Overcoming the uncomfortable fears of creativity

Creativity is uncomfortable. At some point we have to get over that fact if we want to utilize our creative capabilities to solve problems, innovate, and inspire our inner genius.

We can talk all we want about being creative, but when it comes down to acting on what we say, we tend to hesitate or run the other way. Saying “I’m creative” and then doing the same thing, day-in and day-out, is a conflicted way to live. We want to be more creative, yet we make excuses and justify remaining in the realm of what we know because things are much easier that way.

We brush off newness because it’s easier and less painful to simply do things how we’ve always done them instead of trying something new. New is scary, risky, and often unpredictable. Yet creativity requires newness, either in the form of new experiences or new ways of thinking, or some combination of the two.

If you want to be more creative you have to come to terms with the fact that you’re going to feel uncomfortable. You’ll have to occasionally break away from the feelings of safety and comfort that comes with routine and experience.

While overcoming the distressing aspects of creative thinking isn’t always easy, it is possible.

“If you always make the right decision, the safe decision, the one most people make, you will be the same as everyone else.”– Paul Arden

I know first-hand how difficult it can be to pursue creativity. Even after almost a decade writing on what it means to be creative, I still fall back to tried-and-true patterns and behaviors. Why? Because it’s effortless and comfortable. What we know is easy. Creativity is considerably more of a challenge. I know that the only way to tap into my creative capacity is to embrace the uncomfortable feelings it brings with it: trying new things, exploring, experimenting, and occasionally making mistakes.

So how do we break through the barrier of uncomfortableness?

One place we can start to learn how to become comfortable with the uncomfortableness of creativity is by looking toward psychology, specifically the field of behavioral therapy.

You don’t need to know much about behavioral therapy in order to benefit from what it can do. Really all we need to know is that behavioral therapy (sometimes called cognitive behavioral therapyor analytical psychotherapy) uses cognitive methods which can alter or help us overcome cognitive habits; often negative, harmful ones.

Behavioral therapy involves things like positive reinforcement of good behaviors or attempting to understand and change the conditions or environments that encourage negative behaviors.

The theory is that we can use the same strategies and methods we’ve used in our lives to develop our existing habits (like shying away from new and risky things) to develop better, healthier habits (like taking more reasonable risks and embracing creativity). We can train ourselves to become more creativity-seeking rather than embracing our ingrained behaviors around risk-aversion. Recent research into behavioral therapy shows that it works for everything from overcoming a fear of flying, to some more unusual types of fears. So why not helping us overcome our fear of the unknown, of uncertainty, and of the challenges we’ll face with creativity?

Within behavioral therapy I’ve become interested in a method known as exposure therapy (or desensitization).

Exposure therapy is a method of progressively being exposed to more and more stimulus, either through real-world scenarios, imagining or role-playing, or some blend of techniques.

The method is used primarily for helping people overcome phobias (like a fear of spiders or heights), but it’s also been successful in overcoming things such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and post tramautic stress disorder (PTSD).

How cognitive behavioral therapy plays a role in creativity

We can put our ingrained, culturally-driven, fear of risk and newness into the same place exposure therapy aims to cure by treating the uneasiness different situations and ideas spur in us.

It works like this: you progressively expose yourself to more and more unique and challenging situations over a short amount of time.

This can involve simple things like trying a new type of food at home, going to a new restaurant, walking in a part of town you typically down explore, or asking a new question to everyone you see in a day.

Once you start to feel comfortable with these small, fairly risk-free challenges, you can bump-up the challenge: try a new creative hobby, start asking strange questions to complete strangers, travel far away (alone, preferably to a place you don’t speak the language), draw on the walls of your home, invite five friends over and cook a completely new recipe for them, and so on.

By slowly exposing ourselves to more and more creative efforts (new and potentially valuable experiences) we begin to see how thinking in new and different ways, and experiencing new things, can be beneficial rather than risky chances.

It’s important to note that if we’re not feeling challenged by our experiences or thoughts, we’re not really exposing ourselves to more creative opportunities. Dr. Katherina K. Hauner tells us:

“The most important thing is to keep engaged with the feared situation and not avoid it, even though it can be uncomfortable and difficult at first.”

If you’re looking for challenges to expose yourself to, try my book of more than 100 unique things to try: The Creativity Challenge.

By nature, creativity can be frightening and even intimidating. To be creative we must overcome our fears or concerns around stepping outside of what we know and feel as comfortable, embracing new and diverse experiences. It’s only by overcoming these fears that we allow ourselves to fully unlock our creative capacity as human beings.