Fears can leave you blocked. Try these techniques to get back into creative flow.
There are two big questions floating around about creative block. Is it a real thing? And how do we beat it?
If you’re asking the second question, you’ve already answered the first one.
For a creative person, being blocked can feel like a wound to your identity. It’s not just about your work, it’s about how you think of yourself. Your creative work is part of who you are.
So if you’re stuck, what can you do?
You might need some new creative habits.
The power of habits is in triggering you to get to work (instead of obsessing about whether to get to work). You can develop habits for your daily creativity, and habits to battle whatever has you blocked, too.
All kinds of things can get in the way of creative flow, but one looming culprit is fear.
Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of not being good enough.
Fear of hard work. Fear of no one noticing the work you’ve done. Fear of wasting your time and energy.
Fear of sharing your authentic self. Fear of being judged. Fear of not meeting people’s expectations.
Your brain uses fear to keep you out of danger. Since you aren’t being trampled by woolly mammoths all that often, your nervous system has taken to warning you about the ways your creative work might be a threat to your social standing.
For example, fear kicks in when you start to move too far away from the mainstream, risking rejection. This makes a kind of sense, but for creatives, the good stuff often happens in that outside-the-box place.
The reward of creative success requires the risk of doing something new, something that others might not understand right away.
So how do you get past the fears?
Creative work habits can help. You can signal your creativity that it’s time to get to work by setting up at a specific time and place, or even by starting with a simple ritual like lighting a candle and pouring a cup of coffee.
You can develop the habit of dealing with fears, too. Practice noticing when they crop up. Call them out. Don’t let them grow into hulking, silent beasts stalking the periphery of your psyche. Invite them in, look at them in the light, and then try one of these strategies for calming them, so you can do your best work in the world.
Say what you fear.
Name it. Speak it out loud. As soon as you look directly at it, fear starts to lose its power. If it’s not hovering in the background anymore, you can define it and think about how to address it.
Feel your feelings.
Try acknowledging the fear for what it is, letting it wash over you, and then letting it go.
Imagine the worst-case scenario.
If your fear comes true, then what? What are the consequences? What happens next? What would you do?
When you let the whole story spool out in your mind, you might find that the consequences aren’t really that bad. Even if they are, having a contingency plan can help you set your fears aside and get to work.
Imagine the best-case scenario.
What if your fears don’t come true?
Instead of dwelling on what you have to lose, can you focus on what would happen if the work goes well? Who would be reached? How would things change? Isn’t that reward worth the risk?
Pretend no one will ever see it.
If you’re afraid of other people’s reactions, try telling yourself that this project (or this draft, or this phase) is just for you. No one else will ever see it unless you choose to show it to them.
Start small. Smaller than that.
If you’re paralyzed trying to accomplish big things, give yourself permission to start with the smallest possible piece. It’s hard to be afraid of teeny-tiny assignments.
Do it anyway.
Just do it. The slogan endures for a reason. As you push forward, working even though you feel stuck, you learn that you can keep going.
Or take a break.
Getting away from your desk might help shake the fears out of your head. Being refreshed and getting a new perspective never hurts.
- How to Deal with Creative Block and Creative Envy
- What Happens When We Listen To Ourselves
- Why Your Critics Aren’t The Ones Who Count
- A Guide to Beating the Fears That Are Holding You Back
No Sidebar: At Work
Need more ideas on setting up your own daily creative habits? Twyla Tharp wrote the book on it.
You might be familiar with Anne Lamott’s suggestion to write (ahem) sloppy first drafts. She has advice you’ll want to read on giving yourself short assignments, too.
No Sidebar: At Home
Try this simple, one-step method to get around a block and increase your creativity.
Or you could practice getting over your fears gradually, by turning them into everyday habits.
No Sidebar: In Your Soul
If gratitude is the opposite of fear, we should all try these six habits of highly grateful people.
These daily habits can bring happiness, no matter how the work is going.
But after all that—this is the most important thing to remember about creative habits.