Mihaly Csiksgentmihalyi on Ten Paradoxical Traits of Highly Creative People

CsikszentmihalyiHere is a brief excerpt from an article by Mihaly Csiksgentmihalyi (pronounced me-HIGH chick-sent-me-HIGH-ee) that appeared in Psychology Today magazine (2016). magazine in 2013. To read the complete article, check out others, and obtain subscription information, please click here.

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In his seminal book Creativity: The Work and Lives of 91 Eminent People (HarperCollins, 1996), Mihaly Csiksgentmihalyi  observes:

“Of all human activities, creativity comes closest to providing the fulfillment we all hope to get in our lives. Call it full-blast living.

“Creativity is a central source of meaning in our lives. Most of the things that are interesting, important, and human are the result of creativity. What makes us different from apes—our language, values, artistic expression, scientific understanding, and technology—is the result of individual ingenuity that was recognized, rewarded, and transmitted through learning.

“When we’re creative, we feel we are living more fully than during the rest of life. The excitement of the artist at the easel or the scientist in the lab comes close to the ideal fulfillment we all hope to get from life, and so rarely do. Perhaps only sex, sports, music, and religious ecstasy—even when these experiences remain fleeting and leave no trace—provide a profound sense of being part of an entity greater than ourselves. But creativity also leaves an outcome that adds to the richness and complexity of the future.

“I have devoted 30 years of research to how creative people live and work, to make more understandable the mysterious process by which they come up with new ideas and new things. If I had to express in one word what makes their personalities different from others, it’s complexity. They show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are segregated. They contain contradictory extremes; instead of being an individual, each of them is a multitude.”

Mihaly describes ten traits often contradictory in nature, that are frequently present in creative people. Here is the first:

1. Creative people have a great deal of physical energy, but they’re also often quiet and at rest. They work long hours, with great concentration, while projecting an aura of freshness and enthusiasm. This suggests a superior physical endowment, a genetic advantage. Yet it is surprising how often individuals who in their seventies and eighties exude energy and health remember childhoods plagued by illness. It seems that their energy is internally generated, due more to their focused minds than to the superiority of their genes.

This does not mean that creative people are hyperactive, always “on.” In fact, they rest often and sleep a lot. The important thing is that they control their energy; it’s not ruled by the calendar, the dock, an external schedule. When necessary, they can focus it like a laser beam; when not, creative types immediately recharge their batteries. They consider the rhythm of activity followed by idleness or reflection very important for the success of their work. This is not a bio-rhythm inherited with their genes; it was learned by trial and error as a strategy for achieving their goals.

One manifestation of energy is sexuality. Creative people are paradoxical in this respect also. They seem to have quite a strong dose of eros, or generalized libidinal energy, which some express directly into sexuality. At the same time, a certain spartan celibacy is also a part of their makeup; continence tends to accompany superior achievement. Without eros, it would be difficult to take life on with vigor; without restraint, the energy could easily dissipate.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a Hungarian psychologist. He recognised and named the psychological concept of flow, a highly focused mental state. He is the Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Management at Claremont Graduate University. To learn more about him and his brilliant work, please click here.

 

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