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Creativity Coaching

Define Creativity — I Dare You

Have you made it impossible to ever be creative by your own definition?

By Durga Walker / Jori Keyser | Updated February 6, 2019

Have you made it impossible for yourself to ever be creative — by virtue of your own definition?

What do you think of when you think "creative"? Dazzling? Fabulous? Breathtaking?

Totally original? Completely outside the box?

Do you think of creativity as mysterious? Elusive? Unattainable? Easy for the lucky creative folks but impossible for you?

Am I getting close?

When was the last time you examined your ideas about creativity? I mean, really examined them? What standards do you use to determine if something is creative or not? What triggers your inspiration, makes you want to paint or write — and then dashes your hopes to the ground?

What whacky ideas about creativity are you harboring in your treasure chest of self-imposed limitations?

Think about what you're thinking

Words are powerful creatures, and the longer they hang around unexamined, the bigger the punch they pack. I'm afraid we're all guilty of taking our words lightly, casually sprinkling our talk with ideas that knock our self-esteem off its feet. We praise or condemn ourselves in our own eyes without giving a thought to what we actually mean.

If you believe that "creative" means to be absolutely, totally, completely original, are you ever likely to think that one of your thoughts is creative? Of course not. You'll censor every idea you have with the big rubber stamp OLD NEWS, and if a thought makes it to the tongue, you'll swallow it on the spot because no one could possibly be interested in your silly banalities.

If having to work at art automatically means you're not creative (because, of course, truly creative folks exude mindless artistry from every pore), you're not going to give your own efforts much credence. If there's an exclusive group with a monopoly on creativity, where does that leave you? If every creative act has to knock the whole world's socks off, where does that leave any of us?

Four Exercises

If you're starting to think you might be doing yourself a disservice with those old and moldy connotations you've got buried in the vaults of your mind, here are four exercises for digging them out, giving them a good airing, and then obliterating them forever.

1. Creativity Is…

Sit down and write for as long as you like, but try to make it at least 30 minutes without stopping. Creativity is…what? Let your pen keep moving and keep your brain out of it. No censors allowed in this exercise. Write for a good half-hour because it may take some time for the wheels to grease. Write whatever comes into your head. Don't stop to read it until you're done, when you'll have all the time in the world to marvel at the inanity you've packed into the idea of being creative.

When you think you've got it all down on paper, devise a little rite for your yourself and burn the thing. Bury the ashes or sprinkle them in a flowing body of water. Get rid of them!! That definition is over and done with. Now start thinking from your new clean slate what creativity REALLY means to you. What's a definition you can live with and be creative with? Start afresh. You ARE creative.

2. The Rules of Creativity

Carry some paper around with you and jot down every rule you catch yourself thinking about creativity. For example, you may have a habit of doodling when you're on the phone, then tossing the paper away, ashamed of your scribble. Stop and notice what you just thought. Was it something like, "What garbage. All I can draw are stick figures!" Write it down: "Rule #34: Stick figure doodles are not creative. Throw them away before anyone sees them."

See how many rules you can come up with. Be ruthless with yourself. When you think you've got all your hidden rules on paper (you're probably wrong, but there's always more paper), you might want to do something similar as in the "Creativity Is…" exercise and burn the buggers. Those rules are no longer applicable. Take a deep breath, exhale, and SMILE!

3. Do I Like It?

Now instigate a new rule. "Creativity Rule #1: If I like it, it's okay. No, better yet, it's CREATIVE!" Try this one on for size. For a week, make this your ONLY creativity rule. If you make a drawing, the only thing you're going to worry about is if YOU like it. If you rearrange the furniture, the only question you're allowed to ask yourself is, "Do I like it?"

There's plenty of time for learning principles of design and color. But if you've got a censor on your shoulder the size of the Matterhorn, this new rule should be your only concern for at least a week. Be bold: do some creative things just to see if you like them. Watch out — this rule is addictive.

4. The Creative Me

Sit down, close your eyes, and be very still. Conjure up a picture of yourself being creative. What are you doing? What does it feel like? What sort of things happen when you are creative? Write it down. Picture yourself on a normal day doing something creative you already typically do and describe it. Now imagine yourself on the most ideally creative day of your life and describe that one. Now throw your mind into the future and land on some unspecified date when you've fulfilled all your dreams and are at the pinnacle of your creative success and describe it (this one may help you dig out some crazy ideas about success while you're at it).

Do NOT burn these. Keep them and read them often. Think about what you've said and how it makes you feel. Write many descriptions just like these on different days, because your dreams and ideas will tend to change as you grow and accept yourself more and more. If, with time, you see that your description is supporting old outdated ideas of creativity, rewrite it.

And well done, I say! You're creating yourself as you go along. How creative of you!

I'd like to dedicate this article to my friend Marye Cozzens, the queen of Creative Rules, and her wonderful (and very creative) inspiration.

©2006 Durga Walker / Jori Keyser. All rights reserved.

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