Creativity is scary. I know this to be true. Even after sitting down to write over 1,000 songs, I still hesitate just slightly before I start writing the next one. As if that weren’t proof enough, I’ve even been dreading sitting down to write this article about why we’re averse to creativity. However, I’m also living proof that there are things we can do to get past our initial reluctance. The observations and tips below have helped me over the years and I hope they’ll do the same for you on your creative journey.
Why we’re averse to creativity
1. Creativity means departing from the status quo
The status quo is comfortable. It’s working just fine. Why mess up a good thing? It’s never appealing to depart from the norm especially when the results are uncertain. Doing something different from the way it’s “always been done” is a risk and there’s a part of our survival instinct that tells us to avoid risk. The reality, though, is that while the status quo may appear safe, it isn’t. Our world is constantly changing. The real risk is in failing to evolve and change.
2. Being creative risks appearing foolish in front of your colleagues
The workplace is its own universe with its own hierarchy and aspirations. The goal is to do good work, demonstrate competence and control and move ahead. Stepping away from our areas of mastery risks showing a side of ourselves that might compromise the façade of control which is unappealing at best. It should help to remember that we’re all human and failure and mistakes are a part of the learning and growing process. It takes genuine courage to put ourselves out there in a creative way.
3. It takes real effort to be creative
Creativity requires an initial investment of energy and attention – or as flow expert Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes it “activation energy” – to get started. In other words, it’s not as simple as sitting down to do a task that we already understand and control. Creativity requires focus and a willingness to accept the uncertainly around the outcome. This can be discouraging but, in my experience, it’s only tough for a moment and then the benefits of exploring your creativity begin to accrue.
What we can do about it
1. Design an environment that is conducive to creativity
Creating a physical space that is designed to lessen distractions and increase your focus makes the creative act much more accessible. But it’s not just the physical space, it’s the headspace as well. Designating a time of day – even just ten minutes – to work on your creative projects also will make it easier to dig in.
2. Break your creativity down into manageable pieces
One of my favorite expressions when it comes to any daunting task is “eat the elephant one bite at a time.” Looking at creativity as a monolithic goal or event can be too much to contemplate but breaking down your creative efforts into small pieces can make them more manageable. Another benefit of starting small is that you’ll begin to develop a tolerance for creativity making it possible to eventually do more and more without feeling overwhelmed. But, again, it helps to start small.
3. Get clear on how you’d like to approach your creative goals.
As George Leonard states in his book “Mastery,” “clarity creates energy.” The better we understand what our creative goals are, the more motivated we are to achieve them. Early on, we might not yet have refined how we’d like to use our creativity but the more we explore, the more clear the big picture will become. When this happens, the boost of energy we receive makes overcoming our aversion significantly easier.
While it may be common to discuss the benefits of creativity, it can be useful to acknowledge that we’re also averse to creativity at some level. By simply recognizing that this is the case, some of the power of our aversion is diminished and creativity itself becomes more accessible. And, by the way, no one ever said that significant rewards – like the kind that creativity offers – were supposed to be easy. If being willing to make the effort to get past your aversions is the work, then you will have earned the amazing benefits that creativity provides.
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