March 13, 2018

Staying Inspired When It’s Your Job to Be Creative

Lost your muse? Here's how to get it back anytime you need it

Inspired adjective in·spired \ in-ˈspī(-ə)rd \ outstanding or brilliant in a way or to a degree suggestive of divine inspiration

You might have assumed that by the sound of the title, we’d be talking about “inspired” as a past-tense transition verb. To be inspired. Alas, no. When it’s your job to be creative, you do not need to worry about being inspired by someone or something else. You must remain outstanding and brilliant to those counting on you.

No pressure.

The first step is to wholly accept that you are inspired. As a living being who is creative, intuitive, responsive, and inventive, you exemplify the definition.

Now…how to not get burnt out on all that radiating brilliance is another question. Losing momentum and inspiration is a real concern for every creative because let’s face it, it happens to all of us.

We have hours, days, months, sometimes years where we don’t feel outstanding and we only see our creativity falling short. Some days, our colleagues look at us like only half our lights are shining. In the wake of a huge creative push or stressful life occurrence, staying inspired when it’s your job can feel completely impossible.

When you find yourself in the stark white padded room of burnout, take a few moments to yourself for regenerating activity.

You’ve been told to cool off and slow down. The same tip applies here. When it’s your job to be creative, it’s the same as a pilot’s job to fly the plane. In the heat of the moment, the pilot may take a few deep breaths or hand the controls to the co-pilot. And, that’s okay. They can still fly the plane.

Below are three exercises to help you keep up your creative brilliance going: one mental, one physical, and one psychological practice

1. Check out and let your mind wander

at least 5 minutes, can go on for hours

Have you ever put your headphones in and forgot to turn on your music? This sort of sound-deadening can help in this activity.

In contrast to meditation, which involves trying to empty your mind, letting your mind wander encourages you to ride the waves of thoughts as far as they’ll take you. If you feel strange sitting still and simply thinking, pick something at random – in the room, in your bag, a subject you enjoy – and start thinking about that item or topic.

Image colors, images, movies, words, sounds as you sit in silence and drift. You may find your mind slithering into stressful places or ruminating over the day’s grievances. Remind yourself: it doesn’t mean anything. I’m just wandering. I can move along.

By letting your mind wander with reckless abandon, you’re taking the pressure off of subjects that demand the most from you. In fact, you’re releasing almost all demand on your mind. If you only imagine a wide open field surrounded by rolling hills for ten minutes, it’s worth no more than if you took that time to ponder the latest astrological discoveries.

Some might call this “free thinking” or “recreational thinking.” I prefer the latter. The same as I would play recreational tennis (not the competitive kind against Serena Williams), I would recreationally think outside the demands of my work.

2. Maintain an idea journal – when you’re burnt out or close to it, give your journal a visit

less than five minutes, ideally once daily

One of the most significant habits I’ve developed in my career is maintaining an idea journal. Mine is a (digital) sticky note on the screen of my laptop where I keep a mile-long list of jotted down phrases, product ideas, a third of a business plan for a beverage company, among other things.

This journal serves two purposes:

  1. It keeps track of my ideas so I can revisit, expand on, or implement them later.
  2. It’s a collection of proof that I was, at some point, at least mildly creative.

Don’t take that second benefit for granted! On days where you feel especially lost or burnt out, take a trip down idea lane to see what you were dreaming about three weeks or three years ago. Remember you have had good ideas and you will again; you might even get a jolt of creative inspiration from one of your old ideas.

The inspiration we get from our former selves is profoundly familiar. By recording ideas in your journal daily, you also build a creative habit. One where ideas come when you sit down to write them. It’s like opening the tap from a trickle to a stream.

Bonus tip: Keep an idea journal for your business, your career, or your job position. You never know when a past stroke of brilliance could make all the difference in your present predicament.

3. Keep showing up, no matter what

time commitment varies, practice especially when it seems the hardest

There was a time when I was deathly afraid of a bad idea. Of a stupid craft project. Of a disappointing response to an assigned task. This fear of being underwhelming, lame, overplayed crippled my creativity and regularly sent me into spirals of inaction. Analysis paralysis.

When I learned that the primary rule of brainstorming is to defer judgement, it tweaked my perspective of my own creativity. Why was I judging my creativity so harshly, and barely letting it spread its wings to take flight before I shut it down?

On the days that I had to be creative and I simply wanted to hide, I just started showing up anyway.

When you continue to show up for something – anything – you make progress, even if it only comes in tiny doses sometimes. Whether you understand the topic just a little better or if you make even a 5% gain toward your goal, your presence was the cause of any progress at all. By showing up, you defy your own belief that you can’t do it, that you don’t have it in you.

The most important part of being creative for a living is having the strength to show up even when the magic isn’t there.

If you find yourself getting burned out often, try deferring judgment on what you’re creating and letting it flow, without fear of consequence. If you’re afraid of a lack of creativity leading to bad ideas, write down 100 bad ideas before you start. And if you can open your mind for just a few minutes on a regular basis, letting your mind wander to it’s deepest limits, you’ll find more creativity than you ever knew you had.

How do you deal with burnout? Share your solutions on our Facebook page or on Instagram with #inkandvolt – you never know whose world you might change with your suggestion!

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