“Creativity is characterised by the ability to perceive the world in new ways, to find hidden patterns, to make connections between seemingly unrelated phenomena, and to generate solutions.” -creativityatwork.com
What are some things that come to mind when you hear the word creativity? Painting, music, dance, poetry? Sure, but we’re not all artists. So what does creativity have to do with the rest of us?
In a broader sense, creative thinking is really a way to approach any puzzle or challenge from a new perspective. A problem solving tool …and who doesn’t have problems to solve?
Now you might be saying “I don’t have a creative bone in my body. I wasn’t born gifted like the Picassos or Mozarts of the world”. Well guess what? Studies show that creativity isn’t inherited or divinely bestowed upon us, it’s a training and a practice! We all actually have the ability to learn the skills of innovative thinking. Our own boundless creativity is accessible to us, and we can work to get better at uncovering it.
In a 1968 research study, George Land used a test he designed to assess the creative thinking capabilities of NASA scientists and engineers to evaluate 1,600 children. These were the results: at 5 years old, the children’s scores averaged 98%. He then re-tested the same children at 10 years of age. Their scores dropped to 30%. They took the test again at 15 years of age, and again the scores dropped to 12%. The same test given to 280,000 adults: 2%.
“What we have concluded is that non-creative behavior is learned” says George.
As we age, we develop habits of limiting our ideas and create barriers to potential solutions. We consciously and unconsciously learn to think “I can’t do that” or “that won’t work” when troubleshooting. The shift can be described as moving from “what could I do?” to “what should I do?”.
So how do we break these uncreative habits and open our minds back up to fresh, innovative thinking? There are several answers to that question, but I’ll only speak about the technique I’m most familiar with (I bet you know what I’m about to say) …mindfulness meditation.
It’s no secret that a steady mindfulness practice has many benefits. Related to unblocking creative barriers, one of my favourites is relaxation.
A story from high school science class comes to mind: Archimedes was a famous Greek scientist from around 200 BC. As the story goes, the king asks him to design a test for determining whether or not a crown was made of pure gold without damaging it. Archimedes unsuccessfully struggles with the problem for a long time. The solution finally comes when he sits in the bath and notices the water rising. He leaps out of the tub, runs naked through the streets shouting “eureka” and describes to the king his new method for calculating the density of an object.
In science class this story was a fun way to talk about mass, density and displacement. The much overlooked detail however is how Archimedes finally found his solution: he took a bath! He took a break. He stopped spinning his wheels, ruminating on the problem and relaxed. Mindfulness meditation practices can also offer us a way to pause, breathe and momentarily step back from our problems. This is often exactly what’s needed to get the “creative juices” flowing and allow new, unseen solutions to come forward. A window may appear where there was once only a wall.
Mindfulness meditation is also great for simply showing us these metaphoric walls that block creative flow. It allows greater opportunity to see the formerly unconscious self-defeating barriers and hear negative talk. Through the practices of non-judgemental observation, we pay close, gentle attention to anything that arises in our experience. By being still and not interfering with what comes up, we make space to hear our inner voices with greater clarity. Let’s say we’re meditating and an unexpected creative idea drifts into our mind. Maybe our automatic response is something like “that won’t work” or “I can’t do that”. If we weren’t sitting still and honing our attention skills, it’s likely we wouldn’t even notice the thought; the creative idea gets “written off” and lost forever. But because we did notice, we now have a choice. Choice to agree with the arisen judgemental thought or choice to challenge it and further explore a potential new solution. When an unusual idea bubbles up, we can try asking “why not?” instead.
I consider myself a creative person and over the years I’ve developed certain skills. Sadly, I fear, writing is not one of them. Truth be told, I’m finding the endeavor of completing this short essay an incredibly daunting task. But I’m no stranger to creative jams, and in times like these I’ve learned to trust in my meditation practice. I had several sits to get the ideas flowing for this essay, and whenever I got “stuck”, I returned to the practice, patiently noticing the blocks within and waiting for a fresh perspective to emerge.
This month at CEC we’ll be cultivating the creativity that exists in each of us. Through practicing stillness, relaxation and noticing our thoughts, we can all tap into an inner pool of new possibilities. Let’s dive in!