Enhancing Personal Creativity
Each person has, potentially, all the psychic energy needed to lead a creative life. But there are many obstacles that prevent many from expressing this potential.
Some of us are exhausted by too many demands, and so have trouble activating our psychic energy in the first place. Or we get easily distracted and find it difficult to protect and channel whatever energy we have. Other challenges are laziness, inability to control the flow of energy and not knowing what to do with the energy one has.
In terms of using mental energy creatively, perhaps the most fundamental difference between people lies in how much uncommitted attention they have left over to deal with novelty. When survival needs require all of one’s attention, none is left over for being creative.
But often the obstacles are internal. Most of us invest bulk of our attention in monitoring the self, or threats to the ego or in pursuing selfish goals. To free up creative energy we need to let go and divert some attention from the pursuit of the predictable goals that we are naturally inclined to pursue and use it instead to explore the world around us on its own terms.
So the first step toward a more creative life is the cultivation of curiosity and interest, that is, the allocation of attention to things for their own sake. How can interest and curiosity be cultivated?
Ø Try to be surprised by something every day.
Ø Try to surprise at least one person every day.
Ø Write down each day what surprised you and how you surprised others.
Ø When something strikes a spark of interest, follow it
To sustain curiosity, we must learn to enjoy being curious. When there is nothing specific to do, our thoughts soon return to the most predictable state, which is randomness or confusion. We pay attention and concentrate when we must – when dressing, driving the car, or at work. But when there is no external force demanding that we concentrate, we lose focus. Our mind falls to the lowest energetic state, where the least amount of effort is required. When this happens, a sort of mental chaos takes over. Unpleasant thoughts flash into awareness, forgotten regrets resurface, and we become depressed. Taking refuge in passive entertainment keeps chaos temporarily at bay, but the attention it absorbs gets wasted. On the other hand, when we learn to enjoy using our latent creative energy, we not only avoid depression but also increase the complexity of our capacities to relate to the world. The author suggests some practical steps here:
Ø Wake up in the morning with a specific goal to look forward to.
Ø If you do anything well, it becomes enjoyable.
Ø To keep enjoying something, you need to increase its complexity.
After creative energy is awakened, it is necessary to protect it. We must avoid distractions and escape outside temptations and interruptions. If we do not, the concentration will break down. Then we return to our vague, unfocused, distracted state.
One must remain open and focused at the same time. Before we have discovered an overriding interest in a particular domain, it makes sense to be open to as much of the world as possible. After we have developed interest, however, it may make more sense to divert all the energy into that one domain. In either case, the important thing is not to relinquish control over creative energy so that it dissipates without direction.
What can we do to build up habits that will make it possible to control attention so that it can be open and receptive, or focused and directed depending on what the overall goals require?
Make time for reflection and relaxation. Keeping constantly busy is certainly much better than indulging in self pity or being lazy. But constant busyness is not a good prescription for creativity.
Find out what you like and what you hate about life. It is astonishing how little most of us know about our feelings. There are people who can’t even tell if they are ever happy, and if they are, when or where. In contrast, creative individuals are in very close touch with their emotions. They always know the reason for what they are doing, and they are very sensitive to pain, to boredom, to joy, to interest, and to other emotions. They are very quick to pack up and leave if they are bored and to get involved if they are interested. And because they have practiced this skill for a long time, they need to invest no psychic energy in self-monitoring; they are aware of their inner states without having to become self-conscious.
Start doing more of what you love, less of what you hate. After a few weeks of self-monitoring, sit down with your diary or your notes and begin to analyze them.
The only way to stay creative is to organize time, space, and activity to our advantage. It means developing schedules to protect our time and avoid distraction, arranging our immediate surroundings to increase concentration, cutting out meaningless chores that soak up psychic energy, and devoting the energy thus saved to what we really care about. It is much easier to be personally creative when we maximize optimal experiences in everyday life.
Personality is nothing but a habitual way of thinking, feeling, and acting, as the more or less unique pattern by which we use psychic energy or attention. Some traits are more likely than others to result in personal creativity. To change personality means to learn new patterns of attention, to look at different things, and to look at them differently; to learn to think new thoughts, have new feelings about what we experience.
Develop what you lack. All of us specialise, which usually means that we neglect traits that are complementary to the ones we have developed. Developing multiple perspectives can enrich our life considerably.
Shift often from openness to closure: Perhaps the most important duality that creative persons are able to integrate is being open and receptive on the one hand, and focused and hard-driving on the other.
Aim for complexity. A complex system is differentiated, has many distinctive parts but it is also a very integrated system. The several parts work together smoothly. Evolution appears to favour organisms that are complex; i.e., differentiated and integrated at the same time.
Find a way to express what moves you. Creative problems generally emerge from areas of life that are personally important.
Look at problems from as many viewpoints as possible. When we know that we have a problem, consider it from many different perspectives.
Creative individuals do not rush to define the nature of problems. They look at the situation from various angles first and leave the formulation undetermined for a long time. They consider different causes and reasons. Because they pause to consider a greater range of possible explanations for what happens to them, creative people have a wider and less predictable range of options to choose from.
Figure out the implications of the problems. Creative individuals experiment with a number of alternative solutions until they are certain that they have found the one that will work best. As soon as we think of a good solution, we should develop the habit of thinking of an opposite one. While being quick and consistent is often desirable, if we wish to be creative, we should be willing to run the risk of sometimes seeming indecisive.
Implement the solution. Creative problem solving involves continuous experimentation and revision. The longer options are kept open, the more likely it is that the solution will be original and appropriate.
Personal creativity consists in changing the domain of personal life, of the rules that constrain psychic energy, the habits and practices that define what we do day in, day out. If we can dress, work and conduct our relationships more effectively, the quality of life as a whole will improve.