Here’s a true story.
There was once a young boy who was placed into special education for an auditory processing disorder. He was bullied, and teachers treated him as though he was dumb. One day, a teacher questioned his placement, inspiring him to see greater possibilities.
Moved out of special ed, the boy suddenly started doing well in regular classes—well enough that he dreamed of studying psychology in college. He was rejected from his top choice, but he tried to figure out another way in. He applied to the opera department instead. He sang his heart out. And he was admitted to the same university that had just rejected him.
He saw not one path, but many.
What I’ve learned as a psychological scientist is that creativity is an attitude, a habit, and a way of life that allows you to adapt to changing circumstances. Despite the mad genius stereotype, creative work can be highly therapeutic, and people who regularly engage in it are more likely to report greater personal growth. The capacity for creativity is also linked to a broader range of emotional experiences (both positive and negative), an intrinsic love for one’s work, and less interest in extrinsic rewards (such as money or social status).
Here are some questions for self-reflection from our new Creativity Playbook. How true are the following statements for you?
- I often seek out novel experiences and ways of doing things.
- I like to think of different ways to reach my goals.
- I often make decisions that take me outside my comfort zone.
- I have a playful attitude toward learning something new.
- I enjoy connecting the dots between seemingly different perspectives and thoughts.
Don’t think there’s only one solution to every problem. Looking out for options can turn a seeming dead end into a pathway to new horizons.
Do be open to new experiences and ideas. Look beyond your to-do list and consider other possibilities, even if they may deviate from the “plan.” Try to give the young people in your life more space to challenge assumptions, more opportunities to revise, and more time to daydream.
Everyone is creative, whether they realize it or not. That boy who got into college to sing opera? He switched departments to study psychology as soon as he could. And he grew up to write these words.
Scott Barry Kaufman, a psychologist at Columbia University, is the author of Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined and Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind (with Carolyn Gregoire).