Most creators know what it’s like to feel blocked.
You know, that uncomfortable sense that you should do something. Write a blog post, shoot a video, record a podcast, email your list, finish your book or course… whatever it is.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly when your creativity decides to throw a temper tantrum, like a two-year-old toddler exclaiming: “I don’t wanna!!!”
Believe me, I can empathize. I’m writing this article over the wails of my inner muse.
Where does your creative block come from?
Your creative challenge is a form of resistance.
Resistance arises when two things want to move in different directions. If someone grabs you by the sleeve to drag you to the door () but you pull back because you want to stay where you are (), the result is resistance (↔️).
The same thing can happen within yourselves, with two or more parts facing off.
For instance, have you ever both wanted and not wanted to exercise at the same time? That’s a conflict between:
- your “inner athlete” who’s excited to start working out () and
- your “inner couch potato” who dreads the experience ().
There are many modalities — such as Voice Dialogue, Internal Family Systems, and Gestalt Therapy — that are based on the idea that we have different sub-personalities. We can also think of these as different parts of ourselves.
I exercise almost every day… but I hardly ever want to. My inner athlete has just gotten good at strong-arming my inner couch potato (which isn’t exactly a fair fight but I’m not complaining).
We all have an inner couch potato trying to stop us from exercising. Even boxing legend Muhammad Ali said: “I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’” In other words, you overcome your inner couch potato through superior force.
Is that also what you should do when it comes to your creative process?
No. It actually makes things worse.
You can’t strong-arm your way out of a creative block
When creative people are blocked, two parts of themselves are in conflict. While your suit-wearing CEO () wants you to be productive, your inner muse () wants to lounge around in sweatpants and watch Netflix.
Here’s how that’s different from many other forms of resistance: when you’re trying to work out, you don’t need help from your inner couch potato, just like Muhammad Ali doesn’t need help from his opponent to defeat him.
That’s why strong-arming your inner couch potato (or knocking out your boxing opponent) works.
But creative endeavors require cooperation. If your cut-throat inner CEO could create without help from your inner muse, your creative empire would span the globe and your artist-in-chief would be out on the streets for under-performance.
Thankfully for your inner muse (and the world, presumably), that’s not how it works. Creativity is less like a boxing fight and more like a marriage.
And trying to strong-arm an artsy, free-spirited spouse into doing something they don’t want to do just gets them to resist more. In other words, your inner CEO has been the world’s worst marriage partner. No wonder your inner muse is not cooperating with you right now!
(I’m not shaming you, by the way. My inner CEO also needs some serious relationship counseling!)
So, how do you overcome your creative block?
To get your creative juices flowing again, you could pressurize your inner muse some more. For instance, author Herman Melville reportedly had his wife chain him to the desk while working on Moby Dick. (Turns out that famous authors have some bizarre methods for overcoming writing blocks.)
Or, you could do the exact opposite of what you have been doing. Your inner muse wants to create… after, all, real artists ship. You just have to get out of the way.
Instead of berating your inner muse, your CEO just has to be supportive. These 5 steps will help:
1. Recognize the two parts of yourself that are in conflict
To get started, find the two parts of yourself that are forming your creative block: the part that wants to force you to be creative () and the part that resists this pressure ().
When you have found those parts, label them. You can either use the labels I have used in this article (“inner CEO” and “inner muse”) or make up your own.
2. Think of your inner muse like a lover, not like a boxing opponent
Up until now, you have “fed” the creative block by continuing to resist it. But that just made things worse. The more you push (), the more your inner muse pushes back ().
The way out of it is to stop seeing your inner muse as someone you need to fight. Instead of thinking of them as a boxing opponent, think of them as a lover. This will start melting the resistance.
3. Prepare to start creating
Now, it’s time to stress-test your newfound Buddhist non-attachment to being productive.
Start doing whatever you would do before creating: open a document, plug in your camera or microphone, or log into whatever website you need.
And then, just sit there. Move on to step 4.
4. Let your inner muse throw a temper tantrum and listen
At this point, your inner muse will start roaring. Let the temper tantrum begin. Often, there is a valid reason why your inner muse is angry.
(I mean, apart from the fact that your inner CEO has been an abusive prick for years and years.)
Perhaps you’re trying to force yourself to create something that would be bland. Can you really expect your chief creative to be okay with something so sub-standard?
Whatever comes up, acknowledge it the way a good boss would receive feedback from someone working for them. When I did this exercise, I realized that my inner CEO wanted me to create something superficial.
Thankfully, my inner muse wasn’t willing to cooperate!
Speaking of which, now it’s time for the final step:
5. Hand over the reigns to your inner muse
This is when you start creating for good but with your inner muse in charge. Let your inner CEO go back to whatever they do best (plot for world domination?). Without oppressive supervision, your inner muse is finally free to do their job in peace.
If you resist your block, you just prolong it. Your inner muse doesn’t work well under pressure so you can’t strong-arm your way out of this.
If you’ve ever been in a relationship, you probably know that pressuring a partner to do something they don’t want to do (going traveling, for instance) is pretty tiresome. Not that I’m speaking from experience but there are more fun things in the world than being stuck in a plane with a passive-aggressive partner for 10 hours…
It’s the same way with your inner muse.
To overcome your creative block, make love, not war.
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