Overcome Mental Blocks to Your Creativity

Identify and critique the inner critic

What is the inner critic? Many creatives recognize the inner critic as the internal voice often disguised as your own voice of reason, logic, common sense, and realism. Often this voice will also take on the tone of a parent, a teacher, a spiritual leader, or some other person of authority. Under the guise of trying to protect you or free from disappointment, the inner critic can talk you out of taking risks. It can talk you out of stretching yourself creatively, artistically, or even just personally. 

But how do you identify the inner critic? When thoughts of doubt and precaution flood your mind over some sort of artistic activity, pay attention to how you feel physically. Does your chest start to tighten? Do you suddenly feel deflated and defeated? Does your energy level drop? These could be signs that you’ve been affected by your inner critic. Does the voice of the inner critic take a similar tone to one of a parent, teacher, or spiritual leader? Do you suddenly feel the need to be “more realistic and tone down your expectations?

Under the guise of trying to protect you or free from disappointment, the inner critic can talk you out of taking risks.

How do you know when to receive the inner critics’ advice or dismiss it? If your inner critic encourages you to retreat in fear or criticizes your abilities, knowledge, or skill level, then you might want to stuff a cloth in its mouth. If your inner critic attacks you personally, saying you are not good enough, you don’t know enough, other people are better than you, you’ll never make it; why even bother? Again stuff a sock in its mouth. If your inner critic encourages you to look at thing realistically but leaves the possibility of success open, then you might heed its cautions.

Is the inner critic all that bad? I don’t think the inner critic is out and out malicious. It’s not all black or white. But it is important to identify the source and the advice of the inner critic. Does what the inner critic say help you advance further in your work and your goals? Does your inner critic encourage you to give up and retreat? Does your inner critic ground you with sound ideas or deflate you and leave you feeling lost? Answers to these questions will help you determine whether or not you should silence your inner critic.

Rewrite the mental scripts that keep you stuck

Limiting beliefs cause us to carry out the programming from these interactions for years and years without understanding the source from which our wounding originates. And conversely, the negative programming further perpetuates our limiting beliefs, developing a vicious cycle. These scripts become the very hurdles we believe we are unable to surmount.

Reciting negative scripts activates our limiting beliefs. Rejection, harsh words, betrayal, and general mistreatment serve to demotivate us and keep us in a place of stagnancy and stunted growth. However, there are ways to heal from these past wounds so that we can redirect our future toward the positive goals you yearn to fulfill.
To deactivate your limiting beliefs, you must rewrite the negative scripts that you have spoken over yourself and run new programming. This is accomplished through affirmations. Affirmations help you to heal thoughts of the past that encourage limiting beliefs in the present and the undesirable results in the future.

Nurture your artistic self with artist dates

Sometimes we don’t know how to explore artistically because we don’t expose ourselves to enough things that inspire us. Getting creative inspiration should be intentional and be a part of your artistic and self-nurturing process. 
Enter the artist date, as explained by Julia Cameron from her book The Artist’s Way. What is an artist date? An artist date is an hour-long or so activity you plan for yourself, and only yourself, to help nurture and encourage your creativity.

 Itโ€™s a time for you to reaffirm your artistic self.

What floats your boat, as an artist, is up to you. Don’t just limit yourself to your chosen discipline. For example, if you’re a visual artist, don’t limit yourself to art supply shops, art galleries, or museums. Go to a dance concert. Take an acting workshop. If you’re a dancer, don’t just go to dance performances and workshops. Visit the art galleries. Go to book signings. Go the craft store and pick up a fun crafting kit that delights you. Explore other artistic modalities. 
Going to the art store and buying a pack of cute stickers might seem frivolous at first, but think about what you’re really trying to accomplish. An artist date is meant for you. It’s a time for you to reaffirm your artistic self. It’s an activity that validates you and nurtures your curiosity and creativity. 

That’s why it’s important for you to go on your artistic dates alone. Don’t bring your significant other, children, friends, or parents with you. This is your time. No, you’re not being selfish. It’s just one hour of time once a week alone for yourself. You don’t need anyone’s input for this process. Outside influences and distractions aren’t the point. This is just you, your inner artistic self, and your insights deriving enjoyment from the moment.

Write daily morning pages: reveal the darkness and the light

Also from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, Another method for getting unstuck is to start writing daily,. Cameron pegged this exercise morning pages. Morning pages are three pages of hand-written, stream of consciousness, thoughts you write every morning. The purpose of doing this in the morning is that you get the closest to your subconsciousness. You’re writing is more in line with your subconscious, unfiltered thoughts rather than thoughts influenced by your conscious reasoning. 

In other words, your conscious thoughts begin to flood your mind and filter your expressions the further into the day you go. So get them all out of the way first thing in the morning.

Morning pages are not meant to be deep, poetic, or significant–though they can be. They’re simply your thoughts, unfiltered: I need to pay my bills today. I need to pick up drying cleaning for Dave. I can’t stand Aunt Marie. She’s so meddling and gossipy. I wish she’d just mind her own goddamn business. And so on and so forth, There is no rhyme or reason to morning pages. Just write whatever comes to mind no matter how trivial, mundane, or petty. The point is to get it all out and clear your head of these thoughts so you can be freed up to pursue your creativity. 

Sometimes we create our best magic in the darkness.

Sometimes you will face your shadow self when you delve into morning pages. This is the part of you you keep hidden from yourself and from others. It’s the part of you that you conceal with a smile, a witty remark, or a good deed. When you delve into morning pages, often you will delve into the uncomfortable shadows of your psyche.

When I allowed myself to be truly honest in my morning pages, I would write some things that I would be ashamed and embarrassed to reveal to other people. Parts of myself filled with jealousy, anger, self-pity, self-righteousness. But I had to acknowledge these darker qualities were real and were apart of me. They helped me to learn to accept the duality of my nature, the dark and the light that exists in one person. 

If most of us are honest with ourselves, some of our bests work stems from those dark times we experience. I wrote some of my best poetry when I was depressed.  My passion for dance stemmed from a period in my life where I felt marginalized and misunderstood. My intense love for jewelry making and sewing was born out of intense loneliness I experience for a season.

Sometimes we create our best magic in the darkness.

Rediscover the importance of play

Can you remember the first reason you began your artistic journey? The first time you drew a picture, sang a song, danced a jig? It was fun, right? So you kept doing it. You did it because it brought you some level of joy. So why do we lose this joy once we get serious about our art? Artistic expression is meant to be enjoyed. It s meant to be fun! Don’t overlook the importance of play in your art. Play is what keeps us alive; it keeps us in a childlike state of wonder, enjoyment, and discovery. Play keeps us curious and helps us to explore the outer edges of our abilities. What else is possible? What else can I do with this gift? How can I bend it, shape it, and mold it into something new? 

If morning pages help us get in touch with our shadow sides, play helps us rediscover the light. Watch kids play on a playground. Witness the sheer joy and smiles on their faces as they run around, jumping in a pile of leaves, or swing on a swing. There is no regret, no second-guessing, no worry of “getting it right.” They are fully present in the moment and enjoying every second as time unfolds.

As artists, allowing ourselves to play helps us unlock why we got into art in the first place. Why did we choose to develop our particular skills and abilities? Because it was fun! We experienced the sheer delight in being creators and wanted to continue that sensation. 

Then somewhere along the way, we felt like we had to become “serious” artists, that our art had to have some deep meaning, speak to some social issue, or needed to save souls. We lost the joy, and art became work. It became a burden.  And the creativity dissipated. Then we started relying on formulas, processes, and procedures. 

When you feel constricted, your creativity will also appear constricted. I’ve seen this in the workplace were colleagues were asked to do something somewhat creative, and they are so divorced from that part of themselves, they immediately default to formulas procedures, steps, and rules. They can’t break out of that linear thinking, and it affects their results. They’re so afraid of “getting it wrong” and the embarrassment they think they’ll suffer, that almost give up at the very start. 

Play is breaking out of the linear. It’s making connections and associations across all media, time, and space. The linear is constricted to time. Play exists in the present and is, in a sense, devoid of time. That’s why when people talk about being in the flow, it’s as if time slows downs or even ceases to exist because they are in the ever-present moment creating, exploring, and making magic. 

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