The power of the mind is something we have only begun to grasp and understand with the help of science. However, creativity is an expansive expression of what the mind can envision, create, and conceptualize.  The beauty of a fine painting. The elegance of a story that makes us think and emote. Even the email that gets everyone on board and fired up for the next meeting. Each of these expressions of creativity gives us a glimpse of what the mind can accomplish when roadblocks are out of the way.

Let Creativity Breathe and Don’t Take That Inner Critic Seriously

The problem is, we do not let our creativity breathe free.

We are our own worst critics.

We say things like “It’s not good enough,” “I should do better,” or even worse, “This is terrible.”

Say, for example, someone told Grandma Moses that her art looked like the scribblings of an eight-year-old, and Grandma Moses became so ashamed that she hid her work behind the couch. What a loss that would have been.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. However, if the beholder (let us say us in this example) thinks that we are not good enough, no matter what we do, or that what we do is never as good as what someone else does, our creativity—our spark, our take on the world—is snuffed out before it has a chance to inspire.

Be Mindful of Negative Self-Talk and Reframe When Possible

Human beings have a lot of “self-talk”—but we’re not always conscious of all that chatter in our heads. Our brain is constantly processing things and often making split-second judgements. Sometimes we may not even realize we say something until someone points at it, and we go, “Why did I say that?”

Think of self-talk like an angel or a devil on your shoulders. Do you ever meet “angel” people who really think that everything they do or say is perfect? Often, they love talking far more than listening. (Spoiler alert: This is most of us). We always are worried what we are going to say and what comes next, and we miss out on the moment.

Or, do we have a devil on the shoulder, always saying that we are not good enough, not pretty enough, and/or not smart enough to really be able to handle whatever is at hand. Sometimes we get so lost in our negative self-talk that when the evidence around us says otherwise, we still hang on to the negative.

I had a friend who was out with me one night, and a very attractive stranger came over and started flirting. My friend did not even notice, seemed to be awkward, and then when I pointed it out, they said, “No way, I am way out of their league. I could never be attractive to someone like that.” Thud! Think about how we talk ourselves out of anything. If nothing we do is good enough, creativity can dry up quickly because of a fear of failure in response to our criticisms and lack of confidence. (Learn how Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is being used in inpatient treatment to change negative mindsets that occur with depression and other mental health conditions.)

Focus on the Process and Goal of Creating, Not Pleasing Others

At the core of creative expression is the goal and act of creating—not seeking the appreciation of others. We say, do, or create something because we need to express it.  There is no good or bad. I may like a book that another person can’t stand. All that shows is our different preferences, not anything inherently good or bad about the book itself.

Many creative people have been surprised to learn they’re creative. The problem is letting other people decide if that’s the case. Think about what it would be like if you could notice, but not judge, as in refraining from judging in terms of “good” or “bad” and instead just observing (“Ah, there it is.”)

To be able to create something and feel good in the creating, not in the praise/criticism received—that’s a sweet spot for creatives. Some of the most out-of-the-box thinkers changed the world because they were themselves, regardless of what others said they were.  They expressed and people followed.

You may not get modern art, but that doesn’t mean it’s ugly—just that it is not you.  Try to splash yellow paint on a canvas and get someone to buy it for a million dollars. Is the creativity in the splash or the million dollars?

Do It Because It Speaks to You or Makes You Happy

I imagine Michael Angelo would be surprised at the money his paintings cost today.  He probably thought, “I am just a painter. This is fun. Wow, I can feed myself by painting.” Would he have painted over all those other paintings—(artists often did this because they didn’t make much and canvases were expensive)—if he knew a sketch would be so valuable?

Think about what your creativity would be worth if you appreciated the creative act and nurtured non-judgmental self-talk. It may be time to end the comparisons to someone else or something “better.” Granted, not everyone is going to sell a million-dollar painting, but it’s not impossible. Without booting that critic in the head, we can’t know what things we might create.  Try to notice and don’t judge.  Sing in the shower even if your cat screams at you. Write down your feelings in a poem. Take a picture. Regardless of how “good or bad” it is, it may speak to someone, even if that someone is you; and, chances are, that if it speaks to you, it may speak to someone else.

Did you know that scientific evidence shows your creativity decreases over time

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Beau Nelson

Director of Clinical Services at FHE Health
Dr. Beau Nelson heads the Clinical Services department at FHE Health, a national behavioral health provider treating addiction and mental health conditions.

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