Many people experience a creativity comfort barrier.
Let me know if you’ve ever felt the following:
Someone asks you to think of something on the spot, or suggest an idea, and you freeze.
You say you can’t think of anything, and you feel nervous and maybe embarassed.
As if being asked to come up with an idea causes your mind to hit a brick wall, a barrier which it feels uncomfortable to push against and impossible to push through in the moment.
Why is that?
Check out the video above for the explanation.
Well there are a few reasons why. One is based on society, and one is based on biology.
Both combine to form the comfort barrier I talk about with my clients.
The biological reason for the comfort barrier:
Our brains have evolved to be as energy efficient as possible. This provides us with an evolutionary advantage, being able to find solutions to complex problems while still not using so much energy as to starve our bodies.
However, one thing which our brains have also evolved to do is to be as lazy as possible.
They will much rather work on autopilot than use up energy to continuously process external stimulus, if it recognises that it is safe in just using the memories of what has previously worked to solve the challeneg at hand and kept it safe.
Additionally, the more certain brain networks are used, the thicker the insulating Myelin layer surrounding the axons of the neurons become, which help speed up the speed and efficiency at which they can send signals. While an unmyelinated axon can transmit an action potential at speeds of between 0.5 and 10m/s, myelinated axons can transmit at speeds of 150m/s.
As a result, it is both more energy efficient and faster for the brain to use memories as often as it can, instead of relying on forming new connections of stimulus. This means that when challenged to come up with a creative idea it didn’t previously have, your brain needs to actively use new combinations of neural networks, which are less efficient and require more energy in the brain.
These new ideas are also more risky, since they aren’t using memories of what the brain knows will work, and therefore may put the person in danger. This is why so few wild animals show any creative traits.
So when faced with a creativity challenge, the brain will always prefer to use memories, or ideas which are very similar to memories. Only once it is pushed further will it spend the energy required to come up with truly new ideas. But that switching of mental activity into risky new situations can cause the discomfort that people want to avoid.
The societal reason for the comfort barrier:
Society also teaches us that we should avoid giving the wrong answer.
And the challenge of this is that all ideas are born imperfect, as ugly babies. So if you are challenged to suggest an idea spontaneously, your brain will automatically judge it as being extremely flawed and full of problems, exactly because it hasn’t yet had the time to be refined.
People don’t want to look foolish or give the wrong answer, so instead they feel that the safest thing to do is to just not give any answer, saying they can’t think of anything.
They also don’t engage in creative activities that they used to enjoy, because they are afraid of being judged.
It is this avoidance of creativity that is being taught to our children, and it is one of the reasons why children get less creative as they get older, as well as why the entire population is getting less creative over the last few decades.
So when faced with the dreaded question of thinking of an idea (even if there is no impact in giving a bad idea), there is a feeling of nervousness and anxiety because that goes against what they have spent the last few years, or decades, of their life doing.
So how can you get over your comfort barrier?
There are a few things you can do.
Based on all of my research, I have distilled my learnings into 5 activities you can do every day, week and month, which will help improve your creativity and reduce your comfort barrier again.
You can find that list here.
Latest posts by Nick Skillicorn (see all)
- The lowest common denominator - May 7, 2021
- Podcast S5E114: Stefano Mastrogiacomo – High Impact Tools for Teams - May 6, 2021
- The story of the Vasa, the innovative ship that sunk immediately - May 5, 2021
- Join me on 18th May, for a live “Ask Me Anything” session - May 4, 2021