Researching online the definition of creativity I came up with “the use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness”. Most people see creativity as a sacred realm, haunted by the privileged few who are somehow blessed with special gifts and insight. In this article I want to debunk a few myths around creativity particularly in regard to its origin and accessibility.
Creativity is a right brain activity
We’ve always been led to believe that creativity emanates from the right hemisphere of the brain and that logical, organised, analytical and strategic thinking resides in the left brain. However, a recent study published in the March 2020 edition of NeuroImage of guitar musicians, both experienced and inexperienced at improvisation, indicated that creativity is a right-brain ability when a person deals with an unfamiliar situation but that creativity draws on well-learned, left-hemisphere routines when a person is experienced at a task.
The latest findings from the realm of neuroscience (Scientific American) found that creativity does not involve a single brain region or single side of the brain. Instead, the entire creative process – from preparation to incubation to illumination to verification – consists of many interacting cognitive processes (both conscious and unconscious) and emotions. Essentially it becomes a dance that involves all parts of the brain. Also, it depends on what you’re actually attempting to create as to how the different brain regions are employed to handle the specific task in hand.
Additionally, creative people tended to have smaller connections between the two hemispheres of the brain (the left brain and right brain), called the corpus callosum, which could help give ideas more time to develop. Further studies show evidence connecting a creative mind with more grey brain matter and higher levels of serotonin. Serotonin is a happy hormone, which can be boosted by sunlight, massage, exercise, and remembering happy events. So remember this when you come to read the section on how to overcome our creative blocks/hurdles.
We are not all born to be creative
The biggest misconception is that only certain people are born creative. This is mostly a belief rooted in fear, fear that we are not courageous or good enough, that we will fail no matter what. Being in this place of fear is contracted energy and is a direct way we self-sabotage our ability to create. We stay in a safe zone of “proven” processes, a place of mediocrity, rather than venturing forth into the big unknown of uncharted territory (uncharted in our mind and heart).
We are all creative geniuses. We all have the potential to be creatively great as long as we find a connection to our higher self. The doorway to our creativity is through our heart. Creative expression is so much more grounded when it comes from the heart!
Valerie van Mulukom, a researcher from Coventry University who specialises in the cognitive ties to the imagination, says that we all have imaginative ability to various degrees, and it’s difficult to conceive where humankind would be without it.
Psychology experts from Harvard, Yale and others using MRIs in 2018 suggested that an individual’s creativity is a product of both genetics and experience, with the latter playing a bigger role. Valerie van Mulukom says the same: the longer creatives engage in their particular art, the more likely you are to come up with creative ideas. Contemplate how long Pablo Picasso honed his craft. Don’t let the creativity of an artist with a decade of experience discourage you as a beginner.
But there is another aspect of creativity that is not based on physiology but psychology. In other words, watching someone else be creative, viewing a fantasy film and unstructured play encourages new insights, analytical thinking AND creativity.
Creativity is a flash of inspiration
You’re probably accustomed to seeing the image of a lightbulb in connection with creativity and invention. But creativity is not a flash of insight or Eureka moment – and Einstein would be the first to agree with that. Great ideas usually don’t drop into our laps like a bolt of lightning. Finding creative brilliance is not a linear process. It’s more like a wheel that needs a little pressure and effort to get going. Once some energy is applied it builds momentum and it gets you moving forward.
Research backs this observation up, showing that insights are actually the culmination of prior hard work on a problem. This thinking is then given time to incubate in the subconscious mind as we connect threads before the ideas pop out as new eureka-like innovations. Einstein spent a lot of time sitting in his boat incubating before connections became clear.
In a similar vein, evolutionary biologist Joe Henrich of the University of British Columbia History observes that inventions (what we consider to be the ultimate in creativity) are invariably built on earlier findings that are recombined and improved upon and which no single human being could ever design within his/her lifetime. “Rather than the product of individual innovators, these inventions can be thought of as the product of our societies”.
What blocks our creative juices?
There are, however, many barriers to recognising the creative genius within us, which include:
- Our own self-limiting beliefs and the beliefs of others about us.
- The labels we attach to ourselves and those that are imposed on us by others.
- Our inability to tap into our heart energy to free the creative genie within us.
How do we overcome our creative blocks and hurdles?
- We start by removing any and all resistances to loving and believing in ourselves.
- We foster self-compassion to open us up to greater self-love, self-forgiveness and self-expression.
- We tap into our heart energy with heart breathing exercises, meditations and affirmations.
- We value and look after ourselves by having sufficient rest/sleep, the right food, plenty of water, and exercise.
- We walk out in nature to breathe in the raw energy of its creative life force.
- We increase our exposure to sunlight as a source of creative serotonin.
- We treat ourselves to a massage.
- We watch children at play or watch videos of ourselves as children to reconnect with our innate ability to play and explore.
- We indulge in playfulness, in fun and pleasurable activities. In doing so, we explore our childlike ability to be curious.
- We experiment with role-playing, amateur dramatics and charades.
- We start to explore creative outlets (dancing, singing, painting, writing and so on) – and most importantly, we learn to be “messy” before we start to perfect our “art”. The art of creativity lies in practising and not expecting it to be an overnight success.
- We start to believe in the fact that by changing the way we see things, the things we see change (Gandhi).
- We should stop the multi-tasking and introduce a bit more boredom or free time to indulge in day-dreaming. According to Neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley, M.D., Ph.D., today’s sense of always being connected and always having something to do diminishes creativity.
- Reduce stress and time constraints in our life, as creativity flourishes in a relaxed state of mind.
- We seek to always learn and experiment with new ideas, skills and knowledge. Thus begins the divergent thinking process, encouraging an ability to explore multiple solutions to a problem. Harvard researchers spent half a decade studying the world’s greatest innovators to only find out what Steve Jobs championed so well. They found that innovators “associate” ideas from different fields and apply them to the product or service they’re working on. Experiences inspired Steve Jobs’ best ideas. For example, Jobs took calligraphy in college; a course with no practical application to his life. It all came back later with the Macintosh, the first computer with beautiful typeface, fonts, and calligraphy.
- We ask what makes our heart sing to find our creative source.
- When thinking about being creative in promoting a business, we need to stop selling products and services and start enriching lives. Nobody cares about the product or service, they only care about themselves and how they can achieve their dreams. So help them do that!
- When brainstorming a new business venture, remember this:
• David S. Rosen, Yongtaek Oh, Brian Erickson, Fengqing (Zoe) Zhang, Youngmoo E. Kim, John Kounios. Dual-process contributions to creativity in jazz improvisations: An SPM-EEG study. NeuroImage, 2020; 213: 116632 DOI