Creativity: 7 Ways You May Be Stifling It

Anyone who says: “I don’t have a creative bone in my body”, doesn’t understand how their brain works as creativity has less to do with their skeletal structure than what they feed their minds.

Creativity is a natural expression of who we are, and denying its existence is to deny ourselves of the joy that exploring new ideas and being open to diverse thoughts brings.

“There is always room, if only in one’s own soul, to create a spot of Paradise, crazy though it may sound.”– Henry Miller, Preface to Stand Still Like the Hummingbird.

Stifled creativity is a death-knoll to originality, mindful exploration of our world and the subtle art of connecting fleeting ideas into meaningful essence.

Freeing your innate creativity takes purposeful thought, consider these points.

1. Ignoring the gift of an 'idea'

The imperfection of creative insight. The sentiment of moment caught. The gentle art of seeing.

The imperfection of creative insight. The sentiment of moment caught. The gentle art of seeing.

Expressing a creative thought or action can feel like baring one's inner world. It's a vulnerable thing to do especially in a meeting where ideas can (and often are) easily ridiculed. I wonder how many times you've had an idea or thought of an answer to a problem yet not expressed it, only to wait and see someone else say or do exactly what you were thinking a few moments earlier. It can feel weird as if someone was 'reading your mind'.

But I've come to realise that an idea has its own energy. If you don't express it, it'll find someone else who will. An interview with Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Big Magic, expresses this concept beautifully:

"Ideas have no material body, but they do have consciousness, and they most certainly have will. Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest. And the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner." 

When an 'idea' begins to germinate - I feel it literally 'wriggle' inside me. It teases me, beckons me forward, pulls me sideways until it gets my full attention. It's like a 2-year-old running rampant for attention - not just in my mind, but also my body as a little engine of excitement begins swirling in my gut. Brain kicks in with the game and I find my eyes searching blank space as my mind goes through a speed dial of related thoughts searching for new connections.

If I act on it, I'm rewarded ... sometimes. If I don't, it lingers on the edge of my mind, teasing and pushing it's way forward with a 'look at me, look at me' will - and if it waits too long I sense its energy slow down, rewind and ease into a nothing. I hate that feeling. Like I've lost something I'll never get back again.

It's a reminder to take action on an idea and not store it away in a safe deposit box at the end of a long to-do list because if and when it's revisited, chances are its genesis is gone.

2. Fear of Creative Failure

an idea finds its own path.

an idea finds its own path.

At some point when most of us were younger, creative thinking and expressions may have been shut down by some well-meaning, yet misguided teacher, family member or friend who said we'd better find something we're more suited to.

These days I'm wary of the throw-away line or the cutting column reviewer, thinking how easy it is to put someone else’s ideas down – much simpler to be the critic rather than the originator.

A friend tells a story of his parents sitting him down when he was at art college in the hope of 'saving him from himself'. They said, 'You have no talent. It's better that it comes from us rather than you going through years and years of trying only to fail in the end'.

Said with the best of intentions, received with the sadness of loss. The art of expression is personal - that's why it's a creative pursuit. The art purchased for millions now was often sold by the original painter to buy food or art supplies - a pittance during their life, a fortune for those who buy and sell the ideas of others.

The creativity muscle atrophies if stifled. Creativity is expressed in the exploration of an idea and like birthing all good things, arrives in its own time and space once the creative juices are free to flow.

3. The Limited Thinking Of Creative Think-Tanks

Creativity isn’t a tap that can be turned on and off at will. To reach a state of ‘flow’ (a term coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi), we expend energy that begins as a steam train needing many heads of steam before getting up to speed. If we were to stop the train before it's ‘flowing’, means it'll need to build up that pressure again to reach top speed.

It’s the same with us, we need to set aside time and press the ‘hold button’ on busyness to allow the brain time to get into the ‘flow’ state and generate enough ‘steam’ to sustain the process. Interruptions and flicking between to-do lists isn’t conducive to building creativity.

4. The Under-Performance of Pressure

she sits on my desk. sometimes upright. sometimes toppled. starring hope. tumbling like a night sky. only to rise against the blocks she fears inside.

she sits on my desk. sometimes upright. sometimes toppled. starring hope. tumbling like a night sky. only to rise against the blocks she fears inside.

Alfred Hitchcock used a subliminal technique to release pressure and tension with his co-writers. When temperatures rose and heated discussions weren't resolving the problem at hand he'd tell stories. Ones totally unrelated to the problem at hand - or so they seemed. His intention was to distract and ease tension rising because he didn't believe a creative solution would arrive under stress. One of his regular co-writers related that he'd say, "We're pressing, we're pressing, we're working too hard. Relax, it will come." And of course, we know it did.

Telling stories has a deeper genesis than pure distraction to ease pressure. We're raised with stories and we make meaning of our life through stories. The richer the details, the more sensory connections we can make, which in turn trigger unrelated memories of times when we sensed or felt the emotions felt by the protagonist in the story.

That's one reason why movies and great writers offer such escape. We enter our emotions in a vulnerable way and allow ourselves to connect with the story being told - ultimately it's our own story we're connecting to - and when sensing into this space our unconscious mind is free to roam and make connections between current problems we're trying to solve, old problems that haven't been resolved and new information that's coming to us through story.

It's the home of creativity where connections form, break and re-form in ever growing circles of what we call 'ideas'. To the brain they're electrical connections travelling down pathways previously built - sometimes branching off into darker areas that are yet to be explored. Creative thought can take us anywhere we want, the only thing we're asked to do is go along for the journey and not resist it.

“The truth is that play seems to be one of the most advanced methods nature has invented to allow a complex brain to create itself.” (Dr Stuart Brown, Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul, The Serious Side of Play)

5. Creativity Misunderstood

Creativity doesn’t mean a product, a piece of art or a tangible item are the results of creative thinking. Eureka moments are rare, but impossible to have unless the hundreds of so-so ones aren't birthed before.

Trial and error allow imagination to play - as long as the fear of 'error' doesn't drown the exploration of 'trial'.

Because play is the birthplace of creativity as Carl Jung said:

"The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct."

It's the unusual blending of concepts and ideas that allows imagination to do its magic - the remote associations of ideas interlinking and looking for new expression to delight the senses and intrigue the mind.

As Stuart Brown describes in, Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul, The Serious Side of Play:

“If we don’t take time to play, we face a joyless life of rigidity, lacking in creativity. The opposite of play isn’t work, but depression. If we’re going to adapt to changing economic and personal circumstances the way that nature armed us to do, then we have to find ourselves having some play time virtually every day.”

6. Creative Blindness

We face creative opportunities daily – yet mostly ignore them. We see things that can be improved either in appliances we use or the way we work but say to ourselves:‘that’s just the way things are’ rather than stepping in and allowing our creative mind to turn the problem over and explore new ideas and insightful avenues of thought.

It’s in flexing creative muscles that they become stronger so switching them on when needed becomes easier. Letting them atrophy and sleep through numbing hours of media zone-outs or busy distractions, puts not only our brain but also our creativity on remote control. So if you relate to this (who doesn't at times), just remember to change the batteries regularly.

7. Creative Under-Exposure

Creativity is more about adaptability than originality. Read a great novel, watch an engaging movie, wander through a gallery, absorb the history of a museum, listen to musical improvisations and your creativity is given an intravenous injection of joy and energy. It’s about opening up our mental wormholes and drip-feeding a constant supply of inspiration so you can travel on the spring-boarding trajectory of curiosity to the great subconscious terrain of infinite possibility.

Creativity cannot happen in a vacuum. It needs stimulus. Feeding. Without it, expect it to shrivel, to atrophy, to die an unwilling death.

As Henry Miller suggested, perhaps it’s time to create a spot of Paradise – even if it’s in your own soul – and let creativity find its purpose in your life.

What are your thoughts on developing your approach to creativity? Leave a message below.