“I’m not a creative person.”
You’ve probably heard someone say those words. Worse, you might have said them yourself.
I get it. Your job might not be in a creative field. You work all day and take care of your home and family. Maybe you’d love to be an artist or a writer, but you tell yourself that there’s just not a creative bone in your body.
As someone who has worked with a lot of students, as well as new writers, I’ve heard lots of people complain that they’re just not very creative. And I don’t accept the premise, as I believe we’re all creative in our own way.
If you’re reading this, you might not really believe me, or you might have locked horns with someone in your own life who bemoans their lack of creativity. Let’s take a look at where this mistaken belief comes from, a little of the truth behind it, and what is really going on.
We were born creative
All children are creative geniuses.
I remember how much I loved playing make-believe. My friends and I would make up stories on the playground, pretending to be superheroes or other TV characters. I was in about 2nd grade when I learned how to do the Vulcan salute, because you had to know that if you wanted to join our own Starship Enterprise, complete with construction paper insignia! And when I was home, I’d create insanely complex stories with my Barbies (and my one Ken doll, who was either the luckiest or unluckiest man on the planet, depending on the day!). I’d even pretend I was in a commercial when I was in the tub, waxing eloquent over the extraordinary properties of shampoo and conditioner.
But that was childhood. I don’t play with dolls anymore and I can’t remember the last time I pretended to be a fictional character. I can imagine that for some people growing up feels like pulling the plug on creativity and watching it drain out of us as we got ‘adult’ responsibilities and saw the serious side of the world.
But here’s a question: Did we really become less creative, or is something else at work here?
Creativity and the aging process
Years ago I encountered a theory that explains why the creative spark seems to fizzle out as we get older. It has to do with the calcification of the pineal gland, a tiny endocrine organ located near the center of the brain. The pineal gland secretes melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate many of our biological rhythms, including our cycle of waking and sleeping and the menstrual cycle, and also controls some of our reproductive hormones.
Many people consider the pineal gland to be the location of our ‘third eye’ and the 6th Chakra. This association appears to date back millennia but is first attributed to Decartes. In the 19th century, Theosophy founder Madame Blavatsky connected the pineal gland to the Hindu concept of the third eye. To this day, many believe the pineal gland to be the seat of intuition, inspiration, and creativity.
And before you think I’ve gone all woo-woo on you, it’s not such a far-fetched idea. Back in 1966, the Atlantic suggested the pineal gland had some connection to the production of serotonin and might be involved in LSD hallucinations in some way. And scientists today recognize that the pineal gland is involved in the production of N,N-dimethyltryptamine—also known as DMT. DMT is a drug our bodies produce naturally but which, when consumed, causes hallucinations. As cited in a research article from the National Institute of Health, DMT “was suggested to be exclusively generated by the pineal gland at birth, during dreaming, and/or near death to produce ‘out of body’ experiences.”
Over time, however, due to a buildup of fluoride, calcium, and phosphorus, the pineal gland can become calcified, and scientists estimate that calcification has occurred in 40% of Americans by age 17. While it’s unclear exactly how this affects the human body, it may be one of the reasons why people often become less creative as they age. Scientists are uncertain whether the pineal gland can be decalcified, and as a natural consequence of aging are also uncertain as to whether it matters.
Some websites suggest you can reverse pineal calcification by limiting the intake of fluoride, skipping calcium supplements, and avoiding processed foods. For most people, these are harmless suggestions that might help. And herbs that stimulate brain function and lucid dreaming and creativity, such as astragalus, blue lotus, and ginkgo, could also make a difference. But there is no hard science to prove any of these things work, or matters (yet), so it’s up to you to do your own research.
Creativity gets in the way of real life
If we assume for the moment that scientists are correct and the pineal gland becomes less effective as we get older, how do we explain the fact that many people are wickedly creative into old age?
While I do believe that there are physical forces that hinder some of our creative impulses, there are a number of other things at play—and the good news is that most of these things can be reversed.
- Impatience. People who engage in creative pursuits without a lot of practice or training might get frustrated and blame their ‘failures’ on a lack of creativity and good ideas. But that’s unfair. If you’re writing your very first short story you’re unlikely to be as good as someone who has been writing for 20 years. If you’re trying to arrange flowers and the results are a hot mess, that might just be due to a lack of experience or understanding of basic design principles.
- Fear. Some people are insecure about their ideas and are afraid to put their creations out in the world. But for others, the fear has such control over them that they’re afraid to even try. They’re so certain that anything they might do will be terrible that they won’t even try. They just write it off as “not being creative” and think those words will somehow magically protect them from criticism and ridicule. The cure for this is to recognize that even great authors and artists fail at least some of the time. After all, Van Gogh couldn’t sell his own paintings in his lifetime—but that didn’t mean he wasn’t a genius.
- Pragmatism. We have lives to live, jobs to do, children to care for. There’s simply no time to be creative, right? I call bullshit on this excuse. Try carving out 30 minutes a day to a creative pursuit—doodle during your lunch hour, write a story while on the train, bring a camera along when you’re at the park with the kids.
- Electronics. Come on, you knew I was going there. Video games, computers, televisions, cell phones—these are all the enemy of creativity. Sure, you can use a computer to write a novel or create an artistic masterpiece, but more often than not, we use all of these devices not to create but to escape. Reducing screen time can give your creative juices a real boost.
We’re ALL creative
When asked, some people will shrug and just claim that they’re not creative. They’ve tried, but it just doesn’t happen for them as it does for other people.
But is it actually true? In her book Embrace Your Weird, Felicia Day writes,
“We are creative EVERY DAY. Creativity isn’t just about painting a Picasso (only Picasso could do that), it’s about the way we uniquely navigate our day-to-day worlds.”
Every time you cook and deviate from a recipe, you’re being creative. Whenever you take a different route home, you’re being creative. If you have to figure out how to make ends meet this month, or decide what to get your best friend for her birthday, or solve a challenging situation at work, guess what? That’s creativity.
How will you be creative?
By this point, hopefully you believe me when I tell you that I am absolutely, 100% positive that you’re a creative person. Maybe you’re not the ingenious scamp who created massive forts out of cardboard boxes or doll jewelry from aluminum cans, but there’s still a brilliant mind inside you.
If you want to take a step forward, here are a few things you can do to test your creative muscles.
- Buy Embrace Your Weird. Seriously. It’s a great book.
- Try an adult coloring book. I’m a big fan of the high-quality books by Joanna Basford, but you have lots of other choices.
- Go on a photowalk around your neighborhood or office, and use your cellphone as your camera. Try to take unusual and interesting shots of the mundane and extraordinary things you find along the way.
Or choose your own adventure. You can make up new lyrics to your favorite songs. Paint your fingernails with silly designs. Take up a creative hobby like knitting, gardening, baking, or playing an instrument. Try a painting or drawing class. There are so many ways you can exercise your creativity, and the best part—they’re really fun!