Feeling creatively “stuck” is remarkably frustrating. Whether you need to tap into your creativity for work, or just want to enjoy yourself and stretch your creative muscles, that creative burnout can really be a buzzkill.
At Design.org, we believe in training yourself to think thoughts that will lead you to creativity and happiness. (It’s why our motto is “Create Happy.”) That’s the long-term goal—that you’ll always have what you need to be able to get to a creative place, no matter what else might be going on around you. That said, even people who are already very good at this are going to get stuck from time to time. It’s important to have some tools on-hand to get you unstuck and back on track.
Here are 5 of my favorite mental exercises to try when you’re creatively stuck.
5 mental exercises to try when you’re creatively stuck
Meditation was once reserved for monks (and maybe the occasional hippie). In fact, I remember reading a book about meditation a few years ago and thinking the idea was really “out there.” Of course, now I, like many other people, have discovered meditation for what it can really be: a restorative, calming practice that recharges the brain and the body, offering multiple physical and mental benefits.
There are many other connections between meditation (and the resulting mindfulness) and creativity. Meditation can help improve attention, regulate emotions, and promote resilience, all important factors when it comes to building creativity. One study also drew a connection between meditation and “divergent thinking,” or, the ability to think of new ideas.
If you think you might like to try meditation (and yes, I highly recommend it), a good place to start is with guided meditations, during which a narrator will walk you through the process and tell you what to do. I love the app Headspace for this, as they start with short meditation sessions to help you get used to the concept. They also have high production quality and many different guided meditations for a wide variety of specific purposes.
Movement might seem like a purely physical exercise, but in reality, it is largely a mental one. In fact:
- Studies show that exercise can treat some levels of depression as effectively as medication
- Exercise releases endorphins, which enhance well-being and can help with anxious feelings
- Exercise benefits self-esteem, cognitive function, and sleep
- Physical activity can boost your mood and help manage stress
- Exercise can benefit people suffering from PTSD or trauma
All of these benefits signify that movement is just as beneficial to the mind as it is to the body.
The relationship between exercise and creativity has also been studied, with many results showing a positive correlation. One study, for example, found that exercise increased creativity, regardless of a person’s mood.
There are many explanations for this, some of them being chemical (exercise triggers endorphin release), and others more vague (exercise clears your mind, making room for creative thoughts). Whatever the reason, movement is definitely worth a try if you’re feeling creatively stuck.
I’ve found that, for me, even simple movement can get my mind up and running again. Taking a short, brisk walk, or standing at your desk to do some jumping jacks or lunges, might be all you need.
Few things can turn my mood around more quickly than music. It’s why I believe so strongly in the power of the playlist. But the effects of music on creativity go far beyond my personal anecdotes.
Music has been shown to improve cognitive performance and enhance memory, so it makes sense that there would be a connection between music and creativity as well. A 2017 study confirmed that participants who listened to happy music exhibited more creativity while working on a divergent thinking task.
One caveat here: the way that music impacts creativity can differ greatly from person to person. Some people are unable to listen to music while they are actually working. Some people can listen to music, as long as there are no lyrics. And some people literally sing along while typing away (I haven’t figured those people out yet, but if that’s you, kudos). No matter where you fit on this spectrum, you can still get creative benefits from music by listening to it outside of work. After all, there’s nothing like a good song to stir up powerful emotions, and powerful emotions can lead to powerful creativity.
Laughter is the best medicine, right? The question is: what illnesses does it treat?
It turns out—quite a few.
Like exercise, laughter releases endorphins, which help combat negative emotions. In fact, endorphins even play a role in the way our brains interpret physical pain, meaning that laughter could literally be a sort of medicine for physical ailment or injury.
Additionally, laughter is another mental exercise to try when you feel creatively stuck. One explanation for this is that humor and creativity both rely on surprise. A good joke sets you up to think things are going in one direction, and then flips a switch to take you to an unexpected conclusion. Similarly, creativity demands that we explore new avenues of thought, and maybe even some surprising possibilities.
Humor can also help you connect ideas you may have thought to be previously “un-connectable.” Improv comedy, in particular, often involves random situations and scenarios that require quick thinking and the willingness to accept all ideas—both of which come in handy if you’re trying to be creative.
If you want to make laughter a more regular part of your creative routine, I suggest finding some tried and true sources that you can count on for a laugh. Whether that’s a favorite comedian, a classic sitcom, or even a humorous YouTube channel, knowing where you can go for a laugh can help you when you start to feel creatively stuck.
5. Create something else
Creativity in general is good for your mental health. Creating can take you into a meditative state, especially if you’re crafting or doing something else with your hands. It can also help you relax and reduce your stress, particularly if whatever you’re creating has low-stakes (that is, someone else isn’t relying on you, you’re not getting paid for it, etc.).
With that in mind, sometimes, what your creativity needs is a little spark to get it going. That means that even if you aren’t necessarily working on the problem at hand (say, writer’s block, or working out a design flaw on a work project), doing anything creative, just to get your creativity going, could ultimately prove beneficial.
Some low-stakes creative activities you might try when you’re feeling stuck are:
- Playing with LEGO (bonus: your kids will think you’re pretty cool)
- Journaling/creative writing
- Playing an instrument
- Working on home design/decor
- Design.org Circle Exercises (see video instructions)
With any luck, that little spark of creativity will be enough to start a flame that will help you get past being creatively stuck and into a place where you can create freely.
Being stuck isn’t a great feeling, especially when you’re trying to be creative. But these 5 mental exercises to try when you’re creatively stuck just might be able to help you get past your blocks, so that you can start “creating happy” in your life again.
Feeling stuck? Try free coaching from Design.org.
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