Balinese creative offering taken in a Bali temple

How To Improve Your Self-Esteem By Being Creative

Self-esteem and self-love seem to be all over the media at the moment, a lot of it centered around the damaging effects that the highly visual and perfection driven social media channel Instagram can have on your health. Even if you are not really interested in Instagram, I still think that the more we talk about self-esteem the better it will be for us individually and for society.

It’s still somewhat of a difficult and incredibly vulnerable thing to express that you are lacking in self-esteem, just as it is to openly discuss a lack of creativity. However, I think we need to find a way to get past the shame, the taboos and fear and start embracing where we are with our self-esteem and creativity.

Having an understanding of where you are with these beliefs can help you to set out a path for improving them, and thus drastically improving your life and your destiny in the process. Once you feel secure and competent in your yourself it allows you to experiment and stretch yourself, opening you up to new experiences and opportunities you may not have had, if you had kept yourself small.

Only 4 in 10 people describe themselves as creative, Adobe 2016

Until I started searching for evidence to back up the link that I had by chance discovered with self-esteem and creativity, I had heard very little about it. It turns out that it’s neither widely discussed nor widely researched. But from my own experience of practicing it the last three years and the deep dive I’m doing now on my creative sabbatical, I’m pretty sure it’s something worth exploring deeper to see if it works for you.

I sincerely believe that creativity can play a part in helping you to achieve personal growth and greater self-esteem and so that is what this article will seek to explore.

How toxic environments disable self-esteem and creativity

If you have ever lived or worked in a toxic, gossip, or fear-driven environment you will have learned quickly that if you ever let your guard down you’ll be attacked in some way. Far better to wrap yourself up in layer upon layer of protection to keep them away from the real you and not suffer the shame and indignation of an attack.  I am not sure what people call these layers. I call them my layers of fake confidence or bravado and I’ve been shrouded in them ever since I can remember.

The fake layers of confidence are not helping you

The problem with these protective layers is that they are not real and can grow and contract, so not only do they seek to protect you from the bad guys, I believe that they also protect you from the good. By seeking to protect you from the bad stuff/people you anticipate from the outside, you are not allowing yourself to breathe and let the good stuff develop.

So, what do I mean by this? When you are living and operating from a place of fear, everything is over analyzed and overthought, and decisions made from that place of fear. You do what you can to resist attack. So, no standing out at work, no suggesting new ideas and solutions, no doing anything outside of what your protective layers or voice has told you is safe.

Forget trying to think from your heart, or make decisions from the gut if you are wrapped in these protective layers of fake confidence. They are stifling the real you, never mind being creative and allowing that creativity to burst forth.  You may be too afraid of being shot down.

Real confidence and self-esteem will enable you to go out and try things and not be devastated if you make mistakes or aren’t perfect. Your fake confidence layers will prohibit you from trying anything that may lead you into the jaws of the attackers. So you don’t try even those things that inspire you, or you yearn to do for the hell of them, as you are afraid that therein lies ridicule or something equally as nasty.

Do you still harbor the cutting comments of school?

I’ve spoken to many people in the last few years what they do to be creative and almost all of them answered something like I am not creative, “I was shit at art at school” or “I can’t draw or paint”. When I asked who told them it was invariably a teacher or parent. This people I asked were 30 plus, some 40 and some 50, and they are still harboring what was probably an off the cuff comment or put down from 25 plus years ago. In addition, their definition of creativity is painting and drawing, which again is an extremely limiting view of creativity. Not their fault, just the environment they grew up in, and then in adulthood, they never changed their view.

Of course, this is no official study it was just me having a series of genuinely curious conversations with people I met.

Sir Ken Robinson, on the other hand, is a prolific writer and speaker on these subjects and has several quite famous talks on Creativity in schools. Almost 52 million people have watched this Ted Talk.

Here’s one of his classic quotes;

“Many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not — because the thing they were good at school wasn’t valued, or was actually stigmatized.”

I could probably write a book about how my school experience had a negative impact on my self-esteem and creativity, as I’m sure we all could, but I’ll leave that to Sir Ken.

Time for a change in how you view creativity

Perhaps it’s time for a relook at what creativity is so you can start to recognize that you probably are creative already. Maybe you just haven’t thought about the way you use your mind or your physical skills to create. Perhaps those protective layers have wrapped themselves around you so tightly, that you can’t even see the light, let alone think about being creative.

Think about it like this. Finding answers to problems is creative, putting two ideas to create another one is creative, decorating your house is creative, creating a garden is creative, choosing an outfit to wear can be very creative (look at all the elements involved), writing letters, comments on social media, even emails can be creative, doodling while talking on the phone is very creative and of course coloring books, they are also creative.  There are multiple things that you do every day that are creative that you probably had never thought about. Start to note those little things of creativity and bit by bit, you will begin to reframe your thoughts about creativity and that you are in fact creative.

Why bother to improve on your creativity?

There are a lot of benefits to being creative. The more creative you are the better in my mind. On top of the fact that creativity is going to be of the top skills valued by employers in 2020 and moving forward. It’s one of the things that computers can’t really do well, so it’s an area, where we can outdo them. More importantly, I do it will make your life better and as I said in the title, I believe contribute to improving your self-esteem.

THERE IS A HUGE CREATIVITY GAP

According to Adobe, from 5000 people that they surveyed across Europe only 33% of those people, felt like they were living up to their creative potential, yet 70% believe that being creative makes people better workers. So it appears that there is a huge creativity gap. A gap that employers will be desperate to fill…

Their study makes for very interesting reading. They cover opinions from education, to work to home life and how creativity can impact all of these, right down to creative people earning an average of 13% more.

There are also numerous studies on the benefits of creativity linked to health, which you can read about here. They do mention a lot about the benefits of writing

The American Academy also writes:

 “Our study supports the idea that engaging the mind may protect neurons, or the building blocks of the brain, from dying, stimulate the growth of new neurons, or may help recruit new neurons to maintain cognitive activities in old age”

I could pull you thousands of other articles on the benefits of creativity, the internet is awash with them.

How to start being more creative?

Personally, I think the most important thing is just to start being creative, as stupid as that probably sounds. Whether you are taking part in the list of everyday things that I discussed above, and you start expanding them bit by bit. Add a drop of color to your outfits, write your emails in a different way, add a new feature to your garden. Or you may want to move on to bigger and more exciting projects such as joining a singing group, like Rock Choir, writing, drawing, woodcarving, making clothes, photography, video making, and the list goes on. Here is a full list of creative things to do for inspiration.

Once you start, the rest just gets easier and easier and the more you challenge yourself to do and try new things the bigger the buzz and the sense of achievement. The most important thing is not to worry about what other people think. Leave them to their thing and you do yours. You don’t have to share it if it makes you uncomfortable.

On the other hand, if your friendship group is sabotaging your efforts to improve yourself, think about whether they are helping you or hindering you. You don’t have to stay trapped in their limited world view.

Have there been any real studies done to confirm that Self Esteem and Creativity are linked?

1967, Coopersmith a phycologist pronounced “the importance of self-esteem for creative expression appears to be almost beyond disproof. Without high regard for himself, the individual who is working in the frontiers of his field cannot trust himself to discriminate between the trivial and the significant”.

There have been various studies done over the years looking at writing and music specifically, however from some of the research reports I’ve read, it’s quite a difficult subject to get actual real readings on, as both self-esteem, or self-concept, as it’s referred to in research documents and creativity, are both highly subjective. The results of these studies were not always conclusive.

There was a more recent study done in 2012 by two professors at Florida state university who tested this hypothesis. Their conclusion was that the two are positively related and that the relationship was stronger for females than it was for males. I am still waiting to get my hands on the full report, but when I do I shall write more on the subject from a research perspective.

However, from a personal perspective, I know that they are linked for me, so I will share my experience in the hope that it may help you.

How being creative has helped me with my self-esteem

I only came across my love of writing less than 3 years ago. It was a client Shab,  that said to me (very kindly I might add). Zoe, your emails are becoming monstrously long, you might want to look at that. I went back and looked at them and was shocked, there was no other word for them they were huge. Some of them were pages and pages long. I had so many things that I wanted to say that I just needed to get out and for some reason, I had picked Shab, subconsciously.

Something then told me to start writing and publishing on Linkedin. So I started writing about retail. I did not publish at first, as I was scared about what people would say. I had a lot of negative self-deprecating thoughts for quite some time, then I thought fuck it. These messages want to come out, so I have to let, them and I started publishing. I wrote on Linkedin for three years solid, sometimes articles, sometimes posts, sometimes just comments, almost every day.

Did it help me with work? Yes of course it did. It helped a lot, but what it really helped me with was my sense of self-esteem. I noticed it little by little,  It sort of crept up on me. With every publish came a better sense of achievement, and more confidence and that feeling of security, that I could do anything I wanted if I challenged myself.

The joy and pain of external validation

The only negative thing I would say of “showing your work”, is that it can lead you into the trap of needing and waiting for external validation. If your view on how good your work is based on how many likes, shares or comments, that you got, then that is not good for creativity. I know I published posts that I thought were not very well structured, not that well written and people loved them, and others I thought were great and they panned zero interest. It’s tempting then to begin to create for an audience just so that you get the validation.

Don’t get me wrong, if you work in a creative industry and you need to pay your bills, then at times, you must relinquish your art to what your client wants. If you are doing it for you , then consider what will have the greatest benefit to what you want to achieve.

Not every project, must become your side hustle or your job, sometimes it can be for fun or like I said to develop our self-esteem.

How to keep your passion project a passion project

A few weeks ago I  started to notice that I was spending more time on social media than I was writing. I was looking at google analytics, tracking the traffic, and posting dutifully on all my channels to get the numbers up. For sure there is creativity in social media, but not at the expense of what I set out to do on my creative sabbatical,  which is to write.

The time I spent writing Instagram posts and making up all the copy for Facebook, Pinterest, twitter, linked in and so on, plus checking for engagement, then losing an hour or two reading other people’s stuff, I’d lost two hours each morning. Valuable writing time.

So, I quit social media. As of two weeks ago, I put it all on pause. The only thing I am doing is writing articles, and sending out a weekly newsletter. The visits to my website have nosedived, of course as now I am purely relying on organic traffic and the newsletter, and this site is still only 6 months old. However, in the two weeks since I gave it up I suspect I have written well over 15,000 words, from just giving up social media. The time I’m sure you’ll agree much better spent. Here’s the post I wrote about how successful it was afterward.

So, look at your day today. Is your passion project or your creativity starving because you are spending time on social media, where you could be creating? Are you creating for them or for you? Which do you think will fuel your self-esteem more? Work out what’s important for you, and then act on that.

Keep acting creativity to drive up self-esteem

Self-esteem is not a fixed it ebbs and flows like with anything in life. There is always change. It can be affected by many things and it can go down as well as up. So you can’t expect that if you created something in 2010, that you can still bask in the feeling from back then. It’s little things every day and big things if you push yourself. The benefit of self-esteem being an ever-changing thing is that you can opt to change it, starting today. I think you’ll be surprised if you kick off a daily habit of creativity, the difference it can make.

Thank you for reading. I’d love to hear your thoughts on Self Esteem and Creativity.

Shamanic Story / Myth – Masks are not your Friends 

A shamanic story I channeled featuring a cat, a tiger and a sad magician, whose life is not working out due to the masks he keeps wearing.

Disclaimer: I am a writer and not a doctor or a phycologist. These suggestions are based on my personal experiences and what worked for me. If you are feeling unwell or suffering from symptoms of depression that won’t clear. Please do take this up with a medical professional. Mind the charity and the Samaritans also have a lot of great information for free on their websites or you can call them confidentially.

I’m Zoe Langman, a 42-year-old welsh Nomad. On December 19th 2017, I packed up my flat, put all my essentials into a suitcase, and started my Nomadic Journey. I don't think it's ever too late to reinvent or redesign your life. I'm currently in Bali on a creative sabbatical, planning my next lifestyle redesign.