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Last Updated on December 30, 2018

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 May 20, 2019

    How to Prevent Inaction from Leading to Regret

    How to Prevent Inaction from Leading to Regret

    Time.

    When you think of this construct, where do you see your time being spent?

    As William Shakespeare famously wrote “I wasted time, and now doth time waste me…”

    Have you used your time wisely? Are you where you want to be?

    Or do you have unfinished goals to attain… places you want to be, things you still need to do?

    The hard truth is, that time once passed cannot be replaced–which is why it is common to hear people say that one should not squander time doing nothing, or delay certain decisions for later. More often than not, the biggest blocker from reaching our goals is often inaction – which is essentially doing nothing, rather than doing something. 

    There are many reasons why we may not do something. Most often it boils down to adequate time. We may feel we don’t have enough time, or that it’s never quite the right time to pursue our goals.

    Maybe next month, or maybe next year…

    And, before you know it, the time has passed and you’re still no where near achieving those goals you dream about. This inaction often leads to strong regret once we look at the situation through hindsight. So, take some time now to reflect on any goal(s) you may have in mind, or hidden at the back of your mind; and, think about how you can truly start working on them now, and not later.

    So, how do you start?

    Figure Out Your Purpose (Your Main Goal)


    The first important step is to figure out your purpose, or your main goal.

    What is it that you’re after in life? And, are there any barriers preventing you from reaching your goal? These are good questions to ask when it comes to figuring out how (and for what purpose) you are spending your time.

    Your purpose will guide you, and it will ensure your time spent is within the bounds of what you actually want to accomplish.

    A good amount of research has been done on how we as humans develop and embrace long-term and highly meaningful goals in our lives. So much so, that having a purpose has connections to reduced stroke, and heart attack. It turns out, our desire to accomplish goals actually has an evolutionary connection–especially goals with a greater purpose to them. This is because a greater purpose often helps both the individual, and our species as a whole, survive.

    Knowing why it is you’re doing something is important; and, when you do, it will be easier to budget your time and effort into pursuing after those milestones or tasks that will lead to the accomplishment of your main goal.

    Assess Your Current Time Spent

    Next comes the actual time usage. Once you know what your main goal is, you’ll want to make the most of the time you have now. It’s good to know how you’re currently spending your time, so that you can start making improvements and easily assess what can stay and what can go in your day to day routine.

    For just one day, ideally on a day when you’d like to be more productive, I encourage you to record a time journal, down to the quarter hour if you can manage. You may be quite surprised at how little things—such as checking social media, answering emails that could wait, or idling at the water cooler or office pantry —can add up to a lot of wasted time.

    To get you started, I recommend you check out this quick self assessment to assess your current productivity: Want To Know How Much You’re Getting Done In A Day?

    Tricks to Tackle Distractions

    Once you’ve assessed how you’re currently spending your time, I hope you won’t be in for too big of a shock when you see just how big of an impact distractions and time wasters are in your life.

    Every time your mind wanders from your work, it takes an average of 25 minutes and 26 seconds to get into focus again. That’s almost half an hour of precious time every time you entertain a distraction!

    Which is why it’s important to learn how to focus, and tackle distractions effectively. Here’s how to do it:

    1. Set Time Aside for Focusing

    One way to stay focused is to set focused sessions for yourself. During a focused session, you should let people know that you won’t be responding unless it’s a real emergency.

    Set your messaging apps and shared calendars as “busy” to reduce interruptions. Think of these sessions as one on one time with yourself so that you can truly focus on what’s important, without external distractions coming your way.

    2. Beware of Emails

    Emails may sound harmless, but they can come into our inbox continuously throughout the day, and it’s tempting to respond to them as we receive them. Especially if you’re one to check your notifications frequently.

    Instead of checking them every time a new notification sounds, set a specific time to deal with your emails at one go. This will no doubt increase your productivity as you’re dealing with emails one after the other, rather than interrupting your focus on another project each time an email comes in.

    Besides switching off your email notifications so as not to get distracted, you could also install a Chrome extension called Block Site that helps to stop Gmail notifications coming through at specific times, making it easier for you to manage these subtle daily distractions.

    3. Let Technology Help

    As much as we are getting increasingly distracted because of technology, we can’t deny it’s many advantages. So instead of feeling controlled by technology, why not make use of disabling options that the devices offer?

    Turn off email alerts, app notifications, or set your phone to go straight to voicemail and even create auto-responses to incoming text messages. There are also apps like Forrest that help to increase your productivity by rewarding you each time you focus well, which encourages you to ignore your phone.

    4. Schedule Time to Get Distracted

    Just as important as scheduling focus time, is scheduling break times. Balance is always key, so when you start scheduling focused sessions, you should also intentionally pen down some break time slots for your mind to relax.

    This is because the brain isn’t created to sustain long periods of focus and concentration. The average attention span for an adult is between 15 and 40 minutes. After this time, your likelihood of distractions get stronger and you’ll become less motivated.

    So while taking a mental break might seem unproductive, in the long run it makes your brain work more efficiently, and you’ll end up getting more work done overall.

    Time is in Your Hands

    At the end of the day, we all have a certain amount of time to go all out to pursue our heart’s desires. Whatever your goals are, the time you have now, is in your hands to make them come true.

    You simply need to start somewhere, instead of allowing inaction waste your time away, leaving you with regret later on. With a main goal or purpose in mind, you can be on the right track to attaining your desired outcomes.

    Being aware of how you spend your time and learning how to tackle common distractions can help boost you forward in completing what’s necessary to reach your most desired goals.

    So what are you waiting for? 

    Featured photo credit: Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash via unsplash.com

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