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How to Be Creative When You’ve Hit a Creative Block

How to Be Creative When You’ve Hit a Creative Block

How do you think of creativity? Is it something that you are either born with or not? Does it mean that you are dominated by the right side of your brain? Is it a skill that can be taught? Or are you stuck with the amount of creativity you were born with?

The truth is, creativity is much more complicated than most of us think. And if you’re wondering how to be creative, you need to understand what blocks you from being more creative first.

Can You Think out of the Box?

Creativity is generally defined as the ability to “think outside the box”. Researcher Bob McKim came up with a simple way to determine someone’s creativity:[1]

First, he had them draw 30 circles on a piece of paper. He then gave them 1 minute to turn as many of those circles into recognizable objects as possible. A person might make one a smiley face, another a sun, a stop sign and so on.

    The idea here was that the more circles that you could use in just 1 minute, the more creative you were. Most people started hitting that creative wall after about 10-15 circles. After all, there are only so many commonly found round objects that you come across everyday.

    But the most creative people didn’t let that stop them, they started filling in the circles as snowmen (no one said you could only use one circle!), stop lights and even clock faces showing a different time in each clock. These where the people thinking outside the box!

    But the question remained, was this just a talent that was handed down through random genetics or was creativity something that could be taught and acquired?

    Luckily, later research involving FMRI studies gave us a much better understanding of what parts of the brain are involved in creativity, why creativity can become blocked and what we can do to break through that blockage.

    Getting over Different Causes of a Creative Block

    Whether it’s called creative block or writer’s block, it’s the same thing. You are tasked with some sort of creative project and you find yourself staring at a blank screen with no idea where to start.

    It always helps to know where the blockage comes from (it’s much easier to fix!) but many times we just don’t know why we have it. Here are some common causes:

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    1. Fear

    This is one of the most common causes of creative block. Fear of failure, fear of not being good enough (impostor syndrome), comparing yourself to other’s in your field. These are all good ways to give yourself creative blocks!

    The good news is that all of these fears mean that you are growing in your craft. Just think about it for a minute, when you did your first job or got your first article published, what were you feeling then? I’ll bet it was a feeling of accomplishment along with pride! You probably weren’t comparing yourself to others who may have been more successful than you.

    So now look at your latest finished project, I’m betting that it’s of much higher quality than your first one. You’ve grown in your craft since that first experience, you now have higher expectations of yourself and it’s just human nature to compare ourselves with others.

    So don’t worry about it, just understand that these fears are natural and you can use them to motivate yourself to continue to grow in your craft.

    2. Catastrophizing

    “I’m never going to get this done in time”, “This is way too much work for one person”, “I’m not as good as I use to be, my best days are behind me”

    … These are all negative (read unhealthy) thoughts running through your head. And unfortunately your body follows what’s in your head.

    People who ride motorcycles understand this phenomenon because motorcycles “go where you look”. When turning on a motorcycle you always want to look past the curve. In other words, you need to keep your eye on a point beyond the curve that you want to reach. If you are looking straight ahead, you’ll end up driving strait through the curve and crashing.

    It’s the same with creativity, you need to look past the obstacles in your mind and focus on where you want to be. Wherever your mind is focused is where you’ll end up.

    Remind yourself that you’ve done projects like this before and have been successful. Look back at prior achievements, hang awards and certificates on your wall to remind you of past accomplishments. Remember, your body is going to go where your mind takes you.[2]

    3. Paralysis by Analysis

    This is a common one on especially big projects. There are generally a lot of things involved with a lot of moving parts that have to be synchronized. This is a “Where do I even start” situation. It is also common for both writers and artists to to suffer from this particular block.

    When starting a big project, prioritization is the key. Develop a timeline for the project that can both measure your progress and provide motivation to get things done.

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    If you’re a writer suffering from writer’s block, the hardest part of most projects is just getting started. You may have a topic in mind, but have no idea how you should write the introduction. This is an easy one to fix, write the article you want to write first and once that’s done you can go back and write the introduction. After all, it’s easier to introduce what an article is about after it is written!

    A similar trick is good to use if your an artist. First, just draw a random line on your canvas. Next, just stare at it, this is your starting point, your next step is to finish what you have begun.

    In both examples we’re just using little tricks to get us past the most difficult part of any project, the beginning.

    4. Lack of Motivation

    It doesn’t matter what you do or how much you love what you do, there will eventually come a time when your motivation starts to go down the drain. This can happen for a variety of reasons: your working atmosphere, coworkers, a bad boss or just a boring project.

    I have been an entrepreneur most of my life because I couldn’t stand the stifling atmosphere of corporate America. I love being an entrepreneur with all of the time and money advantages it brings, but I hate the accounting and taxes involved.

    Life is a trade off, and so it goes. You have to decide where your lack of motivation is coming from and what (if anything) you’re willing to do about it. If it’s a bad boss or coworker problem, freelance maybe a good option for you, just remember those other problems that come with it. If it’s a particularity boring project, you might just want to stick it out and ask for something more challenging next time.

    Finally, if your just burnt out, take a vacation. Even a stay-cation where you don’t even leave town but check into a resort for the weekend can help. Anything that will take you out of your normal routine will help.

    This guide will be helpful for you to stay motivated too:

    What Motivates You And How to Always Stay Motivated

    5. Too Many Distractions

    In today’s modern world, we have more distractions than ever. With rent, mortgage, taking care of the kids and a spouse, dealing with health problems — that’s just the normal stuff! Now add in Facebook, and other social media platforms as well as a phone you carry around with you so that people can get in touch with you 24 hours a day. It’s a wonder we get any work done at all!

    As a creative individual, we aren’t always the best at organizing our time. Our brains tend to be a little more free flowing which helps us to deal with problems as they come up.

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    Writing down and sticking to a schedule will help a lot with this issue. Decide that you are going to work on your project from 9am to noon without interruption. Then turn off your phone and do it. When noon rolls around, turn that phone back on and deal with all of the everyday issues that would have interrupted you while you were working.

    Here’s another guide to help you deal with distractions:

    Easily Distracted and Hard to Focus? Try Doing This

    5 Techniques to Work Through a Creative Block

    Earlier we went though some scenarios that are common causes of creative block along with solutions for each type. But a lot of times we no idea what’s causing our blockage. Even in those times, there are things you can do to get through your creative block:

    1. Do Things Backwards

    This is the most important way to be creative when you’ve hit a creative block.

    Start brushing your teeth with your non dominate hand, wear your watch upside down, carry your money in a money clip instead of a wallet (or visa versa), write backwards (Leonardo Da Vinci employed this technique). These things will not only break you out of your normal routine, thus giving you a new and different perspective.

    Studies have shown that the part of the brain that connects the two hemispheres called the corpus callosum is bigger in creative people. By doing these things deliberately, you can actually increase the size of the corpus callosum, increasing your overall creativity.

    2. Let it Go

    This may seem counter intuitive but here’s the deal: All people in a creative field have been stuck at one time or another. Then in the middle of the night, or when you’re playing golf or at the movies, you’ll all of the sudden get that “eureka” moment. That moment when the answer just comes to you out of nowhere.

    Well, it really didn’t come out of nowhere, you had been working to solve the problem so intently and for so long that your brain got stuck in “the box”. This happens to everyone and it’s not something that we can consciously control.

    The only way to break out of this cycle is to stop thinking about it consciously and let our subconscious mind take over.

    3. Get Some Exercise

    This is another way to stop thinking about the problem and let the subconscious mind take over, but it has the added benefit of increasing blood flow to the brain. (Oh yeah, and it’s good for your heart too!).

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    Sometimes we forget that our minds and our bodies are connected[3] in ways we don’t realize.

    4. Be Willing to Change Your Perspective

    When I first started out in business and started to hire employees, I noticed a pattern that developed with all of them. They would all start out excited and eager to learn the job. I would train them as to how I wanted things done, as part of our service was to give every customer consistent experience.

    But after a few months, I noticed that they weren’t following the script. Each one was giving their own version of the store tour and our products. The worst part was that I would watch them do it and not say anything because while everyone would deviate from the script, they were small deviations.

    The end result was that there was no consistency for the client. I addressed it at meetings and was always met will nodding heads but their behavior never changed. I ended up calling a mentor of mine and telling him my issue. His advice to me was to change my perspective.

    This isn’t a matter of employee who aren’t doing their jobs right. This is a management issue (considering I was the management it didn’t feel too good). These seemingly insignificant deviations from the script affected both my livelihood and the livelihood of my employees.

    So at our next employee meeting, I explained that every one was expected to work off the same script and once again, I was met with nodding heads. The very next week, two employees got fired for deviating from the script and all of the sudden, compliance to my directive went to 100%.

    The entire situation was my fault for allowing it to begin with, but I needed someone else’s perspective to solve the problem. I was seeing the problem as employees not doing what they were suppose to be doing; and my mentor pointed out that the real problem was my management style.

    5. Always Carry a Notepad

    You never know when inspiration will strike, so always carry around a notepad to write down ideas.

    Now in this new digital world we live in, if you want to use the note feature on your phone, or record voice messages instead, then be my guest.

    The point here is to make a record of your ideas and inspiration, just relying on our memories almost never works and you’ll be much more productive with a record that you can go back at look at.

    The Bottom Line

    Creative ideas don’t come from an “eureka” moment, there’s a lot you can do to get over the creativity block and spark creativity. Figure out where your creativity block comes from and tackle the cause with my suggestions, soon you will find yourself getting the momentum to stay creative all the time.

    More Resources to Boost Your Creativity

    Featured photo credit: Bench Accounting via unsplash.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    David Carpenter

    Lifelong entrepreneur and business owner helping others to realize the American Dream of business ownership

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    Last Updated on July 13, 2020

    How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

    How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

    Overwhelm is a pernicious state largely caused by the ever-increasing demands on our time and the distractions that exist all around us. It creeps up on us and can, in its extreme form, leave us feeling anxious, stressed and exhausted.

    If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, here are 6 strategies you can follow that will reduce the feeling of overwhelm; leaving you calmer, in control and a lot less stressed.

    1. Write Everything down to Offload Your Mind

    The first thing you can do when you begin to feel overwhelmed is to write everything down that is on your mind.

    Often people just write down all the things they think they have to do. This does help, but a more effective way to reduce overwhelm is to also write down everything that’s on your mind.

    For example, you may have had an argument with your colleague or a loved one. If it’s on your mind write it down. A good way to do this is to draw a line down the middle of the page and title one section “things to do” and the other “what’s on my mind”.

    The act of writing all this down and getting it out of your head will begin the process of removing your feeling of overwhelm. Writing things down can really change your life.

    2. Decide How Long It Will Take to Complete Your To-Dos

    Once you have ‘emptied your head,’ go through your list and estimate how long it will take to complete each to-do.

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    As you go through your list, you will find quite a few to-dos will only take you five or ten minutes. Others will take longer, often up to several hours.

    Do not worry about that at this stage. Just focus on estimating how long you will need to complete each task to the best of your ability. Here’s How to Cultivate a More Meaningful To Do List.

    3. Take Advantage of Parkinson’s Law

    Now here’s a little trick I learned a long time ago. Parkinson’s Law states that work will fill the time you have available to complete it, and us humans are terrible at estimating how long something will take:((Odhable: Genesis of Parkinson’s Law))

      This is why many people are always late. They think it will only take them thirty minutes to drive across town when previous experience has taught them it usually takes forty-five minutes to do so because traffic is often bad but they stick to the belief it will only take thirty minutes. It’s more wishful thinking than good judgment.

      We can use Parkinson’s Law to our advantage. If you have estimated that to write five emails that desperately need a reply to be ninety minutes, then reduce it down to one hour. Likewise, if you have estimated it will take you three hours to prepare your upcoming presentation, reduce it down to two hours.

      Reducing the time you estimate something will take gives you two advantages. The first is you get your work done quicker, obviously. The second is you put yourself under a little time pressure and in doing so you reduce the likelihood you will be distracted or allow yourself to procrastinate.

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      When we overestimate how long something will take, subconsciously our brains know we have plenty of time and so it plays tricks on us and we end up checking reviews of the Apple Watch 4 or allow our colleagues to interrupt us with the latest office gossip.

      Applying a little time pressure prevents this from happening and we get more focused and more work done.

      4. Use the Power of Your Calendar

      Once you have your time estimates done, open up your calendar and schedule your to-dos. Go through your to-dos and schedule time on your calendar for doing those tasks. Group tasks up into similar tasks.

      For emails that need attention on your to-do list, schedule time on your calendar to deal with all your emails at once. Likewise, if you have a report to write or a presentation to prepare, add these to your calendar using your estimated time as a guide for how long each will take.

      Seeing these items on your calendar eases your mind because you know you have allocated time to get them done and you no longer feel you have no time. Grouping similar tasks together keeps you in a focused state longer and it’s amazing how much work you get done when you do this.

      5. Make Decisions

      For those things you wrote down that are on your mind but are not tasks, make a decision about what you will do with each one. These things are on your mind because you have not made a decision about them.

      If you have an issue with a colleague, a friend or a loved one, take a little time to think about what would be the best way to resolve the problem. More often than not just talking with the person involved will clear the air and resolve the problem.

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      If it is a more serious issue, then decide how best to deal with it. Talk to your boss, a colleague and get advice.

      Whatever you do, do not allow it to fester. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. You need to make a decision to deal with it and the sooner you do so the sooner the problem will be resolved. (You can take a look at this guide on How To Make Good Decisions All The Time.)

      I remember long ago, when I was in my early twenties and had gone mad with my newly acquired credit cards. I discovered I didn’t have the money to pay my monthly bills. I worried about it for days, got stressed and really didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I told a good friend of mine of the problem. He suggested I called the credit card company to explain my problem. The next day, I plucked up the courage to call the company, explained my problem and the wonderful person the other end listened and then suggested I paid a smaller amount for a couple of months.

      This one phone call took no more than ten minutes to make, yet it solved my problem and took away a lot of the stress I was feeling at the time. I learned two very valuable lessons from that experience:

      The first, don’t go mad with newly acquired credit cards! And the second, there’s always a solution to every problem if you just talk to the right person.

      6. Take Some Form of Action

      Because overwhelm is something that creeps up on us, once we feel overwhelmed (and stressed as the two often go together), the key is to take some form of action.

      The act of writing everything down that is bothering you and causing you to feel overwhelmed is a great place to start. Being able to see what it is that is bothering you in a list form, no matter how long that list is, eases the mind. You have externalized it.

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      It also means rather than these worries floating around in a jumbled mess inside your head, they are now visible and you can make decisions easier about what to do about them. Often it could be asking a colleague for a little help, or it could be you see you need to allocate some focused time to get the work done. The important thing is you make a decision on what to do next.

      Overwhelm is not always caused by a feeling of having a lack of time or too much work, it can also be caused by avoiding a decision about what to do next.

      The Bottom Line

      Make a decision, even if it is to just talk to someone about what to do next. Making a decision about how you will resolve something on its own will reduce your feelings of overwhelm and start you down the path to a resolution one way or another.

      When you follow these strategies to can say goodbye to your overwhelm and gain much more control over your day.

      More Tips for Reducing Work Stress

      Featured photo credit: Andrei Lazarev via unsplash.com

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