About fifteen years ago I worked with someone who, looking back, was pretty flipping brilliant... and when there were challenges to overcome she’d always pause, look you straight in the eye and ask the question, “What’s stopping you?”.
As questions go, it’s a powerful one. It cuts right to the heart of it, helps to focus the mind, encourages you to be brutally honest with yourself and once you work out the answer, taking the next step is a whole lot easier.
“What’s stopping you?” is actually something we spend quite a bit of time getting to the bottom of in our mentoring conversations and when it comes to creativity, there are lots of different reasons why you, or your brand, might be stalling. Here are just a few, as well as some ways of overcoming them - and the really good news? We’re all human and we all feel this stuff at one time or another. Anyone who says they don’t is either made of concrete or messing with your head! ;)
Most of the things that stop us in our tracks can be traced back here. Fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of the unknown, what if I can’t? All that can lead to another one of the classics we’ve all indulged in at one time or another...
Going through every single possibility and made up outcome is definitely not your friend. It’s tricky to stop once you’re in that mindset, but it’s not impossible and the first thing is to recognise it as soon as you can. Nipping it in the bud is a whole lot easier than chopping it down when it’s running wild!
Lack of inspiration
Let’s be honest, time is often something we’re up against. We say we’re going to spend it heading off to our favourite gallery or having some quiet time with our head in a book but in reality, when your kids need a hand, the dogs need walking or you’re working late, the things that inspire us often get pushed to the back of the queue – and whoever you are and whatever you do, that’s a creativity killer.
Being too hard on yourself
When we don’t make time for the things that inspire us, what do we do then? Beat ourselves up about it of course... and whether you’re a perfectionist or not, there’s a reason the term “own worst enemy” is so well used.
When there are a million and one things to do, it’s not easy to see the wood for the trees and all those other crap cliches as well ;).
So, what do you do to shake things up?
Well, if you have the inclination to wade through them, there are bookshelves of reads on the stuff. If you haven’t, here are 9 things, distilled down, that have made a difference to us and to some of the creative minds we’ve chatted to.
1. Give yourself a break
If creativity has dried up, or the desire to crack on with the task at hand has flopped like a water-starved geranium, step away and give your mind the chance to refresh and reset. It really is priceless.
As designer, maker and founder of Meet the Maker, Joanne Hawker tells us,
“My absolute favourite way to reset is to just stop - close it all down and get out into nature. I find when we stop thinking about the thing we’re stuck on and focus on being outdoors, taking in the crisp fresh air, looking at all the bugs, talking to the birds or watching the colourful leaves on the trees, our minds can work their magic in the background and then when we come back to something, it’s a lot easier to sort out. It’s a bit like a background app refresh on our phones, but in our heads instead.”
We love that analogy and as Joanne says, a change of scene (especially when the natural world is involved) can make all the difference – whether it’s a five-minute stroll or a five-hour hike!
2. Note it down
Keeping a notebook or journal means you’re never short of inspiration. As artist Rob Ryan tells us,
“ I immediately write thoughts and ideas in notebooks so I always have something to work on. My spur is to do as many of these ideas as I can before I die”.
Rob often shares his thoughts and ideas on his Instagram, so definitely head there for more inspiration.
3. Break it down
If we hear another person talk about the “life changing” power of list making, we might go full on Nicholas Cage (you’ll know what we mean if you listen to Kermode and Mayo’s film review), but nevertheless, we do bleeping swear by a good list!
Breaking things down into bite-sized actionable chunks can help, as by getting all the actionable stuff down on paper, you’re freeing up headspace.
4. Loosen up
Artist Joan Murray’s way of resetting is to ‘loosen up’. Joan’s work is focused on fine detail but as she explains, her rebalancing act...
“usually starts with a large blank canvas, a change of medium and a promise that whatever marks I make on the canvas will be fast, furious and without a brush”.
We love this approach and as Joan goes on to say,
“It’s amazing how therapeutic painting with twigs, feathers, credit cards, wire and fingers can be! It’s all about not overthinking things and taking inspiration from, in my case, the tactile things around me. The end result often makes it to the framer”.
And Joan gets it spot on when she tells us,
“to move beyond a block, we often need to step outside our comfort zone,”
and that applies to all creative minds... whether we’re talking business creativity, arts-led creativity or any kind of creative problem-solving.
5. Be in the moment
Joan picked up on not overthinking - and remaining in the moment is absolutely key. Stay present and remind yourself that inventing fictional situations definitely won’t help you creatively.
6. Take inspiration from what you love... or hate!
Ahh come on. We’ve all been inspired by something we can’t stand – whether it’s someone telling us “you can’t”, or someone else shouting at the top of their voice.
It’s never about comparing or competing though. It’s about taking that motivation and turning it into positive energy – and of course there’s nothing greater than taking inspiration from what you genuinely love, so commit to making time for it... even if that’s simply setting aside 15 minutes a day for the things that fire you up or clear your mind. Those 15 minutes all add up.
7. Find your inner robot
We’re not talking C-3PO or Metal Mickey! We’re talking routine because as well as finding creativity in freedom, there’s plenty of science pointing us in the direction of reinforced habits - getting good sleep and planning your day (it can be a rough outline :)). Equally, when it's time for creative work, just crack on. You don’t need to create a knockout finished draft or solve a challenge in lightning speed every time. There’s always chance to refine things, but the very act of committing to it and getting started makes all the difference.
As Shake founder Jenna says,
"whatever I'm feeling or thinking, as soon as I put pen to paper, finger to keyboard or get the headphones, press the record button and crack on, the calm descends"
and this, from artist and author Austin Kleon, made us smile:
8. Belly laugh
Laughter shakes everything up and as stand-up anti-comedian Edward Aczel tells us, it definitely relaxes the mind.
What’s it like from the comedian’s perspective though? As Ed says,
“Comedy is kind of unique because the process of writing something is often very abstract. Sometimes you’re not sure where the laughs will come from, so you just have to hope for the best, but being on stage in front of an audience is a great way to get rid of any creative block because you’ve somehow got to deliver”!
Well, if you can’t laugh about it, why not throw yourself in at the deep end? ;)
And finally... do it your own way.
Switch off your phone, bounce ideas off likeminded souls, don’t compromise, go running, binge watch Stranger Things, chuck yourself in at the deep end, dance in the rain, don’t dance in the rain, just crack on with it – the point is whatever you do, do it your own way because when you’re true to yourself, anything can happen.