The one thing I wish someone had told me about creative ability

There’s a surprising little–but remarkably powerful–thing about being creative that I wish someone had told me when I first started researching the subject.

It’s the importance of having confidence in your ability to think you can be creative. It sounds like hot air, but science has proven the valuable importance confidence plays in creativity.

Brothers Tom and David Kelley wrote an entire book on this very subject, called Creative Confidence, in which they not only explain the real science behind the role confidence has in creativity, but they also go into vivid detail as to why creative confidence matters and how to incorporate it into your life or work.

No matter who you are or what you want to do, you can be more creative, the Kelley brothers explain, but that’s only true if you first believe that you can be to begin with.

“Believing you can,” they explain, “is like having your shoes on and laces tied before the race.”

The Kelley brothers highlight the psychological research of Stanford professor Albert Bandura, who helped define the term directly impacting our perceived confidence: self efficacy.

Self efficacy is how much you believe in your ability to change and succeed in certain situations. If you’re terrible at math, your self efficacy will be lower in situations where you have to solve mathematical formulas, for example.

Bandura tells us that simply believing you will fail at something leads you to more than likely fulfill that belief. Believe you might succeed, research finds, and you just might. Even if you have little experience in the challenge or task in front of you.

When it comes to creative thinking, self efficacy plays a tremendous role, particularly as we look at the common myths around creativity. The most notable myth being: only certain types of people are born with the ability to think creatively.

If you believe that only certain types of people can be creative, or that creativity is a trait you must be born with, or that creativity cannot work in certain situations or for particular types of work, you’ve already set the bar as low as it can go. In those instances: the myth prevails simply because we’ve let it.

On the other hand, those who are more open minded about what’s possible are much more likely to reap the benefits of those positive beliefs. Tom and David Kelley tell us:

“Start with a growth mindset, the deep-seated belief that your true potential is still unknown. That you are not limited to only what you have been able to do before.”

If you don’t believe you can write a book, you’re not going to. It’s that simple.

However, if you believe you might be able to write a book, you suddenly open yourself to the possibility that you may be able to write a few words a day, a few chapters a week, until after a few months of diligent writing you have a full draft completed. With a draft you can pass it off to an editor, who can correct any errors you may have overlooked. Just like that you could have written a book.

So why do we so often limit ourselves to what we’ve done previously, closing our minds to new possibilities?

The common reasons we doubt our creative ability stem from our fear of failing or, more importantly, simply not understanding what it means to be creative.

David Burkus explains in his book, The Myths of Creativity:

“In many domains, such as the traditional fine arts, we can easily mistake domain-relevant skills for creativity itself. If we can’t imagine being as good as the composer, then we assume that the composer is more creative than us. What we typically don’t imagine is the years of deliberate practice required to gain such expertise.”

Nobody is born a prodigious musician. They might be born with a keen ear and develop remarkable muscle flexibility to play an instrument, but everyone has to learn to play.

The same is true of any endeavor: sports, artistic pursuits, public speaking, design, writing, dance, leadership. And, of course, creativity.

Unfortunately many of us are conditioned out of this belief, that we are capable of remarkable and truly creative things. The Kelley brothers continue:

“When a child loses confidence in his or her creativity, the impact can be profound. People start to separate the world into those who are creative and those who are not. They come to see these categories as fixed, forgetting that they too once loved to draw and tell imaginative stories.”

The problem is not that we have lost our ability to think creatively, but rather, we have lost our belief in ourselves and our incredible ability to learn, adapt, and grow.

You don’t have to believe that you can be the next Steve Jobs, Ansel Adams, Johann Sebastian Bach, or Elon Musk. You simply need to believe that you can take small steps toward creative greatness.

Start now, right now, with whatever you have in front of you. If you’ve ever dreamed of writing a book, start writing a chapter right now and don’t stop until you’ve hit 700 words. If you’ve dreamed of inventing the next great energy solution, write down your craziest ideas right now. If you’ve wanted to start a business, become a photographer, or inspire others, take one small step toward those things right now.

Share what you create on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, or anywhere else. Let the world know that you believe in your ability to be creatively successful. All it takes is the belief that you can be, then taking one small step.

The Kelley brothers tell us:

“Creativity, far from requiring rare gifts and skills, depends on what you believe you can do with the talents and skills you already have.”