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Five Psychological Habits boost Creativity
People who are naturally creative have a magnetic appeal. The allure of their abilities has led people throughout time to assign them to supernatural explanations.
Creativity, according to ancient Greek mythology, was sparked by the Muses, goddesses who imparted wisdom to mortals via their hushed whispers. The goddesses’ preference for certain individuals was the dividing line between the great and just good writers, historians, and musicians of the past and the rest of their uninspired contemporaries. The Norse thought that, by the power of the runes, Odin could tie and unbind the minds of mortals.
Even if our cultural narratives have evolved, many of us still believe that creativity is a divinely bestowed talent. Creative people, it is thought, have their brains wired differently. Their creative right side of the brain outweighs their logical left. Something that, although it may seem more scientific, is just as fictitious as beliefs in capricious deities and lone-eyed rune masters.
The truth is that originality is more the rule than the exception. This is the default setting. It’s not only the arts and sciences that humans excel at innovation; we’re naturally creative in many fields. Everyday activities including playing, working, cooking, socialising, and even cleaning are constantly being reimagined by humans.
Because of this, according to psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, instilling creative thinking isn’t as simple as teaching students how to use a secret programme. Your evolutionary ancestry is responsible for pre-installing those programmes. The behaviours that foster intellect and inventiveness, however, are what you should be putting your energy towards instead.
Kaufman does not imply a high IQ when he talks about intelligence. As he puts it, it’s the capacity to take in data — whether from personal experience or via instruction — and to file it away for future reference. The imagination uses this data as a starting point to construct possible futures. Kaufman remarked in an interview, “Creativity involves our capacity to know what has gone before so we can stand on the shoulder of giants, but it also takes the ability to have tremendous foresight and vision to see the world as it might be.” And I believe that the two working together increases the likelihood of inventiveness.
Tim Leunig, an educator and historian, not only agrees with Kaufman but expands on his ideas. According to him, learning is the cornerstone of innovation. For example, Leunig used the steam engine in his TED lecture.
Thomas Newcomen’s brain did not magically develop blueprints for the steam engine. Inventions such as the steam pump by Thomas Savery and the steam digester and piston by Denis Papin served as forerunners. Innovatingly, Newcomen saw that he could integrate these discoveries in a new manner. Mix in some creative thinking and technical know-how, and you have what might be the most significant innovation in economic history.
Leunig said, “Now that’s what I call creative thinking.” Knowledge-based creativity, if you will.
It’s important to remember that Newcomen wasn’t a superhumanly talented or exceptional individual. He worked as an ironmonger, putting him in stark contrast to the futuristic CEOs that grace modern magazine covers. However, during his research, he uncovered a wealth of data from which to draw. Whether you like to call it intelligence or knowledge, the fact is that he constantly sought new information throughout his life, and that was the source of the raw materials his mind used to create something really innovative.
Keep your mind and heart open.
It’s true that books and classes can’t account for every bit of expertise you acquire. Seeking out novel experiences is yet another approach to sharpen one’s mental faculties. Kaufman observes that artists and other creators are naturally inquisitive, have a high standard of beauty, and are willing to try new things. To appease these needs, people look for new experiences in literature, travel, the performing arts, food, hobbies, friendships, and pretty much every other facet of their existence.
Just as formal education provides a plethora of information and expertise from which to draw, so can personal experiences. Kaufman said, “Once we’re fully open to what we’re feeling, that’s when we actually develop, and I believe that’s when the most ideal creativity comes through as well.”
For instance, Japanese woodblock prints had a major influence on the work of Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh (called ukiyo-e). In spite of his inability to actually visit the country, he became interested in Japanese culture, acquired prints of Japanese art, and worked to emulate the styles of artists like Utagawa Hiroshige. Van Gogh became one of the most prominent post-impressionist artists by fusing his newfound experiences with his European training and, once again, a healthy dose of imagination.
Take up a game
Having a blank slate to work with may do wonders for your creativity. For this method to work, you need to turn off your “cognitive filters,” as physicist Leonard Mlodinow puts it.
Cognitive filters may be thought of as mental guards. They act as a subconscious filter, vetting your thoughts and allowing only the most mainstream ones to enter your conscious mind. You don’t want to be caught getting too creative with your tax returns, so this might be a good thing. However, your mind’s cognitive filters may sometimes be too narrow, preventing you from considering outside-the-box creative possibilities.
Regular play might help relax your mind’s defences. The psychological safety provided by play allows for the full expression of oneself, exploration of the unknown, and the acceptance of one’s own peculiarities. When you’re playing, you don’t have to worry about what other people think or whether or not you’ll fail, and that sense of security gives you the green light to explore new ideas and stretch your imagination. Adding some lightheartedness to your job or artistic pursuits is always a plus.
Enjoy your time alone.
Isolating yourself is another effective strategy for lowering your brain’s defences and restoring clarity. You may use this time to focus on your craft by yourself or to daydream, which has been shown to increase your ability to form new connections in your mind. Either way, you’ll need to be free of interruptions for a substantial amount of time.
The early accomplishments of programmer John Carmack demonstrate the significance of this practise. After the success (and infamous reputation) of the Doom series, Carmack spent the late 1990s attempting to create a ground-breaking video game engine. With the success of his firm, id Software, his personal projects had to take a back seat. To make up for it, he gradually started starting his workweek an hour later. His need for isolation became so great that he eventually began working through the night. His efforts bore fruit in the form of the Quake engine, which was used for the first time in the smash hit game of the same name.
Now, obviously, the fact that Carmack is an exception does not suggest that creative people never work together. An integral aspect of the creative process is collaborating with others. Michael Abrash and other graphic designers were crucial to id Software’s success. Time alone is necessary for ideas, daydreams, intelligences, and imaginations to come together and form a cohesive creative whole.
Being creative takes effort.
Another practise that might assist unite your brainpower and creative juices is working hard and dedicating your time. This bias is a contributing factor to the widespread belief that miraculous events are required to spark original thought.
When you don’t know how to accomplish something, others who can might look like magicians holding onto hidden knowledge, as the late author Ursula K. Le Guin put it. […] But in any complex art, whether it be housekeeping, playing the piano, sewing clothes, or writing stories, there are so many techniques, skills, choices of method, variables, and “secrets,” some of which are teachable and others not, that you can only learn them through methodical, repeated, long-continued practise — in other words, by work.
One reason experts like Kaufman, Le Guin, and others put more emphasis on the processes of creativity than the outcomes is because it takes work to be creative. Don’t expect any kind of divine intervention to help you realise your artistic ambitions. But you may take the little steps every day that add up to something new if you develop the habits that strengthen your mind and free your creativity. And it’s the little things you do that add up to make your creative life so much more fulfilling.
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