It happens to us all. One moment we’re cruising along, creating ideas and acting on them only to stutter to a halt as we run full frontal into a mental wall. Suddenly nothing works, nothing happens and we’re stuck.
Those are terrible moments. Particularly if, like me, you count on those ideas to generate your income and put bread on your table. So what do you do when that happens? How can you start your ideas flowing again?
Emotions serve different purposes. The negative emotions are generally associated with tackling a specific problem – say that a tiger that is leaping at you in the case of fear, or the baddy trying to steal your food in the case of anger.
In this way, negative emotions focus the mind down on the problem you’re trying to deal with and exclude the rest.
Positive emotions, according to the broaden and build theory of psychology, are the opposite. They signal there is no immediate problem that needs to be dealt with and as a result broaden your attention so that you take in more of your surroundings.
As a big part of creativity is taking things that are not connected and connecting them (or alternatively reconnecting ideas in different ways from how they were connected before) being in a positive state of mind will therefore be far more helpful to your creativity.
So, the first thing you need to stop is beating yourself up.
It won’t help you and it won’t help your creativity. Forgive yourself. Take a break. Spend some time with your kids, friends or on the beach. Then return in a more positive frame of mind.
Embrace the stupid
A great way to be more creative is to think laterally. Though it is quite a wide approach, the fundamentals are quite simple.
- Let the ideas flow.
- Let trains of thought play out, even if they seem silly.
- For the duration of the exercise, purge the word ‘no’ from your vocabulary.
- Write it all down.
The reason you don’t want to shut down specific ideas even if they might seem stupid is that often good ideas are hidden behind bad or silly ones.
Sometimes, by thinking of a ludicrous idea, you give yourself the opportunity to explore ideas you took for granted.
Similarly, by writing down all of the crazy ideas, sometimes you will see connections that initially had not occurred to you. And then two ideas that seemed stupid suddenly become smart.
Why should you reinvent the wheel? A much better idea is to check out what other people in your branch are doing and take your cues from them. So read the stuff that your competitors are doing.
Read into fields which are not your own. And look up the history. There are tons of great ideas that people had in the past which couldn’t be fully implemented – perhaps because the technologies were not in place.
Only ten years ago something like Citatior wasn’t possible, for example. Maybe with things being as they are now, you can re-explore the idea.
You don’t even have to go that far back. For example, if you have a website that you and many of the people around you follow regularly, why not delve into their archives?
You might find an article or an idea from a few years ago that deserves to be re-explored. Even better, because most of your audience won’t remember that article, the content you come up with will seem fresh again.
When people tell me to ‘give them a great idea’ I generally ask them to go away. But ask me to give them a great idea about, say, baked beans, minimalism or North Korea and suddenly it becomes an entire different ball game.
A lot of people seem to think that creativity is at its best unbridled. I’ve often found it is exactly the opposite.
The best creative solutions I have are the ones where I’ve got some very clear parameters within which I have to think. This confines my thinking to a certain area which in turn allows me to go much deeper into that specific subject. And that’s when the truly clever ideas are born.
Take a walk
Walking is hugely beneficial for our creative juices. So if you’re not coming up with something, then why not go for a walk? What I’ve found incredibly useful while doing so is to use the recorder function of my smart phone and a voice to text app. Then, when I’m walking I just mutter to myself and the ideas get written down for later inspection.
Taking notes through speech instead of on a screen brings another very useful element to the table and that is you very quickly become a lot less self-conscious. This too can aid your creative processes immensely.
You know what the least productive thing is for your creativity? Giving up. Nothing undermines your creative juices more than throwing your hands in the air, saying something like ‘gluck sit’ and getting a job on the factory line.
So keep going. Yes, today you might not get anywhere, tomorrow you might not either – but then patience wouldn’t be called a virtue if it was easy. So give it the time it needs.
Chances are if you keep going and stay positive, those ideas will start flowing again sooner than you may think.
All the best!
About the Author
Chris Mercer is a professional writer, developer and founder of Citatior, a powerful academic formatting tool for students.