23 Best Ways to Overcome Creative Blocks
Creative blocks often are associated with fine arts pursuits. But the reality is that we need creativity in every field, and whenever something happens to stifle it, the quality of the overall work is in jeopardy.
In the following article, we’ll be discussing what causes creative blocks to occur. We’ll also be covering the 23 methods you can use for recognizing and overcoming them. Let’s put on our thinking caps and get started.
What Causes a Creative Block?
Before you can effectively combat creative blocks, it helps to know what causes them to occur. The following list may not be exhaustive, but it will certainly paint a clear overview of the major causes. Once you know these are occurring, it becomes easier to intervene and get back on the right path.
Cause 1: Repetition
Repetition is a very useful tool for learning information. But it’s not so good for the creative process. And if you’re forced to use too much of it, it’s easy to turn off the creative side of your brain and simply go through the motions necessary to plow through the task.
There’s a place for that. But it stymies innovation. And sometimes you have to innovate to get ahead.
Cause 2: Doubting Yourself
Doubt does a curious thing to the human psyche. It causes us to question and even eliminate that which we know to be true. When this happens, you tend to freeze up and retreat into yourself. Self-doubt is perhaps the biggest cause of creative block because it denies you permission to tap into that side of yourself.
Cause 3: Lacking Motivation
Sometimes you know what to do and how to do it. You just can’t see the point in you being the person to bring it to fruition. A lack of motivation is almost always connected to poor leadership. But we’re not always able to determine who leads us. So it falls to us to exercise creativity in spite of the circumstances. Motivation is key for that, and if we lack it, everything else will be impossible.
Cause 4: Fear of Criticism
Some people just don’t have thick enough skin to allow their creative side to roam free, uninhibited. They fear any kind of rejection or dissent and take it personally, like it’s an affront to their own intelligence or abilities. Don’t be like these people. Learn to accept criticism and move on.
Cause 5: Outright Rejection
When people reject you, it hurts. And when your creative pursuits are rejected, it’s hard not to take that personally. You feel like, because it came from within yourself, there’s something wrong in there. So you hide behind bitterness, resentment, and a desire to never put yourself out there again.
As we said, these are the five main causes of creative blocks. Now let’s look at how we might be able to overcome them.
How Do You Overcome?
The good news about experiencing creative block is the realization that they’re only permanent. If you put in the work, it’s possible to power through them into new realms of creativity you never thought possible. So if you feel a block settling in, consult the following list for relief.
1. Check Unusual Places
Sometimes creative solutions to one problem are hiding within something completely unrelated. For instance, you might find yourself stymied in a creative work of fiction by a character’s finances and professional life when, boom, all of the sudden, working through a math problem presents the solution you’ve been looking for to get you over the hump and continue writing your story.
The key here is to not be closed off. Go into each new endeavor asking yourself how it might connect to something else. Once you learn the how of it, it becomes possible to cross the streams and bring in a new solution.
2. Push Through to the Grand Finale
Are you stumped on a homework assignment or research paper? Don’t be afraid to skip the part that’s hanging you up and push on through to the parts that you’re more comfortable with, up to and including the end of the assignment.
As you come closer to realizing the vision before you, the tougher solutions for how to get there will start to present themselves. Happens every time. That’s why many novelists will urge their students and aspiring writers to write other sections of a work if they run into a stumbling block.
3. Look Forward
It’s easy to get hung up on the past. But no one was ever able to solve a modern problem by living entirely in the past. So stop worrying about the ground you’ve already covered. Look to it for guidance, but be forward-thinking in all things.
4. Take a Break
At times the best thing you can do is nothing at all. The longer you focus on a problem without any satisfying resolution, the easier it is for self-doubt and self-criticism (the harshest kind of all) to set in.
The human brain is not unlike a smartphone battery. It occasionally needs to be plugged in and recharged. What will you plug your brain in to: books, movies, a binge-able television show, playing music? These are the activities that can give you the juice to get back on the problem until you find a solution.
5. Plan with Pen and Paper
Slowing down to write out what your plans and strategies are (or should be) offers an effective way of reviving your creativity. By using a pen and paper, you force your brain to hone in on the problem rather than gloss over it. This slower amount of time brings about solutions much faster than anything else we’ve tried.
6. Surround Yourself with Creative Triggers
You have to be careful with this one. Don’t surround yourself or your environment with so many creative triggers that you become distracted from the actual goal. But do do things that will keep your brain focused and solution-oriented.
One of my favorite creative triggers is the Wooden Block Puzzle game where the objective is to arrange varied shapes in different positions with the goal of keeping the Tetris-like board cleared for as long as possible. This game challenges the brain and speeds up your reaction time — things that will come in handy when blotting out your blocks.
Doodling does not have to pertain to the particular problem, though it certainly can if you’re a visually-minded person. No, doodling can be anything from drawing out ornate diagrams to simply practicing your signature.
The goal here is to activate as much of your mind and body as possible in tackling the problem. Getting your hand and eyes and brain involved will get you where you need to be.
8. Feed Your Subconscious
Anything you can do to subliminally implant creativity into your head is a good thing. We’ve found some success with self-hypnosis videos on YouTube while sleeping. Of course, for this to work, you have to want it to.
Plug in the right messages. Be open to what the source material is attempting to get you to focus on. Results will definitely differ from person to person. But any good you derive from listening to a free YouTube video while you’re sleeping is a win.
9. Explore the Unexpected
Take some time to read that news article that is completely off-topic. Look up ways that inventors or mathemeticians or physicists have approached their problems, particularly if you’re not in a remotely similar field.
Exploring the unexpected will expand your knowledge base at worst and turn you onto the solution you’re seeking at best. There is literally nothing to lose by expanding your horizons. So play it to your advantage.
10. Learn Something Else
Continuing your education on another topic is a great way of exercising your brain muscles while staying productive and moving through the creative blocks you’re experiencing.
As for the question of how much is enough, the answer is that there are no limits. We should all be committed to lifelong learning since the world around us is always changing. Being aware of this will make you good at what you’re trying to do and could even create in you the next business disruptor (think Amazon, Apple, etc.).
11. Work with Your Hands
Psychological roadblocks can often be broached by stepping away from them and doing something with your hands like building a deck, painting a house, or mowing your yard.
Any kind of work with your hands allows your subconscious to catch up with where your knowledge is. When that happens, the solutions can come before you’re even aware that’s what’s happening.
12. Be the Opposite
Try to look at the problem from a perspective that is completely different from your own. To do this effectively, you first have to be honest with who it is that you are. Once you know yourself, it becomes easier to subvert that in an effort to dream up of new solutions or approaches to the problem.
13. Me Time
Take some time for yourself. That means an hour or two a day that are yours and yours alone to have. No boyfriend, girlfriend, child, parent, pet, or extended family member.
The idea is to shed all obligations and focus entirely on yourself. Only then can you find the types of innovative solutions that can accomplish your goals and perhaps even help others in the process.
14. Enjoy Some Art and Culture
Looking at or listening to the artistic or cultural works of others is not only aesthetically pleasing. It helps you see problems through different eyes. Those eyes aren’t necessarily superior to yours. But their differences can turn you onto a new way of looking at things that you haven’t considered previously.
Get familiar right away with your community’s art and culture scene. Make yourself known to it. Keep up with young creators. Join in whenever and however you can.
15. Think Outside the Box
Task yourself with finding solutions to a problem that would make no sense whatsoever to your peers. Not every method will work. In fact, most won’t. But occasionally you strike gold, and the very exercise will get you thinking more constructively about the problem.
16. Ask for Another Opinion
Talking to an expert in the field (or another field about a similar problem) can give you enough grease to turn the proverbial rusted screw. Learn whom those people are as soon as you can and make friendly with them.
Consider offering them a free lunch or dinner for their time. Most won’t take you up on it, instead opting to give you advice for free simply because they are so flattered you took an interest in them. But it’s a nice gesture anyhow.
Sleep is another great way to recharge the battery of your brain. It’s also the most necessary. Numerous studies have shown the negative cognitive and physical effects of sleep deprivation. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your situation will be any different. You’re not going to be the miraculous insomniac who operates at 100 percent. So get that out of your head and start counting some sheep!
18. Change Your Location
It’s a good idea to have a set workstation where you do most of your studying and homework. But don’t be so confined to it that you never leave. Occasionally, it’s a place that will force you to find distractions out of sheer boredom.
So make sure you have other locations that inspire your creativity. Coffee shops or any areas with free Wi-Fi that don’t mind your presence for a few hours make great choices.
19. Break Something
Not literally, of course. We just mean think about deconstructing a related problem — or maybe even the problem you’re working on — and see how it affects the whole. Sometimes it will shine a light on what you’re missing. Others, it’ll be an exercise in futility. Either way, it gets you out of frozen thinking and challenges your cognition to work better for you.
20. Write a Summary of the Problem
Don’t bother doing any research on it. Just sit down and start writing out everything you understand about the problem. Where there are holes in your understanding, ignore those. Then, when you’ve exhausted everything you could, go back and review materials to see what you’re missing that will click into place. (There will be something, guaranteed.)
21. Search for Patterns in Your Creative Blocks
Again, if you know what the main cause and the little triggers of your creative blocks are, you’ll be able to avoid them altogether. This is particularly effective at overcoming the blocks when you’re a naturally analytical person. Type-A personalities? Not so much.
22. Set a Deadline or a Timer
Giving yourself an imaginary deadline can “trick” your brain into working more hurriedly, rushed, and, yes, creatively towards solving the problem. Just make sure you set the timer for a realistic length. Think 30-50 minutes.
23. Force Yourself to Think of More Solutions Than You Need
Need 10? Come up with 20. Need 5? Come up with 10. Need 1? Come up with 5. You get the picture.
The act of taxing your brain with more than it actually needs will cause it to approach an issue from every angle. That due diligence almost always yields favorable results.
Creative Blocks Are Never Permanent
Don’t be discouraged. Your creative blocks are never permanent. You can and will overcome them. And with the tips and strategies mentioned here, it will happen much sooner than you think. Good luck, and feel free to share some of your tips in the comments section below.
[Featured Image by Public Domain Pictures]