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Brand & Advertising November 21, 2018

Battling the creative block: three practical tips + one that’s less practical

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All creatives have a creative block every now and then. Even though you’ve been staring at your screen for hours, nothing seems to pop up. Quite frustrating, right? Isn’t there a practical solution against this creative mental breakdown? Is there a way to spark your creativity? Luckily for you, the answer is ‘yes’. This article will provide you with three practical tips that will help you to get back into your creative flow instantaneously – based on scientific insights, of course. Oh, and you’ll get one completely impractical bonus tip that you’re guaranteed to enjoy. It’s on the house, you’ve earned it.

It all starts with fuel

So your project is due any time soon and you still haven’t got any ideas written down on paper or on your screen. The pressure is rising, your self-esteem is declining, but, keep breathing! Literally.

While under pressure, you tend to neglect the rhythm of your breath. However, it’s this rhythm which influences your heartbeat; an irregular breathing pattern results in an irregular heart rhythm. And this ‘heart’ thingy just happens to be the pump that provides your brain – that magical place where all your brilliant ideas come to life – with sweet, fresh oxygen. Without those rhythmic and deep breaths, your creative house of cards will simply collapse instantaneously.

Make that pump work in your benefit! Remember to focus on your breathing the next time that you’re feeling under pressure. Continuously breath in and out for five seconds (or four seconds in and four seconds out, or six-in-six-out. You know what, you’re an adult, see for yourself what works best for you). Keep doing this and you’re already halfway into solving your creative problems. By doing this, you’re providing your brain with that quality fuel it desires so much. By the way, if you feel like you need a second opinion on this, check out this two-part TEDx Talk by Dr Alan Watkins for further elaboration: part 1, 18 min; part 2, 26 min.

All right, we’re breathing. But what else can you do? Well, be prepared to say goodbye to your chair. Are you stuck? Then walking is the way to go (pun intended).

Put things in motion

Several experiments have shown time and time again that being active makes you more creative. Sitting might feel comfortable, but people who walked during brainstorming came up with 60% more ideas. And that’s not all, even after these walking, creative masterminds sat down, they were still more creative than participants that were seated during the entire experiment. You might want to consider a walk for your next brainstorm session.

“But my iPhone Xs Max Plus XXL says it’s going to rain/storm/snow”, thus the critical readers amongst us. Chill. This tip is solely about movement: these experiments have been conducted both indoors and outdoors. Your creative brain does not care where you walk, as long as you walk. Although, it’s not actually about walking to be fair. It’s more about ‘being active’. Remember, however, your activity shouldn’t be too demanding that it ends up distracting you. Walking a marathon won’t make you a creative master, only tired and sweaty.

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You’d rather not move a lot?

Have you finished your brainstorm walk? Then it’s time to put your brain to work by sleeping. This is probably everyone’s favourite tip!

Storytime! Not so long ago I hated my brain. I had been dreaming about my kitchen which – in my dream – was perfectly clean. Soon after I woke up though, I discovered that not only my kitchen was the perfect setting for a sensational episode of Kitchen Nightmares (please, don’t send Gordon Ramsey), but apparently, my brain had also used all its creative powers for such a lame dream. Next time I’d rather dream about flying to Mars in a beautiful red Tesla, or something like that.

And that’s exactly the entire point: you can dream about the weirdest things. During your sleep, your prefrontal cortex is less active. It’s this part of the brain that’s responsible for your logical thinking and inhibitions. For example, let’s say it’s really hot in your meeting room. It’s your prefrontal cortex that makes sure that you don’t instantly get undressed. This is great for your colleagues, but your logical thinking and inhibitions can also limit your creativity. After all, creativity is nothing more than combining existing concepts to form something new and valuable.

Research shows you’re able to associate more freely while asleep since your prefrontal cortex is semi-disabled. Participants that played Tetris before sleeping dreamt about the game. One participant indicated that he dreamt about designing a garden (his job) consisting out of Tetris-shapes, whereas another even dreamt about Tetris-shaped family members. These weird combinations arise because the inhibitions that constrain you during the day (“Keep those pants on”) are absent during night (“Why not try putting pants on your head? Yes, you look marvellous”).

So, what does this mean for your day-to-day creative process? Well, let’s say that your project is due tomorrow or maybe the day after that. Before going to sleep, take a quick glance at your work – please note that it says ‘glance’. Do not actively think about the project, since that might make you stare at the ceiling all night long. But, with a little bit of luck, you’ll come up with a totally new idea for your creative problem. Sweet dreams!

This is fun and all… but what about the not so practical tip?

Finally, the anticipation is over. After talking about breathing techniques as well as the impact of walking and sleep on your creativity, we’ve gotten to the bonus tip: sex.

Well, lucky you: you can actually boost your creativity through sex (forget about the sleeping tip, THIS is your new favourite!). When your evening comes to its climax, your brain explodes with the neurotransmitter oxytocin: the so-called ‘love hormone’ which is associated with creativity. That way you can get back to your creative project – complete with revived energy. All thanks to a tip. It isn’t very practical, though. After all, your partner isn’t readily available 24/7 for business and “I have a creative block” might also be the worst Tinder pick-up line ever.

Breath, sleep, walk, repeat: is that the secret recipe for creativity? No, it isn’t. There are many more techniques you can use (*cough* sex *cough*), but in the end creativity can only flow if you have sources of inspiration.

The basics: fill that grey matter

Those who are creative, have to combine ideas, words, colours, sounds to form new and valuable concepts. To build those new creations, however, you first need existing concepts to work with: a lot of concepts (and please interpret ‘concepts’ as broad as you can). Maybe you’ve seen inspiring street art that – combined with the corporate identity and a little bit of your finesse – results into a new, award-winning design.

So, stay curious. Discover new things. Go explore. Find inspiration in everything you see, hear, smell and feel. Challenge yourself to make new creative creations and let the above tips work to your advantage. Oh… and don’t forget to explain to your partner why you immediately grab a pen and a piece of paper when things start to get sexy.

Questions? We are here to help!