How To Slay The Top 5 Creative Blocks

Your outlook on life is the canvas you begin with when you create. A healthy point of view about what you have to contribute will be invaluable to your work. If negative self talk is so automatic you barely notice it, or fear of failure has taken the wheel completely, you probably know it’s time for a change. It takes inner work but, you’ll increase productivity and enjoy the creative process more, as you won’t be carrying around the mental equivalent of a bag of bricks any longer. If the old way no longer serves you, it’s time to do a full scale attack on your mental habits. We’re going to look at the top five creativity killers , and provide quick solutions that stop these mental blocks head on.

1. The Monster In Your Head

Experts say humans have about 60,000 to 80,000 thoughts a day, and the majority of them are negative. This voice extinguishes our great ideas and makes us feel like foolish dreamers. I call it the monster in your head. This strange creature is clever in its tactics. It loves to predict the future. “Why bother auditioning for the part?” it reminds you. “You always freeze up anyway.” It gives us an easy out from putting in the bravery required to step up.  It also holds a completely different set of standards for our work than for the creative pursuits of others.

If that’s not enough, constant negative thoughts take a toll on your physical health over time. Because of the mind-body connection, these thoughts can affect your blood pressure, immune system, and your heart health. The stress caused by rumination and worry can also lead to sleep deprivation, anxiety, and depression.

The key to slaying that beast in your brain isn’t to repress the voice. It’s to see it for what it really is and take back your power. In short, you stop buying into the thoughts, and expose their inaccuracy. The first step is awareness. Pay attention to the types of thoughts you have when you focus on your creativity. Reflect on the language you’re using. Even a simple term like “Ugh, I suck!” can be harmful to your craft. When you decide your first stab at a novel is pathetic, or that you bombed your scene in acting class, start recording these thoughts. Write down the words that keep coming up in your mind when you judge your work. Aim to recognize the phrases that keep surfacing.

Honing in on problematic thoughts helps you become aware of their source. You may already recollect a crushing moment. It could have been a passing comment that derailed you, like, “When I showed my short story to a boyfriend, he told me not to bother, because the literary industry is so competitive.” It’s important to challenge the negative beliefs we’ve developed as a result of these experiences. Ask yourself if there’s honestly any truth to them, or if it’s just an automatic thought you’ve settled into. Now the real work. After locating this toxic thought, you must replace it with a realistic one that resonates with your heart. This new thought should have meaning to you, and you must be open to believing it. Otherwise, it won’t stick. Write down this thought and keep it somewhere you’ll often see it, like above your desk, or in your studio. Refer to it until it feels automatic.

2. Unfriendly Competition

I have a friend who is ridiculously gifted in the musical arts, but I’m not sure if she’s aware of it. She’s a theatrical soprano with a vocal range that’s out of this world. With a degree in music and teaching, she truly loves singing, but something has stopped her from moving forward over the years. It’s her lack of belief in herself, and I sense that she doesn’t feel she deserves the creative fulfillment she longs for. This is something she needs to work past, but what’s also hurting her is her resentment of others who are putting themselves out there. “Oh my gosh, she’s so off key,” she quietly griped to me when we stopped at a trendy lounge to hear a jazz quartet led by a sultry singer. “I would sing it better!” The thing is most of the time, she’s absolutely right. She is the most talented vocalist in many scenarios. However, the tool these singers have that she lacks is the audacity to put themselves out there. They believe they’re good enough to be heard by the world, and sometimes that can trump the talent card. Believing in yourself and having the confidence to see your dreams through is a huge part of artistic success. If you want to grow as an artist, you have to embrace the vulnerability it takes to risk failure. You must get in the arena to let your voice be heard, as it’s hard to grow your artistry from the sidelines.  You may feel uncomfortable to begin with, but sharing your gift with others can unlock so many lessons in your creative journey. Don’t sell yourself short in life. The resentment you may feel towards other artists for varying reasons is a waste of energy, and it won’t serve you in reaching your own goals.

If you find comparison to be stifling to your art, be gentle with yourself about it. When the feeling consumes you, try this visualization. Close your eyes and let your mind relax. Take a deep abdominal breath and focus on your own unique creativity and the beauty of what you have to offer. Visualize yourself gently letting go of comparisons with other artists. Imagine that grip slowly loosening and let your whole body relax from head to toe. Allow yourself to acknowledge there is enough creation to go around. You are drawing from an unlimited source. Let your mind soak up the joy of your unique expression and gently open your eyes to a renewed sense of your creative worth.

3. Impatience; The Pitfall of Ambition

I’ll be honest. Patience is an ongoing lesson for me. I’ve always had a sense I was being chased through life in order to reach a finish line. I thought it meant I was driven, but the downside was that life felt harder when I stumbled on setbacks that were out of my control. I wound myself in knots when things didn’t move along, and felt like the punchline of  the “hurry up and wait.” joke about performers. It’s only in recent years I’ve smartened up to the benefits of stillness and calm while waiting for life’s outcomes.

One of the simplest ways I discovered this was through some good old-fashioned gratitude. Taking stock of all the things in life we have to be thankful for shifts our perspective when we’re  waiting to hear back about an opportunity. When I feel that familiar panic creep in, I take a full bodied breath and begin to focus on things like my family, my loving partner, and the creative successes I’ve already had, and it brings me back to the present. In fact, studies show that gratitude increases people’s self control and their ability to wait for things. This can help us think more clearly about what it is we genuinely want, and then attain it in a more methodical way. When you feel the death grip of impatience take hold, jot down a list of everything you’re truly thankful for. Read that list back and feel your outlook shift back into the present moment.

4. People Will Talk

Every self help book out there proclaims the importance of not worrying what people think, and creatively, it may be the hardest one to put into practice. When you walk into an audition room or submit a manuscript to a publisher, you’re putting yourself out there for others to appraise your creative effort. The way your work is marketed or whether you even get hired basically depends on their opinion. This is a common one that trips up many artists. With the right strategy though, it’s completely  possible to be true to your vision, but still cater to the parameters of an audience.

It’s about recognizing and holding onto what’s most important to you. Make a list of your artistic core values. These virtues give your work its integrity, and are the real reason you’re choosing creativity. They’re the things you won’t compromise on while practicing or promoting your craft. It could be your discipline that drives you to create at least two hours a day, or it could be your technique that inspires each piece of work to be its best quality. It could also be the vision of how your work will eventually be unveiled to the world, or possibly your resilience in knowing it won’t happen overnight. These values should be close to your heart and provide inspiration when you refer to them. Whenever you feel uncertain about a creative choice, this list will give you the clarity or decisiveness you need. It will also help you see through uncertainty and remind you why you chose this path.

5. Fitting In Where You Don’t Belong

How many times has someone given you the generic advice, “Just be yourself!” As a youngster, I always scratched my head at this phrase, since I wasn’t sure exactly what it meant. Just doing whatever you want and not caring about anyone’s opinion? Seemed a bit simplistic. As I matured, I realized perhaps what it actually means is that you’ve got to know yourself, and be honest about who you are.  

Most of us have been raised to blend in, which is kind of sad. At a developmental age, that behaviour doesn’t really nurture the goal of getting to know who we are at a core level. Secondly, as artists, it doesn’t help us recognize what makes our heart sing creatively. You may have grown up in a house that idealized stiff societal norms or hung around people with narrow ideas on life choices. If that sounds familiar to you, it’s important now that you honestly check in with what you love, what you can’t stand, what makes you unique, and what you actually value. Listen carefully to that inner voice and let go of the static noise around you. If you’ve always known exactly who you are and what you want, that’s an amazing gift. Hold onto it and preserve it throughout your creative journey.

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