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We’ve all heard someone say things like, “Everyone is an artist” and “We’re all born naturally creative.” But most of us smile and nod (and think to ourselves, “Yeah, right!”) when we hear something like that, much in the way that we do when someone says something like, “Everyone is beautiful – fat, thin, tall, short, etc.”
We’ve been so conditioned to believe in societal definitions and “rules” about what art, success and beauty looks like that it’s often hard for us to fathom any other alternative, and so we spend our time actively pursuing more knowledge, following other people in our field, and trying hard to create or be something that fits those societal definitions of success. But this only dulls our creativity. As Keith Johnstone, originator of the Impro theatre movement says, “Striving after originality takes you far away from your true self, and makes your work mediocre.”
We’re All Naturally Creative
The paradox is that, when you’re being yourself, rather than trying to imitate success, you’ll be your most original and creative. This natural creativity can’t be learned – it’s already there! We don’t need to do anything to increase or improve it. What we have to do to unleash it is to UNLEARN what we’ve been taught about design, creativity and life itself. You have to unlearn your education about how art and life SHOULD be, in order to allow your natural creative genius to emerge.
The dullness was not an inevitable consequence of age, but of education… I began to think of children not as immature adults, but of adults as atrophied children.
Reconnect with Your Natural Creative Genius
Ultimately, that part of ourselves that’s trying so hard to be creative, original and successful is on our side – it’s trying to do something for us, so we don’t need to fight it. I like Martha Beck’s explanation of the conflict around creativity and self-expression that we often feel. Martha explains that we have two parts to ourselves: an Essential Self and a Social Self. Our Essential Self is the part that is innate – the person we’d be regardless of whether we’re brought up in the rural Himalayas or central London. It knows what we love and who we’re meant to be, it holds our natural creativity, and it’s main agenda is our happiness. Our Social Self, on the other hand, is the part that’s developed since we were born into the world, and it’s concerned with finding out the “rules” of our tribe.
You see, humans are a species that are born into the world completely dependent on the adults of our species, in order to survive. So we learn, from an early age, to look to others to find out the “rules” for survival. And we’re a tribal species – we thrive when we’re connected and collaborating with others. Deep down, we all believe in “safety in numbers” and fear rejection by the tribe. So the Social Self is the part of you that’s looking out for your safety, and wanting to ensure that you’re accepted by your tribe.
So there’s this tension that can develop, between your Essential Self that wants you to be happy, creative and fully self-expressed, and your Social Self that wants to ensure that you’re safe and accepted by your tribe. Ultimately, the only thing standing between us and our creative genius is fear – fear of failure and fear of rejection.
Instead of seeing people as untalented, we can see them as phobic.
How to Switch Your Creativity (Back) On
Stress triggers biochemical changes in the brain and body that narrow our visual perception and our thinking, making it harder to be creative, because we can perceive much less information. Use muscle relaxation or breathing exercises to relax yourself when you feel yourself getting stressed.
2. Imagine Yourself as Naturally creative
Some businessmen who had showed up as very dull on work-association tests were asked to imagine themselves as happy-go-lucky hippy types. They were re-tested while they were in that persona, and they showed up as far more imaginative. Create a vivid picture of yourself as a naturally creative, relaxed, playful, spontaneous and imaginative person, step into the picture and see the world through your own eyes, and then create and respond from that place.
3. Switch Off Your Social Self
We all have that Social Self part that’s continuously chattering in our minds, about all the “what ifs”, catastrophizing, and making us fearful. Schiller said, “…In the case of the creative mind, the intellect has withdrawn it’s watcher from the gates, and the ideas rush in pell-mell, and only then does it review and inspect the multitude…” So make a conscious decision to put your critical voice aside for a while, knowing that you can do the critical review of your work afterwards.
Some great ways of gently pushing your Social Self’s chatter to the background include meditation practice, listening to music or comedy while you’re working, or holding your tongue still by placing the tip of your tongue up against the front of your palette. It’s been found that when we chatter to ourselves, our tongue moves ever so slightly inside our mouths. Holding it still stops the chatter!
4. Don’t Try to Be Original.
As soon as you’re trying to be original, you’re moving away from your natural creative genius and you’ll start producing imitations of success, which just never have the same compelling quality as natural, raw genius. Be completely in the moment, be deeply curious, observe what is and respond… and see what happens.
An artist who is being inspired is being obvious. He’s not weighing one idea against another. He’s accepting his first thoughts… The best ideas should be as effortless as perceiving.
Unleashing your natural creativity isn’t just about being able to produce more awesome design work or writing. Getting out of your Social Self’s fear and returning to your natural creativity will give you a whole new perspective on life and your world will seem more fun, more full, more beautiful, more mysterious, and more compelling.
About the Author: Through her Bottom-line Bookclub, “Resource Miner,” Cath Duncan offers accelerated learning programs for professionals who want to develop the Agile Living Strategies for thriving in these turbulent times. You can follow Cath’s blog at www.mineyourresources.com and on Twitter she’s @cathduncan