In 1666, a man who would go on to become one of the world’s most prominent scientists was strolling through a garden when he had a stroke of creative genius that would revolutionise the world.
Sir Isaac Newton was standing in the shade of an apple tree when he noticed one of the apples on the ground. Newton was perplexed as to why the apple always fell in a direction perpendicular to the ground. “Why should it not move horizontally or vertically, but always toward the centre of the earth? The earth’s gravitational pull is almost certainly the explanation. Something must be attracting us to matter.”
In this way, the concept of gravity was born.
The story of the dropped apple is now regarded as one of the most enduring and emblematic representations of a creative moment. It symbolises the brilliant insight that floods your mind during one of those “eureka moments,” which occur when the conditions for creative thought are ideal.
What most people forget is that Newton worked on his theories of gravity for nearly two decades before publishing his seminal work, The Principia: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, in 1687. This book changed everything. The apple toppling was simply the first step in a chain of thought that continued for decades after it was established.
The Creative Mind: A Byproduct of Destiny or Development?
Making connections between concepts that appear to have no bearing on one another at first glance is a prerequisite for creative thought. Is this a talent that we are born with, or something that we develop over time? Let us look into the research to see if we can find an answer.
In the 1960s, a creative performance researcher named George Land conducted a study on 1,600 five-year-old children, and the results revealed that nearly all of the children scored in the “very creative” range. Dr. Land examined each participant at regular intervals of five years. When those same children were ten years old, only thirty percent of their scores were in the very creative range. By the age of 15, this percentage had dropped to 12%, and by the age of 25, it had dropped to 2%. By the time the children were adults, they had essentially had all of their creative potential trained out of them. To paraphrase Dr. Land, “non-creative behaviour is learned.”
Other studies have discovered trends that are strikingly similar to ours. For example, a study of 272,599 students found that while IQ levels have increased since 1990, creative thinking scores have decreased during the same period.
This is not to say that education is the only way to develop creativity. Genetics makes a small contribution. Barbara Kerr, a psychology professor, claims that genes account for approximately 22% of the variance in creative ability. This phenomenon was discovered through research into how identical and fraternal twins think differently about creative problems.
Given all of this, it is clear that the argument “I’m just not the creative type” is not a particularly compelling reason to avoid creative thought. There is no doubt that some people have a natural talent for creativity that surpasses that of others. Conversely, nearly everyone is born with some degree of creative ability, and the vast majority of our creative thinking abilities can be improved through practice.
Now that we’ve established that creativity is a skill that can be honed, let’s look at why practising and learning affect your creative output, as well as the specific ways in which this occurs.
The Growth Mindset
What exactly do academics mean when they say “personality variables” are important to consider when it comes to improving your ability to think creatively?
One of the most important factors is how you evaluate your abilities on the inside. To be more specific, whether you approach the creative process with a fixed mindset or a growth mindset plays a significant role in determining how far your creative skills will develop.
Both Embarrassment and Creativity are Intertwined
What does it look like to practise the growth mindset when it comes to creativity? It all comes down to one thing: the desire to make a fool of oneself while pursuing a hobby.
According to Dweck, the growth mindset emphasises the process rather than the outcome. This is easy to understand and accept in theory, but it is extremely difficult to put into practice. The vast majority of people dislike dealing with the associated feelings of embarrassment or shame that are frequently required when learning a new skill.
There are only a few mistakes from which there is no way to redeem oneself. On some level, we believe the vast majority of us are aware of this. We understand that our lives will not be ruined if our book does not sell, if a potential date rejects us, or if we forget someone’s name when we introduce them. What happens after the incident is not always what causes us concern. The prospect of appearing ignorant, feeling humiliated, or dealing with shame along the way is what prevents us from starting at all. This is what prevents us from even attempting.
To fully embrace the development mindset and boost your creativity, you must be willing to take action in the face of these sensations that so often deter us.
How to Improve Your Creativity
Here are some actionable tips to help you become more creative, assuming you are willing to put in the effort to confront your demons and persevere through the failure process.
Try to Maintain Your Composure
Carefully crafted constraints are one of the most effective tools for stimulating creative thought. Dr. Seuss limited himself to only 50 words in total when writing his most famous book. Soccer players develop more sophisticated skill sets when they compete on a smaller field. A three-by-five-inch canvas can help designers create better designs for use on a larger scale. By imposing additional constraints on ourselves, we create more opportunities for creative problem-solving.
Expand the Scope of Your Knowledge
One of the most effective creative strategies is to challenge yourself to write about topics and concepts that appear to be completely unrelated. For example, when you use the 1980s basketball strategy, antiquated word processing software, or Zen Buddhism to depict your daily activities, you need to use your creative side. To paraphrase psychologist Robert Epstein, “if you broaden your knowledge, you will do better in both psychology and life.”
The main finding here is that sleep debt accumulates, and if you only get six hours of sleep per night for two weeks in a row, your mental and physical performance will drop to the level of staying awake for forty-eight hours in a row. Sleep deprivation has a significant negative impact on creative thinking, just as it does on all other cognitive functions.
Enjoy the Fresh Air and Sunshine
In one study, 56 participants were given a series of creative thinking tasks to complete before and after a four-day backpacking trip. The researchers discovered that by the time the travellers arrived at their destination, they had increased their creative capacity by nearly 50%. The findings of this study support previous research findings that increasing one’s time spent outside and exposure to sunlight can result in increased levels of creative thinking in a person.
Accept a More Optimistic Outlook
Positive thinking can lead to significant advances in creative thinking. Why? Positive psychology research has shown that when we are joyful, our thinking tends to be more expansive. The Broaden and Build Theory is a way of thinking that simplifies and facilitates the process of making creative connections between different concepts. On the other hand, it appears that feelings of melancholy and despair lead to more constrained and restricted thinking.
Send It Out
The simple truth is that originality can only be attained through hard work. Choose a pace that you know you can maintain and publish new content regularly; this is the single most important thing you can do.
Reflections and Conclusions on Creative Thinking
The creative process cannot be boiled down to a single occurrence. It’s more than just a eureka moment. Before you can move forward, you must overcome mental and psychological barriers. You must make a conscious decision to practise your craft every day. Furthermore, observing the development of your creative genius will require you to commit to the process for several years, if not decades, as Sir Isaac Newton did.