"Creativity comes from a desire to express the true self."

Art has often been isolated and considered precious, something only official artists do. In her book "Revolution From Within" Gloria Steinem notes that "most art in the world does not have a capital 'A,' but is a way of turning everyday objects into personal expressions."Ê

She encourages creating images or objects as a way to gain a more intimate understanding and fuller expression of who we are, and declares "Creativity is most likely to come from intrinsic interest, not external reward; from a desire to express the true self."Ê

And she cautions that neglecting to use our human capacities, out of fear or shame, "leaves a small hole in the fabric of our self-esteem. Think of the times you have said, 'I can't write,' 'I can't paint'... Since this was not literally true, you were really saying: 'I can't meet some outside standard. I'm not acceptable as I am.'"Ê

This kind of critical self-judging often relates to the idea of being a "failure" at doing something creative. Getting beyond or "bypassing" intellectual restrictions on our creativity can be a matter of shifting one's attitude.

Politician and author Susan Molinari said in an interview, "The most important lesson that was ever passed on to me is the ability to have the courage to try things. Because particularly as women, we're not raised to fail and so we think of failure as so much more than it is, rather than somebody who had the guts to try something and it just didn't work out."

Novelist Amy Tan has commented that her parents expected her to get straight A's from the time she was in kindergarten, and specified that she was going to be a doctor, rather than any kind of artist. She says an academic shortcoming was "a horrible feeling, especially when you experience what you think is your first failure and you think your life is over. No more chances."Ê

It wasn't until age 33 that she started writing fiction.

So how can we deal with creativity-eroding messages? An effective approach is reframing, or changing your evaluations and resetting your thinking.Ê

Psychotherapist Mark Gorkin suggests that "errors of judgment or design don't signify incompetence; they more likely reveal inexperience or immaturity, perhaps even boldness. Our so-called 'failures' can be channeled as guiding streams (sometimes raging rivers) of opportunity and experience that so often enrich - widen and deepen - the risk-taking passage. If we can just immerse ourselves in these unpredictable yet, ultimately, regenerative waters."

Diane Ealy, Ph.D. writes in "The Woman's Book of Creativity" about the impact of "should" messages women especially get, that say "We're supposed to care for everybody else while taking charge of everything within our realm. Never mind the cost in lost creativity."

Not living up to many of these "shoulds" may be experienced as a feeling of failure, and loss of creative drive. Dr. Ealy suggests one exercise to help defuse that negative power is to carefully visualize getting involved in a creative activity, then play a prerecorded audio tape of a list of "shoulds" that plague you (or have a friend read the list) - while you continue imagining doing your creative work.Ê

After ten to fifteen minutes, stop the "should" messages, continue "working creatively" for a while in your imagination, then return to present reality and evaluate which messages were most upsetting or disruptive.

"Most of our 'should' messages were accepted without question as they were given to us by the authority figures in our lives," Dr. Ealy writes.

"They block creativity by depleting our energy, not allowing room for the self-attention required to develop the creative process. But with vigilance, we can assert our power to make positive choices as we live our creative lifestyle."

Author's Bio: 

Douglas Eby is an interviewer and writer about psychological aspects of creative expression, and author of the Talent Development Resources site TalentDevelop.com.