6 Ways to Reset Your Brain (When You Feel Like Crap)

Andrea R Cranford
Nov 19, 2019 · 5 min read
Photo by Rex Pickar on Unsplash

“Everybody has those days
Everybody knows what I’m talkin’ ‘bout
Everybody gets that way”
— Hannah Montana

When ancient Disney Channel lyrics come out, I know that I’ve hit creative rock bottom. That’s no shade intended for Miley Cryus or Hannah Montana. Disney Channel was part of my childhood, and returning to those halcyon times is my way of self-soothing.

Besides, Ms. Montana was right. Everybody does have those days — or maybe weeks.

For those times when it seems impossible to think, let alone type, here are my six surefire ways to get the words flowing, each with at least a smidgen of scientific support. (*affiliate links below)

Make Something

In his TedTalk, “Flow, the Secret to Happiness,” psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains that crafting can create a sense of flow. Flow is the feeling of being completely absorbed in a task to the point that you forget everything around you. Any craft — painting, knitting, music — can induce this sense of flow.

More anecdotally, I find that experiencing a sense of flow during another activity also helps me write. After any crafting, I usually get a writing boost during the subsequent week.

Case in Point

I made the adorable cup and saucer below at a local Memphis spot called Seize the Clay when I was experiencing a little writer’s block. It’s literary-inspired, of course. This “cup of stars,” is based on a scene from Shirley Jackson’s masterpiece.

For the next few weeks, I wrote two new short stories and several articles. Plus, I have a giant swirly cup for tea. It’s a win-win.

PLAY A GAME

Sometimes your brain needs a break. Forcing yourself to keep going might cause writer’s block instead of curing it.

I like to play an easy game — like easy enough for a five-year-old to play. Hopscotch is excellent if you want to get in a few minutes of exercise, too. The key is to give your brain a break.

In her book, A Mind for Numbers, Barbara Oakley explains that there are two kinds of thinking: focused and diffused. Focused thinking is mentally working to solve the problem. Diffused thought happens when you’re not contemplating the issue, but your mind is still looking for solutions in the background.

When you’re stuck, you need diffused thinking. You don’t know what your protagonist needs to do next? Play a game of tic-tac-toe.

FREE YOUR WORDS

If playing a game doesn’t work, a free-write session might be what you need. In the writing workbook The Write Brain, author Bonnie Neubauer offers this fantastic exercise.

“Set a clock for ten minutes and write the words “and then” over and over until you form a sentence. The key here is to set a time limit and keep it.”

Deadlines have a way of keeping people motivated. What you write might not be great, but it will keep you going until creativity strikes.

Negative Thoughts? Chew Gum

Sometimes self-doubt keeps you from writing. We can grind ourselves down with only the words in our heads.

No one’s ever going to read this. I can’t write. This scene isn’t coming out the way I pictured it in my mind.

According to this article, researchers have linked gum chewing to preventing “earworms,” those catchy songs that get stuck in your head.

Researchers also suggest it may be useful for staying focused in general and keeping reoccurring negative at bay. I’ve been a pro gum chewer for a while and have had good luck with this technique. This little tip doesn’t help with all kinds of self-doubt, but it keeps me on track.

Take a Nap and Sweep Your Brain

Being awake for long periods makes you sick. Science says so. Toxins accumulate in your brain while you’re awake and sleep gets rid of them. When you’re exhausted, every little hurdle seems impossible to surmount. If you have to choose between writing or sleeping, please take a nap.

You’re not lazy or a quitter. Your grit score won’t plummet. You’ll feel better, and the words will flow better. Don’t write with your mind full of toxins.

Listen

Reading your work for the thousandth time can be draining and disheartening. Even the best sentence can start looking like garbage on the page.

Sometimes it’s best to listen to your writing. Get an app that can read your work back to you. If possible, listen to the work in a realistic voice that’s as different from yours as possible. The read-aloud feature in Word has several different voices available. Hearing your work read out loud is also a great way to make any too-sick-and-tired-to-write day more productive without taxing yourself.

Andrea R Cranford

Written by

Writer at The Narrative ARC and host of the podcast Lit Theory

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