Your Environment Impacts Your Creativity

ForestOne of the early topics I was planning to cover on this blog was the matter of creativity.  Because I felt like such a frustrated creative myself, I wanted to do a study of different ways of expressing one’s self; perhaps so that I could find an outlet I hadn’t previously considered for myself beyond the typical poetry, painting, short stories, etc.  Not that there’s anything wrong with those pursuits; I just don’t happen to be very talented in any of them.

Of course, I ended up writing a lot more about leadership and general self-improvement topics, and haven’t really dealt too much with creativity specifically since the very early days of Start Being Your Best.

However, I still believe that developing one’s creativity is a great method of self-improvement.  I would suggest it to anyone. 

I like to think of this blog as “creative non-fiction”.  Although I’m not creating in the sense of “world-building” for a novel, or translating my sensations from viewing a sunrise into a piece of music, I still see what I do as an act of creation.  I bring up a topic and address it in a way that is (hopefully) novel and (again, hopefully) meaningful to other people as well as myself.

In the course of reading about the creative process, I came upon a work by a professor named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  I’m sure you’ve heard of one of his works, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.  In it, he gives a synopsis of the state talented people find themselves in when working in their area of expertise.  Athletes call it being “in the zone”.

As a follow up to this work, he wrote another book entitled Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention.  It’s based on a series of interviews that came from his studies into the state of Flow.  He interviewed many experts in creative fields and tried to determine what traits they shared, in order to see if he could pin-point a common list of attributes that may have contributed to their having become great at what they do.

One of the areas of Creativity deals with external factors.  While much of creativity seems to be linked to genetics (intelligence in all its various forms, etc.), there seems to be a strong link between the environment in which a person finds themselves and how creative they are.

Csikszentmihalyi claims that environments themselves can inspire creativity in people.  You need to be in the right place for you in order to be optimally effective at the task you’re trying to accomplish.

You need to be in the right place geographically.  A big factor in creativity is synergizing two or more disparate issues to create something better.  In order for this to occur, you need to first be exposed to novel stimulations.  Stimuli are not evenly distributed over the surface of this planet.  In general, you will run into more unique situations, people, and things while in New York than somewhere in South Dakota.  Not because New York is better, but because there are just more situations, people and things in general.

Secondly, you need to be in an environment of your own creation.  It can be as small as hanging a picture or putting a plant in your cubicle at work, but you need to do something to make your environment work for you.  Not everyone is going to like plants in their cubicles, but you get the idea, right?  Do something to make your space feel like your space.

You have to figure out what brings out the creativity in you through trial and error. Once you’ve found that, figure out a way to make it portable. Find a way to transfer that feeling to wherever you go. You should feel at home the same way you feel at work from an environmental standpoint. Don’t allow one place or another where you spend large amounts of time to limit your ability to think and act creatively.

Essentially, what we need to do in order to create is to find the place where we feel more “ourselves” than anywhere else.  It’s not going to be the same for everyone, but in order to ensure that you do everything you do to the best of your abilities, you need to zero in on that feeling.

2 thoughts on “Your Environment Impacts Your Creativity”

  1. I completely agree. I've had a spare room set aside for my creative endeavors ever since we moved in but never had a work table that fit my needs so I couldn't spread out and have all my stuff there. So instead I was trying to be creative at the kitchen table because it was big enough for my projects but I found that I only had about an hour of attention span there and I kept having to get up and go to where my paints, etc were stored. It was a real creativity killer.

    On Monday we moved the kitchen table (which we never used) into my room and I was immediately excited to start making and creating. I spent 3 hours in there merryily working away and didn't even realize how much time had passed whereas before I had to force myself to stay at task. I now realize that I will forever have to have space in the house set up just for this purpose because it makes me connected to the person I was created to be in a way I have not experienced before.

    1. Exactly! "I spent 3 hours in there merryily working away and didn't even realize how much time had passed…" That's a key element of Flow right there, according to Csikszentmihalyi, and all it took to achieve it was a change in location. Thanks for hammering the point home, shelley!

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