Tenacious Creativity

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When you are bogged down by a creative project, “just keep swimming.” Persistence is the key to coming up with quality ideas. “That feeling that you’ve kind of run out of ideas is inaccurate and, in a sense, shouldn’t be listened to,” says Loran Nordgren, a researcher at the Kellogg School who did a study (with Brian Lucas)on people’s perceptions of creative ideas.

They found that when told to keep at it, continue to generate ideas, even when participants felt they were ‘out’, they were able to be more creative. Those later creative ideas were higher quality too. You can read more about the study in this article from the Kellogg School. So what is persistence and how can we encourage it in our children?

According to the “Modeling Creativity” study, persistence is defined as “the tenacity to persist with the creative process throughout, even during problematic points.” Tenacity is a great word: the quality or fact of being able to grip something firmly.

It is easy to give up after you have tried hard. I think of the second round of doing “wheel” in yoga. Ugh, I just did it, and now again? But I do it that second time because if I practice tenacity with my physical body, then my mental and emotional tenacity will follow. Using physical pursuits to teach persistence is great with kids. This is not about “practice, practice, practice” (a good quality, but different), but pushing past our perceived limits. Sometimes it takes encouragement.

This morning I taught piano to a very young student who struggles with her finger skills. We were going through an exercise and she kept finding reasons to stop from wanting to chat about my hair, to desperately needing to tell me a riddle, or just sighing really loudly. But I kept her at it with encouragement and excitement until she had gone further than ever before. She was very proud of herself.

It also takes time. Do we give our children time to reflect and try again? “It is through dogged determination that highly creative persons take their energies and translate their dreams into realities.” In this thoughtful essay by Leslie Owen Wilson, Ed. D. we are invited to let our children have the space it requires to build tenacity.

But when is it persistence and when is it just banging your head against a wall? Here is an interview with Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania and the bestselling author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. She addresses this by saying we need outside perspective and feedback to know the difference.

In what ways have you persisted in your life? How do you encourage persistence in your children?

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