Cultivating Creativity

What does it mean to be Creative?

How often have you heard someone say “I wish I was creative” or “I’m not at all creative” as they wistfully look at a beautiful painting or work of art someone else created?

I want to dispel myths and self-limiting beliefs regarding what it means to be creative, and offer ideas on what you can do to tap into and express your creativity so that you develop both the habit of thinking more creatively no matter what you’re doing, and exercise your artistic creative muscle more.

The fact is, we’re all creative. Each one of us has at some time brought something into existence which didn’t exist before, whether an idea, child, boiled water or garden. According to the Macquarie Dictionary (an Australian dictionary) “create” means to “author, bring into being, compose, conceive, parent, form, give rise to, throw together.” Who of you hasn’t done one or all of these things many times in your life?

If you also believe that God, a Divine Spark or Creative Force created this prolifically creative universe and us, then we must be creative, as logic would say we must be the same in part and whole as that which created us. If you believe, as I do that “God” or this “Divine Spark” lives within each of us, then by virtue of logic, each of us would have to be creative. After all, we have the Grand Poobah of Creativity residing within.

If you are in relationship with anyone you’re creative. If are a parent, you created a child and everyday are creating and re-creating your relationship with them as they grow and mature. If you are in relationship with a friend or significant other, you are creating and re-creating how you want to be together to have more of a symbiotic relationship. As an individual, couple or family, you use creativity to solve challenges every day. You use creative expression in the making of your home and lifestyle whether it’s through your choice of clothing, cars or carpet.

Creativity goes beyond the ability to write a song or book, paint a picture, invent a new technology or design the Eiffel Tower. It goes beyond the “artistic” categories and manifests itself in many other areas.

The first step is to acknowledge the fact that creativity resides in each of us. Some of us just need help in bringing it forth into expression.

6 Obstacles to Being Creative

1. Believing you’re not creative. Watch out! This can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you hold the belief that you’re not creative, then where is there an opening for the opposite experience (of being creative) to enter?

2. Being a slave to your routine. You’ve heard the expression “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten”. If you want to experience yourself as creative, you need to live in a way as if you already are creative. Living the same way with the same habits and routines day in and day out is like a horse going down the same path with blinders on.

3. Comparing yourself to others. This is akin to raining on your own parade as there will always be those you think are more creative than you. Why not choose to be inspired by creators around you? Jonas Gerard, an abstract painter in Asheville, has been a key source of inspiration for my own abstract paintings.

4. Perfectionism. If you think “I’ll never be a Picasso, so why even bother to try painting?” Or” I’m not Julia Child, so what’s the point in trying to cook creatively?” Then you’re right. This all or nothing thinking is deadly to the creative process.

5. Believing you don’t have time. Life these days can easily be about “to do” lists, which feel anything but creative, yet we can always make time for what’s most important. If you believe you don’t have time, you won’t.

6. Procrastination. Many of us fear being “unproductive”. What if we set an hour or two aside to purposefully cultivate our creativity, and in that time create something only mediocre, or nothing at all? We fear feeling frustrated, and we fear “wasting time”, in a culture which values productivity and results vs. process. 

8 Ways to Cultivate Creativity

1. Believe in the power of your creativity. Remember playing make believe as a kid? Act as if you are already amazingly creative. Imagine right now that you live life through a creative lens. How might you think differently? What would you be doing differently?

2. Inspire yourself. Surround yourself with those things and people which inspire you to think outside the box. I listen to Bebel Gilberto and Miles Davis. Burn incense. Eat garlic popcorn. Read inspirational books, including those on creativity. Walk through art galleries. Go to a live music event. Go to a unique furniture, clothing or card store. Travel to a new, “fun” place. Go for a hike and hang out with people who inspire you to think out of the box. I call these people the “Why nots?”

3. Make a list of the things in your life you’ve already created which you feel good about. It could include where you’ve decided to live. It could be a relationship you created or a great flan. A fire you built or a letter you wrote a friend which made them feel good; a song you sang on someone’s voicemail that made them laugh or a party you threw…Put this list up in a visible place as a reminder of how creative you are.

4. Break out of your routine. One of my favorite Seinfeld episodes is when George is sitting at the coffee shop with Jerry, complaining, “Every decision I've ever made, in my entire life, has been wrong. My life is the opposite of everything I want it to be.” Jerry says “If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.” From that moment on, George breaks out of his normal way of being and does the opposite, starting with ordering chicken salad on rye with tea instead of his usual tuna on toast with coffee. As a result, he meets a beautiful woman whom he usually would never approach. But instead he goes up to her and tells her the truth (also opposite to what he normally does) saying "My name is George. I'm unemployed and I live with my parents.” The woman smiles invitingly, “I'm Victoria. Hi!” By the end of the show, George has a girlfriend, dream job and great place to live. How can you break out of your routine?

5. Set time aside to purposefully create. It’s harder to be creative when we’re caught up in doing-ness. By creating time in your schedule to exercise your artistic creative muscles, time will actually slow down and new energy can be released, resulting in greater energy for the rest of your “tasks”. I’m a morning person so I reserve the first 60-90 minutes of my workday for creative writing.

6. Exercise your artistic creative muscle. Imagine what would be fun for you to create and go for it. Buy a set of kids’ watercolors or finger-paints and just do it. Or go to a ceramic shop where you can paint your own piece of pottery. Use found objects to create a sculpture. Sing in a choir. Join a dance, acting or writing class.

7. Focus on having fun in the process. Don’t worry about the outcome. If you spend your time in the process worrying about what you’re creating and whether it’s going to be “good enough” or not, you’re defeating the purpose. Your goal should simply be to feel good and be excited in the doing of it. I recently met an artist who was told by marketers that if she used a lot of orange in her watercolors they’d never sell. She ignored them and used a lot of orange, because it made her feel good. Her customers apparently feel good too because she sells all her paintings.

8. Have a creative support group. When two or more come together, synergy is created and ideas take on new forms. Years ago, my bookclub read and did the exercises from “The Artist’s Way”. Every time we met, we encouraged and inspired each other in our creative expression.  

A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.
- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Divine Juicy Life Resources:

Creative Whack Pack – Roger von Oech (64 card deck)
The Artist’s Way – Julia Cameron
Life, Pain and Passion: Reclaiming the Magic of Spontaneous Expression – Michele Cassou and Stewart Cubley
(The New) Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain – Betty Edwards