Sometimes, however creative we aspire or aim to be, our creativity is inhibited. A number of things can cause this, but inhibition can often come from the ways in which we think about what it is we are trying to achieve and from a place of restriction.

1) Self-censorship

If you have a voice in your head that constantly tells you that something is impossible, that you can’t do something because perhaps you don’t know how, or that what you’re attempting to do can never be good enough, then this sort of self-censorship will inhibit your efforts. So, for every internal voice that says ‘can’t’, ‘shouldn’t’, ‘not good enough’, remind yourself that one of the core features of creativity is exploration, a willingness to try and an acceptance that sometimes it won’t necessarily go the way you planned, and that you won’t always succeed.

Remind yourself that creativity is both a process and a means to an end: how you get there is not writ in stone, nor does it have to be done in a particular way, and the only inhibition is an internal, rather than an external voice.

2) Functional fixedness

An inhibition of creativity can sometimes come from the way in which we think about things and this includes being rigid or inflexible in our thinking – getting stuck with an idea that there is only one way to approach something or use an object. ‘Functional fixedness’ is a technical term that comes from Gestalt psychology and means that the way we think about an object, and only using it for the purpose for which it was originally designed, can limit us.

For example, an infant wouldn’t have any idea of what a plastic tea strainer was, but would explore it in a number of ways – chewing it, banging it, looking through it, throwing it, maybe even trying to scoop water with it – learning about its use along the way. Only when seeing an adult using it to strain tea leaves might the use for which it was designed be understood. It’s not difficult to see how we can become fixed in our thinking: as we move from childhood to adulthood we can lose the sense of exploration and play that frees our creative minds – and then, a tea strainer is always just a tea strainer. 

Some creative types never stop responding to the world around them in a flexible way. Picasso, for example, went through an artistic phase of making sculpture from ‘found objects’ – his sculpture of a bull’s head made from a bicycle seat and handlebars is a case in point. He saw the two items and they spoke to him of another image, which he recreated in artistic form.

3) Fear of failure

We’ve all heard about ‘writers’ block’ and the fear of the blank page: but what is that fear – which can affect any form of creativity – about? It is often a fear of failure, but can also be a fear of others’ lack of approval, or even ridicule, if we attempt something which we are not sure will be successful. We don’t want to be laughed at or have our efforts dismissed.

We may even desire or seek approval in order to succeed. All of these attitudes can get in the way of just putting one metaphorical foot in front of the other and exploring the possibilities of creativity that can be open to us.

Creativity is something we can all improve at … it’s about daring to learn from our mistakes.

4) Wanting to be perfect 

What is perfection anyway? If you remember that creativity is a process of exploration, then nothing can be perfect – and this is not what you’re trying to achieve anyway. Often in the process, you reach a stage where it is good enough – rather than perfect – and this allows you the chance to build on it and explore further. Often, too, the pursuit of perfection is a disguise for insecurity or a desire for recognition from others. Either in its pursuit or in its assessment, we often make a judgement about perfection in accordance with someone else’s standards, and this can be extremely limiting. Imagine if the only standards for art were those of Leonardo da Vinci. It is perfect in its way, but then all art would be the same, unlike the wonderful diversity of work we actually experience today and which continues to develop in its expression. Likewise, if the only example of perfection in music was the music of Mozart, and everyone aspired to that, music would become very limited. 

It is in its diversity and willingness to explore that creativity transcends the limitations of perfection. So start the process of exploration with no attachment to the idea of perfection, because there’s a huge difference between aspiring to someone else’s ideal of perfection and making your own unique contribution.

Photo by Alice Achterhof