So how do we change habits? Let’s say we want to stop smoking, or lose weight, 0r decrease our triathlon time. We first of all need to want something strongly. The win (or avoidance of loss) must be worth the effort needed to get there – and incidentally we almost always underestimate the effort. Then we have to consciously change our habits – with attendendant lapses and discouragement mixed with satisfying but sometimes slow and only occasional gains. With adequate attention and discipline we can over time change, or develop new habits, and be better for it. This applies to increasing creativity as well as improving our tennis game.
We all know that increasing our creativity would result in more risk, complexity, and failures in our life. We probably know that we are pretty safe and could tolerate a bit more of this risk. But life might be more difficult, because we are wired to avoid risk and failure and because societies, especially big ones, do not happily tolerate too much deviance from the pack. A little bit makes for interest and excitement. But too much? What does the word insanity signify? It is more behavioral deviance than a society wishes to deal with. A great read is A Wonderful Mind, by Sylvia Nasar,, the biography of John Nash, a brilliant mathematician who won the Nobel prize in economics (there is none in mathemtics). It is a tale of someone living on the social mental edge – rightfully called a genius, but suffering from schizophrenia. Most of us wouldn’t want to go there. And we won't, because we are generally risk avoiders.
For a good read on the tremendous amount of effort it requires to achieve and maintain creativity at an extremely high level, read The Creative Habit, by Twyla Tharp, a revolutionary choreographer. It is about the tremendous commitment and discipline required to lead in her field. She sacrifices many things she might like to do in order to focus on dance. I once gave a talk at a meeting at which she also spoke. She was having severe knee problems, but continuing to coach her dancers by going through the movements she wanted from them. Obviously pain was involved. But her comment about all of this was “Gotta dance”.
I used to teach a seminar on freshmen on different intellectual disciplines. Freshmen have no business committing to a major yet, because they don’t know what’s out there. But Universities insist on pushing early choices. I would bring in high visibility members of the faculty (Nobel, Pulitzer, McArthur Prize, Pulitzer Prize winners, etc.) and let the students talk with them about how they achieved what they had done. They all spoke of the work involved and sacrifices they had made. But they also all loved what they did, and were at least at one point obsessed with doing it. They all had the creative habit.
But how about the majority of us who are neither as focussed, motivated, or obsessed with a single field or direction and would like to become more creative and/or change?
My method of dealing with creativity has among other things concerned with seeking to understand habit and response to risk by trying to understanding brains on an operational level (not mechanical). Why are they so resistant to change? (medical care). Or why do they sometimes fall so in love with new things? (social networking). That led me originally to the Conceptual Blockbusting approach – understanding individual, group, and organizational inhibitions to creativity and attempting to help increase creativity by addressing these. I will talk a bit more about this in the next post.