We’ve all been there.
A project due. Deadline looming. And bam! You’re stuck.
The words (or layouts or designs or insert-your-own-noun) are simply not coming. You’ve hit a creative rut and you need help getting out.
In his article in Wired Magazine, What’s Up With That: Your Best Thinking Seems to Happen in the Shower, author Nick Stockton talks about random thoughts and “eureka” moments.
Stockton interviewed psychologist John Kounios who studies creativity and distraction at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Kournios refers to the random thought/freewheeling type of problem solving as “aimless engagement in an activity…and a great catalyst for free association”.
I’ll expand on that. I think that creative ruts are based in neuroscience. Our brains are wired in such a way that we get stuck on repeat. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for fresh new thoughts to filter in.
Neuroscience and Creative Thinking
Our women’s advocacy group (shoutout SBAC Women In Business!) hosted a panel a few months ago on how to move forward in business after the devastation of 2020.
Doreen Petty, an inspiring business coach who uses neuroscience in her practice, shared that 95% of our behavior is based on what we’ve done in the past. What we need to do is learn how to use the remaining 5% to build new pathways. Applying this to creative thinking makes perfect sense.
Trying to work with the same old- same old content results in what I call “dam jams”. The stream stops moving quickly when it reaches a dam. Getting past the dam jam is how I now think about writing ruts. So what do I need to do to move past the dam?
Blasting Through Creative Dam Jams
Here are some things we’ve found helpful:
Get up and get out.
A change of scene can help get your creative juices flowing. Head outside…..ideally somewhere green. Being out in nature is an excellent way to clear your mind and make you more receptive to fresh ideas. And walking gets your blood moving and heart pumping faster. It’s a win-win.
Close your laptop. Give yourself a 30-minute break. Something distracting. Arrange some flowers. Rearrange your closet or drawers. Call someone you’ve been meaning to call just to say hello. Get out of your own head and the vicious circle of “ it’s not happening”. You’ll come back refreshed and hopefully with a clean slate of possibilities.
Try the water trick.
If you’re not near any waterfalls or water features, jump in the shower. There’s something soothing and cerebral about running water. Even better if you add a few drops of lavender essential oil in the corners of the shower and make the water super steamy. The lavender is calming and relaxing. And being relaxed is much more conducive to the creative process than stressing over why you’re stuck!
I’ve written some of my favorite articles sitting near a water feature in a backyard in Palm Springs. I’ve also come up with some great ideas in the shower.
Do a brain dump.
Take all that stuff that’s whizzing around in your head and driving you to distraction and put it on paper. Write it or draw it or record yourself. Whatever your preferred method of screaming quietly.
Better yet, draw a mind map.
If you’ve never done one, it’s sort of like an organized brain dump. Get a clean piece of paper. In the center, draw a circle and write the topic or name of the project you’re stuck on. Now draw smaller circles (or squares) around it with some of the things you want to include in your project (yes, I know. This is like an outline but in visual form!).
As I was attempting to write this post……over several days…. and still wasn’t happy with it ;( I finally used the mind map method. After walking away from my computer several times and distracting myself using some of the techniques mentioned above, I knew I was still overthinking.
Getting my key points down on paper and adding supporting points underneath made it so much easier to move forward. Doing it in color made it fun. Here’s what that looked like:
The power of music.
As I was mind mapping, I was also watching a Facebook Live recital by my friend Sara Su Jones, an accomplished violinist whose music introduced me a number of years ago to the beauty of classical music. The pieces she played (today’s recital all pieces by women composers) were joyous and happy and elegant. I mind mapped with ease. Check out Sara Su’s schedule for upcoming performances.
What works best for you?
I’m partial to drawing rather than mind mapping digitally because I find that the tactile sensation of paper and pen works better for me.
But if you’re a digital person, here are a few places to check out mind mapping software….some free, some premium.
Some other good resources for getting unstuck:
(Note: I don’t agree with all of these suggestions but that’s just me ;)
The focus is on photography but the suggestions are good and could apply to writing and design as well.
Why yes, it would be lovely if you want to share this post.
If you’re so inclined, we’d love you to share how you get out of a creative rut. There’s always something new to learn. And if you’d like to share this post on social media, that would be lovely.
After this post was finished, I found this article in Entrepreneur that is spot on topic and “endorsed” by Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein.
They both used a concept called “No Time” which is the time they left unscheduled for self-care — in this case, for doing nothing. Because “neuroscience shows that disconnection time blocks have a large influence on creativity.” Read the rest here.
It’s well worth your time.
If you’re having productivity issues, this blog post