Practical Tools and Wise Quotes on All Matters Creative
8.4.1. A Sense of Control
One of the most disturbing things about having a terminal illness, as those who unfortunately suffer from such afflictions will tell you, is the feeling of powerlessness, of being unable to do anything about it. Being unable to control the illness can be even more painful than impending death.
From an evolutionary standpoint, if we are in control of our environment, then we have a far better chance of survival. Our deep subconscious mind thus gives us strong biochemical prods when we face some kind of danger (see the side box ‘General Adaptation Syndrome’).
Let us look at some of the factors that affect our sense of control and how they also affect our creative ability.
Fig. 8.3 Factors leading to a sense of control
The need for certainty
When we are certain about the world around us, we are in control; a reduced sense of control is highlighted by our feeling uncertain. Unfortunately, as John F. Kennedy said, ‘There is nothing as certain and unchanging as uncertainty and change.’ Despite this, many people spend their lives in search of certainty. Many psychiatric illnesses, from anorexia to compulsive-obsessive disorder, stem from the deep need for control and certainty.
New ideas, by their very nature, are uncertain. Unless we are a Mozart or Tesla, ideas do not come to us complete and certain. To think creatively requires that we tolerate ambiguity and keep an open mind. If we try to control our environment too much then we will also be reducing the chances of serendipitous discovery that has been the source of many great inventions. Deliberately creating uncertainty is a valuable creative technique.
The need for completion of
Does the above title bother you? Something which is incomplete is not certain and leaves us unsatisfied and seeking to resolve the incompletion. Writer of soap-operas and other instalment-based entertainment know this well. All stories can be viewed as nothing but a series of tension-creating incomplete scenarios, followed by satisfying completion, tying up the loose ends and giving a sense of control and that all is now well in the world.
We can make use the principle of incompletion as a powerful tool to prod our subconscious mind into coming up with new ideas. By deliberately giving it unsolved problems and half-complete answers, the creative tension that results can catapult valuable new ideas into our conscious minds, where we can evaluate, reject or utilise the ideas as appropriate.
The need to understand
If we understand the world around us, then we have a far greater chance of controlling it. Even if we cannot control it, we can make informed choices about what we might do next. The brain helps us do this, by giving us a little squirt of dopamine whenever we learn something, creating that satisfying ‘aha!’ or ‘eureka!’ experience.
One of the natural benefits of inventing new things is in the way that it shows us how we understand the world and can control it to meet our needs.
The need to predict
One of the benefits of understanding the world is that it helps us to predict, and hence control, future events. In our ruminating and decision-making we are constantly looking forward, trying to decide the best course of action to achieve our goals and avoid potential discomforts.
Creative thinking is not an exact science, and this can negatively impact our need to be able to forecast the future. It can also be beneficial, in that imaginative thinking can help us to find possibilities that we might otherwise not have found. Unfortunately, some of those possibilities might be less than comfortable, resulting in discomfort and either denial or more creative thinking to get around these negative effects.
The need for consistency
In 1957 psychologist Leon Festinger described a very powerful motivator, which he called cognitive dissonance, where inconsistent attitudes, concepts or ideas makes us feel uncomfortable. This drives us to such actions as seeking confirmation of any decisions we make and avoiding anything that might prove those decisions to be anything less than perfect and wise. When we buy a new car, we will happily read articles that praise it, but we will feel bad and discard magazines that show our decision to be unwise.
This can drive us to remarkably unhelpful actions, for example, if I believe
myself to be uncreative then I will avoid any creative activity, just in case I
am proved to be wrong. I will also reject many of the ideas I have for the same
reason that the pain of dissonance now overcomes any potential benefit from
using or proposing my ideas.
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