We all have creativity. We may use our creativity to write, to paint, to take photographs or to make music, tasks that are traditionally known to be creative. You may not see yourself as creative, but we use creativity in many areas of our lives. Creativity is found in cooking, in playing with children, in choosing what to wear. There is creativity in training a dog, in writing code, and in fixing cars. We use creativity in planning, organizing, and scheduling our lives, and especially, in problem solving. The mathematician seeking patterns and the scientist seeking a cure for cancer are both engaged in creativity.
Creativity often enriches our lives. It brings pleasure, joy and fulfillment, things we all want. Can we get more of it? Can we become more creative? It would seem so; creativity is not a finite substance that limits itself to brilliant geniuses like Mozart or Einstein. We can all become more creative.
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi studied creativity extensively. In his book Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention he discusses how we can become more creative. Some of his suggestions include:
Focus time and attention. We cannot be creative when our attention is divided in many ways.
Cultivate curiosity and interest. Try to be surprised by something every day and to surprise someone every day. We need the new, the unexpected, and the fresh in order to be open to creativity.
Free up creative energy by following a schedule. Vary your routines until you find what works best.
Make time for reflection and relaxation. Constant busyness does not leave time for creativity.
Control your space so that you are in harmony with it. Live in surroundings that are meaningful and inspiring.
Look at problems from many viewpoints. Consider different causes and reasons before devising as many divergent solutions as possible.
Explore many different things. Start with things you like to do and then branch out. Swimming might lead to trying scuba diving, reading biographies might lead to reading about history. These things will leave you open to new experiences and ideas which will can help you increase your personal creativity.
Your environment can also help you to be more creativity. Csikszentmihalyi notes that throughout time there have been hot spots of information and interest. Think of the convergence of artists in Florence, Italy during the renaissance, or the tech movement in the Silicon Valley. Artists go to New York; musicians go to Nashville. Information is stored and shared in these communities, which are full of like-minded people collaborating around a specific domain.
In a recent article on Medium, author Jeff Goins also writes about the need for collaboration in community. He cites the community of Hemingway, James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald and others in 1920’s Paris as a creative incubator for aspiring writers.
“Without a network,” Goins writes, “creative work does not endure.” However, all is not lost if you lack a network of inspiring, helpful artists. You can seek out others interested in your passion and build your own network. Your network will help your creativity to flourish.
In her new book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, author Elizabeth Gilbert writes about a different kind of partnership, a more ethereal and unexplainable one. Most of the time, she says, our work is unglamorous, disciplined labor. But once in awhile, we feel propelled by a strong exterior force. Something carries us along, as if we are travelling on an airport’s moving sidewalk. We are working fluidly and producing high amounts of quality work, as if our bodies are conduits for inspiration from above.
This is when our genius appears. We are at our best, our most powerful, our most creative. This is where revolutionary new ideas are born and this is where we find brilliance. In these moments, we are most alive.
“All I know for certain,” Gilbert says, “is that this is how I want to spend my life- collaborating to the best of my ability with forces of inspiration that I can neither see, nor prove, nor command, nor understand.”
If you have ever felt this kind of inspiration, you know what she is talking about. It is what Csikszentmihalyi calls flow, a state where concentration is intense, we are absorbed in our work, and we lose all sense of time and place. It results not only in creativity, but also in joy and total involvement in life. We might call this state of flow BIG CREATIVITY.
Big creativity, is our optimal experience. Its by-product is happiness. Big creativity may be elusive, but when we find it, it is indeed, BIG MAGIC.
Have you found yourself in a state of flow or big creativity? What do you do to get into this mental space? How does it feel to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.