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Feeling A Mental Block? Try These 5 Strategies for Sparking Creativity & Maintaining It

Sometimes it feels like my brain just runs out of thinking juice. I’ll stare at a blank screen, an unfinished project, an empty content calendar, and I swear I can feel the smoke coming out of my ears. I’ve run out of fuel, and that fuel is creativity.

No matter the industry or position, you’ve probably experienced this kind of mental block. Everyone requires a bit of creativity in their role, whether it’s to accomplish a project, navigate a workplace conversation, or solve a group problem.

Anyone can be creative, and likewise anyone can get mental blocks (or run out of creativity fuel).

I’ve compiled a list of strategies to not only spark creativity, but help maintain it. Think of these strategies as pulling up to a creativity fuel gas station. But keep in mind, nurturing your creative muscle isn’t as convenient as refilling a gas tank. Maintaining creativity requires patience, intention, and being kind to yourself. 

While creative maintenance is work, it’s also really fun! Not all of these strategies will work for everyone (they happen to work for me as writer and entrepreneur), but give them a try over time and see which ones stick out.

1. Try A “Zero Drafting” Brainstorm Technique

As a writer, this is a technique used to get a draft completed. But other professionals can use it to focus on the first stages of a project or idea. It’s all about first establishing what you currently know and why, in order to spark new ideas. You start with zero but end with something!

How To Zero Draft:

It will be unorganized at first but the end result is a bunch of ideas you can work with and organize after the fact. Doing this regularly is a great way to maintain that creative spark. 

2. Keep a Creativity Journal Of Inspiration & Ideas

The “creativity journal” takes many forms. It becomes a living, breathing reference for ideas and thoughts (good and bad). Your creativity journal doesn’t have to be a perfectly curated, physical journal that houses genius ideas (although if you do that, awesome!!)

Your creative ideas can live in a note in your notes app or a Google Drive folder. In-fact, some marketers will say a “Creativity Journal” for them is essentially their Swipe File, a collection of sales & marketing ideas that they curate as a reference for their work. I personally use my Notes App because it’s convenient and easy to categorize.

The important thing about keeping a creativity journal is to not assume just because you wrote it down it has to be “good” or has to be moved forward. Give yourself permission to freely add as you please. 

Sometimes I even set time aside intentionally to add to my “creativity journal” i.e. my iPhone note, but “creativity journal” sounds cooler.

When I feel at a loss for inspiration, I consume! I consume Ted Talks, Pinterest, physical magazines, Facebook Group feeds, etc. 

Your sources of inspiration may be different, but the process remains wholly the same.

“Once you understand that everyone is wired differently when it comes to creativity, you’ll also realize that everyone’s creative process is different from how they are inspired (input) to what they create (output) to how they communicate the form of creation (expression) … While it may take some time to understand what input, output, and form of expression inspires you to be the most creative and energized version of yourself, you will come to understand which situations allow you to have the best creative flow.”

From the book, Rethink Creativity: How to Innovate, Inspire, and Thrive at Work.

3. Get Physical

Okay, I don’t mean “get physical” in the Olivia Newton-John song way, but hey! That might work too.

Studies show that exercising regularly can “enhance cognitive function” and help people perform better on creative tasks. Many organizations have found truth in this science. LinkedIn (and many other offices) has a foosball table where employees can play to boost their team’s brain while providing a fun break activity.

But it’s not just about hitting the gym (or these days, your living room treadmill), it can also mean literally just moving your body while you think. For me, I often play with a pen or a ball when I’m thinking. It helps me focus. Also, taking my dog on a walk where I give myself permission to just breathe fresh air and listen to music,  is often when I do my strategic thinking about life outside of work. 

Needless to say, there’s many ways to integrate the physical into your creative “maintenance.”

4. Take a Break / Treat Yourself

When I have a lavender oat milk iced latte on my desk, even my boyfriend knows that I have a strong “thinking” day ahead. It’s because everytime I have an ESPECIALLY intensive day for creative thinking or writing, I treat myself to my favorite coffee drink. It gives me the boost of serotonin that I need to tackle the challenge (plus caffeine in moderate amounts for some people, helps with focus).

Needless to say, treating yourself is a great way to put yourself in the right mindset to start thinking more creatively. Your “lavender latte” may be a 30 minute break to watch your favorite TV show. It may be a basketball game. It may be cleaning your bathroom (yes, a colleague I know literally cleans her bathroom to relax. More power to her!).

Whether you’re taking a break or giving yourself a little “serotonin boost” by treating yourself, the goal is simply to get your mindset right.

Of course, we have to be careful not to overdo it. If you’re taking so many breaks and getting so many lattes that it’s not helping anymore, then that may be a sign to pump the breaks.

5. Talk to Someone

When someone has a creative “breakthrough,” the stereotypical perception is the sole creator, sitting under a dimly lit lightbulb, thinking hard to themselves only to EUREKA – randomly get the idea that saves the planet (or whatever). But creativity is often always COLLABORATIVE in the real world.

The creative process in an organization can and must encompass a broad array of input from a wide variety of people, including those who may not consider themselves the least bit creative.” – Harvard Business School professor Dorothy Leonard and Professor Walter Swap of Tufts University from the book, When Sparks Fly: Igniting Creativity in Groups.

So this strategy is simple: don’t be afraid to bring other people into your creative process. For more tips on how to navigate creativity in teams, check out our other blog , “If you want lasting creativity on your team, rethink your approach.”

Manage Your Expectations on Creativity, But Know That the Possibilities Are Endless

Whatever strategy you choose, manage your expectations for yourself. We can’t all be creative 100% of the time, even with ongoing strategies. That being said, know that no matter who you are, your creativity can continue to grow. And when you’re feeling low on creative juice, remind yourself that it’s all part of the process.

About the Author

Picture of Sarah Bloodworth

Sarah Bloodworth

Sarah Bloodworth is a writer and sustainability & culture specialist located in Austin, Texas. She studied Journalism and Environmental Science At The University of Texas at Austin and partly at the University of Sheffield in the UK. She worked as a freelance writer for several years, eventually founding my own LLC where she helped mission-driven organisations understand and connect with their audiences through clear, impactful communications. She now works at Flex International, a global manufacturing partner dedicated to creating products that improve people’s lives and make the world a better place. Her specialties include writing/editing, research, customer relations, community-building, and data. The views Sarah expresses are her’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Flex.

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