How to scientifically overcome the creative block

Javier Rivero
The Modern Stoa
Published in
3 min readMay 3, 2016

If you were looking for a guide with “tips” on how to get creative you should probably stop reading and fire up Google. In this article, I’m going to explain you the scientific basis behind the creative block and how to get unstuck.

Every human mind has the capacity to create ways and procedures to execute activities in a way they have never been done before (a.k.a. Creativity), to complement the definition, we can say creativity is the ability to develop and implement new and better solutions.

To understand this phenomena, we need to understand that creativity itself has two phases:

1st Phase: Normal Creativity / Conscious level

In this phase the person tries to consciously articulate a new solution, in this level is where all of our daily activities are processed and solved, easily.

2nd Phase: Pure Creativity / Unconscious Level

Sometimes we are faced with bigger problems to solve, what happens is that this problems get in our head stuck for hours and we eventually get tired of coming up with a “creative” solution and we tend to give up. (Creative Block), but after some hours right when we open up the water sink to wash our hands, BOOM! the solution comes out of nowhere to strike our thoughts just like a lightning bolt.

Well this normal, it happened to Newton with the famous apple incident as well as Archimides and his “Eureka” moment.

Okay, I understand, but how do I shift to the 2nd phase then?

The steps to achieve Pure Creativity phase were discovered by Graham Wallas in 1926 and are described as following:

1. Preparation

  • Problem should be defined clearly and completely
  • A solution for the problem should be overlooked consciously (1st phase)
  • If the solution appears at this level then we are done, if not, further inspiration should be reached, conversations, books, internet.
  • With all the new information/inspiration, a new solution should be explored, again and again until real saturation of the mind occurs.

2. Incubation

  • Take a break from the problem solving phase and clear the mind from thoughts related to the issue, here you will be allowing the mind to interiorize the problem and sink into the 2nd phase.
  • The mind will automatically find patters, gather information, and connect the dots. This will all happen while watching a movie, kissing your girlfriend or even sleeping.
  • Occupy yourself with other activities that require your complete attention that have nothing to do with the problem you are trying to resolve.

It is very important to keep the problem out of the conscious self.

3. Enlightenment

  • Also known as The Eureka Moment, this step refers to the moment when your unconscious level transfers the solution to the conscious level, this can also occur at any given moment of the day.
  • Many people might not even notice they have been through steps 1 and 2, but most of them do remember this Enlightenment moment.

4. Validation

  • This occurs when the prepared solution is proven in the real world and solves the problem in the conscious world, also known as the creatives high (I just made up that term).

It is important to keep in mind this four steps to practice this methodology so that it actually embeds into our problem solving process. It might be easier for some people to switch to the second phase, we all hardwire processes in our mind differently.

So next time you’re faced with an unsolvable problem, relax, and let your unconscious-self do the hard work.

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