How To Overcome Creativity Blocks
Here’s 5 tips to beat your creative blocks, shift out of fear and into mindful awareness and gentle curiosity, and keep creating!
There are many things that keep us from accessing our creative potential. They show up in the form of subconscious stories. Here are the most common stories I hear that keep people from making art (keep in mind, these are unhelpful thought patterns that block your creativity):
#1. First and foremost, art is visual. Your art is, therefore, worth what it looks like at the end. The process is, therefore, worthless. If you aren’t good at art, trying to make some is likely going to prove a giant waste of time. Worse than that, it’s going to be downright embarrassing because everyone will have hard, tangible proof of your ineptitude. In cooking, you find out how well you did at the end with a bite. In art, you are reminded with each moment just how terrible your art is. So, there’s no point.
#2. It’s a freaking commitment. We have to bust out these ridiculous supplies and sit there for long periods of time with our inner critic, and that sucks. If I’m not really good at art, it’s painful and annoying to suffer that agony. Sure, a paint night or one-time thing is nice, but it’s too much of a hassle to bring into my life.
#3. It’s playful, and therefore I don’t need to do it. Playful things are for children and don’t make much sense for adults to incorporate into a serious life of work. Honestly, I don’t want to look childish or stupid.
#4. I’m uninspired. I don’t have ideas of what to do even if I did want to create. I would feel lost and wind up feeling even more uncreative than I did before I set out to start.
#5. I already know how it’s going to go. The idea that we’ve tried it as kids, there’s no need to try again. We’ve moved on.
Hold some space with these followup question to this internal rhetoric:
Would we look less stupid getting drunk with our friends than we would painting? Which is more childish? Is it the set up? Is it doing it alone? Or if we create in a group, is it the comparison aspect?
Why may it sound more childish for an adult to whip out markers than a guitar? Sure, there may be the element of skill (one could argue people typically don’t just pick up a guitar unless they have skill), but which sounds more childish: an adult wanting to draw or learn the guitar? Why?
Is there a societal belittling of craft making? Do you have a personal belittling of craft making?
Do you have to show anyone your art? Do you have to keep it?
Why do you care so much what it looks like? What does this say about where you are placing the value in the activity?
Isn’t play important for adults? Doesn’t play increase a sense of importance and belonging in the world and release stress and improve learning?
Have you looked into the science of flow states?
Have you ever just started creating to see what comes out?
Is telling yourself you lack inspiration perhaps a self-fulfilling prophecy?
When was the last time you created and consciously monitored how you felt before, during and after?
Sit with those questions for a moment. See what answers arrive and feel true for YOU. In the meantime, let's pivot and discuss the idea of "doxa".
When we start to ask these questions, we can see this cultural Doxa around it. Doxa is Greek for appear, and authors like Hanne Blank have used this word to explain the stuff that just accumulates and somehow becomes unspoken societal confirming norms. This is the collective consciousness. It’s almost like a cloud that grows from the emissions of everyone’s beliefs and thoughts and sticks and hangs over cities and areas and gets absorbed in the air. Doxa is the organic growth of constructing meaning between and among ourselves by way of finding order and relation to the world. From locking our doors to handshakes to honeymoons, there are patterns that form over time and bubble up into accepted traditions and habits and even thought patterns. This has many large implications, obviously, and is a nice way of conceptualizing social constructions. Put another way, it’s the unconscious and conscious thoughts you inherited from society.
One of the implications that fascinates me is the “doxic” pressure to conform to the belief that math, medicine, science, religion, art, philosophy, metaphysics, and so on inherently live in different buckets. And if you aren’t good at one, you should stick to your bucket. But there are many of us who don’t just have one area of interest. This is something that blocks us from creating.
Another factor that stems from the cultural milieu is the story that art is childish, unimportant or reserved for those born into the art bucket. This all makes up “Your Personal Art History” as Malchiodi describes in her book The Art Therapy Sourcebook. She says at some point along our childhood we learn to stop creating. Sometimes it came from within, as a form of critical thought, or sometimes it originated in another person’s comments. It creates shame. And shame blocks us from creating. Ultimately, shame is handed off like a baton and never originates from birth (no babies come into the world ashamed of crying all night and needing constant attention, no, they know they are worthy of love).
But I think as we practice art meditation, we come to see another, larger doxic truth. Mindful art shows us how rooted we are in fear. This may be a species wide truth, rather than cultural, but I do believe we primarily operate on a fear-based system. Why would combining art and meditation help illuminate this unfortunate pattern? Well, when you start to commit to the practice, you amplify that inner voice, and you start hearing how afraid it is. You start hearing the subconscious messaging you’ve been fed for years. You hear voices that are your own but that don’t make sense why they’d be your own. Once you recognize a pattern within, you can start to recognize a pattern within yourself and you can more readily notice the pattern within others. But you can also soften to this truth, and realize how human it is. Oddly, to me, hearing this internal and extrapolating it to the external human experience allows us to reveal cultural doxa that we are separate and shows more universalities of humanity. We can also then see that so much of our inner operations come from that seat of fear, rather than that seat of trust. Gabriella Bernstein talks about fear and love being opposites. I believe fear and trust are opposites. So when we create and maybe hear some voices of fear, it allows us to flirt with what is giving us distrust or touch those voices that we may want to place less weight on. We go in to see our own fear so that we can say, “Where is this coming from and why am I obeying it?” When we see the inner patterns of following fear, we can see that so much of society is built upon fear.
And creative blocks usually come from fearful thinking (self-criticism, judgement, doubt, etc.).
Mindful art helps you become in tune with where thoughts come from, and how often the mind sends you thoughts that are untrue.
How do we keep creating with the fear?
Here’s 5 tips to shift the fear into mindful awareness and gentle curiosity, and keep creating:
#1. Use the visual quality to your advantage in anchoring you in your senses. Continue to cultivate the awareness of where the thoughts go, and then give permission to redirect to the sensory input of the body rather than the internal input from the brain. Ask questions like, what does it feel like to see this?
#2. Change your mindset around the commitment aspect of artwork creation. It doesn’t have to be the largest commitment of your life. Start small, and try to view the dedication as a beautiful thing, or maybe even an experiment.
#3. Enjoy the play without judging yourself. Steve Nachmanovitch calls this idea of turning off the thinking mind disappearing in his book Free Play. It’s easy to say this, it is so unbelievably hard to not judge yourself, especially during any activity that requires you to go inward.
#4. If you aren’t feeling inspired or bogged down, you can still create. Sometimes these are the best moments to create. You can close your eyes and move from within, you can forcibly write out whatever words are in your head and create images around them, you can draw whatever you see, etc. There are so many ways to find inspiration, and you’ll be amazed that there is a never-ending well of source within you. May sound dramatic, but it’s true!
#5. Just create something once a month to start. Be conscious and see how it feels. This doesn’t have to become a daily ritual, but when you notice it as an effective stress-reliever, it can then be added to your toolbox of options to explore. If it resonates, it can grow into a spiritual practice. Heck, you can even sign up for the Master Peace Box for monthly art classes ;)
Suggestions for further reading: Mindful Drawing and Art As A Way of Knowing.
Something we may tell ourselves is that we are not ready to dive into this practice, and I believe there is some serious validity to this. Sometimes you may not be ready to address your healing, you may not be ready to face what’s going on inside. And that is okay! Know that when you are ready, these tools and ways of practice will always be there.
But when you do want to commit to going inward, I highly encourage you to try art as a meditation, because it will get you deep inside you and deeply rooted to the world outside you too.