Keep Worrying! Emotional Highs and Lows Actually Increase Creativity
Today, I feel pretty good in this new life. I am ready to face another week with optimism and renewed energy. Tomorrow – well that could be an entirely different story. Getting out of bed may be difficult due to the overwhelming uncertainty of not knowing what the future holds. My emotions – all of our emotions - have been all over the place during the past six weeks. And no wonder. We are figuring out a process – how to connect the facts to formulate a new narrative around how to stay healthy, how to work differently, and how to attend school in unexpected ways. This process can cause negative emotions from the anxiety of needing to quickly adjust to something new; it can also cause positive emotions from successfully adapting to a new method after a few failed attempts. During this crisis, we find ourselves fluctuating between positive and negative emotions often. Here’s some good news: Research* tells us that the simultaneous experience of positive and negative emotions or “emotional ambivalence” actually fuels creativity – more than either extreme emotion does on its own. How does this work? Studies have found that simultaneously experiencing multiple emotions that are not typically experienced together (e.g., fear and happiness, loneliness and bliss) inform your brain that you are in an unusual environment where other unusual relationships may also exist. This heightened sensitivity to unusual associations is a critical contributor to your creativity.
So, buckle up, and ride your emotional rollercoaster knowing that your next big idea could be just around the corner of another wicked turn.
*Fong, C. (2006)
Ivonne Chand O’Neal, PhD
Uncertainty can feel like moving through a thick fog— your senses are heightened because you can only see as far as your hand held in front of your face. Moving forward - or in any direction - requires tremendous effort and a great deal of faith that you won’t crash into something or fall off a cliff. This is how I’m feeling in the face of Covid-19. Honestly, the last thing on my mind right now is being creative... yet, being creative is literally all I have been doing. I have had to adapt my routine to include distance learning for two smart kids, figure out how to don a “hazmat suit” to go grocery shopping, invent some sort of daily exercise routine to maintain my physical and mental health, calculate the number of days before I need to go on another toilet paper run, prepare lists of what goods to buy from what store on what days and at what time to avoid crowds, and create a new normal that will persuade my family of four to stay engaged and inspired. I’m tired and I’m stressed; yet at the same time, I feel incredibly nimble and am making important decisions quickly, using my brain in a new way to power through this period of time. Research tells us that all of these skills are hallmarks of creativity. People have the ability to develop new ways of solving new problems that arise during trying times. Be proud of the new ideas that you have developed. Recognize the new applications of your creative skills, and honor the resilience and innovation you have shown during these challenging times.
How have you been creative in a way that has surprised you during the Covid-19 crisis?
Ivonne Chand O’Neal, Ph.D., is the Founder and Principal of MUSE Research, a creativity and arts research consulting firm. She currently serves as Chief Research Strategist for Crayola, sits on the Board of Directors for the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, the Advisory Board for the Human Flourishing Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Editorial Boards for the Creativity Research Journal and Art Education.