If you think creativity is a gift bestowed upon a select few and you are not one of them, think again. And if you want to grow your creativity, then developing a growth mindset might be an important step in that direction.
As a teenager, one of the many things I wanted to do when I grew up was to become a writer. I loved writing and would spend hours in a corner of my room huddled with my notebook and a pen, scribbling away stories, poems, and thoughts about life. I wanted to touch people’s lives with my words. As I grew up, however, I learned that writers were supposed to be “creative.” This was a problem, because my definition of creativity included the natural ability to draw well as an essential skill – a skill I didn’t possess (as evidenced by my art classes). Over the following years, I noticed other indications of my lack of creativity: apart from being laughably inept at drawing, I could never quite understand what it meant to “think outside the box,” and often felt that I wasn’t very “imaginative.” If writers were meant to be creative, then I wasn’t going to be one.
I could never stop writing, though – I enjoyed it too much to give up on it. Much to my relief, I later learned that there are different types of writers. I may never become a creative writer, I told myself, but could still explore the possibility of writing nonfiction. My assumptions about writing and about myself, however, were challenged about a year ago, when I was first offered the opportunity to write for The Creativity Post. On the one hand, I felt I could do it, but on the other hand, it didn’t seem right. Would even my nonfiction articles be any good for a website about creativity? Who was I to say anything on a subject I had little knowledge, experience, or talent for?
I have spent the past year struggling with this dilemma, and in the process, have learned a thing or two about myself, creativity, and the role our mindsets play in our lives. In this post, I want to share three of these lessons with you, in the hope of reaching out to those who may be fighting similar battles.
Lesson 1: All of us are creative.
In her seminal book The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, author Julia Cameron shares how surprised people are upon learning that she teaches creativity. Can creativity be taught? – They ask her. No, it can’t, states Cameron in her book, but then there is no need for that: each of us is already creative. What she teaches is how people can get out of their own way when it comes to realizing their creative potential.
When I first read about this perspective on creativity a few months ago, I began thinking about my own life. Could Cameron be right? Was there a likelihood that I was, dare I say it, creative? Once I started entertaining this possibility, I could recall various instances when people around me had referred to me as being a “creative problem solver” or “original thinker.” I had taken these comments with a grain of salt, because I was sure I knew myself better than others did, and I had never been creative. As it turned out, I was wrong. I didn’t realize it at first, but Cameron’s words had initiated an important shift in my mind, a shift that became inevitable when one day, I suddenly stumbled upon the long-lost memory of a little girl.
This little girl, in an attempt to outsmart her younger brother, had invented a fictional, flying friend, visible only to her. She spent countless childhood hours spinning on-the-spot tales of fantastical adventures with this invisible friend of hers, much to the consternation of her brother, whose only friends were visible, mundane human beings. That little girl had a fearless disposition, boundless imagination, and unrestricted creativity. A long, long time ago, that little girl was me.
At some point in my life, I forgot all about that side of me. I developed an inaccurate understanding of what it meant to be creative, found myself lacking in creativity as per this definition, and didn’t even realize this mistake until recently. If you, like me, think you lack creativity, begin by questioning your definition of creativity, and then think about the little girl or boy you once were. I have come to believe what Cameron says: all of us are already creative. We just need to get out of our own ways.
Lesson 2: Your mindset matters.
It took me a while to recover from the realization that I had spent over two decades of my life under the dark shadows of my lack of creative talent, not because I lacked creativity, but because I believed I did. After the initial disappointment at having wasted all this time, I was intrigued. What were the beliefs I held? Do other people have them too? Can they be changed?
I found important answers to these questions in Dr. Carol Dweck’s work on mindsets. In her bestselling book called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dr. Dweck suggests that there are two ways to look at human qualities such as intelligence, creativity, willpower, etc. We can either see them as fixed traits incapable of change (fixed mindset) or as malleable qualities that can be cultivated with effort (growth mindset). When we see human qualities as fixed, we value talent as the key to success and believe that the truly capable do not need to work hard. When we believe that these qualities are subject to change, we value effort and focus on improving our abilities.
In my case, for instance, I had a fixed mindset about creativity. I thought of it as an innate talent that some people had and some didn’t, and I didn’t. Also, there was little I could do about it, because creativity couldn’t be cultivated. On the other hand, someone with a growth mindset about creativity may have made an effort to develop it, and been successful in the process. Now, if I had had a growth mindset about creativity all along, would I have become a world-class artist? I don’t know. What I do know is that with a growth mindset, I would have spent all these years exploring my true potential as a writer. Instead of being afraid of sharing my work and receiving critical feedback, I would have embraced it as an opportunity to become better at my craft. For all I know, with a growth mindset, I might have already realized my childhood dream of becoming a writer.
Lesson 3: You can change your mindset.
Once I discovered that my mindset was getting in the way of my creativity, I needed one more question answered: Can I do something about it? Fortunately, the answer is yes. Dr. Dweck’s research indicates that people can take steps to change their mindsets, if they so desire. For many of us, just the awareness of these mindsets can initiate a shift. However, Dr. Dweck warns that “change isn’t like surgery.” It takes time, effort, and practice to bring about a change in mindset. The point is, it’s possible.
In my case, the shift began with learning about the mindsets, but is far from complete as of now. While I have started to believe that creativity can be developed, I also believe I have a long way to go before being creative can become a part of my identity. I have started taking steps in that direction though. A few months ago, I attended a painting workshop for the first time in my life, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I have also started working through Julia Cameron’s step by step process of unlocking one’s creative potential, as outlined in her book. Finally, I no longer try to shy away from opportunities that call for creativity. To be honest, this is still unfamiliar territory for me: uncomfortable and scary. But I am learning to see it as an opportunity for growth rather than a test of my capabilities, and I truly believe I can hone my creativity through this process.
So, what am I saying? Is a fixed mindset the only thing standing between you and your creativity? Maybe. It definitely was a significant roadblock for me. But then, maybe not. Each of us has a unique story, different circumstances, and varying degrees of luck, and all of these play a role in our lives. What I am saying is this: first of all, if you think creativity is a gift bestowed upon a select few and you are not one of them, think again. Secondly, if you want to grow your creativity, then developing a growth mindset might be an important step in that direction.