5 Ways to Get Out of a Creative Rut
Being in a creative rut can make artists feel helpless, but there are always actions that can be taken to create change. If you find yourself in a creative rut, or experiencing ‘artist’s block’, first identify whether this is due to a lack of motivation to create, or inspiration of what to create. Sometimes we cling onto a painting or project that isn’t finished even though mentally we are already done with it; acknowledge that and allow yourself to move on and start again. You may be procrastinating on starting or finishing pieces, yet you have dozens of ideas of what you would like to sculpt, paint, illustrate, or design, or perhaps you may be searching for your next muse or spark. Whether it’s due to lack of motivation or inspiration, this article will provide you with five ways to get out of a creative rut.
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The Psychology of Productivity
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) works under the belief that our thoughts create feelings, which create behaviors, which shape our lives. If you find yourself in a creative rut, you can start by thinking as if you are not. Fill your thoughts with words of praise, affirmations, and positivity, as opposed to those of self-doubt. Self-efficacy is the belief that you are fully capable of success with the tools you already have. According to CBT, our thoughts create our feelings, therefore, as simplistic as it may sound, thinking positively really can make a major difference in your feelings, which will show in your behaviors. Cognitive distortions have the ability to shape our lives without us even realizing, a common example of this is all-or-nothing thinking.
All-or-nothing thinking refers to thinking of the extremes of a situation. Typically perfectionists tend to battle with all-or-nothing thinking, artists are known for battling with all-or-nothing creating. Say you have a painting that will take you approximately 12 hours to complete, if you are the type of artist who often does it all at once, start to finish, or won’t paint at all, this could be because you view creating as an all-or-nothing pursuit. Implementing ‘chunking’ can be incredibly beneficial to anyone guilty of all-or-nothing creating. Chunking refers to breaking up your to-do list, or your presenting problem, into ‘chunks’, or smaller segments. Then you would go on to complete one portion of the project at a time without feeling overwhelmed by the project as a whole. An example of chunking when creating could be committing to sketching for a small period of time every day.
Since many artists tend to identify as perfectionists, let’s take a deeper look at how a perfectionist mindset could be blocking you creatively. I personally know astounding artists that talk themselves out of creating, typically this is rooted in insecurities or fears. Whether it be their fear of rejection, failure, or lack of success, their insecurities have clouded them to the point of stillness. As an artist, it is important to remind yourself that your only competition is yourself. Don’t allow yourself to get swept up in comparing your artwork to others. Instead, reflect on your works that have brought you the most joy to date, work to experience that feeling again. Not everything you create is going to be ground-breaking, remind yourself each sketch, doodle, drawing, and painting are all essential parts of the process.
1. Do the Inner Work First
As cliche as it may sound, the most important relationship you have is with yourself. Artists are known for discovering or exposing sides of themselves through their work; is it possible you could be preventing yourself from creating due to a desire to shelter yourself? Are there parts of yourself that you aren’t completely comfortable with, or perhaps don’t want to share with others? Shadow work may be necessary to continue on your creative, and life path. Shadow work is the psychological practice of healing and accepting all parts of yourself, including those you repress deep into your unconscious. Many believe that until you make your unconscious conscious it will guide your life. There are several art-based self-guided activities one can participate in to address their shadows.
Matthew Ansley, Unsplash
Inner work is not something that necessarily has a start and end. Your inner work should be constant to keep yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy. Other inner work that can make a tremendous difference in your daily life, to hopefully get you out of your current creative rut: exercise, yoga, meditation, affirmations, and clearing your space. Clear your space by cleaning your home, art studio, or wherever you frequent. Having a tidy space helps us feel more organized and ready to move forward. You may also benefit from creating a to-do list of everything that you’ve been putting off. Spend a day addressing all of your errands, chores, tasks, and appointments, then you won’t feel guilty creating, as everything else is already taken care of.
2. Discover Your Most Creative Hours
Have you ever sat down to paint, yet found yourself doing everything else instead? This could be because you’re not working during your natural creative hours. The 9-5 work schedule doesn’t work for most artists, while every artist differs, midnight hours tend to be productive for many. Whether it be due to a lack of the outside world interfering, feeling guided by the moonlight, or having the bulk of your day already addressed, working during the night may be most productive for you. On the other hand, perhaps you work best first thing in the morning. Figure out exactly which time frame, and hours of the day, you feel most creatively productive and make a mental note of that.
3. Create Deliberate Associations
The Pavlovian theory will be of great use when creating positive associations to promote creative productivity. Pair a stimulus with a conditioned response and you should yield positive results, for optimal success try to involve all five of your senses. For example, wearing the same outfit, eating the same snacks, and listening to the same album every time you create will naturally result in a conditioned association with the stimuluses and creating within yourself.
Perhaps you take a shower before you start creating to cleanse yourself physically and metaphorically. Create your own associations that trigger you to create. Also recognize how your already established associations could be stunting you; if you are constantly trying to draw from your bed, but have no success, this could be because your mind already deeply associates your bed with sleep. Allocating one area of your home strictly for creating, even if it's just one desk, should help establish a setting associated with creating.
Kelly Sikkema, Unsplash
4. Spend Time Consuming Artwork
Watch a documentary, a film, or even experience a virtual tour of an exhibition! Allow yourself to feel fully immersed in another artist’s work to refuel your inspiration. Shifting your lens to that of a consumer, as opposed to a creator, can be a liberating and necessary process in getting your creative juices flowing. Make sure to consume artwork that is new to you, don’t just watch your favorite television series again; encourage yourself to really experience other artists' work. Explore the great outdoors as well, since life imitates art.
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5. Just Move!
This may seem like an obvious one, but in order to create you must move. Express yourself through movement via dance, exercise, stretching, yoga—whatever feels natural. Even while you are creating it's important to give yourself breaks to just get up and move. Allow yourself to feel the sensation of movement. Emotion has been remarked as ‘energy in motion’, therefore to create work that reflects emotion we must first create motion. Even if you don’t have an idea of what you want to sketch, draw, paint, or sculpt, just allow yourself to feel the movement of creating, without focusing on the end result. Perhaps even draw with your eyes closed, however you get there, demand movement from yourself.
Morgan Petroski, Unsplash
You will get out of this rut, speak it into existence. You already have all the tools you need, just believe in yourself and trust your limitless potential.
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