Family Life: Strive to be creative at every age

Family Life: Strive to be creative at every age

By University of Illinois Extension

As the kids are starting summer break, they might have a lot more time to invest in their creative pursuits. No matter what your age or stage in life, it is healthy to foster creativity in yourself and others. While there is no universal agreement on what creativity is or isn't, experts tend to agree that creativity is not the same as talent or intelligence.

Any human being can be creative. It requires novelty or originality. There are three components to creativity: basic skills, creative thinking and working skills and intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is a passion and interest in something that doesn't require reward or recognition from others. These necessary components for creativity develop throughout life. If nurtured, creativity can flourish.

Children are naturally curious. Their curiosity drives them to figure out how the world works. Everyone should nurture the curiosity of children and teens in order to promote and encourage their creativity. But who is nurturing those skills in adults?

We should do the same for ourselves at all ages. We often let adulthood get in the way with the increasing responsibilities that put a demand on free time. When asked about their creativity, many adults nostalgically recall earlier times in their lives when they remember being creative.

There is great potential for creativity in later life once child rearing and the daily work grind are over. Biological research on aging has consistently indicated that the human brain can continue to make new connections. The building of these new connections has been shown to be enhanced by mental exercise or challenging the brain. It is not uncommon for many older persons to be very creative later in life.

There are lots of potential creativity killers for people at any age. Many of us have lost some creativity to them over the years.

Knowing what behaviors can be potentially limiting to creativity can help parents, teachers, managers, grandparents and others know how to avoid hampering creativity in others. Here are four mental locks to creativity:

Evaluation or judgment

Some studies have shown that if one is concerned that their efforts will be evaluated or judged, there is a reduced willingness to take the risk to be creative.

Surveillance

For some, simply being watched by others inhibits their creativity. This may be linked to the feeling that if they are being watched, they are probably being evaluated or judged.

Reward

For some people, the attention they give to the possible reward and to what they need to do to receive it interferes with the focus they give to being creative.

Competition

Competition can undermine creativity. Several studies have shown that this may be less true for boys than girls. Overall, having peers go against one another in win-lose competitions does seem to have a negative effect on creativity. However, recent studies of work teams have shown that competition against outside groups can have a positive effect on the creativity within a work team.

In order to enhance our creativity, we have to temporarily forget what we know and begin to ask questions that lead us to think in new directions. We can unlock the mental locks by:

Being open to multiple answers

Don't assume that there's only one right answer. There may be many.

Being playful with ideas

Creativity can be developed by posing the question, "What if?" These "what ifs" often don't lead to direct solutions for problems and may be described as being silly or foolish.

Thinking differently

Unconventional thinking is seldom welcomed. Society often rewards conformity. Those who don't conform are sometimes described as rebellious or weird. It takes courage to think differently.

Being open to make mistakes

Creativity is developed by risk taking. There are creative opportunities in mistakes.

"Don't let anyone rob you of your imagination, your creativity, or your curiosity. It's your place in the world; it's your life. Go on and do all you can with it, and make it the life you want to live." — Mae Jemison, astronaut. Raised in Chicago, she was the first African-American woman in space.

It's not easy to live more creatively and to foster creativity in others when the culture of one's home, school, workplace is not a place where creativity is endorsed. Building basic skills, nurturing creative thinking and working skills and avoiding the creativity killers are good ways to begin.

This article is adapted from "Fostering the Creative Spirit in Yourself and Others," written by UI family life educators. For more information on family life-related topics, visit website at web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv/ or contact Chelsey Byers at 333-7672 or clbyers@illinois.edu.

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