Whether you’re starting out or already feel like an expert in the entrepreneurial jungle, feeling stuck or blocked is going to be a common occurrence unless you do something about it.
I should know. I’ve been a creative writer and strategist for years now. At least two hours of my day, every day, are taken up by creative writing, and yet I still fall into ruts when I take my creativity and energy levels for granted. It may not happen to me as regularly as it does to my peers, but even the best of us aren’t exempt from hitting a creative slump.
A common complaint among creatives and entrepreneurs goes something like this: “Around three in the afternoon, a dull, familiar ache begins to saturate my forehead. It’s becoming more and more frequent. Everything seems to drag, and I might read the same sentence two or three times, yet fail to extract its meaning. Even if I started the day high on caffeine and pumped up, at some point, everything just seems to come to a grinding halt. There’s so much more to do, so little time, and my brain is telling me to stop. It’s full!”
Some version of that experience may have hit you a couple of times. Experts call it cerebral congestion. Michael Taft said, “In a normal working day in modern America, there’s a sense of so much coming at you at once, so much to process that you just can’t deal with it all.”
That is especially true if you’re hustling to build your business, keep healthy, have time for a girlfriend (or boyfriend), and still maintain a social life. Many entrepreneurs and creatives would agree with Taft’s statement, even if they don’t live in America. We live in a digitally connected fast-paced society, so if we want our bodies and brains to perform at optimum levels, we’ve got to set ourselves up for success.
When you’re in the trenches working on your dream life, you need self-care the most. Counterintuitive, I know. It seems like the worst possible time to follow some of the advice that spiritual leaders such as Deepak Chopra often share. And yet, I can tell you that in that season of hustle and grind is when you need it most.
I am convinced that the only solution that works when it comes to eliminating creative blocks and energy slumps is to practice self-care and mindfulness. There’s no other real cure.
Why self-care and mindfulness practices are the permanent solution for increased productivity and creativity:
To me, it has become apparent (after trying a lot of remedies that only work for a minute) that the only way for me to be a high performing individual is to manage my energy. The better my body feels and the healthier it is, the more I am free to push myself without draining my energy. Everything is interconnected. When my brain, body, mind, and spirit aren’t in harmony and aligned, it doesn’t matter what I eat or read–I’m going to hit a slump. To be productive (meaning to produce), you need to be in a particular mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual state. The more you can maintain your optimum levels, the better you will produce, whether your object of attention is a personal or professional activity. To be overflowing with creativity, you need inspiration, NOT motivation. Inspiration springs out from within. Again, that won’t be possible if the whole of who you are is out of whack.
So, as I experiment with myself (my whole self), I realize that being productive, creative, and high performing doesn’t require any complex ideas. In fact, it can be super simple if you stop trying to find external remedies and instead get back to the basics.
If you are currently experiencing that dip in energy, focus, and creativity, or if you want to stop it from recurring too frequently, here are four science-based methods that could help turn things around.
Four science-based methods that will increase your productivity and creativity:
Get more sleep
Arianna Huffington has become a huge ambassador urging ambitious individuals like you and me to start prioritizing sleep. In a society that loves to praise “burning the midnight oil,” I think it will take a while before people see the truth in her talks. She wrote an article titled “Sleep Your Way To The Top,” which is worth a read. In it, she says, “Our creativity, ingenuity, confidence, leadership, and decision making can all be enhanced simply by getting enough sleep.”
Many scientific studies have been conducted that prove that sleep is vital. Drs. Stuart Quan and Russell Sanna, from Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine, echo the same insight offered by Huffington. They said, “sleep deprivation negatively impacts our mood, our ability to focus, and our ability to access higher-level cognitive functions: the combination of these factors is what we generally refer to as mental performance.”
Think of how much more you can be, do, and produce if you could stop punishing yourself and instead slept ample hours. How much sleep is enough? Only your body knows. Test 6 hours, 7 hours, 8 hours, and 9 hours, and see what feels optimum for you. My body, for example, needs 8 hours. Anything less and I will have to pay the consequences. Do you know what your body needs for optimum rest?
Did you know every system in your body depends on water to function efficiently? Our bodies are two-thirds water, and our tissues are mainly made up of water. Your brain is 80% water; your muscles (including your heart) are 75% water; your blood is 83% water; your lungs are 90% water; your skin is 64% water. Even your bones are made up of 30% water. And you’re still on the fence over whether or not drinking more water (not coffee) can boost performance?
According to science, drinking more water can help maintain memory, improve concentration and cognition, reduces stress, and increase blood flow and oxygen to your brain. That’s not even half of the benefits researchers have discovered.
Of course, I’m not suggesting you overdose on water or eliminate your morning coffee. I am merely insisting that you start watching how dehydration impacts your performance and creativity, and then consciously increase your water intake and observe the difference in how you feel, how your skin looks, and how much energy you have to work on your projects.
There’s a reason why companies such as Google, Goldman Sachs, and other leading organizations have introduced meditation to their employees. Mindfulness practices vary, and meditation is one of the most promoted techniques for mindfulness practice with good reason. Many executives have taken up meditation because they find it helps them de-stress. Research shows that mindfulness meditation can boost your resilience, improve attention, boost your immune system, and calm your mind. When the mind is calm and clear, you can better focus on your projects, come up with more original ideas, and enjoy the present moment more. Can you increase creativity and productivity with just a few minutes of daily mindfulness meditation? As a practitioner, I can wholeheartedly say yes.
Go for a walk
Before you mentally dismiss this idea, hear me out. I discovered a few years ago that my strategy sessions were best enjoyed when I was on my feet walking around. It just helps me think better. Then I did a bit of research and realized that Steve Jobs was known for his walking meetings. Mark Zuckerberg apparently likes to hold meetings on foot as well, and lots of new research shows that it’s not by accident. Creative thinking improves while we are walking or shortly after that.
Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz of Stanford University conducted four studies in 2014 that illuminated the creative power of walks.
On all four studies, participants were tested as they sat and walked. Sometimes, they were indoors, other times they were outdoors. The series of exercises that they completed were designed to measure creativity. In the experiments conducted, they discovered that participants who walked were more creative compared to those who were seated. The creative flow continued even after the walking participants stopped and sat down. This was tested with both outdoor walking, and indoor treadmill walks. All of this is to point out to you an elementary truth: your body and brain love movement. Being on the move stimulates your creativity and gives you a much-needed natural workout. As we all know, exercising helps boost your mood and productivity, so I see this as an effective way of getting a little exercise done, amping up my good feeling hormones, stimulating my creativity, and serving my client all wrapped up in one simple action.
Increasing your creativity and productivity doesn’t have to be complicated, time-consuming, or burdensome. It’s a matter of self-awareness and getting back to the basics.
Trends and external solutions consume most of us, and we forget that, at the end of the day, a healthy mind and a healthy body are all you need to become a high performer, and by looking within, you can find all the necessary answers to enhance your current state. By getting restful sleep, hydrating your brain and body, leveraging your ability to walk to mull over complex problems, and practicing mindfulness meditation, you are choosing to manage your energy and create self-sustaining solutions.
How are you handling your demanding lifestyle, and what’s helping you stay energized, creative, and productive?