You know those times when you can’t think of a good idea? When you’re ready to bang your head against the desk because you can’t even think of a bad idea? It happens to the best of us. No one is immune to Creativity Lockdown Syndrome. But before you throw your project out the window or decide the only way to get through the idea desert is to dive head first into a Netflix and Cheeto binge, there is another way.
After pouring over thousands of projects with thousands of creatives over the years, I’ve picked up a few tricks to get your wheels turning again.
Here are 5 unexpected ways to unlock your creativity, even when your usual inspirational soundtrack and motivational movie clips aren’t producing results:
1. Stand up and turn around
Seriously. Physically stand up out of your chair, then turn and face the other way. You might actually *hear* the sound of a good idea dropping into your brain. As the saying goes, humans are creatures of habit, making it easy to create routines that put our brains on autopilot. By changing up where or how you’re sitting, it shakes up the status quo and gets your brain thinking in new ways, which opens you up to new ideas.
Still stuck? Ask yourself this open-ended question: “What is the truth about this problem or situation?” and let the answer tumble out. Your mind will start creating answers for any question you ask it. Take a pen and paper, and write out whatever comes to mind.
“Creativity is intelligence having fun.” – Albert Einstein
2. Drink a teaspoon of booze
You know how some great writers and artists are legendary drunks? One reason is because alcohol lowers inhibitions, muffles the inner critic and gives your inner wild-and-crazy guy a chance to run the show. Sadly, the era of the three-martini lunch has passed, and it is generally ill-advised to get hammered on the job.
But I’ve found that just a teaspoon of liquor can get you loosened up without jeopardizing your reputation. Maybe it’s the stimulation of sense-memory from the smell and the taste in your mouth, or maybe it’s your body responding to the tincture itself, but it works – if you let it.
If it’s not possible for you to take the world’s tiniest shot (not all people can have even a teaspoon of alcohol), try just “acting drunk” by letting your body go loose and allowing yourself to ramble like a wicked old sot. You might just surprise yourself.
3. Make some 5-minute art
Especially if the reason you’re stuck is emotional (low self-esteem, jealousy, fear of failure, perfectionism…any of those monsters from under the bed) making some 5-Minute Art can be revelatory. Just grab a piece of typing paper and a pen, and draw out the FEELING you are having.
Use stick figures or big scrawls – don’t worry, no one is ever going to see this – and just allow yourself to express on paper what it feels like to be so jealous, afraid or stuck. Getting a visual image of your feelings often gives you a new perspective on them, and can free up the blocked energy that’s holding your good ideas hostage.
4. Copy someone
Of course I’m not recommending plagiarism, in the illegal, unethical kind of way. Here’s the thing, the next time you’re stuck, try straight-up imitating the work of someone you admire. Just for a few minutes, pretend you are that person.
Allow their genius to inhabit you for a minute, and let yourself borrow their phrasing, style or flair. Be a copycat. You will probably want to revise and polish later, but your homage will at least give you something fun and unusual to start with.
If for some reason you can’t think of someone you admire to copy, try creating a character or alter ego you can put on for a little while. This technique was made famous by Beyonce Knowles when she announced her alter ego, Sasha Fierce, to the world. When you assume a character, you shift your attitude and focus instantly because you see the world through a different lens.
This opens your creative thinking and problem solving processes in new ways, opening you up to new ideas you would not have been able to consider before.
“Through others we become ourselves.” – Lev S. Vygotsky
5. Take a tiny step toward a big goal
Overwhelm is so real. You get paralyzed when your projects are too big so start smaller. Set your timer for 15 minutes and do as much as you can in that time. Maybe you’ll just make a list of people you could reach out to for help or advice, or you’ll open a new notebook in Evernote.
If you spend just 15 minutes a day, every single day, working on the projects that matter most to you, you will achieve astonishing results. Baby steps often lead to quantum leaps, so keep going, no matter what.