Define Creativity — I Dare You

What comes to mind when you hear the word “creative”?

Dazzling? Fabulous? Breathtaking? Totally original? Completely outside the box?

Do you think of creativity as mysterious? Elusive? Unattainable? Easy for the lucky creative folks but impossible for you?

When was the last time you examined your ideas about creativity? How do you determine if something is creative or not? What triggers your muse, makes you want to paint or write, then dashes your hopes to the ground?

What whacky ideas about creativity are you harboring in your treasure chest of self-imposed limitations?

Think about what you’re thinking

Words are powerful things. The longer they hang around unexamined, the bigger the punch they pack. I’m afraid we’re all guilty of taking our words lightly. We routinely praise or condemn ourselves in our own eyes without giving a thought to what we actually mean.

Think about it. If you believe that “being creative” means to be absolutely, totally, completely original, are you likely to think that one of your own thoughts is creative? Of course not.

If exerting effort to create art automatically means you’re not creative (because, of course, truly creative folks mindlessly exude artistry from every pore), you’re not going to give your own work much credence.

If there’s an exclusive group with a monopoly on creativity, where does that leave you? In fact, if every creative act has to knock the whole world’s socks off, where does that leave any of us?

Here are four exercises for digging those moldy ideas out of your mind, giving them a good airing, and then obliterating them forever.

1.  Creativity Is…

Creativity is…what?

Sit down and write for as long as you like, the longer the better. Keep your pen moving. No censors allowed in this exercise. And no reading until you’re done.

When you think you’ve got it all down on paper, find a safe place and incinerate it. Bury the ashes or toss them in the wind. Get rid of them!! That definition is over and done with.

Now start thinking from your new clean slate about what creativity REALLY means to you.

Create a definition you can live with. Start fresh. You ARE creative!

2.  The Rules of Creativity

Carry some paper around with you and jot down every rule you catch yourself thinking about creativity.

For example, you may have a habit of doodling when you’re on the phone, then tossing the paper away, ashamed of your scribble. Stop and notice what you just thought. Was it something like,

“Stick figure = garbage.”

Write it down: “Rule #34: Stick figures are not creative. Throw them away before anyone sees them.”

See how many rules you can come up with. Be ruthless with yourself. When you’ve got a fair number of your hidden rules on paper, you might want to do something similar as in the “Creativity Is…” exercise and burn the buggers. Those rules no longer apply.

Take a deep breath, exhale, and SMILE!

3.  Do I Like It?

Now instigate a new rule. “Creativity Rule #1: If I like it, it’s okay. No, better yet, it’s CREATIVE!”

Try this one on for size. For a week, make it your ONLY creativity rule. If you make a drawing or rearrange the furniture, the only thing you’re going to worry about is if YOU like it.

There’s plenty of time for learning principles of design and color. But if you’ve got a censor on your shoulder the size of the Matterhorn, this new rule should be your only concern.

Be bold: do some creative things just to see if you like them. Watch out—this rule is addictive.

4.  The Creative Me

Picture yourself on the most ideally creative day of your life and describe it in writing.

Conjure up a picture of yourself being creative. What are you doing? What does it feel like? What sorts of things happen when you are creative?

Throw your mind into the future, at a time when you’ve fulfilled all your dreams and are at the pinnacle of your creative success, and describe it (this one may also help you dig out some crazy ideas about success while you’re at it).

Do NOT burn these. Keep them and read them often. Think about what you’ve said and how it makes you feel. Write many descriptions just like these on different days, because your dreams and ideas will tend to change as you grow. If, with time, you see that your description uncovers those old outdated ideas of creativity, rewrite it.

And well done, I say! You’re creating yourself as you go along. How creative of you!