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Creativity

How You Can Create Your Own Creativity

Creativity is more than just innate talent; it's a skill anyone can improve.

iconsy/Canva
Source: iconsy/Canva

The narrative written for creativity has a type of magic that is normally reserved for fairy tales and certainly seems unattainable for the average person. Child prodigies, naturally gifted musicians, and talented artists make creativity seem like an ability that you are either born with or forever lacking. People look at professional artists and musicians and feel as though they are missing some talent factor that would allow them to master such skills with ease.

But the narrative of creativity is incomplete if this is all that is told of it. Certainly, there are those naturally talented individuals that are practically born with creative callings, but there is another type of creativity that doesn’t receive nearly as much credit. It isn’t quite as glamorous and doesn’t make the same memorable impression as a savant story does, nor would it be a very good fairy tale. But creativity isn’t only a spontaneous stroke of genius that comes to some people and not others—it can also be the outcome of intentional hard work and discipline. It’s a creativity that is made through patience, practice, and passion, and for most people, it’s what defines creativity.

The Untold Tale of Common Creativity

For many, creativity does not feel organic. If people continue to think of creativity as something that is passively bestowed upon a lucky few rather than something actively cultivated, then people will continue to label themselves as “uncreative.” Yet, aside from a lucky handful, the virtuosos and linguistic wunderkinds of the world are the results of endless practice and commitment to bettering their skillset. Creativity is just the execution of abstract skills, and some will be better than others. This is the case with any skill, be it playing tennis or learning to write in cursive. Why, then, do we treat creativity different from any other skill? Why do we continue to believe that it is any less acquirable with practice?

sketchify/Canva
Source: sketchify/Canva

Are Creative People Born or Made?

As with any skill, however, it would be ignorant to deny that genetics and natural ability do not play a role. While anyone can learn tennis and become proficient, those with more fast-twitch muscle fibers and innate hand-eye coordination will have an easier time developing this skill than someone who lacks both of these traits; meanwhile, cursive can be learned over time and will improve significantly with practice, but children who have better fine-motor skills may find learning cursive a quicker process.

Just as these skillsets can be developed more easily with certain genetics or predisposed traits, creativity has genetic factors that give some individuals the upper hand, although these factors are still being researched and understood. For example, assets like perfect pitch or photographic memory will aid a budding musician or painter considerably, but they are not a necessity for aspiring creators who wish to do the same. Regardless of whether you were born possessing a talent or had to inch your way towards it through painstakingly slow progress, creative talent is yours all the same.

iconsy/Canva
Source: iconsy/Canva

As with any nature versus nurture discussion, environmental factors also play a huge role. One study reported on the importance of being internally motivated by studying the difference that freedom of choice had in the quality of children’s artwork. Needless to say, there are plenty of factors, such as mentors and instructors, education, positive reinforcement, and access to resources, that play a large part in an individual’s ability to develop creative skills, leading some to seem more innately talented than others depending on when exposure to these factors was made possible.

There is, however, some research studied by M. Layne Kalbfleisch that supports the validity of naturally talented individuals that extends beyond heritable phenotypes. One research study done on the functional neural anatomy of talent found that certain cognitive traits can be used to define talent. Examining the neural functions and circuitry of children labeled as “creatively gifted,” the study found that there are actual idiosyncrasies in their thought processes. These children exhibited neural functions that showed their intellectual abilities were far more developed than their emotional condition, contrary to the hypothesis that emotional development precedes cognitive development, and gave a concrete biological theory as to what made these children naturally gifted. This study, among others, helped compare the unusual neural functions and synapses of individuals labeled as gifted compared to the average person and give scientific evidence of natural talent.

Moreover, research studies do not discount the possibility of adult individuals becoming creatively talented over time. There has been plenty of research on neuroplasticity regarding skill acquisition, such as learning music, and many show that our brains respond with corresponding adaptions. Although some individuals are born with cognitive hallmarks of talent, the human brain is well equipped for picking up new skills along the way. Patiently working to improve our creativity will allow our brains to adapt over time, regardless of where we started in the process.

Creativity Is a Skill

Yet, this begs the question: If it isn’t innate, is it still creativity? Or is it just a skill? Perhaps a better question might be, why must these two things be mutually exclusive? Another Psychology Today article written by Robert Epstein discusses the brain’s ability to adapt for creativity, and it aptly describes creativity as “an extension of what you already know" (the article also includes actions for boosting creative thought and is another wonderful read on this topic). Sure, creativity is a skill that can be learned and improved upon over time, but it is inarguably innate for everyone in the form of the thoughts and behaviors that serve as the basis for imaginative creation.

Steve Johnson/Pixabay
Source: Steve Johnson/Pixabay

So why do so few people feel like they can develop creative skills? Beyond believing that they do not possess the innate talent for creativity, many people are intimidated by the thought of beginning to tackle such a daunting skill that seemingly comes so naturally to some individuals. Unlike children, who simply take pleasure in creating and are not fazed by the outcomes, adults will often feel frustrated and embarrassed to spend time on something at which they feel they are subpar.

Adults tend to approach tasks with predefined goals as far as how long it should take to master certain skills, using life experiences that children do not yet have to define what these time frames are; consequently, disappointment ensues when these time-sensitive goals are not met. In fact, many people feel that they don’t have time in their day to dedicate towards developing creative skills to begin with. Removing time- and performance-related expectations from practicing new skills is key to shifting to the mindset that creativity can be developed in anyone.

Teach Yourself Creativity

There are many methods out there for learning and practicing a new skill. Methods such as the 10,000-hour rule, complete immersion, and the Suzuki method are just a few out there that focus on the importance of practicing a skill. Notably, these methods are used by professionals in every field of life, and yet none of them distinguish a process separate for those who are innately talented versus those who are trying to become talented. This should emphasize how creativity is never present if practice and persistence are not. Even the “naturally gifted” must develop their creativity, and yet the only requirement for using these methods are commitment, discipline, and patience.

sketchify/Canva
Source: sketchify/Canva

Deciding to improve your creativity does not mean aspiring to reach an unattainable level of perfection. People often forget that it is okay to be average at a skill, or feel that the label “creative” only applies to those who can produce beautiful paintings with ease or scribble down best-selling novels in one sitting. If there is a skill or process that you find enjoyable, find ways to incorporate it into your daily routine and drop the idea that being just okay at something isn’t a good enough goal to set for yourself. Changing up habits to allow for more creative development can be as simple as writing down any interesting thoughts you have, changing your surroundings to stimulate new thoughts, or dedicating 15 minutes each day to doodling in a journal.

Creativity is not some unattainable gift of nature, nor is it a skill that requires hours of dedication each day. Being creative is simply a skill that can be improved upon with time and practice, and it shouldn’t be a term that is reserved for describing the gifted few. Whether you were born with a creative mind or you painstakingly work towards one each day, creative talent is still yours for the taking.

It’s time we rewrote the tale of creativity.

References

Kalbfleisch M.L. Functional neural anatomy of talent. Anat Rec B New Anat. 2004 Mar;277(1):21-36. doi: 10.1002/ar.b.20010. PMID: 15052651.

Sternberg, Robert J. The Nature of Creativity: Contemporary Psychological Perspectives. Cambridge Univ. Pr., 1988, pp. 11–29.

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