Creativity is our ability to take elements from our world and arrange them into something completely new and unique. It begins with an idea in our minds and ends with a tangible product that other people can see for themselves and experience.
Culture, art, science, and technology are all products of our creativity and imagination. Every progression in society started with an idea, and through work and determination was made into something that had a real impact on our civilization.
If individuals always conformed then society would never grow and improve. Therefore, creativity is not only healthy and necessary, but also an act of rebellion. It goes against the norms – by definition – which is why being creative often takes guts.
Psychologists have long believed that creativity can be stifled through conformity and social rejection.
We teach children at an early age to follow the rules at school, and if they don’t then they get punished. Over time they learn how to be obedient instead of thinking for themselves and finding their unique potential.
A new study published in The Journal of Experimental Psychology has found that this negative effect of social rejection on creativity can be overcome if an individual develops a strong “self-concept.”
When confronted by pressures from society, a creative person asserts their individuality and uniqueness, even if it leads to negative judgements from others.
Creativity is therefore not as simple as taking walks through nature or long baths or singing in the shower, it is an arduous and sometimes painful process of self-awareness and self-discovery.
In this world of conformity, it’s not always easy to find your own voice. However, there are fundamental ways we can try to break free from the herd and think for ourselves:
- Create more than you consume. Creative people create, and they create a lot. They are usually more concerned with their own ideas than trying to mimic what other people are doing around them. Try your best to create more than you consume, and you’ll be much more likely to find your own unique style and craft.
- Draw inspiration from everything. If you’re a musician, don’t just be inspired by other music. Find books, movies, people, and nature to inspire you as well. The more sources of inspiration you have, the more your ideas will stand out from the same old crowd.
- Seek new experiences. A creative person lives life to the fullest. They are open to new experiences because they are willing to step outside of their comfort zone to learn new things and gain new perspectives about life. This gives creative people a richer palette of experiences to draw from in their work.
- Have a way to record your ideas at all times. Creative minds are constantly buzzing with new ideas. It’s important to always have a way to record these ideas in the moment – whether on a notebook or an audio recorder or a cellphone – otherwise many good ideas will pass through our minds and be quickly forgotten.
- Find an environment that works for you. We are very much influenced by our environment, so we can improve our creativity by keeping our work surroundings fresh and stimulating. If your workplace gets stale, try re-decorating it by putting posters on the wall, adding plants, a fish tank, new gadgets on your desk, or whatever. The key is to make your environment work for you and reflect your personality and creative mission.
- Encourage feedback and criticism. Creative minds are secure enough with themselves to encourage feedback from others. They don’t do it to look for social approval, but to test the strength of their ideas and change them when they find possible issues and drawbacks. A big part of the creative process is adapting our ideas to the tangible world, so being open to feedback and criticism is a crucial step in making your ideas a real possibility. Listening to feedback isn’t conformity, it’s learning.
- Spend time alone and reflect. Self-awareness is an important facet to creativity. And spending time alone with your thoughts and feelings is an important part of developing this sense of self-awareness. The more aware you are of your cognitive and emotional processes – how you think and feel about the world – the more you can apply this self-knowledge to your unique creative process. All creative people are comfortable spending time in solitude every now and then.
- Take an idea to the extreme. We can learn a lot about our craft by trying to take an idea and apply it in an extreme or exaggerated way. John Cage took music to its limit when he wrote 4′33″, a composition made up of complete silence. Ideas like this help us to think outside the box. They inspire us to take a concept and use it in an unconventional, never-before-seen way.
- Put a limitation on yourself. On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes putting limitations on yourself also forces you to be creative in unconventional ways. For example, give yourself a specific amount of time to write a song, or paint, or make an important decision. This restriction can motivate you to finish a creative product without over-thinking it – and the results can be surprising. Sometimes creative people get trapped in the paradox of choice, where too many choices paralyze the creative process. But putting a limitation on yourself can help overcome this roadblock by forcing you to be creative with what you have.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously. Creativity is hard enough when we have to overcome the judgements of other people in society, and the pressures of conformity, so don’t make it worse by being too critical or judgmental of yourself. A lot of creativity is an outcome of playing around, having fun, and not taking yourself too seriously or letting your ego get in the way.
There is no simple formula for creativity. However, the guidelines above are an excellent way to begin finding your voice and discovering your own unique creative process.
Do what works for you and what fits your personality. No one else in this world can truly tell you how to be creative, because you know yourself and your own ideas better than anyone.
Discover more tools to daily growth in the digital guide The Science of Self Improvement