Whether you write, draw, paint, sing, dance, craft, act or design for a living or for a hobby, you know how important it is to keep that creative well of ideas flowing. However, there comes a time when even the most prolific of us can find that the well has run dry. In those infrequent but occasional moments, it can feel as if our creativity- our very identity- has abandoned us. If our creativity is our outlet that makes our day jobs bearable, it can be upsetting to say the least. If we make a living from our creative endeavors, a block can be debilitating. It can cause us to miss deadlines or, at the very least, keep us awake long into the night, frantically scrambling to get your latest piece done on time despite feeling quite strongly that it’ll be the worst thing you’ve produced and that you’ll be exposed as a fraud and impostor at any moment.
If all of that cuts a little too close to the bone… relax. Crippling self-doubt is a part of the creative process (and one we’ll get into in more detail later). However, we can all agree that creative block is a lot less of a negative impact on our lives when we have useful strategies to cope with it. Just like alleviating depressive thoughts or bouts of anxiety with Cognitive Behavioral therapy (CBT) creative block can be dissolved with a little bit of cognitive reframing. Of course, in order to do this effectively, we need to be able to get to the root cause of our creative block.
Let’s take a look at some common reasons… and what you can do about them.
Reason 1: Your brain is tired/Stressed
We tend to know our own limits when it comes to our bodies. We know how much we can lift at the gym without hurting ourselves, we know how fast we can run on uneven ground without toppling over and we know how much we can eat without making ourselves sick… most of the time anyway.
However, we tend to expect a lot more of our minds, even though they’re governed by the same physical and biological laws as our bellies or our biceps. Very often when we hit a wall it’s because our brains, like any other parts of our bodies, get tired. Yet, we’ll keep trying to push through, regardless.
What you can do about it
Stop. Stop right now! As loath as you may be to step away from your screen / easel/ script you’re doing yourself absolutely no favors by trying to push through the barrier of creative block by force. At best you’ll come out with work you’re unhappy with (and have to go back to correct later anyway), and at worst you could condemn yourself to hours of frustration.
As we talked about in our post Finding Clarity and Inner Peace in Nature, just stepping outdoors when help a great deal. Take a walk, ideally in a nearby park or green area. Fresh air, access to nature and the act of walking itself are all proven to aid cognitive function and productivity. When you return to your work, you may feel that the barrier has eroded. Or, if you prefer (and have time) take a nap. Or make yourself a cup of coffee and just stare out of the window. Make time in your busy schedule for meaningful breaks that give your overtaxed mind a rest. Oh, and make sure that you’re well fed and well hydrated, too. Nutrition is as important for mental gymnastics as it is for feats of physical exertion.
Reason 2: You’re lacking direction
It can be very hard to take that first step down a creative path if you’re ultimately unsure of where you’re going. Everyone’s creative process is different and some people thrive on the creative power of spontaneity. They do their best work when they’re not thinking, they’re just doing. However, while this approach can be liberating, it can also cause creatives to run headlong into dead ends.
What you can do about it
Even if planning is usually difficult for you, do your best to map out a rough structure or at the very least be able to visualize a clear end point or overall message. Write this on a post-it note and put it somewhere you’ll have easy access to it. You may just find that it serves as your creative north star when you’re lost in the woods of the mind.
Reason 3: You’re overthinking
Of course, the creative mind can also go straight in the other direction. It can get so hung up on the minutiae that it can find itself over planning and over preparing and second guessing itself endlessly to the point where it leads to impotence at the actual execution stage. You might have a really clear idea of what you need to do, but how you’re going to do it can utterly elude you. This in turn can lead to a lack of motivation which will inevitably cripple your productivity.
What you can do about it
The mind, just like the body needs nourishment… and not just the kind of nourishment that comes from food and water. In order to create you also need to consume. You need to inspire yourself to get your engine running again. Go to the movies, read for an hour, head to your nearest gallery or flick through an art book. This will stop you from thinking yourself around in focus and lend you inspiration and impetus. Then you can let yourself off the leash a little. Even if you aren’t necessarily happy with everything you do at this point, it’s better to go back, polish and edit than to find yourself constantly at square one.
In our post Where’s Your Sanctuary? Creating Your Happy Place, we talk about the importance of creating or having a special place you can go to for peace and to clear your thoughts.
Reason 4: You’re distracted
In the 21st century, none of us is safe from the ever-present threat of distraction. Whether it’s distractions created by our surroundings like clutter or lack of usable space to the endless distractions represented by the internet. Even with the strongest will in the world, the multitude of distractions can cause you to veer of course.
What you can do about it
First of all, discomfort can be very distracting as can visual clutter. So, make sure that your workspace is clean, tidy and free of visual distractions. Make sure that you’re not too hot and that your clothing isn’t too constrictive. These little things can make a big difference. Wear something that’s comfortable (not pyjamas) in which you can feel unconstrained while still feeling as though you’re at work. Feeling too hot or too cold can also lead to creative block so it may be worth installing a ceiling fan if you’re prone to being too hot. There’s a range to suit all tastes including advanced models which represent the future of airflow. Alternatively, if you’re prone to feeling cold, especially in the extremities such as hands or feet, it might be best to keep a small portable heater at your desk.
When creative block hits at home, doing the dishes can seem especially urgent and the laundry can seem almost appealing, which is why it’s so important to have a dedicated space that’s just for working and free of the myriad distractions of the home. If it’s digital distractions that are the most common barrier to creativity and productivity, you might want to install some distraction blocking software on your computer and keep your smartphone in a drawer or (better still) a whole other room. Don’t worry, you can always check on it when it’s time to take a meaningful break!
When you address the causes of creative block and have strategies in place to counteract them, you need never let it hold you hostage again!