There have been countless studies conducted, and articles written, trying to pinpoint the origin of creativity.
We’ve even discussed it in various forms here on our blog. And while theories and assumptions are plentiful, the truth is, the source of creativity is as mysterious today as it was hundreds of years ago.
Equally as mystifying is the phenomenon known as a creative block. If you’ve pursued any creative venture at length, chances are you’ve experienced this. It’s as if the universe has taken away your superhero skills and left you with little more than a worthless cape to wear.
Creative ruts and mental blocks can be incredibly discouraging. They can leave you second-guessing your capabilities.
But despite all that, it’s important to know that these ruts are far from rare. Most people experience them. That’s why it’s so incredibly important to have a few tricks up your sleeve to help conquer your creative ruts and mental blocks quickly, and effectively.
Here are five ideas you can use to overcome your ruts and get back on your journey to innovative immortality.
Often times, when you’re in a rut, you quickly reject any thoughts or ideas running through your head. You’re already your harshest critic; but a rut exasperates your critiquing. Combat that by setting up a brainstorming session with yourself.
The reason we suggest brainstorming by yourself (first) is because when you’re in a rut, you’re likely extremely vulnerable and self-conscious. Brainstorming alone gives you a sense of security and comfort you might not experience with others.
List out everything you can that’s related to the topic you’re focused on. Include every thought that comes to mind, even the most absurd. Your goal here is to get these thoughts out of your head and onto a piece of paper or whiteboard. That way you can literally, and figuratively, take a step back and get a fresh perspective on these ideas.
If you’re more comfortable in a team setting (or are still in a rut following your solo brainstorm session) then reach out to colleagues you trust, and see if they’d be willing to partake in a brainstorming session.
The session is similar to the one outlined above, except here, you’ll benefit from the input and ideas of others.
A thinking rut is a fancy way of saying that you’re stuck in a specific thought pattern. It’s like a car stuck in mud. You can keep pressing on the gas, but you’re not going anywhere unless you change directions.
Stream-of-consciousness journaling is a creative person’s way of turning their mental steering wheel toward a new path. A good journaling tactic to employ is free association. With free association, begin with one word or phrase (it can be anything). Then jot down the next word or phrase that comes to mind, and so on. Don’t overthink your words. Don’t try to make a message out of the madness. The goal here is to unlock your mind from the prison it’s currently in.
Often times, a rut is the result of too many thoughts at once. This is especially true when you’re creating something new. Our brains prefer to stick to what they know, so tackling something steeped in newness is daunting.
A powerful way to overcome this is to break down your project into smaller pieces, rather than looking at it as a whole.
For example, if you’re working on a new product, consider focusing on, and improving upon, very specific parts of that product. The on/off switch. The casing. The heat coils. Our brains are far less likely to hit the brakes if we don’t take on more than we can chew.
We’re all guilty of getting stuck in our own bubbles from time to time, but inspiration isn’t always found within the world we’re comfortable in.
Take a painter, for example. If all a painter did was live, breathe, and eat his art, he’d have nothing to paint about. It’s reminiscent of a Henry David Thoreau quote: “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”
Taken here, what we mean is if you’re stuck in a rut, maybe it’s time to do a little less thinking, and a bit more living. Soak in the creative marvels of thinkers and artists whom you typically don’t experience. Go to a museum. Watch past Super Bowl ads. Watch a documentary on glassblowing. Listen to the music that these darn kids like today.
You’ll be surprised how the accomplishments of others, not in your discipline, can help you breathe new life into your own ventures.
The five tips above are just some of the solutions you can try when you’re facing a lack of creative momentum. But it’s also important to know what not to do. What you shouldn’t do is ignore reality. Don’t deny that you are, in fact, experiencing a mental block. When you deny this reality, you give it more power and delay your chances of squashing it before it consumes you.
Remember, nearly every creative mind on the planet has experienced what you’re going through. Consider it a rite of passage or badge of honor. Then, address it immediately so that it’ll disappear as quickly and mysteriously as it appeared.