- All too often, we use certain conversational phrases that impede our creative output.
- Negative assumptions about creativity hinder our imagination and innovation.
- Shifting from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset has a positive effect on creative output.
There are several phrases that often turn up in casual conversations, group meetings, or internal thought processes that hint at our embrace of a creative lifestyle (or not). Whether the communication is about family matters, work projects, or encounters with others in social situations, certain statements reveal our comfort level with creativity. Knowing they exist is the first step toward eliminating them and re-focusing our efforts on a more creative lifestyle.
1. “I’m not very creative.”
Here’s an immutable fact of life: Creativity is seldom, if ever, taught in school. A large percentage of our educational experiences (K-12) are focused on getting the “right answer” (e.g., What is the state capital of South Dakota? How much does a gallon of water weigh?). We have been educated to believe that for every question there is a single response, a single solution.
Later in life, when faced with situations in which there might be a host of potential responses, our creativity often shuts down because we haven’t been taught how to think divergently. And, so, we often resort to “I’m not very creative.”
Solution: Instead of constantly asking ourselves convergent questions (e.g., What’s the solution to this challenge?), we need to regularly practice divergent question-asking—questions that generate a multiplicity of responses (e.g., What are some different ways I could look at this? How would this be solved 100 years from now? What if I was younger, how would I approach this?).
2. “It can’t be done!”
There is a region of the human brain known as the amygdala, which serves as an automatic alarm system whenever there is danger (or the possibility of danger). This is the brain’s default position—that is, if something new and unusual appears in front of us, we have a natural tendency to picture it as harmful or dangerous. As a result, we will either protect ourselves or flee from the potential danger.
In evolutionary terms, this is how prehistoric humans survived a harsh and often unpredictable environment. But in modern terms, this means that new ideas are often viewed as dangerous ideas. And, if an idea is dangerous, then it must be squelched.
Solution: Our experiences have taught us that logical thinking is systematic and dependable. That’s true—but too much logical thinking crushes our creative instincts and frequently prevents the generation of signature ideas. We often sacrifice creativity for efficiency.
One of the best ways to break yourself from this creative yoke is to create unconventional uses for common objects. For example, what are some alternate uses for socks?
Consider these: A cover for your golf clubs, hand warmers on a cold morning walk, or a protective “bag” to carry eggs. Use them to dry the dishes or to create a surrealistic mural on your living room wall (dip them into paint and paint away). You also have a set of puppets to tell a story to a child—draw a face on each one and create your own story characters. Or, cut them down and use them as ear warmers on a winter walk. (Try this strategy with a hammer, a paper clip, a tennis racket, or a kitchen spatula.)
In so doing, you will have broken away from logical thinking (e.g., It can’t be done!) and opened up your mind to new ideas and new possibilities.
3. “I’ve always done it this way.”
Some people are locked into a “fixed mindset.” They are incapable of embracing new ideas just as they are incapable of embracing change. They resist change in themselves, in others, or in an organization.
For such people, change is difficult to fathom—it’s an intimidating proposition. It’s a journey into new territory and, for some, that’s both frightening and worrisome. They are content right where they are, so why do things differently? Why venture into the unknown when the “known” is very comfortable just as it is? We’re in a rut!
Solution: My fellow Psychology Today contributor Mark Travers suggests that we need to constantly embrace new experiences—activities outside our comfort zone. In short, we should provide ourselves with opportunities to spawn a plethora of ideas instead of always focusing on “correct ideas” (quantity over quality).
Reading books we wouldn’t normally read, traveling to sites never before visited, exploring new cultures, eating ethnic foods, or listening to new music helps us do that. “Same old, same old” is comfortable, but seldom generates new perspectives.
4. “What will people think?”
Many people believe that creative ideas require approval or validation from others. We often think that good ideas require the endorsement of colleagues, family members, or acquaintances. “If it’s a good idea, then others should be able to see its worth,” we often say to ourselves.
However, looking for the approval of others severely limits our creative spirit since the emphasis is more on acceptance than on generation. For example, Thomas Edison (“The Wizard of Menlo Park”) seldom asked for approval or permission.
Solution: Creative people produce novel ideas irrespective of what others may think. Their creative spirit is not based on the approbation of others; it is sustained by a constant generation of open-ended inquiries—questions that begin with “What if...”
Watch a child finger painting and you’ll understand (“What if I put a purple circle here?” “What if I draw a squiggly yellow line over there?”). There’s no right or wrong design. That’s because finger painting stimulates creative expression—alerting kids to the power of their minds without the approval of adults. Interestingly, the answer to creative refreshment often lies in our childhood experiences. Like messing with different colors!
Individuals uncomfortable with their natural sense of creativity tend to approach ideas with a rigid mindset. They’re comfortable with the status quo because it’s safe and secure.
Creative folks, on the other hand, embrace a growth mindset that opens new doors for examination and exploration. Theirs is a philosophy wrapped in a positive perspective—a view that creativity is all about new ideas, new possibilities, and new adventures. It is also a constant process of personal evolution throughout their lives.
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Travers, Mark. “3 Ways Blue-Skying Can Reignite Your Creativity.” Psychologytoday.com (November 3, 2023).
Fredericks, Anthony D. From Fizzle to Sizzle: The Hidden Forces Crushing Your Creativity and How You Can Overcome Them. (Indianapolis, IN: Blue River Press, 2022).