Psychological Resources: Grit, Self-Efficacy, and Energy

We have so far tackled processes that have a direct and specific effect on creative processes. In addition, there are a number of important psychological resources that are not specific to creativity, but are critical for achievement in general. Among these are grit, optimism, and self-efficacy.

Grit, passion, and perseverance for long-term goals (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, & Kelly, 2007), enable us to remain focused and determined when obstacles get in our way. Gritty individuals do not give into helplessness readily and they persist in the face of obstacles. Optimism and self-efficacy have similar benefits (Bandura, 1997; Seligman, 1991). Individuals who do not have these find themselves discouraged early in the process, as they face the first of the countless rejections the creative career necessarily entails. As Bandura (1997, p. 239) noted, "above all, innovativeness requires an unshakable sense of efficacy to persist in creative endeavors."

These resources call on energy and stamina. Mental and physical energy enable cognitive processes requiring sustained effort and self-discipline (Baumeister, Vohs, & Tice, 2007; Chaiken & Trope, 1999). High mental energy and vigor predict higher levels of work involvement in the workplace (Atwater & Carmeli, 2009; Carmeli, McKay, & Kaufman, 2014). The existing literature, however, has surprisingly little to say about what physical energy is, how it can be measured, and how it contributes to creative achievement. An old literature examining "fatigue curves" in work performance assessed physical energy by measuring decrements in performance on a strenuous physical task, such as the ability to lift or move weights, as well as the duration of rest needed to maintain performance (e.g., Hockey, 2013), but this literature seems to have no modern counterpart, and notions of energy—both mental and physical—have unfortunately not played much of a role in theorizing since the demise of Freudian dynamics. Biographies of great achievers often emphasize their exceptional levels of energy (e.g., Jamison, 2004), and we commend the study of mental and physical energy for future research on creativity.

Grit, self-efficacy, energy, and aging. Duckworth et al. (2007) found that grit increased with age in a cross-sectional study of adults. This finding may be a cohort effect (i.e., younger generations are less gritty). Alternatively, older adults may learn through experience that perseverance pays off. In addition, self-efficacy undergoes important increases over the life span, increasing from childhood to adulthood, as we learn to master the demands of each life stage. Much variability exists in old age, but many, if not most, older adults retain a sense of personal efficacy in old age (Lachman, 1986). In addition, those who are able to maintain high self-efficacy and are in supportive and challenging environments, do better intellectually and emotionally (even if their objective capacities decline) (Bandura, 1994).

In contrast, findings on the effects of aging on energy and stamina suggest that these resources decline with age. With regards to physical energy, there is no doubt that aging brings about a decrease in stamina. Some researchers have even suggested that DNA mutations of the mitochondria, the cell's energy generator, may in fact cause the aging process (Miquel, 1992; Spirduso, Francis, & MacRae, 2005). In addition, physical changes to the body's composition and metabolism lead to declines in physical activity (e.g., Roberts & Rosenberg, 2006). Thus, the decline in energy and stamina with aging may well decrease creative achievement.

So the overall influence of aging on the psychological resources that facilitate creativity is murky, mostly because of a lack of research:

  • • It is not known if on average, increasing rigidity is counterbalanced by increased diversity of experience with age.
  • • It is not known how openness to experience and integrative complexity fare with age.
  • • Grit and self-efficacy likely increase with age.
  • • Physical and mental energy likely decrease with age, but there is a surprising lack of research on energy and how it fares with age.
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