creativity conundrum

The Creativity Conundrum: 7 Ways To Smash Through Creative Barriers

creativity conundrum

If you’ve ever put pen to paper, brush to canvas, plucks to a guitar string or any of the million other creative endeavors out there, you’ve probably undergone the creative process.  The creative process is the process where ideas, inspirations and feelings are moved from an abstract concept to a physical manifestation through effort.  A good way to think about it is to reverse engineer it.

Envision a sculpture. Before it was a beautiful masterpiece or hideous ostentation, it was a piece of material being worked on.  Before it was a piece of material being worked on, it was a sketch or blueprint of the vision’s endpoint. And before it was a sketch or blueprint, it was a spark of inspiration nestled within the mind of its creator.  This process is iterative and often fluctuates between imagination and reality as creations are worked upon and improved.

concept effort thing creativity

The creative process is important because we are innately and biologically programmed to create.  We don’t possess sharp teeth, claws or many of nature’s traditional survival mechanisms.  The result has been a reliance on intellect and imagination to fashion tools that support our flourishment.  We are also highly emotional beings that best express these intangibles through mediums of dance, art, music, invention and story-telling.  In today’s modern culture, creativity serves to propel us socioeconomically, express our individuality in a crowded world and advance the prosperity of humanity.  It is the unifying force that bonds us emotionally and moves us physically.

The Creativity Conundrum

The “creativity conundrum[1]” is a catchy term for when the creative process is disrupted.  This causes an inability to parse ideas/inspirations/feelings through effort into reality.

Writer’s block is a classic example.  It’s kind of like limbo for writers; you’re unsure of where to begin or how to move forward with a piece of writing.  The intention is to write something through to completion, but the distance between idea and finished work feels too great.  This can be frustrating, demotivating and downright depressing.

The following 7 strategies are intended to provide perspective to help you smash through creative barriers whenever you find yourself stuck or struggling.

1) Commit To Action

“Inaction may be safe, but it builds nothing.” – Dave Freudenthal, former Governor of Wyoming

Creativity is highly personal.  It takes courage to take something from within and share it with the world.  Many times, we want our projects to be perfect – after all, they represent a piece of who we are.  So we procrastinate.  We fantasize more about the end point than what it might take to get there.  If we manage to get started, perfectionism sets in like a stagnant puddle, breeding mosquitoes of doubt and insecurity.  We swap this color for that color, replace this note with that note.  Eventually, the original flash of brilliance we had hoped to forge into the world becomes disjointed and falls apart.  Then we quit.

When you commit to action, you silence the noise floating around your head and produce something.  Yes, it may suck.  But a finished product is better than nothing and going through the process of building a piece of work teaches you necessary skills and lessons to be able to do it again.  You can’t become a poet without writing poetry.  You can’t become an amazing chef without cooking.  Even if you only create for the fun of it, it takes time and effort to achieve proficiency.

Put your phone away.  Get rid of distractions.  Get into the zone.  Get to work.  Set small milestones such as practicing piano for at least 15 minutes a day.  Make it a habit to create something.  Push yourself and experiment.  Judge yourself only on the action you’re taking and lessons you’re learning.  Have fun 😊.

2) Stop Beating A Dead Horse

Everything is best taken in moderation and action is no exception.  Whenever you begin to experience creative burnout and it feels like you’re beating a dead horse with a foam mallet, it may be wise to take a break and recharge your creative batteries.  This requires some self-awareness.

Do you have things going on in other areas of your life that may be contributing to your burnout?  Do you feel demotivated, uninspired or bored?  Has growth stalled?  Are you tired, stressed or anxious?  Would time off to generate new experiences and ideas be beneficial?  Are you pushing yourself too hard?  These are some solid starting questions for developing self-awareness to determine if a break or change of pace is in order.

If you determine you need some time off, don’t be afraid to take it.  Your Instagram followers will survive.  Just like a muscle requires stress and recovery to grow, so does creativity.  Be strategic to ensure you’re taking care of yourself.  Is creating detracting from your health, happiness, finances, relationships or sense of self?  If it is, do you have a plan to balance things out after you finish your project?  Be wary not to let your love for creation destroy your ability to live an elevated existence.

3) Go Out And Explore Life

Robert Greene, author of The 48 Laws of Power, had over 80 jobs before writing his first best-selling novel.  His vastness of experience combined with a passion for history provided the perception to pull various power plays from different industries around the world and throughout time into a well-organized, stingingly real creative masterpiece.  He was also well into his 30s for all you impatient Millennials out there.

Our creativity is often limited by our experience and imagination.  If you’re having trouble generating new ideas or creative associations, try going out and exploring life. Travel somewhere new.  Start playing the banjo because you saw Steve Martin do it and think he’s awesome.  Change your style up.  Meet new people.  Experience the awkward real-life learning curve of stepping outside your comfort zone and looking like a fool.  It can be as extreme or as simple as you want it. Heck, even going to a restaurant you’ve never been to or exploring a street you’ve never been down can yield surprisingly meaningful experiences.

The key is to be intentional about it.  Don’t wait for inspiration or perspective to hit, go out and seek it.  When you explore different aspects of life, you develop a well-rounded sense of the world, other people and yourself.  It’s also good fun; after all life is meant to be lived.

4) Silence The Noise & Trust Yourself

We live in a tech-drenched world with instant access to billions of different ideas and opinions.  It’s great, you can learn pretty much anything anytime you want.  When I was starting this blog, I Googled “how to start a blog” and within milliseconds had access to thousands of helpful (and less-than-helpful) results.  It made it easy to know what I could do and how I could do it.  But it never provided the why.  It never reached into my psyche and pulled out the pieces of me begging to be shared.  Creativity is, at its core, self-expression.  No amount of information or outside influence can manufacture that – it’s up to you.

Take some time to tap into your core.  What do you feel?  What do you need to express?  Stop relying on external influences and ideas to build something.  Don’t use the success and advice from others as a crutch.  Trust yourself; your voice is important, your story is rich, and you have something to say.  I love this quote from Sylvia Plath that goes: “And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”

5) Kill The Ego

This one can be challenging in our individualistic, flashy society.  Owen Cook, co-founder of Real Social Dynamics, shot a video with peer Julien Blanc titled: Are You Living As A Legend IN YOUR OWN MIND?  The central premise of the video argues that many people are so keen on perceiving themselves as “legends” that they close off external feedback that could actually help them get there.  This results in a paradigm where you think you’re awesome, but in reality, you might kind of suck.  You probably knew a wannabe rapper in high school like this, thinking they’d be the next Jay-Z even though they had the proficiency and work ethic of an autistic sloth.

Practice some humility.  Is the feedback you’re getting truly nonsense from “haters” or might you be missing something?  Learn to discern good from bad feedback.  I read something somewhere from someone that was along the lines of, “only take feedback from people who understand you, your vision, and what you’re trying to accomplish.”  Seek different perspectives, especially the ones that make you queasy and challenge your own.  Stop comparing yourself to others if it turns you into a pool of self-conscious Jell-O or erects a golden statue of your own excellence.  Be you.  Be willing to suck, to learn, to fail.  Kill the ego, but hold onto your self-worth and authentic creative voice.

6) Mix It Up

My favorite thing to write about is life, philosophy and personal development.  I’ve begun to settle into a niche and have developed a decent amount of work within that niche.  With that said, it gets boring from time to time and I don’t always feel inspired to write on the topic.  If you’re engaged in any type of focused creative endeavor, I’m sure you can relate.

Last week, I spent a night with friends making bracelets for an upcoming music festival.  Silly colorful beaded bracelets.  It was awesome.  Not only was it awesome, my niche creativity got pulled into it (I made a bracelet with the words memento mori) and I can now use that experience to reinforce a point in this article.  The simple act of doing something different inspired creativity in two unique outlets.

Don’t fear mixing it up.  This may sound like total common sense, but it’s easy to fall into a creative pigeon hole and stay there because that’s what we do.  Take creative risks.  Write a fiction piece if you’re a non-fiction writer (I still need to do this).  Sing country if you specialize in R&B.  Watch a play.  Go to a pottery studio for no other reason than to have fun.  You might be surprised with the number of new creative associations that arise from branching out.

7) Have Fun

At last we arrive at perhaps the most important one.  Without fun, creativity is lifeless.  Art fails to take on the spirit of its creator and the onlooker can sense it.  We’ve seen when T.V. series hit their end, the characters dull and dispassionate and the story unimaginative.  We’ve heard music that sounds like it was produced in a lab rife with sterile beats and repetitive lyrics.  Fun is essential to be able to create in a way that resonates with you and connects with others.

Find the beauty in the process.  Fall in love with editing sentences over and over and over.  Relish the frustration that accompanies learning a new piece of recording software.  Laugh at the sketch marks that fall outside the lines.  Be grateful for the voice cracks at those new high notes.  <!– Have fun commenting out every screwed up line of code. –>  Taste each slightly burnt slab of cookery.  Keep smiling at those straggling sprouts.  Cherish every glare-soaked photograph.

The mark of a true artist isn’t fame, accomplishment, money or number of endorsements.  No, a true artist is one who practices the art of creation day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year for no other reason than the love of the craft, the joy of creation and the zest for a life invigorated.


[1] It’s also used in other mediums and can have different meanings.  This is my definition.

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  1. Sherri B.

    You hit the nail on the head with this article. When I go back to school as a SPED 👩🏼‍🏫 teacher again this year, I’m going to look 👀 more outside the box and expand my creativity in the classroom while balancing what the students need to get accomplished to move on to their next level! It’s all about balance, teaching with joy and working towards a growth outcome for myself and my students!

    • Michael Blowers

      I love this response and how you bring up balance. I think it’s easy to focus myopically on either creating or executing that we forget it takes a combination of BOTH to attain many of the outcomes we’re seeking. Creativity will keep the students engaged and interested while that overarching picture of giving them what they NEED will keep them on track. Best of luck and success on your growth and that of your students! 🙂

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