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How Do Your Closely Held Beliefs Influence Your Creativity?

"In art, the hand can never execute anything higher than the heart can imagine." Ralph Waldo Emerson

Remember the Disney movie, “Dumbo”, where the young elephant is pretty sure he can’t fly? Then someone gives him a “magic feather”, and whammo, that’s all it took to have the little guy soaring all over the place, using his humongous ears as lift. In other words, he had a closely held belief that he couldn’t fly without some kind of voodoo, and that becomes ingrained as the movie progresses. The denouement is when he finally realizes he has the courage and the equipment to fly without the feather, and triumphs in the face of adversity (aka “meanies” or “bad guys”). And he saves his Mom. Yay, happy ending!

When it comes to creativity, so many of us are held back by our propositional belief systems, things that take hold early in life and refuse to let go. Then over time, we see the “proof” of the fact that we can’t play the piano or be a ballerina or make great art, and we give up early on. And if you study Emerson’s quote above, you realize that of course most of us end up believing this, we haven’t consulted our heart on the matter, only our very logical and danger resistant brain. 

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The heart is intuitive and contextual, and it’s where our actual wisdom and compassion (two of humanity’s winning attributes) come from. It is (or should be) our ultimate choice maker, giving us direction in times of need. The heart understands what the brain cannot: we are here to make a difference, not just sit around and survive.

A lot of people think that either you have creativity, or you don’t, and mistake creativity for craft. As a musician, I have encountered the comparative and envious statement, “You’re so creative,” more times than I can count in my life, without evidence to back up any fact proving that I’m more creative than the person making the statement. They have a closely held belief that they are, for some reason, NOT creative, without giving themselves the benefit of the doubt. But here’s the thing: creativity is an inherent tool that humans use to solve problems, it is not something that is either packed into your toolbox at conception, or isn’t, because someone forgot and left it out. 

Part of the reason that people hold these “I’m not creative” beliefs so closely, is that creativity tends to not show up in the first few solutions to a problem, so if the person with the belief gives up, they never get to the magical side of problem solving. Their early solutions tend to be obvious ones that probably have been tried before and proven unworthy of time or effort. The truly creative solutions don’t emerge until a lot of the early ones clear out, and things get pretty whacky. Once the barrier of “Naw, that could never work,” has been lifted, ideas appear that have never been considered as possible solutions, and the fun really begins. 

And fun is part of the process. When we’re having fun, our closely held beliefs tend to recede, and we feel free to try….anything. And there’s more good news: the more we exercise our creativity, the better we get at it. We don’t use up what we have, we generate more and more ideas as we learn to use it.

“I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Thomas Edison

There’s also a perception out there that you have to be great at something in order to be creative at it, but not being great at something might actually increase your chances of having creative ideas about it. If you don’t have any preconceived ideas about how something should be used or thought of, you could experiment to your heart’s content and might come upon something no one has ever thought of.

For instance, I’m a trained violinist who learned to play the violin a certain way. But if I handed my violin to someone who had never had lessons or knew what to do with it, I might see all kinds of creative uses of the object that would never have occurred to me. Within reason…..okay, bad example, I would never hand my violin to someone who didn’t know how to use it. Piano maybe, or a plastic recorder…… You get my point: just because I know the craft of playing doesn’t necessarily contribute to my creative output.

Another misunderstanding a lot of people have about creativity is that if it doesn’t show up early in the problem solving process, it’s never going to show up. All studies done on this belief disprove its truth; in fact, the more persistent we are with generating creativity, the better we’ll do at it. We need to let the stuff percolate for a while before coming to the conclusion that there’s no creative answer to a problem.

Listen, I know creativity can be scary. I was terrified to call myself a writer after a career of calling myself a musician. We are putting ourselves and our ideas on the line for all to see, judge and comment on. But the alternative is even scarier, and spells a life of hiding our gifts instead of sharing them for others' benefit.

The bottom line is, there is only one you, and that makes you unique in the world. Your solutions and creative ideas are therefore exclusive to you and you alone. To deprive the world of your take on solving problems or adding to its beauty is not only cheating yourself, it’s also cheating the rest of humanity. My suggestion is, grab a magic feather and get busy! The rest of us are waiting.

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