I have four amazing nephews, ages seven and under, and I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve been impressed by something unique or creative one of them has said or done. Their flights of imagination range from seemingly-logical to hilariously outlandish. A couple of favorite examples are the use of the word threeth (instead of third) and the day they turned their blanket fort into a school, complete with a teacher and the need to pack a “lunch” (I place that in quotes because of some of the surprising things that went into their lunchboxes).
When I watch them play, using their imagination to dream up rich stories, I often think about how uninhibited children can be and how unfortunate it is that adults often lose that creative spontaneity.
Today I want to look at three ways that we inhibit our own creativity and how we can adjust our thinking to push through those barriers . . .
I Can’t Do It! – Fear of Failure
When young children play, it’s unusual to see them hold back because of perfectionism, but when adults are working or trying to solve problems we often hedge with less-than-confident language and actions, driven by fear that someone (perhaps ourselves) may find that we’re not perfect . . .
But guess what–no one is perfect, and there are many examples of situations where repeated failure is the only way to learn the skill or crack the code.
Embrace imperfection as a universal part of any creative process. Acknowledge that there will always be some messy moments. Even masterful musicians, artists, and scientists still practice their craft daily, continuing to rehearse and experiment, even when some of the output is ugly.
If you always hold yourself back because you can’t reconcile yourself to imperfections, you will never do anything. This doesn’t keep you safe; it holds you back from producing a meaningful body of work with your life. You may avoid the imperfections, but in exchange you’ll accumulate a sea of “wish-I-hads.”
What Will They Think?! – Fear of Rejection
Children (at least up to a certain age) rarely compare themselves to one another when they’re playing or doing creative projects together. This unfortunate fear of judgment comes a little later with their first experiences of rejection . . .
And guess what–no matter how old you get or how wonderful your work, ideas, or efforts are, there will always be naysayers. If you take those caustic, critical words to heart, you will allow yourself to be limited rather than allowing yourself to make progress.
One excellent way to tune out the voice of rejection is to have a solid sense of your own purpose and priorities. Spend time identifying why you’re doing what you’re doing and allow that sense of purpose to propel you beyond the rough waters of rejection.
If you always hold yourself back because you are concerned that someone else may not like or understand what you’re trying to accomplish, you will never do anything. This also doesn’t keep you safe. You may avoid the Negative Nancy who will critique your work but will then meet the Negative Ned who will critique your lack of work. The only way to win against critics is to have a sense of yourself that will carry you boldly past their opinions.
But So-and-So Is Better! – Toxic Comparison
Young children rarely play the comparison game, but adults are often masters of it. Children usually focus on the simple enjoyment of the process, while adults continually look around them. Seeing others who are doing the same thing we’re trying to do (but better) can make it difficult to stay focused on our own path.
But guess what–no matter what you’re trying to do in life, there will almost always be someone who has done it better. If you allow yourself to always be looking around rather than down at your own “workbench,” you will be paralyzed.
This doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea to be aware of or inspired by the genius and success of others, but it does mean that their greatness should not be cause for you to not pursue your own. And remember, it isn’t productive to compare your “starting out” work or your “middle years” work to someone else’s mastery.
If you always hold yourself back because you don’t think you can perform at the same level as the elite of your field, you will never do anything. This doesn’t keep you safe either, because if you don’t try, you’ll always know you have untapped potential inside of you and you will miss out on the joyful cycle of practice, improvement, more practice, more improvement – something that all of the people you idolize allowed themselves to learn.
I’d love to hear about your experiences with overcoming creative inhibitions. Would you leave a comment to share your thoughts? Let’s continue pushing through our limitations together!
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