Nobody watches a movie without a plot. When we cheer for a character, we cheer for their courage in the face of insurmountable odds, but what exactly are we cheering? I have been thinking about this a lot, and I think the movie characters that we love the most show daring creativity, no matter what they face. One of my movie heroes, Cool Hand Luke, faces with an objectively awful situation. He is locked up for a minor crime, subjected to humiliation and degradation by his warden. Yet, he makes his own story, he puts in the effort to make things into a game, he builds camaraderie with his enemies, and he refuses to quit, no matter what.
Stuck-ness is a state of mind, not a circumstance.
We like to think that only these sticking points stand between ourselves and complete freedom. To be sure, victories over these hurdles can lead to greater options and choices, but paradoxically, often the biggest solutions only emerge from our creativity in the face of insurmountable odds. Entrepreneurs, athletes, engineers, scientists, military personnel, all those this have in common that they do more with less freedom.
In my research on gratitude, we had the challenge of trying to get people to feel grateful in a brain scanner. If you have not been in a brain scanner, it is cold, uncomfortable, and you cannot move more than a couple millimeters. It is certainly not a place where you would think of as a prime place to feel deep emotion. Yet, when we looked at it creatively, we saw a place free of distraction, where people could focus on just their thoughts and emotions. In so doing, it allowed the novelty of the setting to lower some of the boundaries to experiencing an emotion deeply. Once we saw the limits differently, the constraints became part of what allowed us to create a meaningful experiment.
Creativity is a muscle.
We often think only standout “creative types,” have the opportunity to be creative, but any time we see a way out of a tough spot, any time we take stock of our resources and do our best with them, we engage in creativity. In fact, researchers define creativity as “adaptive behavior that emerges in response to interruptions to previously successful routines and habits.” So by definition, creativity is the natural response to obstruction. The key is to see the hurdles and obstacles as simply feedback and do our best to seek inspiration from them. As it turns out, maybe freedom is not having unlimited options at all times, but instead is about the freedom to create, obstacles be damned.
*This post was previously published on C4Foundation.org’s blog. The C4 Foundation serves to strengthen and preserve Navy SEAL families.