Stress has a way of shutting our creative minds down, often when we need them the most. A big presentation, an important client, a looming deadline – all of these can turn off the flow of creativity like a tap. But there are ways to avoid the stress trap. If your well has run dry, try these tips to get those creative juices flowing once again.
1. Brainstorm. It’s an oldy, but a goodie. Sometimes your mind just needs to break free of rigidly structured thinking in order to bust the logjam loose. Brainstorming is a great way to get out of your own way. It also helps you break out of the circular thought patterns that we all tend to get trapped in when we’re stressed.
The key to effective brainstorming, however, is shutting off that pesky internal critic. During a brainstorming session, no idea is too weird, too wacky or even too mundane. Just let them all flow. You can sort and rank them later, if need be. But for the time being just let the tap flow.
2. Mindmapping. Sometimes it’s easier to find new connections and ideas if you put them out where you can see them. Mindmapping is related to brainstorming, but is much more visual. To create a mindmap, you write down the main idea or starting point in the center of a piece of paper (or, better yet, a whiteboard or other large erasable surface), and surround it with related ideas, drawing a line from each idea to the core to show the connection. You repeat this process for each secondary idea and so on, until you run out of ideas or come up with the solution you were looking for.
For example, if you were trying to create an ad to sell ice cream, you’d put “ice cream” in the middle of your mindmap. Around that, you might write, “taste,” “associations,” “partner foods,” etc. Around “associations,” you might cluster ideas like summer, dessert, breaking up, pregnant women and birthday parties. Around “taste” might be sweet, cold, fruity, creamy, etc. As you build your mindmap, new ideas will grow out of old ones and new connections will appear that you never would have thought of before. Simply continue adding and connecting until you run out of ideas or solve your problem.
3. Distract yourself with other creative tasks. Sometimes it’s best to just go do something else for a while and let your brain get on with its work without you in the way. You’ve got all that nervous energy flowing anyway; you might as well do something fun with it. Try working on a craft project, writing some poetry, gardening, doodling – whatever you enjoy. You’ll still be engaging your creative mind, but the distraction will allow your brain to quit beating itself against the problem and relax. And that’s when the ideas will start to flow.
4. Go for a walk. Physical activity spurs mental activity. When you get your body up and moving, your brain tends to loosen up and get moving as well. You may not be thinking about your problem consciously, but subconsciously your mind will still be working on it. Plus, all that fresh oxygen you’re pumping into the brain will wake you up, snap you out of your fugue and reenergize your thinking. Before you know it, that knotty problem will have unwound itself and you’ll feel better, to boot.
5. Make like a sponge. Sometimes anxiety is just a symptom of burnout, or that you’ve used up all your resources and are running on fumes. In order for creativity to flow, there has to be a balance between input and output. To restore that balance, take a few hours off and go somewhere where you can replenish your mental stores. Museums, bookstores, interesting shops, magazine sellers, galleries and other such places are great places to reload your mind and restore your mental balance. Once you’re refreshed and refueled, you’ll return to your problem with renewed energy and creativity.
Copyright 2008 David Bohl and SlowDownFast.com. All rights reserved.
Thanks to FitBuff.com for including this post in the Total Mind and Body Fitness Carnival, to Tip Diva for featuring this post in the Carnival of Tips, and to Your Health Guide for publishing this post in the Carnival of Inspiration and Motivation.