In a Creative Rut? Think Like a Surrealist.

Access your subconscious to uncover your next great idea.

Photo: cocoparisienne / Pixabay

In a world desperate for meaning and structure, Surrealism stands alone. The movement, dedicated to abandoning existing structures of logic and reason is the key to tapping into true creative abilities.

Now a little over 100 years old, the Surrealist movement was rooted in the idea that our creativity is restricted by our conscious mind. From drawing to dancing, we have rules for every creative pursuit. Accessing the unconscious mind is a way to bypass those rules and tap into a radical way of thinking.

When it comes to creative endeavors, we need to be tactful to ensure we’re delivering the best product. But every creative venture has a starting point where it should be wild, imaginative, and novel before being refined to its final state.

I often default to this method of idea generation when I feel as though my creativity is lackluster. Here are some exercises I use to channel my inner Dali and keep the ideas flowing:

Continuous Writing aka Automatic Writing

Writing continuously is all about letting your subconscious speak. Set a timer for three minutes and write without stopping. You cannot self-edit or pause during this time.

It’s a little awkward, but also a great daily exercise to jumpstart the idea process. You begin to learn what’s really on your mind while simultaneously creating a daily idea document.

Challenge: Write a 20-second continuous comment on this post. You’ll get what I mean when I say it’s awkward.

Pull Apart the Logic on Existing Ideas

This is a conscious method for abstract thinking. While Surrealists believed in the power of the subconscious mind, they also flat out hated rationality and realism. So, consciously throw them away.

We often unintentionally limit ourselves with deeply ingrained ways of thinking. My favorite example is our need to view everything as a dichotomy. Cats or dogs? Up or down? Black or white? Democrat or Republican? Reject this “A or B” way of thinking; there are 24 other letters in the alphabet and that’s if you only consider the English one.

Another habit we all fall into is separating concepts. We believe creatives think one way, scientists another, and so forth. Be versatile. I love art, big data, marketing, political science, and philosophy. I let all of these ways of thinking influence my creative process.

Big data needs art to visualize information in easily accessible ways. Similarly, a harmony exists at the intersection of all of your passions and it’s the key to finding your creative voice.

Simple questions to ask:

  • Why does it have to be this way?
  • If anything was possible, how would I change this?
  • Am I intentionally limiting myself?

Practice Mindful Meditation

I saved this one for last because I think it’s the most difficult and time-consuming. Meditation takes practice. Mindfulness is all about paying full attention to your present state.

It sounds easy, but getting your mind to stop racing or keeping it from wandering off can be a little tricky. When I first started out, I would become so focused on my breathing that I became unable to breathe without consciously thinking about it. I somehow removed the action from my subconscious, but that’s actually pretty common for first-timers.

While I may not be making it sound that glamorous, meditation is a great tool for relaxation and mental clarity. It’s like doing squats for your subconscious and your creative process will thank you for it later.

While there are many ways to meditate, the only thing that is necessary is for you to close your eyes and focus on your present state. You can be sitting upright at your desk, on the floor, or laying in bed. Whatever is more comfortable for you. Five minutes is the recommended time for beginners. Check out this article on how to practice mindfulness for more information.

I hope these exercises are helpful and that you choose to apply part of the Surrealist philosophy to your life. Take it from me, the world’s a lot more fun when you do.