Home All Nurturing Your Creative Mindset

Sherri Fisher, MAPP '06, M.Ed., Director of Learn and Flourish LLC, is a coach, best-selling author, workshop facilitator, and speaker. She works internationally with smart people of all ages who have learning, attention, and executive function challenges. Sherri’s evidence-based POS-EDGE® Model merges her expertise in strengths, well-being, motivation, and applied neuropsychology.

Full Bio. Sherri's articles are here.

Open Mind

Open Mind

Do you ever wish you were more creative? New research has shown that adults can be primed to become more creative simply by being asked to think like children.  There are many kinds of creativity, including flexible thinking, elaboration of existing ideas, fluency of ideas, and originality.

For the purposes of the study conducted at North Dakota State University, college students were asked to imagine and write about what they would do if school was canceled for the day. In the experimental condition, they were primed in advance of writing to imagine that they were seven years old. Merely being primed to think like a child resulted in the production of more original responses on a subsequent measure of creativity.

What Happens to Creativity as We Grow?

There are numerous benefits to being more creative. However in school, creativity is usually valued less than conventional thinking, whether you are a student or a teacher. It may be that formal education discourages divergent thinking, and that school may also coincide with a natural brain development shift in students from more impulsive and less self-conscious thought to less spontaneous and more rule-bound thought.

Since both ways of thinking are important (imagine if we were all child-like all the time), it is intriguing to think about interventions that would enable you to be more creative at least some of the time. You might try thinking like a 7-year-old right before you have to do something that requires original thinking.

Mastery Goals versus Performance Goals

Mastery goals are ones focused on helping a student see how well they are progressing when compared to their own previous achievement through learning, understanding and individual progress and knowledge, whereas performance goals focus on the importance of avoiding mistakes, outperforming other students, and meeting extrinsic objectives such as high grades, standards, and awards



A focus on mastery goals tends to build intrinsic motivation and creativity, along with positive feelings about learning, more perseverance (think Grit), self-advocacy and curiosity, as well as higher academic engagement. A classroom with a mastery focus is also more student-centered and individualized, and its students attribute success to effort rather than just ability.

Most schools are structured around performance goals. Carol Dweck has found that everyone has one of two basic mindsets, the fixed (performance) mindset, where you believe that your talents and abilities are either something you have or don’t have, and the growth (mastery) mindset, which is characterized by knowing that abilities can develop over time with effort and practice. Many teachers and school districts say they value the very things that a mastery focus develops, yet schools are typically performance oriented, with data-driven goals for higher math and reading scores, in particular.

Are We Discouraging Love of Learning in Students?

Getting Air

Getting Air

It should not come as a surprise that classrooms with a performance goal focus have students who are more competitive with peers and less personally interested in learning, since the adults in such environments use extrinsic motivators such as grades, and they reward conventional responses. The current push to reward teachers for student performance uses the same approach. If supporting creativity encourages curiosity, and curiosity along with VIA strengths like love of learning and perseverance help to predict GPA, it would make sense to nurture more divergent creative thinking.

I would argue that the best teachers are able to think like their students, anticipating that bumps along the learning road may either cause a breakdown or instead catapult students to new heights of learning.

Can you nurture your creativity?  Many researchers believe so, and a simple writing intervention will let you try the approach for yourself.


Anderman, L. & Anderman, E . (2009). Oriented Towards Mastery: Promoting positive motivational goals for students. In R. Gilman, S. Huebner, & M. Furlong, Handbook of Positive Psychology in Schools (pp. 161-173). Routledge.

Duckworth, A., Peterson, C., Matthews & Kelly (2006). Grit, perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1087-101.

Dweck, C. (2007). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Ballantine Books.

Dweck, C. (2002). Messages that motivate: How praise molds students’ beliefs, motivation, and performance (in surprising ways). In J. Aronson (Ed.), Improving Academic Achievement: Impact of Psychological Factors on Education (Educational Psychology), (pp. 37-60). San Diego, CA, US: Academic Press.

Friedman, T. (2007). The World Is Flat 3.0: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century. Picador Press.

Kaufman, J. & Beghetto, R. (2009). Creativity in the Schools: A rapidly developing area of positive psychology. In R. Gilman, S. Huebner, & M. Furlong, Handbook of Positive Psychology in Schools (pp. 175-188). Routledge.

Zabelina, D. & Robinson, M. (2010). Child’s Play: Facilitating the originality of creative output by a priming manipulation. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 4(1), 57-65.

Not seeing the pictures for the book links? Disable Adblocking for this site to view them.

You may also like


Senia 5 April 2010 - 3:38 pm

Rockin’, Sherri!

Great article. I love this research. It’s about creativity and play. I hadn’t known it before. Isn’t that funny – that making people focus on being like a child will actually make them more creative? I bet that also makes people more relaxed, sillier, and likely generally happier.

And I’m a big fan of Carol Dweck research.


Laura Lewis-Barr 5 April 2010 - 4:24 pm

Fantastic. As a former college professor, I have seen the disastrous effects of extrinsic motivators. Too many of our students had lost any curiosity or love of learning. Their sole focus was often on the grade alone. They didn’t understand the connection between the process and work of the classroom and the skills or knowledge they would gain.

Sherri Fisher 5 April 2010 - 5:08 pm

Thanks for the feedback.

I think it is inferred by some of the research that students in a mastery focused school setting are happier. After all, they are more successful and their own learning and effort lead them to success. Happier people are more likely to be successful. I did not look at happiness research–just creativity priming of adults and the effects of creativity in fixed v. growth mindsets–but I would be interested in the play effect. When learning is more fun it is more “sticky” and there may be positive achievement effects, too.

🙂 Sherri

Steve 5 April 2010 - 5:53 pm

I have studied at a number of Australian universities and I’ve found that in the vast majority of my experience the people involed very much reward conventional responses (dressed in the rhetoric of anti-conventionality) and are instructor focused. The curiosity and creative mindset talked about in the article above goes out the window because students recieve negative reinforcement to the extent that they show curiosity and creativity rather than a willingness to ‘be made aware’ of what the instructor tells them and applying this to tasks that are designed to have largely predetermined outcomes.

Commonly, as a student you will be told what ‘the convention’ on your field of study is (as if there was a single approach by a single collective mind before the breakthrough info that you are about to be told came about to correct the supposed errors of ‘the conventional way’). If you question the instructor’s evaluation of ‘the conventional way’ and ‘the new way,’ you are treated as misunderstanding the material. Grades are typically a function of how closely you repeat back information and conform to checklists of criteria. Original thought is generally considered impossible by below a PhD level, by whch stage you are expected to have become aware of how ‘the new way’ is correcting ‘the conventional way.’

This social engineering toward a communal ethical agenda turns off many people with potential and a desire to learn, and retains in education those who are willing to ‘play the game’ or conform to the entrenched ways of doing things.

When I compare lectures and the work of Australian academics to those of universities like Harvard, it is evident that they are in totally different leagues – not in terms of resources, but in terms of approaches to learning.

Many people at Australian universities often treat teaching as a way to get extra money while they advance their research and publication career and/or as a way to ‘transform society,’ whereas a university like Harvard has a policy of academic freedom that encourages creativity and has the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning (http://bokcenter.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do) to keep learning productive, engaging and fresh.

Sherri Fisher 5 April 2010 - 7:29 pm

Hi, Steve-
Since you are a Derek Bok fan, you may be interested in his new book, The Politics of Happiness: What government can learn from the new research on well-being.

I like your observation of this paradox: “Commonly, as a student you will be told what ‘the convention’ on your field of study is (as if there was a single approach by a single collective mind before the breakthrough info that you are about to be told came about to correct the supposed errors of ‘the conventional way’).”

While it is important to have some shared knowledge about fields of endeavor, creativity–and “mistakes”–make new directions possible.

🙂 Sherri

Elaine O'Brien 5 April 2010 - 8:25 pm

Dear Sherri,
Thanks for your beautiful article. I especially love the Play references in adding to the cultivation of strengths like creativity. Brava and thank you.
Elaine O’Brien

Amanda Horne 6 April 2010 - 3:36 am

Sherri – great information and food for thought. This gives much weight to the argument that everyone at any age, in any occupation should find some time at work to indulge in ‘play’ or thinking like children as a way to help with the creative / innovative agenda.

Sherri Fisher 6 April 2010 - 5:29 am

Hi, Elaine-
It is so nice to hear from you.

Creativity is my top VIA strength. I find that many of my students are painfully bored with school. Their parents and teachers have been led to believe that consistency and conventionality are the way to the top. Sometimes creativity and play are a great outlet, like the valve on a pressure cooker, for them. While I did not write about it, flow literature is also connected to creativity. In our national quest to engage students, creativity is a great resource!

🙂 Sherri

Sherri Fisher 6 April 2010 - 6:25 am

Hi, Amanda–
It would be interesting to replicate the priming study in a non-Western or even non-American culture. In the study introverted people had the greatest creativity effect.

Also, it would be interesting to look at a similar intervention in a workplace and then compare the conventionality (RAISEC-type /Holland), change if any in E-I/MBTI or DISC profile. Those are used extensively in biz settings for employee selection. Businesses like innovation in the R and D departments. Would they like creativity in other places?

Thanks for writing!
🙂 Sherri

Doug 6 April 2010 - 7:24 am

Sherri – Great piece! Thanks for sharing this info. I reminds me of Ellen Langer’s experiment involving elderly men who were asked to imagine it was 1959 and how they felt younger, as a result. Thanks!

Sherri Fisher 6 April 2010 - 8:02 am

Hi, Doug-
Yes, and Counterclockwise, Ellen Langer’s book about that study, is on my to-read list about priming and creativity. There are 34 people ahead of me on the library reserve list!! I was not able to get it from any local bookstore, either, or in a reasonable time frame from Amazon to be able to read it for this article. So there is always next month! It was reviewed by PPND here:

Last month I wrote about priming for self-regulation, something I regularly use with clients.

Thanks for your comment, which is right on target!

🙂 Sherri

Marie-Josee Salvas Shaar 6 April 2010 - 12:25 pm

Great piece, Sherri! Really enjoyed reading this article!

Another element that might contribute to lesser creativity as we grow up and age is the fact that we sit more and move less. Only moving creatures have a brain, and movement is an integral part of learning (it produces the brain chemicals necessary for synaptic connections to be formed and maintained). Insight (a form of creative thinking) also comes from the same brain area as positive emotions, and increased activity in that brain area leads to greater insight. So I hypothesize that for those who enjoy physical activity- as most children do, the simultaneous increase in movement and positive emotions leads to higher creativity. Thoughts?

Very best,


Sherri Fisher 6 April 2010 - 12:49 pm

Hi, Marie-Josee–
Those are great connections. I think the reduction in recess programs at schools is a casualty of hyper conventional “all content, all the time” curriculum and think of the many things that may result: obesity, disengagement, depression as well as agitation, anger, social problems…and the lack of insight to process and interpret any of this.

I laughed at your “Stand While you Read This” piece since I stand at a counter when I answer email. Exercise rocks 🙂

oz 6 April 2010 - 2:26 pm

Sherri, I checked out the reserach. Interestingly play didn’t work for extroverts – only introverts.

This seems to make sense.

Any thoughts?

Sherri Fisher 6 April 2010 - 4:42 pm

Hello, Wayne-
This is a positive psychology site and our articles are about what does work, not what does not work. I think you have misinterpreted the findings of the study.

I’d like to clarify your comment. The study does not say that the priming intervention does not work for introverts. Saying that makes it sound like it was bad for them. It says that the creativity effect was strongest, and most significant, for introverts rather than for extraverts. So it could potentially be good. The suggestion is that extraverts already find it easier to loosen up their more playful, creative thinking and that introverts benefit from priming (thinking like a child) to think more original ideas.

The content of this article does not lead anyone astray since it is an invitation to try out the intervention, not a therapeutic prescription. Of course if a person is primed for negativity, it would not be likely to work for someone anyway.


wayne 6 April 2010 - 5:06 pm

Sheri – you misread my comment. I said it “only worked for introverts”.

And my curious little brain began to think why does it work for extroverts and not for introverts?

If you look at extraversion it is often a proxy measure for positive affect. So perhaps positive affect is the pathway. Other research from Alice Isen suggests this.

If so, can visualising going on a holiday have the same impact as imaginging that you are a 7 year old. Both might be boosting positive affect in introverts.

The study also found that there was no impact in fluency (the number of ideas) -only on originality.

Marie-Josee Salvas Shaar 7 April 2010 - 2:59 pm

Hi again!

I actually found some info in support of my hypothesis above! From John Ratey, author of Spark:

Contrary to what most school administrators believe, one study from Virginia Tech showed that cutting out phys ed class to allocate more time to math and science and reading did not improve test scores. Conversely, the California Department of Education has consistently shown that students with higher fitness scores also have higher test scores.

I think we might be on to something here…!

Sherri Fisher 7 April 2010 - 4:39 pm

Hi, Marie Jo-
Great! Thanks for looking this up. So next time I write it can be about the positive effects of movement (and recess for which there is new research) on achievement.

Thanks for exploring the movement connection. 🙂

P.S. I like John Ratey.

abiola 20 May 2010 - 1:15 am

Despite the challenges and crisis people come across in the journey of life, a large portion of humans ends up living a life of dignity and purpose. A more open and welcoming approach to human virtues, talent and potentials is required in dealing and relating to human existence.
Emotions set into play when things don’t happen according to plan and life does not end up being pleasant as we have thought. How do we remain positive despite our challenges and how do we find strength within us to deal with the crisis we are experiencing? Then you start to think; as real as positive psychology maybe negative psychology is inevitable at times and could wellbeing ever be taught in a world where a large number of people suffer severe depression in some stage of their life.
Education gives us vital tools we need to utilize in the journey of life and to every individual education is inevitable .Positivity enhances learning and makes individuals and a society explore things in a creative way. Teaching positive psychology at schools helps to fight depression and allow people to stay positive. It increases wellbeing and enhances a productive and enviable future. It also creates a synergy with classroom learning which helps students to handle day to day stressor and be optimistic in their decision making.

Louella 19 July 2010 - 10:38 pm


Thank you for writing about nurturing creativity. It is very helpful to me as a parent to be able to see the difference between Mastery vs Performance Goals. Mastery is essential but striving for perfect scores couldn’t help but send the message “Do not make a mistake” to the children. And it’s frustrating for kids who would really rather learn about something from all angles and see them at work rather than see it from exactly the same perspective and be drilled the same way over and over and over again and then be punished with a low score for not giving the expected answers. This not only prevents students from wrapping their minds on the ideas they learn and connect them with other ideas but also hurt their confidence in giving their own opinion when it happens to fall outside the “correct answer” – they see a red mark on their paper, a low grade that also brings their moral in the same direction, and slowly lose belief in what they can create, suggest, or contribute.

Seth Godin in his book “LinchpinS said that the school system created since the Industrial Revolution was a powerful tool used to brainwash future factory workers who did not need to think but were simply required to follow a manual. He might just be right.

Thankfully, positive psychology is here to help “unplug” workers so to speak from the company manuals and hopefully in the very near future, it will also unplug the schools all over the world. I wish someday schools would let the students’ imaginations run wild, share them with other people – organizations even – and see their creations realized and utilized.

Sherri Fisher 21 July 2010 - 4:31 pm

Your vision sounds lovely. There are some schools that value and nurture creativity, but generally they are in the independent domain or are charter schools. The typical public school is very bogged down in “must dos” and teaching to standards. This can result in higher test scores, especially for groups of students who struggle, but you (and Seth Godin) are right that it is not a good way to nurture open minds.

Do you know of a school or a district who would be open to this way of thinking? There are people interested in showing how to get started!
🙂 Sherri

Louella 12 November 2010 - 2:33 am

Hi Sherri,

So sorry for getting back to you so late. I am based in the Philippines – would the people you’re referring to be interested in bringing the program here? If yes, then I’m really excited! I look forward to your response. 🙂




Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

WP Twitter Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com