A Case For Creativity: Creativity is a Coping Skill

We Are All Creative

Creativity is the muscle we use to solve problems. Everyone may not be artistic but everyone IS inherently creative. This is a case of language getting sloppy in our culture. I think we have to distinguish being artistic from being creative. Among other things, creativity is a coping skill. I think we are pretty clear when someone is artistic, i.e. they create something of beauty for its own sake, but how can someone be creative and not be artistic? Easy.

Do you know what the little piece of plastic is on the end of your shoelace? Thanks to the Nickelodeon TV show Phineas and Ferb, your kids may know the answer to this. It’s called an aglet. Now, creating the aglet was not necessarily artistic, but it was creative. Did you ever have one of those aglets fall off as a kid? Remember trying to re-lace your shoe without it? How did you do it? What was your technique?

Scotch tape?



Lick & Twist (gross but effective)

That was very creative of you! We often forget that creativity is the muscle we flex to solve problems. So, if you’ve been in the “I’m not creative” or “creativity is not important” camp I invite you to consider that creativity is a coping skill – a vital part of living a healthy every day life. Who among us couldn’t use better coping skills to deal with the challenges of everyday life? It will come as no surprise to you but one of my favorite ways to expand creativity is through music. 

Growing Your Creativity

Yes, creativity is a coping skill we use to solve problems. Do you know what it’s not? It’s not talent. It’s in every one of us. When we make music, we engage that muscle in a state of play. It’s pleasurable and powerful. There are actually several studies linking music lessons to increased problem-solving skills. One study took a group of children and gave them an unsolvable math problem. The researchers wanted to see how long they would work on the problem before giving up. What they found was astounding! Kids who had taken music lessons stayed and worked on the problem 11 times longer than those without any previous music lesson experiences. Not 10% more. Not twice as much. Eleven times as much. That’s quite a difference!

Creativity is the muscle. 

Play is the exercise that builds it. 

We don’t work music, we play it. 

As I mentioned above, creativity takes on many forms. I like to think of creativity as a coping skill, but it’s really much more than that. If you’ve ever started a business, a YouTube channel or a blog, you’re creative. If you can cook without a recipe, enjoy decorating your home, or dress with a certain intention, you’re creative. There are LOTS of ways to be creative. So if you’ve ever had the story that you are not creative, I invite you to give that up. Of course one of my favorite ways to explore your creativity is through music but, if music isn’t your thing, there are a couple of really great books on the topic of creativity that I highly recommend. 

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressman

The War of Art deals a lot with the resistance we all have when it comes to taking on some kind of creative endeavor. It’s a quick read and if you listen to the audiobook you’ll feel like he’s yelling at you the entire time. Personally, I like that sort of thing but, it may not be for you. Some of my favorite quotes from this book include: 

“If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), ‘Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?’ chances are, you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”

“Late at night have you experienced a vision of the person you might become, the work you could accomplish, the realized being you were meant to be? Are you a writer that doesn’t write, a painter that doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what resistance is.”

“How many of us have become drunks and drug addicts, developed tumors or neuroses, succumbed to painkillers, gossip, and compulsive cell-phone use, simply because we don’t do that thing that our hearts, our inner genius, is calling us to?”

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

As the title suggests, In Big Magic Elizabeth Gilbert makes the case for the “magic” around the creative process. She has some wonderful stories that describe how “ideas” are like living things looking for a host to help bring them to life. She also goes beyond the creative endeavor of being an artist and explores creative living, aka living by design. Some of my favorite quotes from this book are:

“A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. Living in this manner – continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you – is a fine art, in and of itself.”

“If you’re alive, you’re a creative person. You and I and everyone you know are descended from tens of thousands of years of makers. Decorators, tinkerers, storytellers, dancers, explorers, fiddlers, drummers, builders, growers, problem-solvers, and embellishers—these are our common ancestors. The guardians of high culture will try to convince you that the arts belong only to a chosen few, but they are wrong and they are also annoying. We are all the chosen few. We are all makers by design. Even if you grew up watching cartoons in a sugar stupor from dawn to dusk, creativity still lurks within you. Your creativity is way older than you are, way older than any of us. Your very body and your very being are perfectly designed to live in collaboration with inspiration, and inspiration is still trying to find you—the same way it hunted down your ancestors.”

“I believe that our planet is inhabited not only by animals and plants and bacteria and viruses, but also by ideas. Ideas are a disembodied, energetic life-form. They are completely separate from us, but capable of interacting with us—albeit strangely. Ideas have no material body, but they do have consciousness, and they most certainly have will. Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest. And the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner. It is only through a human’s efforts that an idea can be escorted out of the ether and into the realm of the actual.”

Call Yourself a Creative

Hopefully, at this point, you are beginning to see creativity as a coping skill, and so much more! Think about how your life would be different if you approached problems as creative opportunities! We all have habits that we fall back to when we are in reaction mode. Think about how you might create your life rather than react to it. For my clients in recovery, I often ask “how will you,”

  • Respond when your friends come calling to party?
  • Stay sober on that business trip or family vacation or holiday? What’s your plan?
  • Deal with your family member that you are convinced doesn’t accept you? 

Creating a new plan means you have a built-in strategy for dealing with these issues so that inertia doesn’t happen. For more on this, you can check out my book, Sonic Recovery: Harness the Power of Music to Stay Sober

What steps will you take today to live a more creative life?

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