Updated: Dec 10, 2019
It happened again, I enthusiastically check in with a client to see how her writing is going (because I truly can’t wait to see what she writes next!), and she replies: “Hate to rain on your parade, but I am so in the dark. Not writing. Depressed. But this is where I need to be, apparently. ”
Huh? Just a week earlier she was in the flow with seminal ideas! She was loquacious. She was funky-fresh! She was the very picture of prolific! How can I help her “unstick” her stuck self? As a creativity coach, I have many tools to work with. Should I use the gentle compass, the fine awl, the rough hacksaw or the crushing sledgehammer in order to get her back into that juicy creative flow? You see, there are three main ways I help clients with their process:
1—Help her to shed what isn’t serving her (self-defeating thoughts, being stuck in her “pain body”, negative behaviors, etc.),
2—Help her to "raise her vibration".
3—Help her to understand more about her unique creative process.
There are thousands of ways to achieve all of these—everything from having her try “earthing”, to dancing together to an inspirational song, to showing her “power stances”, to mixing up some aromatherapy oils, to facilitating laughter yoga. I generally rely upon my inner wisdom to assist me in the best remedy, and this was no exception. This time, the best tool was the hacksaw--cut out what isn't working!
I asked her to stop what she was doing and completely change it up: go someplace out of her comfort zone (in urban GR rather than bucolic Rockford), observe the happenings around her (passive observation rather than problem-solving or reacting), and create in a way that isn’t natural to her (drawing and sensing rather than writing and thinking). And, if she had any thoughts about the process or her thinking (a.k.a. "metacognition"), save that for later. By taking her away from her usual surroundings she was able to change her paradigm, and by firing different neurons (her visual rather than language center) she could shake off the depressed/dull energy. She was able to see her writing project in an entirely different light. Believe me, she didn’t want to embark on this little field trip (pleading "can't I just go into nature?"), but I assured her that when we step into a space that is out of our element we challenge ourselves in ways that create new connections, we frustrate ourselves into a fresh paradigm, and we find that elusive spark! She went from lugubrious to loquacious in no time!
We all find ourselves in those spaces of creative despair--those doldrums where the wind of inspiration just won't blow. Well, I decided to share with you my top ten ways to kickstart your creativity! It was hard to narrow down my favorite methods (I’m leaving out so many you could try!), but here are some that may work quite powerfully for you:
10—Walk! Oh for goodness sake take a walk—in nature or around your office building. A Stanford study found that even walking on a boring old treadmill produced more--and much fresher--ideas than just sitting. There truly is something about moving your body in a natural way that gets those juices flowing. I holding walking meetings with clients—and, of course, offer “Journey Walks” about 8 times a year. Soren Kierkegaard spoke of his walking this way: "Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Everyday, I walk myself into a state of well-being & walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. But by sitting still, & the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill. Thus if one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right." I'd totally take advice from the guy that came up with such observations as: "Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom."
9—Get into a “diffuse” state of mind. One of my best friends is a neurologist, so I hesitate to explain what happens when you activate your “theta waves”. All I can say is that you are turning off your inner critic and tuning into your inner wisdom. This can be achieved by: chanting, drumming listening to drumming, rattling, creating/coloring mandalas, the aforementioned walking practice, repeating a poem over and over (my favorite for this is “The Diver’s Clothes” by Rumi), observing nature in a relaxed way, or even taking a nap! Thomas Edison was known to take a couple of steel balls into his hand and just relax into his chair. As soon as he fell asleep (or into a trance?), the balls would fall and wake him—and EUREKA!—he had a new idea (that he didn’t lose to actually falling asleep). Basically, when we get the ego and our editors out of the way, it makes room for connections and creations that were suppressed when we were super-duper concentrating on the problem or project.
8—Understand the power of your body. Okay, this subject deserves about 10 books devoted to it, but in short: creativity can actually be stored and released in our bodies! Try this: during meditation, scan your body and detect where you have blocks or where you feel energized. Send your awareness to the energized and happy parts of your body, try to create something and see what happens! More importantly, try some somatic exercises to get your vibration up! Here are a few: tai chi chuan, qigong, laughter yoga, dancing, yoga and intuitive dance. If it’s been awhile, see about getting some human touch from others in the forms of: massage, tai yoga massage or hugs. (As a comprehensive sexuality educator I can tell you that we all have “skin craving”! If we aren’t touched, caressed, or held, it can really get us down!). Or you can try to self-soothe by holding your jawline (like a mom would), gently squeezing your forehead and back of your head at the same time, trying “tapping”, or even hugging yourself!
7—Ask questions. Too often we are faced with a project or problem and we think the solution is to brainstorm all the answers. All that does is create groupthink and retreads--and not actual "out of the box" ideas. Many studies indicated that brainstorming is actually detrimental to creativity! Instead, we should ask the open-ended questions of "what?" or "how?" --never "why?". Let's say you have a music piece you are working on and feel stuck. You can ask, "What is the main message of the song?", "What would it sound like if I added marimbas?", "How does this make me feel when I play it?", "How is the tempo mirroring the tone?", etc. Will Wise says in his book, Ask Powerful Questions, that asking questions pulls your mind into a different space than trying to "fix" or "solve" (and the bonus is that if y ou are working on a collaborative project, people feel safer to ask rather than to share ideas!)
6—Get uncomfortable! Just like I did with my client, you could try to do something completely out of your element—something that truly frustrates you. Listen to this awesome TedTalk which recounts the story of jazz legend Keith Jarrett being pushed out of his comfort zone which ultimately created one of the greatest jazz albums of all times. What we all need is a little paradigm shift to help us “unstick our stuckness”. So, if you are a painter, try a new sport. If you are an entrepreneur, try drawing. If you are a singer, try dancing. If you write in a certain corner all alone in your office, get up, drive to the coffee shop, and write from a new point of view. It is when we have frustration, a change of scenery, or a change of tools or physical skills that we can push into a space of true genius. As Tim Harford says in the TedTalk: “What's the best way to finish somewhere different? The best way to finish somewhere different is to start somewhere different.”
5—Surround yourself with inspirational people—and collaborate openly, humbly and carefully as much as you can! There really is something about being in the safe presence of engaged, open people that gets your juices flowing and your heart opening! In fact, I have ONLY facilitated in-person workshops and writing courses BY CHOICE because I find that being physically around my students and clients (rather than virtually) truly makes a difference! (Alas, this is a blogpost for another day!) We just started a private writing group with Shamama, Writers at the Leading Edge, and I'm telling you that our first meeting was ELECTRIC; my arms were full of goosebumps and my heart and mind were buzzing with good mojo! But, even if you can’t physically be with inspirational people, immerse yourself in the words and works of those who came before you. Get up there and stand on the shoulders of those giants! (I mean, just reading Kierkegaard a moment ago got me a-buzzing!)
4—Jump to another subject! Many creators practice "slow-motion multi-tasking"--no this isn't the multi-tasking we normally think of (which is actually just "shredding" and non-productive)! This is where you simultaneously work on several disparate projects at the same time. Writing a book about butterflies while producing a play about death while building a canoe in your wood shop. This seems like it would drive someone crazy, but one particularly rich longitudinal study indicated that changing the subject is the key to success. The research project--which took place over 60 years-- asked why some scientists were able to go on producing important work right through their lives--what is it about these people? A surprising pattern that emerged was clear: the top scientists would shift topics during their first hundred published research papers. On average, the most enduringly creative scientists switched topics 43 times in their first hundred research papers. Basically, when they would get stuck, they wouldn't "unstuck" themselves, they would move along and return when the moment was right--sometimes noodling around with an idea for decades. But, this isn't a lesson in patience and perserverence, so much as it isa testament to "cross-pollination". Perhaps the play about death invites new questions about butterfly habitats; perhaps the wood striations inform us about the fleeting aspects of life. Life is cumulative and we are constantly making connections--and usually our creativity doesn't follow a straight path, so zig and zag, baby!
3—Embrace the elements of earth, water, fire and air. There is something so rich about engaging in the four elements (not necessarily at the same time). EARTH: Be in Nature! Seriously. Get outside, hang around animals, hug a tree, run around barefoot (aka: "earthing”), garden, ground yourself with rocks, appreciate where your food/air/water/sustenance comes from. Play with essential oils and crystals. Take an epsom salt bath. Eat high vibration foods: sustainably made, ethically created, organic, non-GMO, fermented foods (kombucha and kefir), herbal tea, etc. (And avoid low-vibration stuff like alcohol, drugs, sugar, processed foods, etc.) Know that you are supported on this earth; let gravity and the earth inform you of that! WATER: Drink a quart of water and stretch immediately upon awakening and drink a gallon of water a day before 6pm. Sit by water, take baths, gaze into water, listen to water. FIRE: Sun gaze, light a candle, sit by a fire, burn incense, smudge your home and workspace. AIR: Practice conscious breathing; be mindful of wind/air on skin, and practice my favorite modalities for opening your creative vessel: breath work!
2—Allow. Brené Brown often talks about being "vulnerable" as a way to decenter your ego and live your best life. I agree with this completely! It is when we humble ourselves to the process and know that we don't have the answers that we truly become a vessel. This can be accomplished through many of the aforementioned methods of meditation, etc., but there are three more important methods: shadow work (basically a process in which we integrate our "demons"), playing (in which we stop taking ourselves so seriously, laugh, play around with no goals in mind and have some fun!), and surrendering (physically and metaphorically releasing all intentions, goals and egoic designs we have on some outcome). It is when we completely embrace our darkness, play with child-like abandon, and surrender our ego that we can truly allow all great creativity to come.
1—Meditate. There is a difference between just relaxing and meditation—and there is a difference between breathwork meditation and meditation. Trust me on this. Clearing your mind and focusing on your breath in transcendental meditation is the absolute best way to open up your “creative vessel”. There are tons of apps for that and several yoga studios will teach you this essential life skill.
There you have it! Let me know what you try and how it works out for you! And, if you ever need me, just call!
Kierkegaard, Soren. "Quotable Quotes". GoodReads. N.D. Accessed 30 May , 2019. https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/336809-above-all-do-not-lose-your-desire-to-walk-everyday
"Tim Harford: How Can "Slow Motion Multitasking" Boost Our Creativity?". Ted Radio Hour. npr.org. 10 May 2019. Accessed: 30 May 2019. https://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=719575727
Wong, May. "Stanford Study Finds Walking Improves Creativity", Stanford News. 24 April 2014. Accessed 30 May 2019. https://news.stanford.edu/2014/04/24/walking-vs-sitting-042414