It has happened to the best of us: the creativity is flowing, you are getting things done, you feel good about your latest project, and then all of the sudden—you’re blocked. Whether it’s a temporary hurdle or a long-lasting struggle, creative blocks are annoying at best and depressing at worst. But even the most creative people feel like their creativity is stifled sometimes. So how can you push through your creative blocks to get back into a better state?
What creative blocks look like
When a creative block pops up, most people are aware that something is off, but they might not realize it’s their creativity that’s being blocked. They might mistake it for something else entirely. But recognizing the symptoms of your creative blocks is important if you are going to identify (and overcome) them. The most common symptoms of creative blocks I see are:
Inability to focus
Flow is a mental state in which your creativity simply…flows. And part of flow is focus. When you are in flow, you are completely focused on the creative task at hand. Many people even lose track of time because they are so absorbed in their creative work and energy.
If focus is part of flow, then it makes sense that inability to focus might be a sign that your creativity is blocked. If you find that you’re easily distracted, a creative block could be to blame.
Lack of motivation
Creative blocks leave a lot of people feeling unable or unwilling to try. This can manifest as discouragement, pessimism, or even physical tiredness. But however it shows up, the important thing is that it can signify a creative block.
Lack of emotion
Creativity is fueled by emotion. Our best creative efforts are born from our most powerful emotions. So what happens when emotions get blocked? Creativity does, too.
A creative block might seem like a lack of creativity, but it can be happen when there is “too much” of something: ideas, work, appointments, activities, responsibilities, etc. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, there’s a good chance you are experiencing a creative block, too.
When I am creatively blocked, it often shows up as irritability. I might be impatient with my family, short with my employees, angry at the “idiot” driver in front of me, or even just negative about myself. On those days, my irritability clues me in to the fact that something is blocked.
If you’re dealing with any of these things, or anything else that is stopping you from getting your creative work done, it’s time to take a good look at your creativity, because it is likely blocked.
How to push through your creative block
Whether your creative block lasts minutes, days, or even months, being blocked is a frustrating experience. It can leave you feeling incapable or even hopeless. The problem is, none of those things is going to help you push through your creative blocks. In fact, the more negativity, guilt, and pressure you pile on yourself to work through the block, the harder it is going to be. Try these things instead.
Feel the feelings. As I mentioned before, creative blocks can be tied to emotional blocks. For this reason, if you’re feeling creatively blocked, it can help to allow yourself to feel your feelings. What are you holding back? Why? What are you afraid to feel? One of my favorite ways to figure this out is to write it all down. I start with surface level emotions (tired, frustrated, etc.) but as I explore them further, I find deeper emotions that are really at the heart of my creative block. Let yourself feel those feelings. Release them. Cry, scream, laugh, vent, write, draw, make music—do whatever it is you need to to process those feelings. If you can channel them into your creative work, even better. Your emotions can help push you through your creative blocks.
Change your environment. Your creative block might be initiated or made worse by your environment. Do you have a space that invites creativity? Are you feeling cooped up? Is your environment causing physical discomfort (back pain, eye strain, too hot/cold, etc.)? These kinds of problems can stifle creative energy. You can change your environment in both the short-term and the long-term. If you’ve just stumbled on a creative block, try making a quick shift to your environment. You could work in a different room, take a quick walk outside, or lie down for a moment. Even something as simple as putting on a sweater or changing out of your uncomfortable shoes might make all the difference. In the long-term, set up a space that invites creativity. Make it full of things you love and feel inspired by. This could be photographs, artwork, greenery, nice-smelling candles, inspirational notes, printed mantras, and so on. You can also change your environment with things like noise-cancelling headphones, blue light-blocking glasses, a personal space heater or fan, or removing distractions like your phone.
Start the work. “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”Mark Twain When it comes to creative work, getting started is (at least) half the battle. When I feel creatively blocked, the very last thing I want to do is try to be creative. But really, it is the only way I’m ever going to get through to the other side. The trick of “just” getting started is this: don’t be afraid to make something horrible. You aren’t working to try to create something amazing, or even good. You are working with the sole purpose of getting started. So throw out all directions and rules. Just start creating. You might be surprised at how far a little momentum can take you.
Get back to basics. When you are trying to push through a block, it’s possible to push too hard. Some people need to plow through with a big burst of energy, but for most people, it’s much better to slow down and get back to basics. This could mean a couple things. It could mean stepping away from your creative work for a while and focusing on what you need to function as the best version of yourself. That means focusing on diet, exercise, sleep, and self-care. These things build a strong foundation for a creative life, and if that foundation is cracking, you need to repair it. Getting back to basics could also refer to your craft itself. Remind yourself why you enjoy this creative work. Take on a simple, fun project that you can do well and quickly. Act like a beginner. Returning to those fundamental principles can help you work through your blocks and start creating again.
Step away. Sometimes, the best work you can do doesn’t look like work at all. Stepping away from a project you feel blocked on gives your subconscious some time to work on it while you give your conscious brain a break. I highly recommend doing something you can do on autopilot: do the dishes, organize your closet, wash your car, clean out your bedside table drawer. Do something monotonous and boring—something you don’t even have to think about. This will give your brain a chance to reset so that when you do return to your creative work, you feel unblocked, refreshed, and ready to go
Creative blocks happen to everyone, but not everyone knows what to do with them. Learning how to push through your creative blocks will help you address the problem effectively, stop a downward spiral from happening, and get you back on track. So don’t be surprised when the block comes. Just follow these tips, push through it, and keep creating.
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