When you need a little something to help kickstart a creative project, or a touch of motivation to keep you going when you’ve lost your mojo, here are 10 no-fail strategies to boost your creativity when you aren’t feeling it.
1. Go for a walk
Walking can be wonderful to cure what ails you. Depending what you need, it can be therapeutic with the slow, steady rhythm of putting one foot in front of the other. This takes you out of your head and into the moment. Walking can also energize you with a brisk pace and fresh air.
When I walk, my thoughts tend to slide into easy free-association. I’m able to observe them without letting them carry me away. Often, a solution to a problem or an idea on how to tie things together appears, even when I haven’t been trying to solve that puzzle. A walk often rewards me with these revelations. At the very least, a walk gets me out and away from whatever is blocking me.
Remember that our bodies were made to move. When we move we think better, so even a 10 or 20 minute walk can do the trick.
2. Listen to music
When you feel stuck and need to boost your creativity, music is another great way to help loosen up and let go. I’ll listen to different music depending on what I need. I’ll stream reggae or classical music for tasks where I need to concentrate. 90’s alt rock, latino beats, or some Tragically Hip get my energy pumping when I’m in a slump.
Find what speaks to you: what type of music gets you focused; and, what gets you moving. Be proactive and create playlists, so you are ready when you need them. Or, use a block as a great excuse to explore different genres.
A recent study on the effects of music on creativity, found that participants increased their divergent thinking – the ability to come up with creative solutions to problems – after listening to happy music. At minimum, the right music will be an energy booster, so get those tunes pumping!
3. Take a break
Sometimes trying too hard can be counter-productive to boosting creativity. We can push ourselves to a point where our brain starts to shut down, ideas don’t flow freely, and everything is a slog. It took me a long time to learn that when this happens, taking a break is the best strategy to get back on track.
A lot of research has been done on the optimal time to work on a task before taking a break. Sources vary slightly, but in general build 10 minutes of break time into every hour of work. I still have a habit of not taking as many breaks as I should when I really get going on a project, but I have learned to recognize when I’ve gone on too long. I’ll take shower, prep for supper, or even unload the dishwasher. Anything small that allows me to walk away and come back with renewed focus is a creativity boost.
I have been an inconsistent meditator for years. It’s only recently that I have committed to regular practice and it has been life-changing.
There is a mis-conception that meditation is about “clearing you mind” of thoughts. In fact, meditation practices can run the gamut from focus on a particular thought or object, to a feeling of expansiveness and focus on nothing, to cultivating connection with the universe or a higher being. A simple path to practicing meditation is to sit with whatever thought or feeling you have in that moment and observe it without letting it pull you in – also known as mindfulness meditation. Even 5 minutes of meditation can help you reset and reframe.
It’s helpful to begin with meditation as a guided practice and there are many wonderful resources available. My favourite apps are Breethe and The Mindfulness App. The free versions are more than enough to get you started on your meditation journey.
5. Change your surroundings
Another way to boost your creativity is to change your surroundings. This can be as simple as moving from indoors to outdoors or vice versa, working in a public space instead of private, or in a group rather than solo.
The ability to change your surroundings is somewhat dependent on your medium of choice – it’s easier for a writer or small watercolour painter to move than a weaver working on a floor loom, for example. But, even if you can’t move your actual project, you can find related tasks that are more portable. Planning, sketching, or making a small study of the larger work are some ideas.
And, of course, travel is the ultimate shake-up. While experiencing a new culture, location, food is uber-inspirational, simply going somewhere you have never been before can do the trick – think a new gallery, farmers’ market, or nature trail near you. Changing your surroundings is a great way to freshen your perspective and boost your creativity.
There is always research to do for a creative project. When you feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, research can be a great place.
A writer may need to research a period in time for a historical novel, a photographer what equipment is needed for a specific type of shot, or a weaver to review a particular technique she wants to incorporate into a piece. If you are already underway on a project, there is often research that needs to be done as you go along, and this can be a great mini-break from the work itself.
A word of caution – from someone who knows too well this rabbit hole: people often get stuck in the research phase and don’t move on to the the actual creative work. The goal here is to get yourself unstuck, and research could go on forever if you let it. So, know when you have researched, not everything, but enough.
7. Look for inspiration
Inspiration can literally be found anywhere. A few of my favourite places find it are online – I’m looking at you Pinterest/Instagram – books and magazines, nature, a favourite gallery or museum, and public spaces like a park or cafe. The trick is to not look too hard!
Countless times, I been amazed by finding inspiration in the most unlikely, and usually imperfect, places. Like a flower growing out of a crack in the sidewalk, or a blob of salsa that fell onto a piece of paper [true story]. Sometimes inspiration is right under your nose – your children’s laughing at something silly, or how your pets interact with each other. Trust that when you need it, inspiration will find you.
8. Create an outline
It can be tough staring at a blank page, or a room that needs a total overhaul, and know where to start. An outline allows you get the big vision down and then work out the smaller pieces as you go. If your creative project is to write a novel or short story, developing an outline is great way to get on track. It’s less daunting to attack one piece of your outline at a time.
For bigger projects, the outline can be further broken down into sub-topics. Think outlining a room refresh from colour scheme to flooring to lighting to furniture. Fill in as you go and link everything together once you have the pieces figured out.
9. Sketch it out
A sketch is the visual equivalent of an outline. A sketch or study of your project gives you a chance to experiment and allows you to make changes to your design before committing. They can also be helpful once your project is underway and you’ve stalled out. Just base your sketch on what you have done so far, and explore what colours or design elements will propel your work to the next stage.
10. Just start
There comes a time when you just have to sit yourself down and start. Minimize distractions, set a timer, and get to it. Even if you are pumping out a pile of garbage to begin with, there is going to be something in there that will be a keeper. Or, you might sift through the initial work, and a design, or an idea that hadn’t occurred to you appears.
The thing about just starting is it’s a way to teach yourself discipline. A way to get to your project even when you’re not in the mood, or tired, or hungry, or you had a long week with the kids, or whatever. My next creative project is to learn tapestry weaving. I’ll be doing this using books and online resources, so I’m going to have to start weaving without knowing how. And, make a bunch of mistakes in the process. But, that’s okay.