The Hollywood actor Woody Harrelson once said ‘An adult is a child with layers on’. What better way to get in touch with our own inner child than spending some time being creative? And yet, as adults, we rarely give it a high priority in our lives.
How many times have we heard it, or said it ourselves: ‘Me? No, I’m not a creative person at all! Can’t draw, can’t paint, couldn’t write a poem to save my life!’
But do we ever stop to think what we actually mean by ‘being creative’? Let’s unpick this a bit: Does ‘being creative’ have to mean painting great works of art, composing beautiful concertos or classic pop songs, or being a great novelist or poet? Do you have to gain public recognition in order to be classed as ‘creative’? Is it possible to be creative just in the comfort of your own home without anyone else ever having to know (or judge)? Who is to say that what feels good and creative for you is of any less intrinsic value than what someone else has come up with?
Being creative is about expressing something of what’s inside us — a feeling, a belief, an idea, a memory. It doesn’t have to be a photographically perfect representation of the original ‘thing’, whatever that was — just something that holds meaning for you, its creator.
Me, I love cooking; it’s one of my favourite ways of being creative. I’m not a spectacularly inventive or experimental cook, but I do enjoy finding new ways of cooking the same old types of food. I like trying different herbs and spices, adding flavour without the use of stock cubes or pre-prepared sauces. With a teenager in the house, finding ways of increasing fruit and vegetable intake is an ongoing creative challenge, and I do enjoy seeing him trying — and even relishing! — new foodstuffs. I love the aromas of home-cooked food, and strange as it may seem, I even enjoy working out the timings: ‘if the roast needs to come out of the oven at half past, then I need to have the roast vegetables parboiled by quarter to and the microwaved veg in the covered dish by twenty-five past’. And then — oh! — the satisfaction of dishing it all up and savouring the flavours that I’ve teased out of the raw ingredients. And yes, it is lovely when I’m cooking for family and friends and they compliment me on what I’ve created, but actually, I get just as much pleasure in cooking something for myself.
I wrote a while ago (see ““Don’t Waste the Paper”: The Voyage to Discover Hidden Beliefs”) about growing up with a belief — instilled in me unconsciously by my parents — that I mustn’t ‘waste the paper’ that I was given to draw and paint on. Although their intention was probably just to save money (they belonged to a thrifty generation, brought up in the austerity of rationing), I was left with a real hang-up about putting brush or pencil to paper unless I was sure that whatever I was creating was ‘good enough’. But my question now is, good enough for whom? When you create something — whether it be a painting, a recipe, a poem or a sand-castle — who do you feel is judging it? Are you your harshest critic, and if so, why?
Going back to the joy of cooking, I’m sometimes too pressed for time to be as creative as I’d like, and I reach for the jar of pre-prepared cooking sauce or the oven chips from the freezer. But more often than not, I make the time to cook from scratch. Which is more than can be said for making the time to do some drawing or painting — I still have trouble allowing myself to mess about with paints. And I wonder whether that’s partly the problem for a lot of us, not feeling that we deserve to give ourselves some time to be creative, or to find new ways of being creative: ‘Must do the ironing/walk the dog/finish that essay/get to work’. How often do we marvel at the imagination and creative ideas our children come up with? Being creative is a way of getting back in touch with that ‘inner child’ we all carry with us — and yet as adults, we rarely give it a high priority.
Personally (and professionally), I’d take this creativity idea even further: I think ‘being creative’ is about more than something you ‘do’, like paint or cook or write poetry; it’s also about your approach to living your life. If you see your life’s path as being largely determined by the twists of fate or the whims and decisions of other people, then there is little room for your creative spirit to shape what lies ahead for you. If, on the other hand, you see your life as a series of opportunities and chances, some of which you create yourself and some of which are offered to you to make your own, then you become an active creator of your life and not just a creature (something created — by evolution, or by our parents, or by a higher power, depending on your beliefs) along for the ride.
What ways might you find today of being creative and how will you make time for them?
All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .on and was last reviewed or updated by