Talk - Zorana Ivcevic Pringle Ph.D.
Zorana Ivcevic Pringle, Ph.D., is a senior research scientist at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.
This article has been edited for Intuitive Abstract Art Class Students.
Overcoming Creativity Anxiety
Understanding the nature of creativity can help one avoid misinterpreting its challenges as lack of skill.
What is most difficult about creativity is committing to original ideas and developing them through a non-linear process.
Creativity requires a willingness to tolerate a level of risk and a variety of emotions.
Creativity is not commonly found on the lists of self-care activities. Yet, evidence is accumulating about creativity helping us come up with more effective emotion regulation strategies, enlivening our relationships, improving moods, and enhancing our sense of purpose and meaning in life.
Creativity can be anxiety provoking. It requires us to face a blank canvas. Because creativity means doing something that has not been done before, there are no roadmaps. And we never know how will others react to our ideas or creations.
These are very real challenges. The good news is that there are two kinds of lessons that can help. To overcome creative anxiety, we first need to understand how creativity works. Because if we rely on (common) misconceptions about creativity, we might misinterpret some aspects of the creative process, get more anxious, and eventually discouraged. And second, we need to have strategies—things we can do to think more creatively, manage inevitable obstacles and challenges, and finally transform ideas into reality.
Creativity can be little and big. And different kinds of creativity are important in different ways.
When asked for examples of creative individuals, people readily think of geniuses, such as Nikola Tesla, Toni Morrison, or Antoni Gaudi. These individuals are examples of what creativity scholars often call Big-C creativity. Their creative achievements have profoundly and enduringly influenced or changed culture or the world at large. It is understandable that these individuals come to mind first—their creativity is obvious and we have heard much about them. But if we think that creativity is only or even primarily in the domain of genius, it is easy to get anxious and dispirited about it.
Luckily, there is much more to creativity than Big-C. Creativity happens in mini ways in the learning process, such as when making a connection between new concepts and personal experience or when a child independently discovers a new learning strategy. This creativity enriches and improves our learning. Creativity also exists in our everyday activities and interactions. We can think of an original way to cheer a friend who is going through difficult times.
Our culture sends us messages that creativity is an innate ability and that we either have it or do not. These messages are often implicit. That is, we are not directly taught that we have a fixed amount of creativity, but we get this message indirectly. We are not taught creative thinking or strategies for developing creative ideas at school.
Anyone who ever took part in a brainstorming session understands that people are good at generating ideas. Indeed, a survey of organizational leaders shows that they believe that people have no trouble generating ideas; it is bringing those ideas to life that is a problem.
What is most difficult about creativity is committing to original ideas with the potential to be effective and developing them through a process that is not linear and is full of challenges.
It's not just you; creativity is a rollercoaster of emotions.
Just as creativity requires a willingness to tolerate a certain level of risk, it requires a willingness to tolerate a variety of emotions, from anxiety in front of an open-ended task to frustration at obstacles to disappointment or even angerat challenging feedback to the joy of accomplishment. And it is understandable that we might want to avoid unpleasant feelings.
Experiencing difficult emotions can make us doubt ourselves, feel discouraged, and want to give up. It is easy to think that the difficulties are diagnostic of our lack of skills. But unpleasant feelings are not unique to this experience. Many artists describe emotions in their creative process from pleasure to melancholia or even desperation. When you know that difficult feelings are to be expected, it becomes easier to remind ourselves that they are temporary once we experience them. This, in turn, can help us wade through them.
Creativity is related to both vulnerabilities and strengths.
In addition to higher psychological vulnerabilities, creative individuals also have strengths which can help them deal with challenges. For example, creative individuals have a sense of personal agency—the ability to contribute to achieving their goals—and they can think of different ways to get to their goals. They also have attributes of psychological well-being, such as a sense that they have grown and developed as a person over time and a sense of direction and purpose in life, as well as attributes of resiliency (i.e., getting over and recovering from difficulties).
Psychologists have repeatedly shown that how we think about something greatly influences our actions. This general lesson applies to creativity, too. If we think creativity is innate, any difficulty or obstacle can seem to confirm our doubts and anxieties. Knowing that creativity can be self learned can make us more likely to try. And in those times when we have doubts about whether we want to be creative, we can remind ourselves of the potential benefits it can bring to our well-being.
“Be a good steward of your gifts,” the poet Jane Kenyon urged. Our gifts come unbidden — that is what makes them gifts — but with them also comes a certain responsibility, a duty to live up to and live into our creative potential as human beings. “Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but most of all, endurance.” That durational willingness to work at our gifts, to steward them with disciplined devotion, is our fundamental responsibility to them — our fundamental responsibility to ourselves.
Creativity is much more than a skill. It speaks to our natural magic: being able to make something out of nothing. Creativity is also how we express our individuality and make neat things happen in the world.
Discussions and References to help inspire