Do you remember how easily you could unleash your creativity as a child? Creativity was part of your everyday life. Maybe you used to make artistic masterpieces at your kitchen table with nothing but glitter and tempera paints, or maybe you were the leader of your neighborhood adventure team/spy network/superstar music group. However you played, you engaged your creative mind regularly and without judgment.
As you grew up, something changed, and creativity stopped flowing so easily.
Challenges in Adult Creativity
A longitudinal test of creative potential conducted by Dr. George Land originally developed for NASA found that out of a sample of 1,600 4- and 5-year olds, 98 percent of them tested at the level of “creative genius.” In the same group of children tested five years later, only 12 percent ranked as highly. When the same test was given to a sample of 280,000 adults where the average age was 31, only 2 percent reached the level of “creative genius.”
So what happens between the ages of 4 and 31?
School, church, social pressures, jobs, perfectionism, failure, success, rewards, shame, praise… in other words, life. Children grow into adults whose attitudes towards creativity are influenced by positive and negative experiences of their early creative behaviors.
For example, a child praised for musical talent at a young age might continue to pursue music as an adult in the same way that someone who was ridiculed for making art as a child is more likely to avoid making art as an adult. In other words, early experiences with creativity shape how creative we perceive our adult selves to be.
Religion and Creativity
The education system is often cited in conversations about the decline of creative thinking in children. While school is definitely a site for creative development, religious institutions also play a role. Sunday School asks kids to make connections between the ancient past and present each time kids hear a story. This kind of analysis is a built-in mechanism for imagination that, when coupled with creative play, can create a lush landscape in which creativity can flourish.
Though the statistical relationship between religion and creativity is debated, religious institutions we participate in as children can play a role in our ongoing creative development.
The version of Christianity I knew as a kid would have discouraged me from pursuing my creative endeavors in secular spaces and used them only for the benefit of the church. This would have meant playing guitar in the worship band and only for Christian audiences, which would not have been fun for me. My creative energy would have run out before I finished high school and, knowing myself, I would have been reluctant to ever pick up the guitar again.
As an adult Christian “convert” in a mainline denomination (United Church of Christ), my spiritual mission is that of co-creator and steward of this earth. So I create with the best intentions to care for this planet and the creatures that inhabit it. This comes directly from how I engage scripture on a sensory level and the messages I glean from this practice.
Each time I read, pray with, and meditate on scripture, I deepen my imaginative wellspring. I can close my eyes and insert myself into a vision of the story. I see the colors, smell the scents, hear the sounds. In other words, my imagination fully immerses me in what I’m reading.
5 Tips to Help Unleash Your Creativity
The fact is that everyone is creative despite the prevalent myth that we lose our ability to be creative as we age. And you can nurture creative development at any age. Below, you’ll find five tips to help you unleash your creativity regardless of whether you think of yourself as a creative person.
Designate a judgment-free zone.
Many people who think of themselves as not creative or imaginative are afraid to take that first step. Doing something outside of your comfort zone can feel scary and vulnerable, which is why it’s important to make sure that your new creative habit takes place in a judgment-free zone.
Try this: make a sign that says “judgment-free zone” using whatever is at your disposal. It doesn’t have to be pretty but it does have to be noticeable. When that sign is in view, all forms of judgment and criticism are prohibited.
Commit to being creative for just yourself.
Early on, it’s important to commit to being creative for just yourself. You can invite other people into the process by sharing that you did what you set out to do, but you don’t have to show anyone what you create. I say this to keep your creative space a judgment-free zone. Even if the people you share your creation with have positive reactions, it’s easy to fall into the old habit of self-criticism. You’ll want to keep your early experiences on your creativity journey positive, so do what you can to minimize the amount of internal and external criticism.
To do this, know that you don’t have to show anyone what you make, know that your creation is just for you and that it is good because you did it.
Do things you like to do.
In order to feel inspired and creative, you need to like the activity you are participating in, which means that you might have to try a few different mediums before you find a medium that really feels right. If you don’t like what you’re doing, you won’t want to do it, and if you don’t do it, you’ll make yourself vulnerable to thoughts of failure and disappointment, which will only keep you from being creative in the future. This is the vicious spiral that spiritual imagination coaching seeks to disrupt.
I’m always amazed by the number of people I meet who were forced to play an instrument they hated as children and now can’t bring themselves to learn another instrument even if they’ve always wanted to learn it, or people who went to art school only to never make another piece of art after graduating. The love they once had for their creative gifts dries up and they don’t seek out new modes of expression. (This almost happened to me as a music student.)
If you already have a creative hobby that is starting to feel like a chore, it might be time to take a break to reevaluate your relationship with it. It could be that you need to do something different for a little while to really find your creative flow.
All of this to say: you will feel much better about what you create if you actually enjoy the process of creating it. So do what you like.
Document the occasion.
Make a note to yourself when you do something creative. It can be as simple as saying “I did it,” or “Done” aloud once you finish. Again, you don’t have to show anyone what you made. Documenting the occasion with a simple acknowledgment will help you feel accomplished and excited about continuing your creative path.
Like any process, unleashing your creativity will have ups and downs, so it’s best to keep a record of the times you create something so that you have it when the lows strike. This record serves as evidence that you can do it and will help keep you motivated in the times where your motivation is wearing thin.
That said, if documenting the occasion feels like extra stress or like it will lead you down the path of self-criticism, don’t do it. This tip is only to help reinforce your new creative habit. If you feel like you don’t need the record, then you don’t have to keep it.
At the end of the day, your creative endeavor shouldn’t be a source of additional stress. Creativity flows best in a mind at rest. So, stop what you’re doing and walk away. Make some tea. Go outside. Take a shower. Do something completely different. You might find that a little break in your concentration is enough to shift your perspective. With a new perspective comes new ideas, and with new ideas comes creation.
There you have it! To sum it up:
- Designate a judgment-free zone
- Commit to being creative just for yourself
- Do things you like to do
- Document the occasion
These five tips will help get you started on the path to feeling more creative, though some people find they need additional support and the 1-on-1 attention a coach can provide. If you find yourself needing additional support, book your free Catalyst Call to get a personalized plan to support your creative expansion.
As a spiritual imagination and leadership coach, I specialize in helping faith leaders, like you, unleash their creative selves and bring that newfound sense of creativity into their leadership styles. Shifting Sacred Futures is my 6-week program designed for progressive, radical, and justice-seeking faith leaders. Join my mailing list to stay up to date on future cohorts.