Developing Creative Thinking Skills – A Psychological Approach
Being a creative person means being able to think up new ideas or new ways that something can be done. Traditionally, creative people are often associated with business, as creativity is necessary for the process of invention and innovation.
This allows people to come up with better, faster and cheaper ways of doing something, which then results in others wanting to use the good or service that they have produced. A good example of this can be found with Amazon.com.
Before Amazon, most books were sold in a bookshop. You had a small physical store with limited space and a small radius of potential customers who fell into your catchment area.
For a business, this is not an ideal situation to be in, because not only do you have large overhead costs relating to the rent and upkeep of your store, you also can only offer a limited selection of goods, to a limited number of people, which then places limits on your overall profitability.
Amazon, on the other hand, decided to stock their books in a giant warehouse and sell them over the Internet. Because they were no longer limited by space or location, they could offer a greater selection of books, at a lower cost and to many more people than traditional bookstores could.
This one simple idea gave Amazon the advantage they needed to become a success in what was already a very competitive market. They are now the leaders in their field.
Amazon.com shows that you don’t always have to invent something from new in order to be a creative person, as some of the best creative ideas have come from modifying or using existing inventions.
Amazon didn’t, for example, invent the warehouse distribution model and neither did they invent the internet. They did, however, see that you could put these two things together to produce something of greater value and that is essentially what creativity is.
Like Amazon, your ability to generate new ideas will be an extremely important factor in determining the level of success that you are likely achieve.
Remember, all you have to be is a little bit better than your competition, and if you can think of a way to do this, then you will vastly increase your chance of achieving the success that you desire.
How Much of Your Brain do You Use?
You have probably heard that the average person uses less than 10% of their brain. But this is a myth. It’s not true and not supported by scientific research.
The reality is that everyone uses 100% of their brain, regardless of their level of intelligence. We just don’t use 100% of our brain at any one time, because different regions of the brain are specialized to carry out different functions.
What this means is that the regions of your brain which you use the most are directly influenced by what you spend the majority of your time doing. Watching TV for example, produces high levels of activity in the back of the brain in a region known as the visual cortex.
Other activities, such as reading or writing which involve prolonged periods of concentration, tend to produce high levels of activity in the front part of the brain in a region known as the frontal lobe.
The significance of all this is that your brain is very much like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger and better it will become at doing your practiced task.
So if you spend all day watching TV, you will become very good at watching TV. If you spend all day reading, you will become very good at reading.
And if you spend all day trying to come up with new ideas and new ways that things can be done, eventually, that is what you will become very good at.
So in this sense, creativity is just another type of mental skill that can be developed with practice, but if this is the case, then why isn’t everyone who wants to be creative become a creative person?
The Discouragement of Creativity
Like most of our adult characteristics, the programming that you received during your childhood plays a big influence in determining how creative you currently are.
One study, for example, found that in children between the ages of 2-4 who were tested for creativity, 95% were classed as having creative thinking skills.
But when these same children were tested again at the ages of 4-7, only 4% were classed as having creative thinking skills!
In order to determine what may have caused this reduction in creative thought, the researchers conducting the study began to look at how the children were treated by their parents.
What they found was that in virtually all cases, the children were discouraged by their parents from asking questions and exploring their surrounding environment.
It was concluded that eventually a child learns to suppress their innate curiosity, because in order to gain the love and attention of their parent, they must sit down, be quiet and do what they are told.
In essence, through a process of conditioning, a child is taught to conform to their surrounding environment, driven by a belief that in order to get along they must go along with the established norm.
The uncreative adult
Most adults tend to resist change, fear new things and avoid asking too many questions, as they prefer to stick with the old-established way of doing something. This mentality, however, is hardly surprising if as children we were discouraged from being curious and encouraged to conform.
As a result of this, eventually a person develops a personality that hinders their natural creativity, because their frame of mind puts them in a completely different mindset from what is needed to be creative and to have creative thoughts.
The two most common personality traits that can hinder one’s natural creative ability are:
- Clinging to the “status quo” and doing things the way they have always been done.
- A hardened way of thinking and a refusal to accept other possibilities.
Both of these traits ultimately stem from a deep-rooted fear, the fear of rejection. This fear can cause a person to become overly concerned about what other people think of them, especially when they’re doing or thinking something which the majority do not do or think.
As a result, they fear that they will be ridiculed, looked down upon or not taken seriously by others. So in order to be accepted by others, they play it safe and do exactly what they were trained to do as a child: “go along, to get along“.
This is a very important point to understand, because if your life is continually ruled by this mentality you will find it very difficult to see your new ideas through to completion, or to come up with any new ideas at all.
A quick way to determine how much you have been affected by this mindset, is to think of times in the past where you thought you had a good idea, but didn’t follow it through because you thought “it probably wouldn’t work anyway“.
This is something that has happened to all of us, and is a classic example of going along to get along driven by the fear of rejection as a result of the conditioning we received during our childhood.
How Capable Are You of Creative Thought?
You can test you own creativity and flexibility of thought by asking yourself the following four questions:
1) Do you admit when you are wrong, or do you always try to prove that you are right?
2) How often do you change your mind about something after you have thought about it for a while or found out some new information to the contrary?
3) Are you willing to admit that you don’t know something? And then be willing to find out more?
4) Do you have an attitude of “trying anything once”? Or do you prefer to stick with the things that you are comfortable and familiar with?
The more easily you can admit that you were wrong, change your mind, admit that you don’t know something or try out new things, the more creative of a person you are likely to be and the less time and energy you will spend defending and protecting the past.
17 Ways to Become More Creative
What you have read so far in this article has addressed only one aspect of creativity, the psychological aspect. In the rest of this article, we shall be looking at some simple tips on how you can improve your ability for creative thought.
It is important to realize though, that you already are a very creative person, you just probably forgot how to be creative due to the effects of your childhood conditioning. But now that you are aware of this, you should find those effects much easier to overcome.
1) Be Aware of Negative Emotions
When you are angry, upset, stressed or consumed with any kind of negative emotion, areas of the brain that are responsible for creative and rational thought are shut down.
This then causes you to respond to stimuli using the irrational emotional part of your brain, the limbic system.
The results of this type of thinking often lead to poor decision-making, ignoring facts contrary to your current beliefs and an inability to think or concentrate clearly.
So if you find yourself in a bad mood, take a break and do something else as you are unlikely to be very productive in such a frame of mind.
Creativity is most easily accessed when you are in a relaxed state of mind and are feeling calm, happy and comfortable.
This means that the more positive you can become when working, the greater will be the quality and quantity of your ideas.
The importance of relaxation for creative thinking is well-known in the business world. Companies such as Facebook, Google and Yahoo, for example, try to create an environment that their employees can have fun in as well as work.
The same can be found with ad agencies which rely on creative thinking to keep their business alive, as they often have relaxation rooms in which their staff can sit or lie down when trying to come up with new ideas for a marketing campaign.
You can apply the same principles of relaxation to your own work by ensuring that your working environment is as pleasant as possible.
If you find yourself becoming stressed out, take a break and do something that you enjoy, as you will often find that your best ideas come when you least expect it.
3) Don’t Worry
Worry is a big blocker of creativity, as once you start to worry that you won’t be able to do something, you will find it difficult to relax and will soon be consumed with negative emotions.
For this reason, it is important to recognize when you start worrying so that you can then take action to stop that worry from spiralling out of control.
One of the best ways to deal with worry is to stop what you are doing and say to yourself “these negative thoughts are not helping me”. After you have said this, go and do something completely different, trusting yourself that the answer will come when the time is right.
Remember, creativity is something that can’t be forced. So the more you surrender to the process just described, the more likely you will be to come up with a creative idea.
4) Take a Break
The brain needs time to process the information it receives before it can come to a conclusion or find a solution to a problem. Sometimes, a short break to visit the restroom may be all that’s needed for this to occur. At other times, you might need to sleep on it.
Breaks are most effective when you feel that you have hit a brick wall and can go no further, as this usually signals that the brain needs more time to think things through.
If you allow yourself this time, you should find it easier to break through such barriers and will often see things from a completely new point of view and level of understanding.
5) Be Confident
When trying to solve a problem, approach it with an attitude of confident expectation. This means believing that it’s just a matter of time before you eventually find the answer that you are searching for.
This mentality will also help you to avoid becoming discouraged when facing a large challenging problem, as you will know that if you stick with it long enough you will eventually overcome it.
6) Avoid Functional Fixedness
Functional fixedness is a belief that something can only be done in a particular way, and, to borrow an old cliché, it’s one of the biggest barriers to “out of the box” thinking that you are likely to come across.
An example that helps to demonstrate what is meant by functional fixedness can be found with the invention of the airplane.
When people were first trying to fly, it was believed that flapping wings were necessary because that is how birds are able to fly. As a result, most of the first attempts to fly were based on some kind of flapping wing design.
The Wright brothers, however, realized that as long as you get the aerodynamics right then you could in fact create a fixed wing aircraft. After their first successful flight, they were able to break the established belief that you needed to flap like a bird to fly.
You can avoid functional fixedness by trying to think of odd or unusual ways to do something, something that seems so bizarre that most people would regard it as a “crazy idea”.
Most of the ideas that you come up with will be “crazy” and can be quickly discarded. But if you come up with enough ideas, you will eventually find one or two gems that provide you with just the answer you were looking for!
When you daydream, you let go of the way that things should be, the way they are, and enter a world of infinite possibilities where anything can happen.
This state of mind is particularly conducive to creative thinking, as it enables you to think about things in a different way to how you normally would.
Since creativity involves coming up with new and better ways of doing things, just like how Amazon.com did, as we discussed earlier, once you start to think differently you will automatically start to think more creatively as a result.
8) Talk to People
Talking to another person about something you have on your mind is a great way to explore that issue in greater depth and get someone else’s perspective on it.
This in turn can stimulate new ideas which you may not have thought of before, and encourage you to consider a greater range of alternatives than you previously had done.
9) Don’t Jump to Conclusions
Be open to different ways of exploring a problem, and avoid the temptation to automatically jump to conclusions and assume that you know the answer. Consider as many different possibilities as you can, as the best ideas usually come after considering many.
10) Concentrate on One Thing
Your brain can only hold one thought at a time, so try to focus your complete attention on the task at hand. The more you allow yourself to become distracted by something (e.g., what’s on TV later?) the less brain power you will have available for solving your primary task.
If you find yourself being easily distracted, then you may not be in a working environment that is conducive to creative thinking.
Some people, for example, work best in a quiet environment. Whilst others, work best when they have some kind of background noise.
Determine the environment in which you are best able to work, and then do all or the majority of your work in that environment with as few distractions as possible.
Exercise helps to increase blood circulation around the body and provide oxygen to your cells.
Since the brain uses about 15-20% of the body’s blood supply, doing some form of exercise each day is vital for keeping your brain healthy and ensuring that you are able to think clearly and concentrate properly.
Even if you don’t like to exercise, try going for a walk instead of going to the gym. Your brain will thank you for it, and you may even get a few good ideas along the way!
12) Have Goals
Having clearly defined and written goals can give your creative mind a major boost. This is because if you write down your goals, and then look at them every day, your subconscious mind will start to work on ways that those goals can be achieved.
The best part about this process, is that it occurs largely automatically. As a result, you may one day suddenly find yourself presented with the solution to your problem, thereby allowing you to take immediate and effective action on it.
13) Let Your Dreams Guide You
Ancient cultures used to use dreams as a means of alerting them to dangers in their future, and for solving problems they were struggling to find an answer to.
You can use dreams to help you become a more creative person by having a clear intention in mind before you fall asleep. You will often find that when you wake up in the morning, or the following morning, that your answer has come to you in a dream.
To make the most of the ideas that come to you in your dreams, keep a pen and pad of paper next to your bed so that you can record your dreams immediately upon waking.
14) Use Positive Language
Avoid using negative limiting language such as “this is impossible” or “I could never do that”, as such language creates barriers in the mind that can limit your thoughts and actions.
If you always talk to yourself in this way, for example, you are unlikely to bother even attempting to solve a problem, and if you do try, you probably won’t put very much effort into it and so will soon give up.
15) Define the Situation
Make sure that you clearly understand what you are trying to achieve and what resources you have available to work with. As if you go into something with only a vague idea, you will most likely end up feeling frustrated, unhappy and produce poor quality work.
You should therefore aim to educate yourself as much as you can about the task at hand before you start it, as this will give you a lot more information and ideas to work with.
16) Ask Questions
In order to get an answer, you first need to ask a question, and the more questions you ask, the more answers you will get.
If you find yourself stuck with something, try asking yourself a series of questions relating to your problem and then consider the opposite of the answer you get.
Asking questions will encourage you to approach things from multiple perspectives, consider new possibilities, and ultimately, make it much easier to find the solution to your problem.
17) Write 20 Answers
If you have a task that you are trying to solve but can’t seem to think up any good ideas, try writing down a list of twenty answers to the challenge you face.
The first few answers are likely to come easily, as these will come from your conscious mind. The last few answers will be the most difficult, but they will usually be the most valuable as they will come from your subconscious mind.
However, in order for this method to work you must do the list in one attempt. So make sure that you have plenty of free time to do it in!
You can enhance the effectiveness of this technique by doing the exercise before bed. You might then find that you get an answer in your dreams, or when you wake up in the morning.