Anyone who is engaged in creative work has inevitably experienced the ebbs and flows that come with it. But like weather, even the most turbulent spells eventually pass, and though we can’t will them away, we can work with and through them until sunny skies return. So what can we do when the clouds that darken our eyes are Creative blocks, the common culprits that keep us from taking pleasure in our work?
While there are probably hundreds of ways to tackle the age-old issue, the following are a few possible approaches. They are bite-size and practical since overcomplicating things can sometimes reinforce what keeps us stuck.
It’s about removing clutter, both external and internal so creativity can resurface and blossom. We can do this through creating space while becoming vulnerable, still, gentle and self-forgiving.
Let’s start with the obvious:
Clean your office, desk, and browser
Your desk often reveals your state of mind – take a look at it, then go inward, now compare. Dirty teacups, fifteen open books, mail, half-a-dozen pens, hair bands, mountains of sticky notes, journals, and sketch pads layered over a sticky, cup-ring stained tabletop. And if you work at home, there’s likely a cat sprawled across your papers and arms as you type.
Now take a look at your browser. How many tabs do you have open? Your head is spinning! (note to self) How many thoughts and ideas can you possibly process at once? Random, unrelated “must-reads” and remnants of past projects that pile up on your desk hamper new ideas and paradigms from forming. Cluttered work environments stifle creative flow and bring needless mental noise and anxiety. Eliminate static by rejecting news click-bait and cheap entertainment sites and unplug your brain (see illustration) from useless social media and you will notice yourself shifting smoothly into a more productive and peaceful workflow. Oh, and put the cat down. 🙂
Shed light on your weakness
When you’re recycling the same mental stories over and over, it helps to expose your brain muddle to a trustworthy friend or coworker. It’s no big deal, really – welcome to the human race. The simple act of becoming vulnerable and articulating your struggle may not only free you from temporary insanity, but will likely save you a lot of time. Also, being transparent with someone will allow space for new ideas, and as a bonus, deepen your relationship.
After you clean your workspace and expose your folly, be still. You’ll find that once you’ve made space externally, you’ll become more aware of space internally. Allow yourself to sit quietly without attempting to solve the world’s problems or your next design project. Give your mind a break, maybe go for a walk and simply see without judgment or commentary. Give what is flowing in the unconscious freedom to makes its way to the surface. Practice these daily and chances are, you’ll discover a well-spring of new ideas.
Ignore self-defeating thoughts
Whatever type of mental resistance you’re facing, don’t fall into its trap of wearing you down until you’ve become useless. Too often we fight resistance with equal aggression and only make things worse. Then deflated, we binge-eat, mope and go to bed instead of doing one simple proactive task. So gently step aside, or better yet, allow assaults to go through you without causing a ripple (of course like anything else, it takes practice). Choose to stop any self-defense drama and save your energy for humble and steady forward-marching. We energize negativity by giving tea to, and entertaining a thousand unwelcome thoughts rather than ignoring and allowing them to dissipate. Don’t give your negative thoughts a place at the table.
Relax and forgive everything
In order to work creatively, you need a relaxed atmosphere. Start by taking yourself lightly. This requires loosening your grip on control and letting go of your mistakes and disappointments. You’re where you’re at. It’s OK. We’re always learning. Take a deep breath, smile, and have compassion for yourself. What matters is NOW. What you do now will affect what you will do in a minute, in an hour and tomorrow. So, accept fully whatever situation you’re in, take a step back, reorient yourself and start again. When there’s some distance between you and clingy emotional baggage, creativity has space to grow.
Apply faith, not force
Sometimes when we feel stuck, we impatiently press in more, using force as a method to make things happen. People, plants, and animals all thrive on what is life-giving. Hurling self-accusations, threats, or setting unreasonable deadlines do nothing but spread gray sludge over whatever project you do. Sure, it may be complete, but the results are far less than stimulating while the whole experience sucks the life out of you and everyone else around. Have faith in your creative DNA and trust in the process of natural growth happening as a result of developing a patient, life-giving attitude towards yourself. Treat yourself as you would a tender child learning to ride a bike or read. Yelling at a child for mispronouncing a word is no less ludicrous than yelling at yourself when you’re stuck in a creative slump or lacking in some skill.
In conclusion…a place to begin
While there could be other root causes to your creative blocks, a simple place to begin is to address needless clutter – whether mental or otherwise. Once you tidy up, you may be surprised at the passing clouds and calm horizon as new ideas take shape effortlessly, leaving you energized and inspired as you tackle your next project.