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How to be More Creative

by Sheldon Litt, Ph.D.(more info)

listed in psychology, originally published in issue 44 - September 1999

Recently I saw some advertisements for Creativity courses, which have an admirable goal – teaching people to expand their creative powers. Can one learn to become more creative? Creativity is certainly a positive factor in the modern world, not only for artists, but indeed for designers, computer experts and just about anyone else who seeks to conquer new horizons.

In the ancient oriental tradition, the Tao offers a simple and elegant recipe for being more creative: "stand out of the way".

Well, sounds easy, but how to do it?

Fritz Perls, the most creative psychotherapist I have ever met, put it this way: "Be open and the answers are there."

In general, courses designed to improve creativity follow two broad approaches. First, one may look at what is obstructing the natural creative flow, and work on reducing the obstacles. And second, various training exercises for reaching new depths of creative energy.

To begin, let's examine what it is that gets in our way to prevent the flow of creative juices. It is generally true that children are more creative than adults. Creativity is a natural human function, related to the curiosity/exploratory drive, which unfortunately diminishes with age in most people.

Perhaps the major resistance to being creative is the obstructive "inner critic" who barks at us that we're just not good enough. This powerful inner voice is so highly developed in some people that it paralyses their potential. Related to this is the fear of failure which induces many to avoid risk-taking. Instead, people play it safe.

Another common block is a kind of cultural stiffness. Rigid people who stick to the old traditions will summarily fail to strike out in new ways.

Conformity is the enemy of creativity. Similarly, many people have an encrusted perceptual set which invariably leads them to seek "balance". Afraid of any kind of disorder or ambiguity, they cling to a sterile symmetry, thus closing off many creative avenues.

Then there's another familiar dead end in the search for creative paths: that is the person who is too confident in his usual way of doing things. Egoistically tied to a certain pattern, he or she will do it his or her way rather than try any new, possibly superior solution. It may be that adherence to a particular school of thought prevents new ideas from seeping in (this is often true of psychologists who owe allegiance to one theory and therefore obliterate any novel discovery).

Often, the main stumbling block to a richer creative life is simply that the person has accepted integration at a fairly low level; that is to say, taking the easy way out. Instead of a rich emotional life, he has settled for safe boredom. Spontaneity is mistrusted, and even seen as dangerous. For such people, sensitivity is underdeveloped and there is poor contact with both one's self and the environment.

They're just not up to reaching a higher creative level. And they lack interest in achieving this.

So the first step is to point out these creative blocks and show how a different perspective may lead to useful changes. Shifting over from the negative hindrances to creative output, we can then approach the problem from the positive side. What are some direct ways in which we can maximise our creative abilities?

I have frequently worked with artists suffering from "creative blocks" who were unable to continue working. Sometimes it is possible to suggest experiments which can go beyond merely freeing them from the negatives which hold them back. One favourite positive approach to discovering new creative power is an adaptation from Carl Jung's technique of "creative imagination". The person is asked to close his eyes and just focus on what he is able to perceive with eyes closed.

This is more difficult than one imagines. You could call this exercise: "the seeing of the seeing". Just pay attention to what is, a vital first step.

Attempting this experiment, some people will be unable to do it. Just keep them focused, and give enough encouragement to continue. If they are theoretically minded, I tell them that this is a phenomenological study of internal perception. To the scientifically inclined, I compare it to the physiological sensation defined by the term "phosphene". But most people just attempt to follow my instructions without questioning too much.

When they have concentrated for a period of time, I ask gently what they see. Some say they can see a dark background with patches of light. Others report only dull darkness. And then there are those who experience flashes when looking at the inner screen. There is no right or wrong answer; the goal is to contact whatever exists for you now.

Just see what is right in front of your eyes without forcing or expecting a special response.

This freedom to contact what is there, without coercion, may increase immediate awareness and sharpen contact with actuality. For some, interesting images emerge with unusual forms and patterns. I ask all to follow whatever happens, describing it in detail – it can change from moment to moment. Eventually, some subjects get in touch with scenes or patterns which can then be painted or drawn or sculpted or used in some other form. The basic idea is to get more in touch with one's own inner state, and therein lies some possible, creative source which can be useful to tap.

In addition, there are other methods to stimulate creativity. One can use dreams or daydreams in similar fashion. "Guided fantasy" is another technique, originated by Fritz Perls over 50 years ago.


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About Sheldon Litt, Ph.D.

Dr Sheldon Litt is an American psychologist who trains professionals in modern methods of psychotherapy. He has taught at many universities in northern Europe. He was trained by Fritz Perls at the New York Institute for Gestalt Therapy.S. Litt, Inedalsgatan 25, S-11233 Stockholm, Sweden. Tel: +468 651 2489 Email:

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