Five Ways to Blast Creative Blocks

by Liisa Kyle, Ph.D. on 12/11/2013

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At some point, most DaVincis get stuck on a project.  Sometimes we can’t think what to do next — or we encounter a seemingly insurmountable obstacle — or we find themselves paralyzed by indecision. Creative blocks are a painful yet common part of the process.

Should you find yourself blocked, the first thing to do is to remain calm.  This is a temporary situation, even though it may not seem like it at the time. Next, try any of the following five proven ways to blast creative blocks:

1.  Take a break.

Do something — anything — else. Put your project on your brain’s “back burner” while you carry on with other things. You could take a *real* break to do something pleasant or soothing — have a nap, go for a walk, have a fun night out.  You could toggle to a different productive activity by shifting focus to something else on your ‘to do’ list.  You could give some attention to a new creative project…or to an area of life you’ve been neglecting.

Pick something — anything — else and do it.

What often happens is that right when you least expect it — in the middle of cleaning the kitchen or walking the dogs or driving to a business meeting — poof!  the answer to your creative block materializes.  A solution may appear in your dreams or a friend’s offhand remark or between the lines in an internet article you stumble upon.

This is one beautiful feature of the creative brain…it’s always working for us in the background. Sometimes we just need to get out of its way — to distract ourselves with something else so it can work its magic.

One caveat:  set a time limit for yourself.  Depending on your particular circumstances, it might be find to take off an hour, a day, a week or more. Only you can know how long of a break is ‘too long’.  You’ll know it instinctively.  It won’t feel comfortable.  It will feel more like avoidance or the agony of procrastination than a ‘break’.

2.  Replenish your creative well.

For the most part, DaVincis are challenged by having too many ideas.  Yet sometimes the flow of ideas dwindles.  Occasionally they might stop altogether — which is a particularly painful kind of creative block for someone with a very busy, very productive mind.

If your font of ideas evaporates, you’ll feel unusually fatigued and cranky.  You won’t feel like yourself.

Should this happen, rely on the creativity of others to rekindle your own.

Note that this is both a remedy for a creative block as well as preventative measure.  To the extent possible, it’s very helpful for DaVincis to enjoy a regular stream of creative input.

This includes not only exposure to the arts — music, books, visual media, performing arts, etc — but also to new ideas and perspectives. Watch a TED talk about innovations in a different field — ideally something you know nothing about. Go to the library or a book store and browse random topics.

To this end, creativity guru Julia Cameron recommends that we treat ourselves to weekly ‘Artist’s Dates’.  These might be a trip to a gallery…or an hour spent foraging in a hardware store.  It might involve a walk in the woods or a day trip to a nearby town or an hour exploring random subjects on the internet.

It doesn’t really matter what you do –just put yourself in a position to experience fresh ideas, perspectives and creativity.

3.  Be childish.

Consider an eight year old — a naive youth unaware of the vagaries of life. How would they approach the project?

If you don’t have handy access to an eight year old, re-awaken your past:  Think about aspects of your life when you were eight or so.  What were your favorite foods?  Clothes?  Friends?  Activities?  Did you have pets?  What were your favorite games or toys?  What did you like best and least about school?  What were your favorite books, music, films and television programs? What did you wear?

Ideally, jot down everything you can remember about being eight.  What gave you joy at that time?  What issues did you face?  What was your personality like? What was a typical school day like?  What was a typical summer day for you?  What about your birthday? Family gatherings? Special occasions?  Describe your home. Your neighborhood.

To enrich your recollections, ask a friend or family member what kind of kid you were.  Inquire about things they recall from your early childhood.

Bonus points if you take any actions to replicate experiences from your youth.  Prepare a favorite childhood meal (Cheese and pickle sandwich, anyone?) Watch your favorite Disney film or sit-com.  Play a round of your favorite boardgame. Ride your bicycle with no destination.

Once you’ve revived your inner eight-year old, take a fresh look at your project.  How would your eight-year old self proceed?

4.  Try something new.

When was the last time you tried something new, just for fun?

When was the last time you tasted a new food or listened to a new musical artist or went to a new location? When was that last time you learned a new skill or tried a new activity?

Our brains are wired such that any new input is processed in relation to what we already know.  Whenever we experience something new, it’s like a taser-like blast into our brains as new mental links form and spark new ideas and insights.  “New” is a de facto creativity prod.

Thankfully, there is a limitless array of new things to try.  The world is bursting with places, experiences and activities awaiting discovery. 

Activity:  Today, make a point of trying something new.

5. Be selfish.

Forget logic for the moment.  Complete the following prompts as quickly as you can, as many times as the answers keep flowing:

If there was nothing riding on this, I’d ______________

If it was only up to me, I’d _______________

If nobody cared, I’d just  ______________

If I was only thinking of myself, I’d _____________

If I was being true to myself, I’d ___________


Creative blocks can be annoying, frustrating and concerning — but they are also temporary and solvable.  Try any of the preceding five techniques to see what works for you.


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