Monday, June 22, 2015

Creative block? Here are 3 ways to break through.

The deadline looms, and the ideas aren’t coming. It’s happened to all of us at one time or another, and the stress it creates? Well, that’s a self-fulfilling cycle of repeated failure and stress. So what to do?

Here are three things that have proven helpful to me over the years.

1. Walk away.

This sounds counter-intuitive, but it is a valuable way to break out of an idea-less rut. The more you focus on the problem, the more elusive the answer, so stop thinking about it and simply go for a walk.

Fortunately, my office is across from the beautiful lakefront and Millenium and Grant Park of Chicago, so I can walk amidst the beauty and energy and find lots of things to enjoy.  The Art Institute is another favorite hangout. Walking among the art takes me far away from my problem and helps my brain spark in completely new ways.

The hardest part? Stopping your brain from rehashing the problem back at the office.  But fight the urge to think about it, and repeatedly focus your attention on anything else around you. After an hour or so, you can effectively “reset” your brain and head back to take another stab. Another way to do this? Go take in a movie.

2. Sleep on it.

I am a huge fan of ‘sleeping on it.’ Our brains solve so many problems for us in our sleep. Research from Dr. Sara Mednick at University of California, San Diego indicates that REM sleep enhances our brain’s creativity and problem-solving abilities. Certain parts of our brains, like the hippocampus, shut down during REM sleep, allowing memories and experiences to reach other parts of the brain that create different associations and ideas. Mednick says that is when the creativity begins to happen.

She suggests that we prepare our brains for sleep-time inspiration by writing down the problem or challenge we are facing right before we go to bed. And as soon as we wake up, write down anything that has come to mind. Even a 60-90 minute nap can help us do this, as long as we reach REM sleep.

3. Isolate yourself.

The fact is, our lives are filled with repeated interruption and distraction. That kind of constant short-circuiting doesn’t help our brains wander to the places they need to for us to be fully engaged in any creative endeavor. So turn off your phone, put away your laptop, and go to a secluded place with no distractions, no phones and only the people you need.  I know this is hard.  We’ve become addicted to our technology.

An article in Enterpreneur last year actually suggested that some of us are addicted to distraction. We crave the repeated interruptions in our day and even cause them to occur more frequently.  But if we’re trying to fire our brains to come up with new ideas, nothing can harm us more than repetitive distraction.

Our creative lounge here at the office is on a different floor, and the windows are frosted so passersby don’t distract us. We can hunker down in there (sans cell phones) with pads of paper, markers and comfy chairs and simply focus on the project at hand.  It’s amazing how freely ideas can flow when you are absent the constant ding, buzz and hum of cell phones and other electronic interruptions.

Our brains need space, time and peace to fully function.

In the end, we need to know that the more stress we put ourselves under, the harder our job is going to be. By finding ways to give our brains the peace, space, time and sleep they need, the greater our chances of focusing them on delivering creative brilliance when we need it.

What are some ways you break through a creative block? Share in the comments section below.