This post can also be found on my personal blog at freeman.is
Over the past few weeks I’ve been relying heavily on my creative side to bring a new project to fruition and recently I’ve had a few days where I felt as though a mental traffic jam was blocking me from getting anything done.
This lead me to a big scary question.
How can we overcome these mental creative blocks?
Let’s dive deeper into how we can create daily rituals that help us overcome mental blocks and cultivate creativity naturally.
Contrary to popular belief, creativity isn’t a gift bestowed only upon right-brain thinkers. Every one of our brains is hardwired for creativity. In fact, recent advances in neuroscience have given us a closer look at the brain and where creativity comes from. It is now known that creativity is a result of intense communication between both the right and left side of the brain, and the more we use both sides of the brain, the more creative we are.
It is also known that being “in the zone” generally happens when our brain reduces the amount of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter, in our brain. Norepinephrine (what a mouthful) helps us retrieve old memories, so by reducing norepinephrine, the brain is cutting off subconscious access to what we already know. This helps us overcome the curse of prior knowledge and allows us to come up with new, creative, and sometimes non-traditional ideas.
Also, our prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain responsible for control and self-monitoring, along with the limbic centers of our brain, become suppressed while in the heat of creativity. This release of control makes us more vulnerable and emotional while thinking creatively.
Creativity is a high of sorts, making us impulsive, emotional, and nonsensical. To overcome our creative blocks, we have to be open to being in these vulnerable states.
Releasing the ego
Our ego is overprotective. The ego perceives these states of vulnerability and creativity as possible threats to the preservation of itself. It can be hard to overcome the powers of our ego. Creating a habit of consciously releasing ourselves from our worries (because dwelling on them does nothing to solve them) and doing activities that strengthen our creative mind will help us keep our ego at bay.
Creativity is a muscle
Whether it be generating ideas, writing, producing music, painting or designing a website, anything that uses mental processing can be thought of as a muscle. James Altucher popularized the idea of exercising your “idea muscle” using cheap waiter notepads to write down business ideas, no matter how ridiculous or impossible. He’ll even throw the ideas in the trash afterward. The point of the exercise is not to think of the perfect business idea, the point is to work your idea muscle. The more you work your idea muscle, the easier it will be to come up with ideas when you really need to.
This same principle can be applied to any creative practice. The more art you make, the better your art will become. The key is not getting caught up in trying to perfect every piece of art. Perfectionism is procrastination’s evil twin. Quantity over quality.
Practice your art every day.
There is something magical about writing down your ideas, life lessons, fears, dreams, and darkest secrets. Especially when you allow yourself to open up and let the writing pull out your vulnerabilities. Staring at your fears and vulnerabilities on the page is powerful and will help you move past some of the things that may be holding you back.
Even if your writing is never seen by another person, do it for yourself. You’ll find it gets easier and more enjoyable the more you do it (working the muscle). If you make writing part of your daily ritual, the blank page will become a welcome sight.
Among many things, reading reduces stress, helps you concentrate better, and increases your knowledge. Reading gives your mind the chance to wander and can spark your creativity. I often feel reinvigorated and relaxed after a long reading session.
Reading has also been shown to make you a better communicator, giving you a larger vocabulary to express yourself creatively.
Walking, biking, cleaning the house, or going to the gym. Physical activity gets your blood flowing, forces you to be in the present moment, and releases endorphins that give you a sense of well-being. I’ve had many ideas come to me mid-workout or shortly after. Plus, who doesn’t like feeling like a beast?
Boredom, daydreaming, and meditation
I kid you not. A study done at the University of Lancashire showed that people who were asked to do “boring” activities like reading and daydreaming before being asked to complete a task that required creative thinking, came up with more creative solutions to the task. You can achieve a similar effect through meditation. In fact, meditation may have even more profound effects on creativity then boredom.
It might be time to build some boredom time into your daily routine.
Working at a standing desk increases blood flow and respiration, both of which can give you more energy and focus. I have a desk that I can stand or sit at but when I write or do design work I’m almost always standing. Don’t take my word for it though, Ernest Hemingway, Benjamin Franklin, Winston Churchill, and Leonardo Da Vinci, are just a few of the famous figures who also attested to the benefits of a standing desk.
Take a break from technology
Disconnecting yourself from the constant noise and distraction of tweets, updates, “urgent” emails, and breaking news updates can result in a rush of creative inspiration. A midday walk or cup of tea next to a big window with a book can be a worthwhile way of spending two hours away from your gadgets.
Seek out failure
This last point reconnects with working your creative muscle and quantity over quality. It may seem counterintuitive. Your ego may even bombard you with self-doubt for it. But seek out failure. Try to move so fast and create such a volume of work that you inevitably fail as many, if not more times, than you succeed.
Failure and success are like Yin and Yang. One cannot exist without the other.