Where You Can Find Inspiration

Photograph of a dead end sign, a railroad crossing sign, and a stop sign all at the same overgrown intersection.

If we are all born creative, why do we often feel uninspired, blocked even? Sometimes it’s because we’ve filled our brains, our days, and our lives with so many obligations and responsibilities. We “forget” how to relax, how to be bored, and how to have fun. 

Remember the brain’s response to danger: the fight, flight, or freeze response? When we get into that creative rut or blocked state, our mind responds as if we are in danger. We have to train ourselves how to get out of that fighting, fleeing, or freezing response. Need ideas on how to train your brain out of the danger response? Here’s a baker’s dozen of exercises to try.

1. Pretend 

Put on a real or imaginary cape and be a superhero or a daring damsel or dude. Be a detective for a day. That kind of play doesn’t appeal to you? Fine. Go to (or host) a mystery dinner party. 

Grab a few friends and do an escape room (also called a puzzle or riddle room). Play a game of what if. Play an in-person role-playing game. (Online games are fine if they spark creative ideas for you, but playing the same game over and over may no longer be an idea generator.) Cos Play can be helpful if you allow your character to deviate from the original story. 

2. Design

Design a house, a dress, a garden, or whatever for a particular type of person. It can be very crude. Include a room or some place the homeowner can hide his deepest secret. What’s his secret? 

3. Sit in Silence

Quiet your mind. We often have so many things floating around inside that our creative minds get shouted down. When thoughts come up, tell yourself you will remember that later, and return to the quiet. 

Ground yourself. Feel the ground, the chair you sit in, the air.

Be present in the moment. Anything non-life-threatening can wait for five or ten minutes.  

4. Take a Breather

Take a break for 10 minutes or 10 days. Long or short is your choice. Walk away from your project, your desk, or creative space. Don’t think about your current project or lack of project. Every time you think about it, tell yourself you can’t think about that. If you’re getting bored, that’s a good thing. 

5. Change Things 

Often we become so accustomed to our daily routines, our must-dos and should dos that doing anything else is uncomfortable. Step outside of your comfort zone. I’m not saying do something that isn’t safe for you. But look at your habits, your routines, and shake it up. Temporary or long-term change is up to you. 

Change the structure of your day — too much and too little structure can be detrimental to creativity. Too much structure stifles. Too little structure leads to too many options and paralysis of thought. 

6. Be Curious

photo of a curious cat sits on a bed staring at a laptop screen

Spend an hour, a day, a week exploring the ideas that appeal to you. Allow yourself to follow that rabbit hole of research and all its branches. Go to a museum or a historical site. Sometimes our creative well has run dry and needs refilled. Let your curiosity lead you to your creative mind’s next watering hole. 

7. Learn Something

Watch a documentary about a place or subject you’re curious about. Find items in your home that are related to that place or subject. If there aren’t any, find a video, an image, texture, or scent that are related. Think about why this subject or place interested you. 

8. Exercise

Do gentle exercises for 20 minutes. A walk outside is best for sparking creative ideas, but in the gym can work too. Breathe deep breaths. Get the blood pumping. Give your body what it needs to help you feel better and be more creative. 

9. Do Something Boring

Knit or wash the dishes or rake the yard. Do a mundane household chore that doesn’t take much thinking and let your mind wander. 

10. Go Window Shopping. 

Touch textures. Find an item that you find useless or repulsive and tell yourself stories about the person who would buy that item. Find a tool that you aren’t familiar with, give it a function. 

11. People Watch 

Go to a public location (park, a shopping center, etc.) Every fifth person you see, decide what their occupation is based on their looks alone. (The homebound can watch people out a window or do an image search on google. Search for photos of shoppers or crowds.) If that grows boring, imagine what secret they’ve kept for all their lives. 

12. Play the Alphabet Game. 

The subject of the game is your craft. For example, if I did this game for stained glass ideas I could do something like: A is for Ambient light, B is for Bevel, C is for Came, D is for Dichroic Glass, etc.

13. Laugh

Photo of two ostriches, one is of his head only with his beak open as if he's laughing.

The key is to find something that makes you genuinely laugh. Wear Grouch Marx glasses, make faces in the mirror, listen to your favorite comedian, watch a funny movie. Sometimes allowing ourselves to enjoy absurdity generates new ways of looking at things. 

A Note About These Ideas

You might have noticed that most of these are ways to get your mind out of the rut of being stuck or overwhelmed. A lot of them involve telling yourself a story. That’s because stories are integral to being human. We think in stories, remember by story, and relate to one another with stories. It’s okay if you start off thinking, “this won’t work, I know it’s a trick.” Of course you do. But do it anyway. 

For me, finding a regular time and place to create has been crucial. My creativity recognizes that time and place and is ready to work when I show up. 

Perhaps the best thing is to adopt a mindset a wise friend quoted to me. “There is no failure if you learn from doing it.” (Thank you T.M.!)

Need more ideas? Check out Reignite Your Creativity.

Last Words

It’s unlikely every one of these exercises will work for you. Find one or two that do. Put the others in a notebook or on a list to try next time. 

Creativity ebbs and flows. It’s kind of its nature. Next time you hit a slow spot, remind yourself that you know what this is. Name it if you can (fight, flight, freeze). Pick an activity off your list and give your creative mind what it needs. In time, you’ll find things that nearly always work for you. Remember, you’ll always need a list of exercises to trick that creative mind into going back to work when your brain screams “danger!”

Please share your go-to exercise to break out of a creative rut.

Image Credits

Top photo by The Silverdalex on Unsplash

Middle photo by Catherine Heath on Unsplash

Last photo by Fabian Kleiser on Unsplash

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