Creative Thinking — It’s Something You Can Learn!

Creative Thinking — It’s Something You Can Learn!

I’m one of those people that have always been considered a creative type — because I have always been interested in art/graphic design, writing, music, and many other creative ventures over my lifetime. But even for me, creative thinking itself doesn’t always come naturally or automatically.

In 2011 I moved to Phoenix, Arizona, and landed a job as a Web Designer/UI Analyst. Although I had no question that I was a creative person (with an overactive imagination), on the job they would often have brainstorming sessions and expect me to be throwing out ideas right and left for any given project they’d be working on.

This particular way of being creative didn’t necessarily suit me at the time. I wasn’t comfortable being put on the spot and expecting great ideas to just shoot out of me rapid-fire style. I’m a more methodical, strategic type that prefers time by myself to think over the best approach.

Additionally, it was very clear that they were expecting something very specific out of me and out of any given project we were working on, and I was expected to match that. This ended up causing a mental block for me — I felt like I didn’t have any room to really be fully creative and was rather overly focused on meeting their expectations.

Creative Frustration

That being said, I started to lose my confidence in my abilities to some degree. I felt like I wasn’t living up to what they expected, and I felt like there was something wrong with the way I did things, because they didn’t seem to understand it either.

I kept thinking, “maybe I’m only sort-of creative in certain ways, but have an issue when it comes to being pressured to having something to show for it.”

Over time I also learned that that particular job just wasn’t a great fit for me for a number of reasons (not in the work I was doing, but more in the environment), and feeling like an outsider there to some degree also didn’t really help me to be creative.

Understanding the Nature of My Creativity

Some time later, I found an online class that was entirely centered around developing creative thinking. I learned that even those who weren’t born to be a “creative type” could learn creative thinking strategies that would help them come up with creative ideas; and the more you practiced it the more efficient you would become at doing this.

I took it because I felt vulnerable due to my experience at the job, and felt like this would help me regain some of my confidence. Maybe it would even help me adapt to situations where I was expected to come up with ideas on the fly.

The class really helped, and showed me that developing your creative mind really is like a muscle. It also helped me realize that I wasn’t lacking, but that I worked best in a specific way and there was nothing wrong with that.

So in addition to understanding how creative thinking could be developed, I gained more self-awareness about how my own brain worked and what stimulates my creativity rather than hinders it.

Some Strategies for Creative Thinking

  • Get comfortable with being uncomfortable, as the saying goes. Get out of your comfort zone. Doing this is extraordinarily valuable in how it can open your mind and teach you things.
  • Learn to embrace your own “weirdness” and what makes you unique. Don’t suppress or deny any parts of you just because you think they might be looked at in a negative way. This will help you embrace all of your traits and expand your limits.
  • To think of something unique, practice thinking of two or more unrelated things and putting them together to make something entirely new (for example, an “air conditioning monster”).
  • Take a project that’s already been done or somebody you’re inspired by and put your own spin on it.
  • And most importantly, read this super awesome article from one of my favorite entrepreneurs James Altucher. He talks about making a habit of coming up with 10 ideas a day and how this consistent habit can seriously change your life over time.

He also mentions the following:

Perfectionism is the ENEMY of the idea muscle. Perfectionism is your brain trying to protect you from harm. From coming up with an idea that is embarrassing and stupid and could cause you to suffer pain.

We like the brain. But you have to shut the brain off to come up with ideas.

This explanation is exactly what happened to me on the job. Not fitting into their method of coming up with ideas and the loss of confidence in myself as a result further debilitated me from being able to function in a creative way.

Perhaps if I had focused on not caring what ideas came out of my head (whether good or bad) or if they matched what I thought their expectations were, I would have actually come up with some pretty awesome stuff.

Hopefully if you’re having (or have had) an experience similar to mine, this will inspire you to regain confidence in yourself even if you’re experiencing a creative muscle block, and not to fear if it happens!

It doesn’t mean you’re not actually creative, you just have to learn and work with how your brain works best.

Learning How to Fly, Not Just Wobble: A Path of Uncertainty

Learning How to Fly, Not Just Wobble: A Path of Uncertainty

Living Life My Way

The biggest challenge in my life has been trying to figure out how to live it my way – and it’s all mostly a mental game. I’m starting to get on top of certain things, but all I’m getting on top of is understanding my weaknesses (a huge advantage because it gives perspective) and I’m starting to see others’ weaknesses as well. We all want to be somebody or feel important and most of us spend our entire lives following the herd in every single way possible.

I also think we forget how to live our life with passion – because let’s be honest life can get really damn boring always trying to live up to some expectation or do some kind of path that people tell you you’re supposed to be on.

I’ve spent YEARS just trying to figure out how to get that passion back, and it hasn’t been easy because for one there’s a lot of noise you have to sift through to really get to your core feelings. Secondly I had the realization that I wasn’t doing my due part even if mentally I was trying to figure it out – I wasn’t working hard enough or actually taking the action necessary to live up to what I knew was my potential. 

It also hasn’t been easy because I’m not busy doing things other people are doing – I’m not on any regular path. I’m not changing jobs or going back to school to further challenge myself and many times I felt a sort of pressure to do that, just to relieve this feeling of “WTF am I doing?”.

But I realized that while I would benefit from those things, they’d also further distract me from that main thing I’ve been trying to do: learning how to carve out my own position in life first with the tools I have now and even believing that it’s possible  and learning from the journey of THAT.

I actually have great work ethic, I just didn’t know how or where to start, and so I’d often get stuck in the same rut of trying to strategize my future and not acting. I didn’t realize that it can’t always be about planning the course, like I’ve done the rest of my life with planning jobs, planning education, and so on. This path is primarily in the moment. It happens by paving it with action.

It’s difficult because it’s such a “murky” and unclear place to be. With the clear path school or climbing the corporate ladder gives you for example, it allows you to see the reward during it and at the end, for the most part. You may just not know how small or how big the reward will be at the end, but you see with certainty that it’s going somewhere. With this path, there will be a reward at the end too (all life experiences give rewards), but it’s really difficult or impossible at this point in time to really see where it’s leading.

There have been one million thought patterns and directions I could go in and interests I have, and it’s literally taken years to figure out that I think I finally understand how to execute and not just how to think.

I’m keeping this somewhat abstract because this feeling can apply to a lot of situations in life where we feel alone or are treading our own path despite pressure to do otherwise.

If you’re experiencing something similar or have in the past, hang in there ’cause you’re not alone, and don’t forget to work your butt off because if all else fails at least you will have really learned something.

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