How to Think Creatively

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“I urge you: don’t cut short these thought-trains of yours. Follow them through to their end. Your thoughts and your feelings. Follow them through and you will grow with them.” 

J.M. Coetzee, Slow Man

What does it mean to ‘think creatively’? To  fully define this,  or to attempt to do so, would involve an exploration across the disciplines, across philosophy, psychology, sociology, art and so on. All would have different- and creative- ways of seeing the concept. 

Therefore this post can merely offer a glimpse of such a wide subject. It is, however, worth the endeavour, as it so enriching an area to begin to explore.

What words and phrases are commonly used to describe creativity across the different disciplines in the literature?

Let’s start with:  divergent, innovative, risk-taking, free, original, sensitive, productive, versatile, exploratory, adventurous, different, uninhibited, uncertain, independent, unconventional, individual, unusual, intuitive, playful, expressive, change-producing, imaginative, open. 

These all express aspects of this original way of thinking and they appear to have in common a sense of being outside the tramlines of everyday traditional, conventional thought.

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It appears that a necessary condition for the emergence of creativity involves allowing oneself the space and time to think, without rushing into a false sense of certainty.

A desire for certainty, as we have seen in a previous post, reflects the trend towards theoretical dogma and the wish for an absolute and totalitarian truth.  Being adaptable requires us to develop an ability to challenge learnt and subsequently internalised principles and rules, once thought important by influential others in early life.

Developing awareness of internal strictures is certainly a crucial initial step in moving towards mindfulness and inner freedom.

The writer Salman Rushdie confronts such ways of thinking:

The moment you say that any idea system is sacred, whether it’s a religious belief system or a secular ideology, the moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible.

– Salman Rushdie

There is involved in a creativity a definite sense of being individual, not following the crowd, resisting the dogma of others. Those who are creative tend to be people who think independently.

Often, choosing the counterintuitive over the accepted ways of thinking can be creative; all this may provide an an antidote to the cursory solution-finding culture in which we find ourselves.

“Living creatively is really important to maintain throughout your life. And living creatively doesn’t mean only artistic creativity, although that’s part of it. It means being yourself, not just complying with the wishes of other people.” Matt Groening

What qualities contribute to creative thinking?

Below is a list summarising  15 attributes.

(Perhaps you can think of more? If so please do include in the comments section below)

  1. Self-discipline and organisation
  2. Ability to thinking independently. Pushing accepted boundaries
  3. Willingness to work hard
  4. Self-confidence
  5. An exploratory attitude
  6. Seizing the day: making the most of opportunity
  7. A vivid imagination
  8. Willingness to take risks.
  9. Not always working in isolation- balancing alone time, when one might escape into one’s head and think, with times for sharing ideas with others. Valuing others’ approach is vital, as is their support.
  10. Adaptability
  11. Courage
  12. Motivation and Determination
  13. The right surroundings/environment
  14. Energy
  15. A well developed ‘child’ aspect to the personality. (Gardner.)

“Creativity is intelligence having fun.’ Einstein.

“I had a very happy childhood, but I wasn’t that happy a child. I liked being alone and creating characters and voices. I think that’s when your creativity is developed, when you’re young. I liked the world of the imagination because it was an easy place to go to.” David Walliams

Psychotherapy, group therapy, real conversation with others, research and reading widely can all help in terms of developing clear, free and constructive ways of thinking.

“Creative individuals are remarkable for their ability to adapt to almost any situation and to make do with whatever is at hand to reach their goals.”

“… a genuinely creative accomplishment is almost never the result of a sudden insight, a lightbulb flashing on in the dark, but comes after years of hard work.”

Csikszentmihalyi

It is inspiring and interesting to read about famous creative people and how they led their lives. Gardner’s book ‘Creating Minds’ examines the life and times of people such as Freud, Einstein and Picasso from the point of view of their creativity. He shows how many and varied ways there are of being creative.

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Van Gogh had many valuable views on creativity. To end this post, I quote a few of his statements about this subject, all of which inspire us to move forward and take creative risks. Along with these nuggets of wisdom, I include some of the wonderful paintings that reveal Van Gogh’s prodigious and marvellous creative output.

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Two Cut Sunflowers

“I dream of painting and then I paint my dream.” Vincent Van Gogh

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Almond Blossom

“If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.”
― Vincent Van Gogh

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Paul Gauguin. Vincent Van Gogh Painting Sunflowers

“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?”
― Vincent Van Gogh

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Starry Night 

“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.”
Vincent Van Gogh

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Olive Trees with Yellow Sky and Sun.

“I feel such a creative force in me: I am convinced that there will be a time when, let us say, I will make something good every day , on a regular basis….I am doing my very best to make every effort because I am longing so much to make beautiful things. But beautiful things mean painstaking work, disappointment, and perseverance.”
Vincent Van Gogh

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The Garden of St. Paul’s Hospital

“Sometimes, dear brother, I know so well what I want. I am quite able to do without God, both in my life and in my painting, but what I cannot do without, unwell as I am, is something greater than myself, which is my life, the power to create.”
Vincent Van Gogh

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