This is part II of a two-part series on tackling creative mental blocks. Read part I here.
Pulling yourself out of a creative rut can seem like a monumental task, especially when you’re being pushed into a corner by deadlines and ever-increasing task lists that demand your attention as well.
We’ve already established in part I why and how taking a break works better to unleash your creativity than forcing it. But what happens when you don’t have the time to take a break? Worse, what if you’ve already tried to let loose and distract yourself, then came back to the creative task only to find yourself still creatively blocked?
Simple: change your perspective. In innovation and creativity in general, there’s always a central problem statement that you’re trying to find a solution to. Besides ensuring that this statement needs to be clearly defined, the creativity of your solutions depends greatly on how well you can approach the problem from a different perspective.
To quote Questlove, frontman of the Grammy Award-winning band The Roots, “mental reorientation is half the battle; often times, it’s the other half too.”
As it turns out, there are several ways to do this; here are a few practical ones you can try for your next creative session.
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As discussed in part I, the incubation stage is a vital part of the creative process. Mental fixation, however, thwarts it. When you find yourself focusing excessively on the same few ideas to no effect, it’s probably because you’re cognitively stuck.
Mental re-orientation can help to fix this. Acclaimed psychologist Edward de Bono advocated this as early as 1967 when he coined the term “lateral thinking.”
It refers to a mode of creative problem-solving that requires a “creative approach [to the problem] via reasoning.” Where convergent thinking refers to analytical thinking and divergent thinking refers to creative thinking, lateral thinking is a marriage of the two.
In other words, it’s about being creative about the way you understand the problem that you’re trying to creatively solve in the first place. Most of the time, though, we fail to do this because of our cognitive biases.
We tend to be inhibited by cognitive biases that perpetuate mental fixation. According to the Harvard Extension School, “the curse of knowledge” is one such cognitive bias.
The deeper our knowledge of a particular subject, the more rigid we tend to be in conceptualising particular problems. Creativity, though, requires greater flexibility of thought, which is what lateral thinking promotes.
By simply asking “what if,” we’re questioning the assumptions upon which we base our ideas on and forcing ourselves to see things from a new perspective. This helps us to approach the problem from an entirely different angle, which makes it much easier to engage in creative problem-solving.
Sometimes, you just need a new pair of eyes. This doesn’t necessarily mean asking someone else for their opinion. Adopting a child-like mindset can do wonders for your creativity. It’s no wonder since children often have wild imaginations and aren’t afraid to explore them. In other words, they’re better at cognitive disinhibition, which is essential for creativity to flourish.
If you’re having trouble questioning assumptions, for example, having a child-like mindset can be surprisingly helpful. Children feed their natural curiosity and never stop asking “why?” Likewise, allow your mind to explore all avenues, and persist in asking why you conceived of the problem a certain way, or why you keep fixating on a particular idea or solution.
Another way to re-conceptualise your creative task is to have a “beginner’s mindset.” As opposed to experts, beginners have fresher eyes and fresher minds. They are less hampered by the status quo and more driven powered by curiosity, since their priority is learning. Steve Jobs, for one, actively practiced the beginner’s mindset in his lifetime after being inspired by Zen Buddhism.
Most of all, for cognitive disinhibition to occur, you need to hold off your self-evaluation. So often, we cut ourselves off prematurely because we’re overly critical of ourselves. As a result, we exacerbate our creative blocks by inducing “paralysis by analysis.”
When you’re trying to overcome a creative block, your priority is to let your mind go wild and truly disinhibit yourself. If you’re overly critical of each new idea you come up with, you’re standing in your own way.
Creativity, by definition, is about coming up with new ideas that other people didn’t think of. The process leading up to it doesn’t always look great. In fact, you’re almost definitely going to come up with bad ideas along the way. Accepting that as part of the journey towards creativity is crucial.
Questlove said it best; “every flat piece of paper that has the beginnings of an actual drawing is made possible by the hundreds of balled-up false starts in the conceptual garbage can.”