Every person in any creative endeavor has gotten into that creative funk. The creative block where you can’t seem to think of new ideas, and the old ideas aren’t working either, and since when did you feel so rusty in that skill? Are you lost or misguided? And in fact, why did you think you could create that in the first place?
We’ve all had this experience, and it is not a fun one. But the important thing is that we can all overcome the block. Just like how it’s not bad if you fall down, but it’s terrible if you don’t choose to get back up again and keep going – the thing to focus on is getting out of the funk rather than how awful it is that you got there in the first place. What holds your attention holds you. And refocusing and getting out of this stuck place are each choices within your control. There is always a way out.
Each situation is different, but I’ve found a few strategies that help me fairly consistently to get back up, ready to rock! I hope these help spark the ignition in your work and process, or at least give you a ball that you can get rolling.
1. Check your health.
This is probably the first thing I do when the funky feelings start coming my way. Am I eating healthy? Am I drinking enough water? Am I getting enough sleep and exercise? Those things are often easy to forget when all you want to do is be in the creative flow. Sometimes they aren’t possible during a deadline – OK that’s mostly sleep. But as many of these should be in good standing as possible at all times to help you be in the best conditions to be creative. If sleep isn’t possible, schedule your eating and exercise more definitively, and take naps when possible. (I personally love naps.) Make your schedule smart and healthy for your body and brain.
2. Get out of the grind.
So often when we are creating and working, we don’t realize that we’ve had our nose to the grindstone for so long without any breaks or reprise. The creative funk is a sign that you need to snap out of it! Much like pain in our body is a sign that something is not right and needs to change, the funk is telling you that you need to take a break or things will get worse, even leading to sickness. And then you’re out of commission for much longer.
Go outside for a walk, sit in nature to recharge, read a book, socialize if it energizes you (and if it depletes your energy, save it for when your energy is already at a high point), exercise, play games, be silly, go on vacation, or do anything that will give your brain and body a break and help you to recharge. Long or short break, when you are refreshed try jumping back into the game, but perhaps with moderation or at least more clear boundaries and with mindfulness so you can be in tune with what you need so as to not plummet down right after you get back up.
3. Try new things.
Creativity yearns for innovation. Often our craft requires the same skills we’ve been using for long periods of time without the acquisition of new knowledge and then the creativity gets confused and says, “Hey! Aren’t we supposed to be doing something new? I’m feeling stifled in here!” So get out of the box you’ve built and try new things. Something that stretches your brain a little bit, without being too hard to be frustrating.
Options: drawing or painting, learning how to play a new song on your instrument of choice, learn a new game, taking an online class about a subject that interests you ( even if it’s not work related), play paintball, go rock climbing, learn a new language, try cooking a new food you’ve never tried. Whatever that thing is that you’ve “always wanted to do,” try it! Expand your horizons even further an find new things that you want to do. Remember, it’s not about being good at it, it’s about the effort. Your painting doesn’t have to be a Van Gogh to be a worthy endeavor, and your sourdough bread might collapse. All experiences can benefit your creative work if you let it.
4. Count your blessings.
This is probably my favorite thing to do when I get into a slump of any kind. Being grateful might sound like a weird thing to do when life isn’t working right, but in my experience, it is the best time for it. Gratitude is like a muscle, it needs to be worked often in order to be strengthened – if you’re not using it, it will get weaker and won’t be able to help you when you have some heavy lifting to do. (Creative funks can get pretty heavy.)
Gratitude has amazing effects on our brain. It is able to supply our brain with endorphins that are necessary for both joy and pleasure to take full effect, and it also helps our brains make connections between things easier. Think of it as lubricant in our brain grooves to help things flow smoother. (Have you ever tried to create new things without the ability to make new connections!? It doesn’t work well.) Making a conscious effort to be grateful for things on a daily basis I think is one of the best habits you can get into as a creative artist in whatever realm your craft may be in, and has great health benefits to boot. So, if you haven’t done this before, here’s some things to help you get started.
At the end of the day, write down at least one thing you were grateful for that day. If it made a light in your day, don’t let it get lost in the humdrum of life. Write it down! Savor it. Remember it. Save it for the day when nothing is going right then turn to that moment for comfort. Because remembering what you have been grateful for in the past is equally powerful to being grateful for something in the moment. Writing it down helps you remember when you need it most.
Gratitude burpees. This is rapid fire gratitude bursts with exercise and energy added in. A burpee is as follows: Jump up, when you land plant your hands next to your feet, jump your feet back to a plank position, do a push-up, jump your feet back to your hands, then jump up in the air. That’s one. Say out loud something you’re grateful for before that one is over, then do it again. See if you can get to 10, or 5, or build up to 20. No joke, I’ve done this at times when my brain couldn’t focus, and it boosts my thinking almost immediately – both at home and at events.
For something more meditative or low impact on your body, try gratitude sun salutations. Stand tall, go into a forward bend dropping your neck and relaxing your hands, place your hands on your knees and make your back flat and parallel to the ground looking forward, then back to a forward bend, plant your hands next to your feet and step back to a plank position, go into downward dog, then upward dog, then downward dog, walking your feet back up to your hands, go into a forward bend, then stand up bringing your arms straight above your head looking up, then back to mountain pose with arms down, eyes looking forward standing tall. That’s one. This allows you to not just say what you are grateful for, but reflect on it. Doing 20 of these first thing in the morning is a glorious thing to start your day combating that funky block. Or right before bed helps you get better sleep to stay healthy.
Remember that what holds your attention holds you. Don’t let the creative funk hold you for ransom. Shift the focus to what you’re grateful for, or to the way you are treating your body and brain with respect, or with a new activity that energizes and refreshes you. The most important thing to know is that you are still a creative force to be reckoned with, and this world needs you and your art. so learn to rest, not to quit, and get yourself back to where you can work as your best self.