Oh, creativity — that lifeblood, that elixir, that divine potion that keeps us on our toes, keeps us inspired, has us sitting up in the middle of the night scribbling in our notebooks.
Until, or course, it doesn’t.
Sometimes, creativity goes on coffee breaks too, leaving us all alone, feeling uninspired, empty and, let’s face it, scared.
Scared that the well has dried up.
Creative block is brutal, striking at the worst moments, perhaps when we’re under deadline, or when we just really need a good idea to renew our faith in ourselves, and our craft.
Whether you count yourself as a “creative” or not, we’ve all had times in our work where we’ve felt paralyzed, unable to access the muse.
It happens to everyone.
But the key is recognizing that the well hasn’t gone dry, it’s just jammed.
When the pressure is on, when you’re tired, when you’re stressed, fear creeps in.
All these negative thoughts start pouring in and suddenly we’re trapped in our own minds.
If you can actively identify the fears — and just plain bad habits — holding your creative flow hostage, you then have the power to take actionable steps and address them head on.
Here’s a list I’ve compiled of 7 bad habits that paralyze creativity, and more importantly, how to squelch them and get back to work.
Mix it up
Problem: Getting too comfortable
Our surroundings play a huge role in sustaining our creative flow.
This is because inspiration comes from our connection with the outside world, the sum total of all of our experiences — the good (falling in love, making a new friend who really gets us, traveling somewhere we’ve never been), the bad (a break-up or falling out, losing someone we love, failing to secure a project we put in a bid for) and even the downright ugly (our own inner critic tearing us down, keeping us stagnant).
Basically, anything that makes us _feel something _has the power to spark a revelation, an outpouring of interconnected thoughts and aha moments.
We draw ideas from our environment, so when our routine feels stale, we find ourselves drawing blanks.
Solution: Don’t get too comfortable. Push yourself to go out and do new things, even when some of those new things scare you. Go to meet-ups and meet new people. Take up a new hobby. Join a new club. Change up your work space. Go outside. Check out a new cafe or co-working environment.
Basically, never lose your sense of curiosity about the world, as advertising mogul Leo Burnett opines:
Curiosity about life in all its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people.
Continually mix it up by introducing novel experience into your life and the novel ideas will come.
Get over self-doubt
Problem: Limiting yourself
I’m not there yet. I have more work to do before I can take on that kind of project. I will let them down. I’m a fraud.
We all have that little voice in our head, feeding us lines about how we are just not good enough.
That we’re mediocre, at best, and better just leave the big stuff to the big people.
That self-fulfilling prophecy is one of the biggest deterrents to success we will ever face.
So, stop the prophecy in its tracks, before it even has the option to come true.
Brand strategist Alexander Isley urges us, “Get in over your head as often and joyfully as possible.”
Solution: Ignore the voice and just go for it. Easier said than done, I know, but attempting something you don’t feel ready for will actually force you to employ your creativity to find innovative solutions. Bam!
It’s going to be scary, but don’t shy away from the challenge, delight in it. As an added bonus, you’re bound to pick up new skills along the way, furthering you on your path and helping you in future situations. Score!
Stop with the excuses
Problem: Justifying inaction
We are absolute masters at coming up with reasons not to do something, especially when it comes to taking those little baby steps that can really push us to the next level.
I have too much on my plate right now. I don’t have the skills to take on that big of a project. Do I even want to make this kind of commitment right now?
The status quo is like a warm bubble bath — nice and cozy and real hard to leave.
But the longer you sit, the more you prune and your ideas evaporate in the steam.
Solution: Seek out web tutorials to boost your knowledge and skill set. Find the time, even if it is just an hour on a Sunday morning. Ask your friends for advice when you feel stuck, or lost, or just need some tips. Start thinking about reasons you can. Inaction cuts inspiration off at the source.
Seek out collaboration
Problem: Being over-protective of your ideas
I know it’s tempting to keep all your genius thoughts to yourself, or to try to prove that you can carry the creative burden all on your own.
Or, maybe you just prefer working alone, you got it.
It can be hard to open yourself up to working with others, especially if it doesn’t come naturally, but sharing is not only caring, it’s also incredibly necessary to creative development.
Solution: Throw ideas around with your friends in the industry, or your colleagues, let them bounce around, forwards and backwards and shoot back to you like a boomerang. They’ll come back to you revitalized with new energy.
Getting other perspectives opens up new avenues of thinking in your own process.
Check your ego
Problem: You’re too cocky
Confidence is great.
Without it, you might shy away from challenge, and that’s bad.
You know what’s also bad?
Lack of humility — being the know-it-all who assumes there’s nothing more to learn.
If that’s your assumption, than you’re right, you’re not going to learn, you will plateau.
When you stop pushing yourself to pick up new skills, to build on what you know, there’s no upward movement, **no momentum. **
Notice a theme yet?
Solution: It’s pretty simple. Stay humble and remember you’re never going to be as good as you could be, because you can always be better. Thank God for that, otherwise, what’s the point?
So, be engaged, be a seeker, and check out these 15 quotes that remind us of the importance of humility in business, and in life.
Stay on track
Problem: Lack of goal-setting
Many creatives struggle with structure.
It’s easy to get lost in the happy chaos of free-flowing ideas, the outpouring of revelations and healthy surges of inspiration.
Go ahead, soak it all in, mold and manipulate it, by all means play in the waves.
Then, reel it in, and set some deadlines, benchmarks and guidelines to keep the project grounded, and yes, structured.
Solution: Keep your eye on the original motivation for the work, and make sure everything you’re coming up with ties in to your completion of the final product.
Though splitting up your work into bite-sized chunks, and setting personal deadlines to follow along the way might feel constricting if you’re a big-picture thinker, the pressure can actually be the catalyst you need to be your most innovative, and to finish on time.
This applies in a grander context as well. Setting goals for learning new skills, or
trying out new techniques — and sticking to them — works wonders. Try out the Bullet Journal strategy.
Problem: Letting others bring you down
Coming back to my first point, you need to create an environment for yourself in which you can thrive and grow.
Sure, that’s pretty obvious, but it also means taking some time to really evaluate who’s in your life and who you choose to let in your inner circle.
Solution: We’ve talked about how collaboration is important, and finding people to lean on for support, and people you can draw inspiration from, is just as vital.
Surround yourself with people who are just as excited as you about your ideas, shining beams of positivity who push you to grow, give you positive feedback and encourage you to stay open, and stay active.
We all have friends who tend to be a little on the negative side, always finding reasons to be cynical, or to avoid growth. Maybe they are having a rough go of it, or maybe it’s just part of their personality. I’m not saying cut these people out of your life completely, just be more mindful of how where they’re coming from affects you, and your creative process. Support them when you can, but don’t let them drag you down.
Spend your energy on those with like-minded spirit.
I’m assuming you came to this article because you’re experiencing a bit of a block, or maybe you’re anticipating the next one.
So, keeping these creativity drains in mind, it’s on you now.
Get out your notebook and write down three tangible ways you can stoke the flames of inspiration — either by chasing knowledge, seeking community or changing up your routine.
From there, it’s easy.
Just go out and do them — repeatedly.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.— Aristotle
Choose the good ones.