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How to Overcome Creative Blocks

How to Overcome Creative Blocks
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Creative blocks are the bane of every artist’s life, but the harsh truth is that if you’re doing something even remotely creative, you will almost certainly encounter some form of mental block at one point or another.

Whether you consider yourself a writer, painter, blogger, or entrepreneur, it’s helpful to have a few tools up your sleeve that will enable you to combat creative blocks and overcome them as quickly as possible. Here are six tips you can use to get your creativity flowing again:

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1. Journal

Journaling can help you overcome creative blocks in a number of ways. Stream-of-consciousness journaling helps you get your thoughts out of your head and onto paper, clearing your mind for the task at hand. As a creative block is essentially a thinking rut (in other words, a stuck thought pattern), you can also use specific journaling techniques that encourage your thoughts to flow freely. Free association encourages you to be receptive to unconscious thoughts and suggestions: Begin with one word or phrase, then follow on with the very next word or phrase that comes to mind, then the next, and so on. Don’t over-think your words—simply wait to see what comes up.

You can also use another fun technique called Lists of 100. This involves writing a list of 100 items to do with a certain theme, for example, a list of 100 places I’d like to visit, a list of 100 things I own, a list of 100 things I’d like to own, a list of 100 people I’d like to meet, a list of 100 things I’d like to do before I die, and so on. Your list doesn’t have to be related to work: the point of this suggestion is to encourage you to think around a certain topic and transition out of your usual way of thinking.

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2. Change your scene

Changing your scene can do wonders for overcoming creative blocks. Take your work outside, to a local cafe, to the beach, or wherever you can go that feels new and unusual as a working environment. If you usually work on a laptop or computer, try working through the project using traditional pen and paper, or dictate your thoughts into a voice recorder. Any activity that encourages your mind to think in a different way can be helpful.

3. Brainstorm

Brainstorming has a similar effect to making a List of 100: It encourages you to think about all possible options, then choose those that are most realistic and doable.

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For an effective brainstorming session, start by listing everything you can think of in relation to the topic. Include the impossible, the wacky and the downright insane. It’s really important to make sure you get everything you can think of onto paper, no matter how silly it feels, to get it out of your head and get a different perspective on the task at hand. Once you have all your options on paper, you’re in a much better position to take a step back and look at each decision one by one.

4. Develop a routine

In his must-read book The War of Art, Steven Pressfield highlights the importance of routine in overcoming resistance. Having a regular routine can also help us overcome creative blocks: When we experience these blocks, it can be tempting to take a step back and say “This isn’t working, I’ll come back to it later”, but sometimes, the most effective way to overcome a block is to grit your teeth and experience it. Even if your imagination looks more like a barren wasteland than a magical factory, show up every day, sit there and experience it. You’ll overcome any creative blocks much more quickly if you turn your creative sessions into a routine than if you step back and simply wait for your creativity to reappear.

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5. Accept it

Creativity is an unconscious process. As much as we might will it to appear (and as much as having a routine helps), sometimes it won’t. There’s nothing wrong with that—it doesn’t say anything about our individual creative ability, and it’s not necessarily a sign that something is wrong either.

Fighting a creative block, berating yourself or judging your artistic integrity is not going to help; in fact, it’s likely to make the block even more prolonged. Instead, accept that the block exists, try to remove any internal judgements you might have surrounding it, and see it for what it is: a mind rut. However bad it feels, it will pass, and you will create again.

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What are your tips for overcoming creative blocks? Leave a comment and let us know.

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Hannah Braime

Hannah is a coach who believes the world is a richer place when we have the courage to be fully self-expressed.

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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