About a year ago while working on a large, mentally-straining project, I had a personal revelation: being stuck is okay. Even good.
Creatives may refer to this ‘stuckness’ as “creative block”, “mental block“, etc. Whatever the word is for it, we all understand it’s a stressful place to be in. You can’t move forward on the project, deadlines are approaching, people are waiting on you. It’s emotionally draining and defeating.
You’re about ready to throw the project out the window.
How You Stay Stuck
I know when I’m stuck my natural tendency is to become overly analytical. “Maybe if I examine the problem a little longer, I can deduce a conclusion.” However, deductive logic doesn’t work in creative world. It’s not even in the same world (left brain vs. right brain).
What needs to happen in order to create is to introduce something new. We do not need any more answers about where we have been, we need answers on where we ought to go. We cannot observe the solution.
Put another way, I think the root of staying stuck is trying to find a black and white answer. An objective right and wrong. It’s either left or right, front or back…but we know these aren’t the only options. There are many ways to turn and step out of the hole you’re stuck in. It’s just someone may not have done it that way before so the analytical brain draws a blank.
Another way you stay stuck, and this is a long-term issue, is by passing off the work to someone else who you think is more capable. While the work may get done, it’s never as satisfying and only handicaps you in the next situation.
Training your brain to handle new situations is the only way to become stuck-proof.
How to Get Unstuck
Allow me to introduce the three A’s of getting unstuck. Think about them the next time you’re in a problematic situation and can’t find the solution.
The first thing you need to do is accept that you’re stuck. It happens to everyone. As I discussed above, there’s no point in stressing or over-analyzing. That’s not going to solve the problem. Tell yourself, “Good. I’m glad I’m stuck. Something entirely new is about to happen.”
Rather than getting anxious and trying to force an immediate solution (usually breaks something), sometime’s it’s okay to just sit and stare at something. This doesn’t fit the norm of our fast-paced culture—always producing, buying, scrolling, swiping, watching, reading…doing.
Non-doing is what needs to take place before a new idea can come to you. Imagine trying to merge on the interstate into bumper-to-bumper traffic. It’s possible…if you run something over and cause chaos. But that’s not what we want to do. We want to clear the road (your mind) so new ideas can naturally and freely merge in.
If your mind is quiet long enough, you’ll start to notice little ideas come and go. That’s our instinctive process taking place for figuring things out.
Once you have an idea your brain attaches to, it’s time to experiment. This is where the right brain’s tag team partner, the logical mind, can come back in.
Try new things out. Watch them crash and burn if needed. This is how you get over your anxiousness: get used to failing. When you understand that not every idea is going to work out, you’re much more likely to find the best solution, rather than the quickest.
You have to let go of your ego and accept the failure of a few bad ideas for the sake of the right one.
I talked earlier about training your brain. Part of doing that is frequently engaging in the first two steps above, but there is a third very important last step.
You have to create a positive feedback loop so that your brain becomes addicted to producing new ideas.
Once you have discovered that illusive solution and executed it, take the time to appreciate your work and reward yourself. This is the perfect time to take a break and reflect on the situation. You again get to flex the analytical side of your brain and think about improvements.
So, remember the next time you feel stuck and that dreary feeling enters your mind, you’re in the best possible situation you could be in, you just don’t know it yet.