The importance of mistakes in the creative process

How can we overcome the fear of making a mistake so it doesn’t stifle creativity?

In this article you will learn:

  • Why we’re afraid of making mistakes
  • The effect of fear on our creativity
  • The importance of making mistakes

They say creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes, while art is knowing which ones to keep.

As the mother of an artistically-minded child, I’ve always encouraged him to see mistakes as an essential part of the creative process.

I’ve watched as the fear of 'getting it wrong' has instinctively held him back, and I’ve cheered him on as he’s discovered for himself that mistakes - even when they’re just splodges of felt-tip pen straying errantly outside the lines - aren’t in themselves dead ends. I’ve celebrated when he’s learned that mistakes, in fact, often lead to creative solutions that he’d never otherwise have found.

Similar principles apply to business. Mistakes - and learning from them rather than avoiding them - are a critical part of entrepreneurship. As a small business owner, I’ve tried to apply some of this to my own tentative efforts to create something new.

It’s normal to fear making a mistake

Nonetheless, I still worry about making a mistake. That’s completely natural, according to Hilda Burke, an integrative psychotherapist, couples counsellor and life coach.

"I think it's innate to want to know the answers, to know whether our efforts will pay off at the outset," she says. "But, of course, the only way of knowing is by doing and creating. A lecturer once told me that we can be in safe mode or in growth/creative mode - we cannot be in both simultaneously. So to feel anxious or on unsteady ground is totally normal and it's actually inherent in the creative process."

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Fear inhibits creativity

It’s well-documented that fear inhibits creativity. It’s difficult to imagine coming up with your best creative work when your mind is preoccupied with the fear of failing. But perhaps the best antidote is to think less and create more.

"For me, Art is about the balance between ‘wakeful dreams’ and stolen moments, and the mistake is thinking you can retain any of it," says artist Dan Ferguson.

"The buzz is losing yourself in the next sitting, session, piece, or process. Finding the zone of complete immersion is the epitome of intensity and synchronicity. Having to rationalise it to yourself when you come out of the zone, and feel elated or disappointed is also temporal. The mistake is assuming control in the first place."

Feel the fear and do it anyway

Burke believes it’s helpful to acknowledge our fears when we’re undertaking any creative process, whether they manifest as a fear of failing, which can hold us back from even having a go, or as a sense of feeling stymied when we are being creative.

Ultimately, there can be no creativity without an openness to making some mistakes. The critical thing is to embrace the inevitability of making a mistake and to embrace them, when they happen, as learning opportunities rather than failures.

Creativity surely isn’t supposed to feel neat or comfy. "If we knew exactly what we were doing it wouldn't be new, we wouldn't be creating," adds Hilda Burke.

It’s telling, I think, that my own little artist’s early fear of colouring outside the lines is also a synonym for people who push boundaries and aren’t afraid to challenge constraints. What seemed like a mistake in early childhood is something to be celebrated in later life.

Here’s to making many more mistakes.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.

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