Adversity & Creativity

Lonely woman sitting on the swing

For some people, adversity can trigger creative growth

I recently read an article referencing a study by Psychologist Marie Forgeard of the University of Pennsylvania that tackled the question of why adversity and ingenuity seem to go hand in hand. It’s clear that many authors and highly creative people have overcome adversity in their lives.  To give you a flavour of what I mean:

  • J.K. Rowling (Writer) was penniless, depressed, and struggling to raise a child on her own when she created Harry Potter.
  • Jim Carrey (Comedian) and his family were homeless and lived in a van when he was a teenager.
  • Kris Carr (Business Woman) turned her cancer into a wildly successful business that brings hope to other survivors.
  • Maya Angelou (Writer) survived child abuse.
  • Frida Kahlo (Painter) survived a traffic accident that left her with life long health problems

So why does hardship seem to trigger creative growth in some people?

Dr. Forgeard’s study suggests that going through adversity may allow some individuals to see the world, and their place in it, in a different way.  She indicates that those individuals who scored higher in “openness to experience” were also more likely to show creative growth after trauma. According to a theory by Psychologist Ronnie Janoff-Bulman of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, trauma seems to shatter prior assumptions about the world and oneself.

Adversity kicks you out of your comfort zone

Here’s the good news.  You don’t have to go through trauma to experience essentially the same effect.  If you crack open your normal routine, you can kick-start your creativity.  Researchers found that experiencing any unusual or unexpected event that challenges your assumptions can trigger cognitive flexibility and get those creative juices flowing. My  advice:

Do something completely out of the ordinary!

Make it fun!

Walk backwards to work.  Turn on the TV with your toes.  Eat pasta with your hands.

Knock yourself completely out of how you normally do things. Commit to doing something entirely unexpected today.  Oh, and don’t forget to write about it! Let me know what happens in the comments below!

xo Pam

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Ah great advice. I always find that when I’m stuck, I change up my writing routine somehow… notebook instead of laptop, different writing software, going to a different place to work, different music. It always seems to shake something loose.

Pam Smith says:

I really like the idea of changing up your writing routine. That really does help too. Great advice! :)

Sounds like an awesome idea!

This article hit home for me. After suffering from scary illnesses, those very things brought me to what I do now. I would never be helping others if I hadn’t gone through it. It changed me as a person. Thanks for sharing this as it shows that there are gifts in even the darkest of times

Pam Smith says:

Hi Melissa, I’m so sorry that you had to go through your illness, but so happy to hear that it brought you to a place where you are helping others. Thanks for sharing! :)

This is an interesting spin and makes total sense. We get stuck in old routines and that would totally stifle our creativity. I don’t think I will walk backwards to work, but I’m definitely going to find a way to make a change to help grow my creativity!

Pam Smith says:

Great stuff Krystal!

I’ve always been fascinated with Frida Kahlo. Her accident definitely provided adversity, and it also created opportunity. She was trapped in bed for a year and began painting self-portraits because her reflection in a mirror was one of the few images she could view while lying flat in bed. Boredom and immobility can spur creative activity. Next time I’m injured, sick in bed, on a long flight, or stuck under a sleeping child, I’m going to bring my notebook!

Pam Smith says:

Good idea!! :)

Loved this post – such fun to think about how to add twists in life and so encouraging to hear about others who have worked their way through tough times. As for me, I’m thinking my desk from where I do my coaching needs a little sprucing up and change. There are certainly plenty of ways I could be creative about this project, so I will let my creativity lead the way today!

Pam Smith says:

Great stuff Stacey! A little change to your desk may be just the thing! :)

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