Tuesday, September 27, 2011

what I learned about creativity

It's easy to think that creativity is limited to just artists. That it is some elusive force that you can't control, but can only tap into. That some people have it and other people don't. That there is an epic struggle that you must undergo to have creativity bestowed upon you. But after my creativity call this month, I came to the understanding that creativity is more about HOW you go about the things you do than WHAT exactly it is you go about.

1. Be aware
We defined creativity as doing something new, or doing something you've done before in a way you've never done it before. This creates new neuronal connections in your brain, and fills a very technical definition of creativity. (See more about this at my friend Gwen's blog here.) To create these connections, you could do something simple like brush your teeth with the non-dominant hand, or head to work via a route you don't normally take. This awkwardness or intentionality drives you to a greater sense of awareness of the present moment, and that awareness is an important part of creativity.

We talk about "flow" and being really absorbed in a creative process, be it writing a play or designing a business plan. And in this state the hours can fly by and you're not at all aware of your surroundings. (Some people (who are not me) can even ignore their bodies in this kind of flow and go without eating all day long.) So how is this flow (that ignores a rumbly tummy) an awareness of the present moment? It's by focusing intently on the work at hand -- the work in the present moment -- that our attention and awareness are drawn to the present.

2. Be expressive
There are two kinds of creativity -- the kind that stays in your head and goes unexpressed or unidentified (passive) and the kind that gets shared in some kind of medium like paint or song or words or business or your outfit (active). And you can be passively creative, solely experiencing your unique perspective on the world, or you can share that perspective with others. And it's this second kind of creativity that I think most people associate with the term "creativity."

It's kind of a tree-falls-in-the-forest situation; if you're creative without awareness or expression, are you really creative? Or are you on auto-pilot?

3. Be courageous
There are plenty of obstacles to being creative. Fear of rejection keeps plenty of people from sharing the passive creativity they enjoy in their own heads -- "oh, I can't paint that, they'll hate it." The worry that the creative project is not good enough, not creative enough, unacceptable, etc. keeps plenty of people from bringing their visions to light. And what about that nagging need to finish a project instead of allowing yourself to simply play creatively? Or the trials of being labeled as "the creative one" and having to live up to that? All of these things can be a tall order. That's why it's important to be both creative and curious with your creativity. Remove the rules that say there needs to be a finished product. Be brave enough to challenge your own notions of creativity -- that, in and of itself, is an act of creativity!

These are three simple things you can do to have more creativity in your life. Be aware, be expressive, be courageous. The steps you take in any of these directions don't have to be grand, either. I was hiking down a very slippery trail recently and found that the placement of my feet was incredibly creative -- my body was orienting itself to the trail without my conscious mind's involvement. And if I hadn't had the awareness in the present moment of what was happening, I might have missed it all together.

(And if I hadn't been expressive or courageous, you might have missed it, too!)

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