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Royane Real : Improve Your Ability to be Creative

Improve Your Ability to be Creative

By Royane Real

Would you like to be more creative?

Before you answer yes or no to that question, think about what the word "creativity" means to you.

If you think that creativity is something that you only need if you're an artist, while you happen to be a middle-manager in a corporation, you may think increased creativity is not really necessary to your life. But creativity is something far broader than artistic expression, and it's required in many areas of life.

Your idea of a creative person might be someone who lives in a loft, painting gigantic canvases all day long. Or perhaps a writer at her computer, working on a long novel. Or a musician, actor, or singer performing on stage to an audience. These are all people actively expressing themselves artistically, and they can all rightly be said to be creative people, even if no one else enjoys their art.

But what about an entrepreneur who has an idea for a new product, who forms a company to produce and distribute it, eventually employing hundreds of people? Doesn't this require creativity?

What about a research scientist toiling in a lab, developing new compounds in an effort to cure disease? Isn't this creative? What about a single mother who manages to come up with healthy delicious meals on a tiny budget? Is that creativity?

To one person, creativity can mean gluing seashells to a picture frame. To another, creativity might mean solving a grand unified theory in physics. And to another person, being creative might mean coming up with an ingenious new way to speed up a factory assembly line.

When we define creativity only in terms of artistic expression, we miss a lot of other potential applications for creative thinking and problem solving.

An artist painting a picture or a writer working on a novel does have something in common with the researcher in the lab, and the entrepreneur, and the person gluing seashells to picture frames. They are all working on problems and devising solutions that didn't exist before. These people are using their minds to imagine fresh ways of doing something.

They are combining existing ideas or materials in unexpected ways, creating something different from what has gone before. It may be a new idea, a new look, a new product, or technique. Creativity can be exciting, fun, personally fulfilling, and even financially lucrative. It can also be frustrating, challenging and scary.

Can we improve our ability to be creative? Yes. In fact, learning to be more creative can be quite enjoyable and easy to do. Many techniques have been developed to improve creative and artistic ability, as well as to improve creative problem solving. These include such techniques as image streaming, brain storming, hypnosis, and various forms of meditation and guided imagery.

All the techniques that enhance creativity have one thing in common. They are all trying to bypass the inner judge or critic we have in our minds.

Most of us have an inner voice that is running a constant commentary on everything we think and do. We might barely notice this inner voice much of the time, yet it has a great impact on what we can accomplish in our life. In many of us this inner voice is usually very negative. No matter what we want to do, this inner voice is running like a tape in the background of our minds, endlessly criticizing us, and our ideas.

When we come up with a new idea, our inner voice may be saying, "This idea is stupid." Or it might tell us, "I should never be mediocre or average, I must be brilliant and perfect all the time. All my ideas should be totally brilliant and innovative. If my ideas aren't perfect right from the start, I am a failure and it's better not to even try".

Our negative inner critic does not always appear as a voice. Sometimes we see visual images of ourselves failing. Or we may have physical sensations of fear and embarrassment that stop us from pursuing new ideas or new actions.

If we want to become more creative, we need to find a way to bypass or shut off our inner critic.

Our inner critic is trying to make us perfect, but it usually has the opposite effect.

If our inner judgmental dialogue is mostly negative, our creative abilities will suffer.

Instead of enabling us to come up with better ideas, it is far more likely that the negative inner dialogue will destroy our ability to come up with new ideas to dry up completely.

The creative part of us will feel inadequate and embarrassed and shut down. Your inner critic isn't being evil when it criticizes you, or when it tells you your ideas are not very good. Your critic is actually trying to protect you from being ashamed or embarrassed by the potentially negative comments and reactions of other people to your ideas.

The critical, judgmental, analytical function of the brain is not the part that knows how to generate creative ideas. The types of brainwaves that you generate when you are being rational and analytical are quite different than the brainwaves that go with maximum creativity. Even if you have the most kindly inner critic in the world, you still need to bypass the judgmental part of yourself when you want to be creative.

When you need to be creative, tell your inner critic to go out for a walk. •

© 2005 Royane Real

Royane Real is the author of the book, "How You Can Be Smarter — Use Your Brain to Learn Faster, Remember Better, and Be More Creative." More »

4/23/05