We’ve all been there. Feeling like you’re at the fork in the road and not knowing which way to turn. You know you need to make a decision, but you just feel, well, stuck.
Perhaps you need to plan or organise or create something and you just don’t know where to begin. The more you think about it, the more frustrated and stuck you feel.
So now that we all know what it feels like, and we know that we’ve ALL been there at some stage, let’s look at how we can get moving again.
This is the number one starting point for any creative project or when making a big decision. All those thoughts, ideas and worries need to just get out – in any order and in any process. I used to tell my students that there is nothing more stressful than staring at a blank page or a new Word document, so just start!
This is the messy, fun and free part, and you get to do it however it works for you.
If it’s a writing project, you can often start by just typing a word or phrase into your document and just keep going, leaving a line or two between each entry. These might later become your sentences or paragraphs that you can then just come along and pad out and shift around or delete to suit.
Personally, I enjoy writing and doodling on paper and I have recently been inspired by a beautiful creative friend to make the paper bigger and brighter. I’ve swapped my A5 notebook and pencil for a huge sheet of butcher’s paper spread out on the kitchen table, with a range of brightly coloured pens. So much fun!
The secret to brainstorming is that there are no wrong answers or ideas. In fact, the whole idea is to keep going and note down every remote possibility. Often it’s the most ridiculous idea that is the absolute pearl.
Some people like to give themselves a time limit with this one and it helps to hurry the process, however I like to just keep going for as long as possible until you’re well and truly exhausted of ideas and thoughts.
2. Walk away
We’re all guilty of over-thinking things, particularly if we’re thinking about the big stuff. Isn’t it exhausting? Once you’ve dumped all of those ideas out of your head with your brainstorming activity, forget about it. I know – easier said than done!
However, right now your conscious mind is in overdrive and it’s time to let the subconscious take over. Just get on with your daily life and trust that you have done all you can for now. Make a deal with yourself that you will dedicate mental time and energy to the problem at a later date.
Time to back away. Go for a walk if you can or do some more ‘mindless’ tasks. The key point here is that you do something positive, something that lifts your spirits. If you can’t do something you genuinely enjoy, use your head space for some positive thinking while you do what you need to do.
The ultimate activity would be to go for a walk, in nature, thinking about all the things you’re grateful for. Yeah!
As you do these things, you may just find that the perfect solution to your problem just pops into your head. Even better is that any idea you have when you’re in a positive mindset has got to be a good one.
3. Get Still
That bloody mental chatter! I know I’m not the only one that suffers from this one. Unfortunately, with the rise in popularity of mindfulness and meditation, too many people think that they need to stop thinking to do either properly!
I’m going to debunk that myth for you and tell you that it’s pretty well impossible to stop thinking. Sorry, but that’s your brain’s job! As soon as you take the pressure off yourself to try to stop thinking, you can actually free yourself up to enjoy some stillness.
The secret to finding that stillness is to separate yourself from your thoughts.
There are so many ways that you can do this. Breathing is probably the easiest and you’l be surprised how quickly you get results. Set a timer for two minutes and take some slow, deep breaths. Follow the path of your breath with your imagination, watching it enter your nostrils, fill your belly, then leave your nostrils again.
You should find that two minutes is enough to feel a noticeable change but you can keep going, or follow a guided meditation, whatever works for you to take your attention off your thoughts for a while.
4. Timing is everything
Have you ever noticed that sometimes things are just such an effort to do, like pulling teeth, then at other times, you can roar through the same things?
We’ve all got our own unique body-clocks. Some of us are night owls and some are morning people (which I’ve found are very annoying to night owls!)
You know when you function at your best so plan your creative thinking for those times. If you like to get up early and you know that it’s the most productive time for you, schedule some time aside to work on your project or idea.
Similarly, if you only start coming good in the evening, take the pressure off yourself during the day by doing the more mundane tasks and leave the more intense ones for later.
Whether you’re a night owl or a morning bird, one thing is most important.
Pay attention to your thoughts just on waking. During sleep, our brains perform the computer maintenance – processing thoughts from the previous day, deciding what to keep and what to send to trash. Then they do a little defrag and (hopefully) spit an answer or idea out. The secret is to be aware and listening for an answer.
Enjoy those moments between sleeping and waking to just listen – before reaching for your phone, before even opening your eyes. This is the time that your mind is the most quiet, giving you the chance to listen to your inner voice.
5. Think about what you’re thinking about
Could you imagine trying to work on an idea and someone sits beside you and criticises you the whole time? Sometimes that’s exactly what we’re doing to ourselves without even realising it.
As soon as we let our minds wander and take control, they can take us down some pretty scary rabbit-holes. In fact, it’s when we’re feeling stressed or pressured or stuck, that all of our doubts and insecurities can raise their ugly head.
Stop and take notice of your underlying thoughts, particularly the negative ones. “This is so hard,” “I just don’t know what to do,” “What if I stuff up?” “What if I make the wrong decision?” “I’m never any good with these things”…and on and on.
How on earth are you going to be creative or productive when you’re telling yourself you can’t?!
Take note of what you’re thinking or telling yourself and, when you catch a negative one, ask yourself, “Is this true?” Mostly it’s not and you can talk yourself back around, showing the same reason and compassion that you would show to a friend.
There’s a term for this – metacognition – being aware of what and how you’re thinking. Once you become aware, you can consciously steer your own ship and put yourself in the right frame of mind to make decisions.
So there you have it – five different ideas for you to try. Sometimes just one will work for you and sometimes you might need all five! Play around with them and adapt them to suit yourself. It’s one thing to have the information but it’s quite another to apply it to your life. Helping clients to find their own solutions is the thing I love most about personal coaching. You can find out more about that here.
Also, if you want to really bust your blocks and boost your creativity, join me on the ‘Inner Resilience Retreat for Creatives’ – a two-night getaway in the mountains with a small group of creatives. Relax, find some stillness, enjoy the peace (as well as a few laughs) and come away feeling inspired, empowered and connected.