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

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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.

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    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 October 21, 2021

    How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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    How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

    Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

    Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

    The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

    Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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    Program Your Own Algorithms

    Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

    Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

    By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

    How to Form a Ritual

    I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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    Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

    1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
    2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
    3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
    4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

    Ways to Use a Ritual

    Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

    1. Waking Up

    Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

    2. Web Usage

    How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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    3. Reading

    How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

    4. Friendliness

    Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

    5. Working

    One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

    6. Going to the gym

    If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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    7. Exercise

    Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

    8. Sleeping

    Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

    8. Weekly Reviews

    The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

    Final Thoughts

    We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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    More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

     

    Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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