People tend to consider creativity something that you either have or don’t. Statements like “Wow, you’re so lucky to be creative. I wish I was like that!” perpetuate the idea that being creative is something inborn, inherent, and immovable. But behavioral science on creativity, spearheaded by researchers like Robert Epstein, has actually proven otherwise. Creativity isn’t an innate quality that someone is born with or without, it’s a skill that people can develop with practice--and they enjoy plenty of health benefits for doing so.
In 2012, Tina Seelig, the executive director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, wrote a book, inGENIUS: A Crash Course on Creativity, to illustrate exactly that point.“We are all naturally creative,” Seelig told Business News Daily, “and, like every other skill, some people have more natural talent than others. However, everyone can increase his or her [or their] creativity, just as everyone can increase his or her [or their] musical or athletic ability, with appropriate training and focused practice.” Creativity isn’t something you are, it’s a habit—and for good reason. “The biggest myth about creativity is that it isn’t important and that it can’t be learned. In fact, it is one of the most important skills we can master,” Seelig explained.
There’s plenty of science behind the benefits of consciously fostering creativity and exercising those skills over time. Here’s why it’s important (hint: it means a happier, healthier you) and what you can do to practice it in your everyday life.
Creativity Strengthens Your Brain
As you know, the brain is divided into two hemispheres—the left performs logic-based tasks like those concerning math and the sciences while the right is focused on creativity and the arts. A 2014 review study found that certain activities that we consider creative, like learning to play a musical instrument actually increases the connection between the two sides of the brain. “Collectively, the existing literature tends to support the hypothesis that musical training can induce changes in cross-hemispheric connections, with significant differences frequently reported in various regions of the corpus callosum (the nerve fibers that join the two brain hemispheres) of musicians compared with non-musicians,” the authors write.
Creativity Improves Your Physical Health
It turns out that creativity can actually boost your immune system. As part of a 2016 study, participants affected by cancer took part in one hour of group singing. Their moods and stress levels were tested before and after singing and researchers found that “across all five [separate choirs] and in all four participant groups, singing was associated with significant reductions in negative affect and increases in positive affect,” which means that the study found that singing actually improves mood and boosts the immune system by increasing proteins that help the body fight illnesses.
Creativity Leads to Optimism and Solutions-Focused Thinking
Creativity produces ways of thinking that are focused on what’s possible rather than what is. “With enhanced creativity,” Seelig said, “instead of problems we see potential, instead of obstacles we see opportunities, and instead of challenges we see a chance to create solutions.” She goes on to explain that it’s exactly this type of creative thinking that’s behind everything from designing products and growing businesses to building alliances between nations. Through creativity, “we are literally inventing the future every moment,” Seelig added. What’s more, the optimism produced by creativity has been shown to lead to better mental and physical well being because it promotes a healthy lifestyle through more efficiently managing negative information and promoting adaptive behaviors and the capacity to problem solve.
Creativity Can Help Make Sense of Trauma
A 2006 study published in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry explored how, among other things, 16 male survivors of childhood abused used creativity to make meaning from their traumatic experiences. Along with engaging in spirituality and helping others, the cohort used creative expression to help them to both describe and process the abuse they experienced. As one part of the whole process, creativity helped survivors to overcome their trauma by better equipping them to make sense of them. “In much the same way as visual expression, this type of writing allows people to take negative situations that cannot be changed and integrate them into their life’s story, creating meaning of events that left indelible marks,” Medical News Today explained.
How to Practice Creativity in Your Daily Life
Whether or not you’ve got a job that piques your creative interests , it’s important to practice skills outside the workplace. Writing, even casual journaling, is an exercise that can boost the positive effects of creativity. Other activities that are traditionally considered creative exercises like painting, drawing, sewing, knitting, will also get creative juices flowing. But if none of those activities feel like the right fit, as Dr. Art Markman, a professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin and the Founding Director of the Program in the Human Dimensions of Organizations, writes there are other ways to train yourself to be more creative than you might realize.
Focus on learning new ideas—at the right time. “The most creative people in any field are people who have a tremendous amount of knowledge. Creative people like Einstein, Edison, Coltrane and O’Keefe were also experts in their own field,” Markman wrote, adding that having to interrupt your workflow to look something up seriously hinders your ability to “follow ideas to new places.” Set aside time to learn new things, and then, as Markman suggests, develop the habit of explaining things that you learn back to yourself to build up an arsenal of material you can use to think more creatively down the road.
Be open to new things. The value of being open new ideas, concepts, and experiences is immense when it comes to creativity. “The most creative people are typically very open people,” Markman said. He encourages getting in the habit of at least considering, and eventually testing out, new ideas and experiences rather than rejecting them at the outset because they’re new. “When you encounter a new idea, listen to it or read it through, but don’t engage with it much right away. Instead, put it aside for a day and come back to it later.”
Ask questions. Noting that a central aspect of creativity, the generation of new ideas, is really the ability to pull something, even an abstract thought, from memory. “The most creative people don’t settle on a single way to think about a problem. Instead they keep finding new descriptions of that problem and [allow] their memory to find more information that might help to solve it,” Markman noted.
Research is proving what artists, makers and innovative minds have been saying all along - that if you practice creativity, it leads to a multitude of mental, physical and emotional benefits. Be open, be curious, and stay focused on developing your creativity, and you’ll be far happier (and healthier!) because you did.
Want to learn some ways to channel your new-found creativity? Skillshare offers dozens of classes on how to grow and develop your creativity to keep you healthy, happy and always learning.