Think of all the things in your life that keep you from being your most creative. Netflix. Twitter. The kids. Email. Chores. Stress. Many barriers are persistent, looming on the periphery, while others seem to appear out of nowhere when we plan to create. We need to call out and identify these barriers in order to successfully overcome them.
In his amazing book The War of Art, author Steven Pressfield calls these barriers “The Resistance.” This is not limited to creativity; it could be anything that keeps you from moving upward in your life. Identify and address whatever prohibits your creative flow so that you can be free to create. The War of Art refers to dozens of examples of Resistance we encounter in our creative pursuits. Some of these barriers are physical and some are psychological. Definitely worth a read for all creative thinkers and doers.
Additionally, in his paper called, “Barriers to Creativity and Creative Attitudes,” published in the Encyclopedia of Creativity, Gary A. Davis contends that “The contrast between creative and uncreative people lies more in barriers and uncreative attitudes than in differences in intelligence or thinking styles.” That is to say, when we adjust unhelpful attitudes and combat the barriers in our lives, we are free to become more creative.
Old Habits Die Hard
Davis identifies five categories of creative barriers; firstly is Learning and Habit. Because we learn early the way things have always been done, it becomes difficult to see new possibilities. We all know how tricky habits can be to break. The status quo is hard to see beyond, and knowing what to expect is comforting. Conversely, the unknown is well, scary. Identify and address habits and beliefs that are preventing your growth. Then, one at a time, replace the unhealthy with more intentional choices. For instance, if your habit is to pick up your phone when you are in social settings, give yourself some practical ways to engage with others around you instead.
The second barrier category is Rules and Traditions. The social group you’re in (academic, spiritual, familial, corporate, etc.) will guide your rules and conduct. He writes, “A person can be inflexibly tied to rules, or can be creativity-conscious – open, receptive, and encouraging of new ideas.” Not all rules and traditions are bad, but rigidity and close-mindedness limit our creative ability.
Moreover, we may be unaware of just how tethered to our rules and traditions we’ve become. If we stop and analyze, we may realize that we don’t agree with many of them. For instance, one organizational barrier is status hierarchy. This means someone of a lower status may be reluctant to suggest ideas to a person of higher status for fear of evaluation or criticism. We’re led to believe that the higher-ups are the visionaries because of their titles, so why try? Creative thinking is extremely limited by these rules. As a result, everybody loses when we buy into them. Write down and confront those unspoken beliefs and rules, and figure out if you want to adhere to them. If you don’t, make a change to live what you believe.
It’s All In Your Head
The third barrier category is Perceptual Barriers. Perceptual set, or functional fixedness, means when we are used to seeing things a certain way, it becomes hard to see new meanings or ideas. This bias limits our thinking to only seeing the original intended uses. This is in contrast to flexible, innovative thinking.
Davis’ creative recommendation for this is called “Make the Familiar Strange.” It means to see the common in new ways, looking for new ideas, meanings, and connections. For instance, say we’re trying to find a solution to a problem that will involve string. If there is a sign hanging from a string on the wall, we will make the connection and remove it from the sign. Perceptual set means being fixed on the existing function of the string, and overlooking its potential to be anything else. Above all, creative thinking allows us to see the possibilities of what could be, not just what is. Look for the strings around you, and utilize them to creatively solve whatever problem you encounter.
You May Get Some Weird Looks…
Next are Cultural Barriers which include social influence, expectations, conformity, and fear of being different. One example lies in our public school system. Children learn that it is good to be correct and bad to make mistakes. Mistakes and failure are actually a vital part of the creative process, and should be viewed as an important part of learning and growing. In the same vein, conformity, which protects the status quo, is highly valued in classrooms. Studies show developmental drops in creativity scores as children grow.
Likewise, this trend unfortunately continues into most workplaces. If you are able to get past the fear of scrutiny from your peers and supervisors or the pull of conformity, find ways to experiment and find creative solutions. This intentional creativity will lead to creative breakthroughs that would otherwise be undiscovered.
Silencing Your Inner Critic
The fifth barrier category blocking your creativity is Emotional Barriers, which make us “freeze.” These emotional blocks include anger, fear, and anxiety. More specifically- fear of failure, fear of being different, fear of criticism or ridicule, fear of rejection, fear of supervisors, timidity, and shaky self-esteem. We all relate to feeling some of these at one time or another. If left unchecked, they will certainly hinder our creative potential. Creativity takes courage, which does not mean we are never afraid. It simply means doing things scared. We will all feel fear at one time or another, but we cannot let that impede our goals for living out-of-the-box.
In short, awareness of your personal barriers is half the battle. Come to your creative activities with an open mind and an open heart. There are no wrong answers. When you create, follow your impulses, your curiosities and your inspirations. Don’t allow comfort, safety, convention, or practicality to interrupt your flow. When you are able to turn off the critical voices in your head and your heart, your creativity will witness a renaissance.
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