YOU HAVE BEEN LIED TO: You Are Creative And So Is Everyone Else
How do you define creativity? What person comes to mind when you hear the word, creative? Is it a famous artist like Picasso or Dali? Or how about a contemporary writer like Elizabeth Gilbert? Or Einstein? Or Tesla?
The answer will surprise you.
The answer is you.
You are creative. You were born creative. Everyone is. The difference lies in how you think about yourself and how much access you have to your own imagination.
There are three things at work here. First, you have to throw away what adults have been telling you for your entire life. Second, you have to figure out how to access your imagination. Third, you have to learn how to utilize your imagination on a regular basis. These are different skills. You have to use your creativity or else it will get rusty and may even waste away. Hint: fear cripples the flow of creativity.
I’ve spent my entire lifetime trying to understand where my creative thoughts come from and why I have in recent years been able to access and use my creativity on a daily basis. The reason is simple: I’m fascinated by creativity and I’ve spent a lifetime trying to recover my child-like curiosity. I nearly lost it in late adolescence and now I’m laser-focused on studying, nurturing and exploring the most mysterious part of my brain that continues to surprise and bring joy to life. Curiosity and creativity are the same things to me.
Picasso said it best, “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist when [we] grow up.”
The reason you don’t think you’re creative is that it has been snuffed out of you, little by little, year by year. In school, we were conditioned to think that it is better to develop our prefrontal cortexes, not the other other areas of our brains.
So, what does the prefrontal cortex do?
The most typical psychological term for functions carried out by the prefrontal cortex area is executive function. Executive function relates to abilities to differentiate among conflicting thoughts, determine good and bad, better and best, same and different, future consequences of current activities, working toward a defined goal, prediction of outcomes, expectation based on actions, and social “control” (the ability to suppress urges that, if not suppressed, could lead to socially unacceptable outcomes). -Wikipedia
Why is this important? What’s the relationship to creativity?
It’s important to figure this out because my very life depends on it.
I have the opposite problem from most people in an industrialized modern Western world. I am exceedingly creative, spontaneous and on most days, I’m seized by an enormous amount of ideas. I have trouble deciding which ideas to flesh out, and I very rarely consider any possible monetary outcomes. My creativity feels divorced from executive functions. This reality is literally destroying my life (that’s another post). I cannot find a career that can properly utilize my creative mind and I’m not executive functioning enough to figure out a concrete plan on my own.
My ideas and creative impulses are like big, wandering cats who roam the vast grasslands of my brain in search of only one thing: their next fatty meal.
Corralling these ideas into a coherent plan for making money feels alien and hurts my brain. My brain actually feels a significant amount of strain whenever I try to pull together a big plan for making money from my creativity. I’ve started and abandoned several creative businesses in the last ten years. None could hold my interest because they were too one-dimensional. Artistic and scientific experimentation are large components of my daily life, and so any business I create must contain these components.
I’m also obsessed with novelty. Once I master a skill, I’m ready to move to another foreign land where I don’t understand the rules. As an example, I taught myself web design ten years ago, learned Japanese, had a few art and photography shows, won some video contests, became a graphic artist (with zero schooling), taught English in Japan, sold cars and just recently self-published my first book. My resume makes little sense to the modern world that fetishizes specialization and focus. No wonder I never hear back from hiring managers. They never know where to “put me”. I’m scared I’ll die in poverty, debt and sadness unless I figure out a solution to my “creative” problems.
Most people will just say, “You have ADD.” I don’t think it’s that simple.
Back to the prefrontal cortex. It turns out that a scientific study of creativity using jazz improvisational pianists by Limb and Braun indicates that the prefrontal cortex shuts down when musicians are improvising. So, the part of our brains that makes judgements and predicts outcomes has to be temporarily paralyzed in order for us to be uber creative.
If you are suffering now because you’ve neglected your imagination over your lifetime, you’re not alone. The reason our culture fetishizes creativity is that it is designed to snuff it out. The slick marketers want you to believe that you need to buy a product in order to “find your passion.” These people know that you have been brainwashed and they will take advantage of your handicap.
The good news is you can regain your imagination if you want to.
The bad news is that there have never been more distractions in history.
Part of the reason I’ve become acutely aware of my creative thoughts and ideas in general is that I spend about 8 hours per day alone with my thoughts. I am a delivery driver. I got rid of my boss and stress-inducing office environment. I deleted office gossip. I created a quiet space where I can hear myself think. It took months of this kind of work before the stress left my body. It had become semi-hard-wired in my system. During the first month as a delivery driver, I nervously bit the insides of my mouth until it bled. I was really neurotic and full of cortisol, even though there were no more threats left. The shadows of past threats still danced inside my mind and created havoc in my body.
I realize very few people have so many hours alone every day. But it is my understanding that quiet time is essential in order to access your innermost creativity, at least it is in the beginning. But you don’t need 8 hours, 1 hour would suffice. (And I’m currently going crazy with 8 hours of alone time. I’ve learned enough information to last 3 lifetimes now.)
If you want your creativity back, temporarily paralyze that part of your brain that is judging yourself. When you hear a little whisper from your curiosity, stop and find a quiet place to listen to it. Pay attention to it then feed it. Do this without judging. If you think your “idea is dumb”, you will forever lose your imagination. Children never consider outcomes or failure. Neither should you. Embrace whatever idea naturally comes to your mind. Do this over and over and you’ll be able to access it every day. You will have your imagination back.
I don’t paint but I painted a picture the other day when my daughter was painting. I forced myself off my smartphone and decided to be a present parent.
As I put down the paint, I released all control, and used the automatic method, which means I emptied my mind and let the paint decide what it was going to be. The paint decided to be a bunch of flowers from a foreign land. Below is the result:
Take it back. Your imagination, that is.
Stellabelle is the pseudonym for Leah Stephens. She just finished her first non-fiction book, Un-Crap Your Life.
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