10 Signs of a Creative Mind

Having a creative mind allows us to do new and exciting things and engage ourselves in a way that takes us one step closer to reaching our full potential. Are some people born being creative, or is it a skill that you can develop much like a muscle?

In his 1996 book "Creativity: The Work and Lives of 91 Eminent People," psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi suggested that, "of all human activities, creativity comes closest to providing the fulfillment we all hope to get in our lives." Csikszentmihalyi proposes that creative people possess 10 antithetical traits that interact with each other in a complex manner and impact one's overall creativity. Incorporating these creative practices into your daily life may help you increase your creative potential.

1

Energetic and Focused

Woman placing post-it notes on whiteboard.

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Creative people tend to have a lot of energy, both physical and mental. They can spend hours working on a single task that holds their attention, yet seem to remain enthusiastic all the while.

Having a creative mind doesn't mean always engaging in a focused creative or artistic task. Creative and artistic people are imaginative, curious, and spend a great deal of time at rest, quietly reflecting on the topics that hold their interest and allowing their minds to wander.

2

Smart and Naïve

Smiling woman standing among trees and flowers.

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Creative people tend to be smart, but research has shown that having a very high IQ is not necessarily correlated with higher levels of creative achievement—personality traits are important, too.

In Lewis Terman's longitudinal study of gifted children, children with high IQs were shown to do better in life overall, but those with very high IQ weren't necessarily creative geniuses. Very few of those involved in the study demonstrated high levels of artistic achievement later in life.

Csikszentmihalyi notes that studies suggest that there seems to be a cutoff point at around 120. Having higher-than-average intelligence might contribute to creativity, but having an IQ over 120 does not necessarily lead to greater creativity.

Balancing creativity with practical knowledge means knowing which ideas to pursue and which to rework or abandon. This skill set is an important aspect of being a creative person.

Csikszentmihalyi also believes that creative people must be capable of looking at things in fresh, even naïve, ways, so they can maintain their sense of wonder and curiosity.

3

Playful and Disciplined

Creative perseverance
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Csikszentmihalyi notes that a playful attitude is one of the hallmarks of creativity, but this lightheartedness and excitement is also mirrored by a paradoxical trait: perseverance.

When working on a project, creative people tend to exhibit determination and doggedness. They may work for hours on something, often staying up late into the night until they are satisfied with their work.

Consider what you would think if you met an artist. Their life may sound exciting, romantic, and glamorous. However, being a successful artist is also a lot of work, which many people may fail to see. A creative person realizes that true creativity involves combining both fun and hard work.

An artistic or creative person may come across as carefree, however they can also be incredibly hardworking and driven when it comes to pursuing their passion.

4

Realistic and Imaginative

Smiling woman looking out window.

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Creative people like to daydream and imagine the possibilities and wonders of the world. They can immerse themselves in imagination and fantasy, yet remain grounded enough to turn their daydreams into reality. They are often described as dreamers, but that doesn’t mean that they live with their heads in the clouds.

Creative types, ranging from scientists to artists and musicians, can come up with imaginative solutions to real-world issues. While others may view their ideas as mere fantasies or as irrelevant, those with creative minds find practical ways to turn their notions into reality.

5

Extroverted and Introverted

Two women and one man sitting outside together and smiling.

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While we often fall into the trap of categorizing people as solely extroverted or introverted, Csikszentmihalyi suggests that creativity requires combining both of these personality types.

Creative people, he believes, are both extroverted and introverted. Research has shown that people do tend to be either more extroverted or introverted and that these traits are remarkably stable.

Creative people tend to exhibit characteristics of both introversion and extraversion at the same time.

They can be both gregarious and reticent, sociable and quiet. Interacting with others can generate ideas and inspiration, and retreating to a quiet place allows creative individuals to fully explore these sources of creativity.

6

Proud and Modest

Woman smiling at her desk looking at pattern and color samples.

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Highly creative people tend to be proud of their achievements and accomplishments, yet they are also aware of their place. They may have tremendous respect for others who work in their field and the influence that those previous innovations have had on their work. They can see that their work is often remarkable in comparison to that of others, but it is not something they focus on.

Csikszentmihalyi observes that creative people are often so focused on their next idea or project that they don't fixate on their past achievements.

7

Masculine and Feminine

Mother, father, and two young children spending time together in the kitchen.

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Csikszentmihalyi believes that creative individuals resist, to at least some degree, the rigid gender stereotypes and roles that society often tries to enforce. Creative girls and women tend to be more dominant than other girls and women, he suggests, while creative boys and men tend to be less aggressive and more sensitive than other males.

Creative people tend to be able to embrace both their masculine and feminine sides. This means they can simultaneously be sensitive and nurturing (often labeled as feminine), as well as assertive and dominant (often labeled as masculine).

8

Conservative and Rebellious

A man sitting at his desk, holding a cube, and gazing at it with intense focus.

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Creative people are "out-of-the-box" thinkers by definition, and we often think of them as non-conformist and even a little bit rebellious. Csikszentmihalyi believes that it is impossible to be truly creative without having first internalized cultural norms and traditions.

Creativity, he suggests, requires being both traditional and iconoclastic. This means being able to appreciate and even embrace the past as a source of knowledge, while still seeking improved ways of creating new solutions. Creative people can be conservative in many ways, yet they know that innovation sometimes means taking risks.

9

Passionate and Objective

A woman sitting at her desk and looking at sketches.

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Creative people don't just enjoy their work—they passionately love what they do. But, just being passionate about something does not necessarily lead to great work. Imagine a writer so in love with their writing that they are unwilling to edit a single sentence. Creative people are both able to enjoy their work, while also critically examining it.

Creative people are devoted to their work, but they are also able to be objective about it. They are willing to take critiques from others, which allows them to separate themselves from their work and find areas that need improvement.

10

Sensitive and Joyful

A woman looking at artwork.

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Csikszentmihalyi suggests that creative people tend to be more open and sensitive, characteristics that can bring both rewards and pains. The act of creating something, of coming up with new ideas and taking risks, often opens people up to criticism and even scorn. It can be painful, even devastating, to devote years to something only to have it rejected, ignored, or ridiculed.

Being open to the creative experience is also a source of great joy. It can bring tremendous happiness, and many creative people believe that such feelings are well worth the trade-off for any possible pain.

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  4. Terman LM, Oden MH. The gifted child grows up: Twenty-five years’ follow-up of a superior group. JAMA. 1948;137(12):1095. doi:10.1001/jama.1948.02890460091043