where to start.
- Feeling empty or a longing for something – I’ve got nothing left. I don’t know if that’s the right thing for me.
- 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.
- 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
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.
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.
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?