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Break Through Barriers to Creativity To Break Through Barriers To Change

Change is the natural process of life, and in nature it always starts small. A seed. An acorn. Kittens. In nature, the process continually transforms a tiny thing into whatever it is designed to be as long as
by Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, RMT, CGP
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there is energy available. Seeds into pumpkins. Acorns into oaks. Kittens into furry ambassadors of love. Energy is key, as it is in the intangible - but still completely natural - process that is psychological/emotional growth. As human beings we have the unique capacity to deny change at the same time it is happening and put off actionable change that nature or just good common sense indicates is necessary. We can stop dead as if at a red light, freezing in fear or denial, throwing up psychological roadblocks to the natural flow of creative energy that drives transformation. Stagnant energy turns into anxiety, which amplifies the scary voices in our head and can distort our perception so much that even small things seem unmanageable. 

   In the Courage To Create, psychologist Rollo May wrote that creativity - which he defined as "the process of bringing something new into being" - can only occur through "willingness to fully commit to an action or choice knowing that we might be wrong." The creative process is an active one - even during those periods when nothing much seems to be happening and it feels like nothing ever will – in which a person tries again and again to realize a vision or idea until that “something new” takes shape. Change, learning, and growth in our personal and professional lives also require some degree of this psychological risk. The familiar might be limiting, painful or unmanageable, but poses much less risk that we will be wrong, hurt or exposed. Even a change that seems unambiguously positive - getting that promotion, for example, or committing to a relationship with the love of your life - has the potential to shift the landscape of the familiar enough to trigger a sense of threat. But just as gradually training the muscles of the body builds up strength to handle greater and greater physical stress, there are ways to train our psychological "muscles" so that we can manage and even enjoy the tensions of change. The best way to do that is to consciously choose to take low-stakes risks and learn to focus on the creative task while powering through the discomfort of not being able to predict or control outcomes.   
 Theater games and improvisation exercises call for commitment to an activity the conscious mind might easily reject as ridiculous and bizarre, for example:

          Describe your dilemma in the style of a Mission Impossible assignment;

Strike a physical pose and allow another player to name it as an emotionally-rich sculpture; 

 Deliver a eulogy that builds on the eulogies created by other participants for a person whose identity and story are made up through the exercise; 

 Have a conversation consistently entirely of cliches;

 Tell a story backward. 

The idea of games and exercises like this is to hoodwink the internal cast of characters that hang out somewhere in the pre-frontal cortex ready to badger, discourage, threaten, cajole, torment and, if necessary, destroy the intuitive impulse and repress the emotional “push” that drives change. It also means feeling silly or embarrassed or awkward, going blank, and in my case being flooded with feelings of futility. Mistakes are made.  It is the mind set of the fool  - an inner space of openness and receptivity many of us spend most of our lives trying to avoid because we simply do not know what to do with it. 
To grow and change we continually are called to deconstruct defensive roles and scripts that once held us together but now hold us back. Improvisation is the kind of interactive experience that heightens awareness of those defenses and at the same time provides a range of new, creative choices for how to deal with tension, self-consciousness, uncertainty and shame.
  We tend to think the creative, gutsy changes that will redirect our lives must wait for storms to pass, or for the sun to shine into our dark night of the soul, or for that magical day when we finally feel worthy or confident or, at long last, lucky. We wait to be rescued, or redeemed. It may seem that our circumstances are too difficult, life is too painful and stress-filled, or we are just too tired for the discipline required for self-awareness. The pressures to which we have become accustomed and expectations of others – both living and those long past caring - that we have allowed to shape our choices spike our sense that internal opposition to change is likely to exhaust and overwhelm us.    
     But all of human history says that the way to the happiness and freedom we seek lies not beyond our difficulties, but within them. Once we call upon the internal “enzyme” that drives change—our creative self—we are on a new path. Every creative choice, every step into uncertainty and not-knowing strengthens the psychological “muscle” to determine our own attitude and define the roles we choose to take in life. From that intangible strength within, we may discover novel approaches to the problems that face us. Ideas come in from nowhere, or anywhere, but they come and lead onto other ideas. A shift in consciousness will certainly bring about change within us, and there is always the potential, no matter how remote, that it can bring about a radical change in our circumstances.


Jude Treder-Wolff is a trainer/consultant and writer/performer. She is creator and host of (mostly) TRUE THINGS storytelling slam


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