Four ways to sidestep your creative blocks and motivate your muse

When you

It was 8:00 PM and I’d hit a creative wall – hard. But there was so much work to be done! And I just had to get out of the office or else my article would never get finished. So I knew the only way to stimulate my mind was to practice a technique called “displacement.”

You’ve no doubt heard of this creativity booster before: take a different route to work, eat at a new restaurant or take an outside break – anything to change your environment. In fact, if you Google the word “creativity,” most of the articles will instruct you to practice some type of displacement technique. They’ll urge you to “stray off the beaten path” because changes in your surroundings will stimulate your senses and enhance your ability to generate new ideas.

But I think Michael Michalko said it best in his famous book on business creativity, Thinkertoys: “Your mind is like vegetation. It flourishes in one soil and droops in another.”

I read that quotation right as I hit my wall last night. Hmm…vegetation, I thought. That gives me an idea! So I took his advice – literally – and went to the one place I’d be guaranteed to find lots of vegetation: the grocery store.

Trust me; this wasn’t my first choice for a place to get some work done. But Starbucks was closed and all the local restaurants were too loud. However, I did remember noticing a line of computer tables in the produce section of the store a few weeks earlier.

It felt awfully strange walking into the grocery store at 8:30 PM with a briefcase in one hand and an iPod in the other. Then again, I needed some mental stimulation, and I needed it fast. So, what better place to enliven all five of the senses than the produce section?

And it worked! Surrounding me were hundreds of fruits and vegetables of every color; crisp, cool air; and the aroma of fresh flowers and spices. It was everything my baffled brain needed. And within a few minutes, I was back on track with my article. New thoughts poured onto my laptop. Creative ideas came from out of the blue. I climbed over my mental wall!

Now, let’s talk about why this unusual displacement technique worked. Was it something in the air? Was it a coincidence? No. Creativity doesn’t know what the word “coincidence” means. It has to do with our thinking process. It has to do with displacement. Now, maybe the grocery store isn’t for you. But when your brain decides it doesn’t want to get creative any more – and trust me, it will – you’ll need some techniques to help you break out of the same old mental rut. So, here are Four Ways to Motivate Your Melon.

MELON MOTIVATOR #1: Take an hour to go for a walk, ride a bike or hike a trail.

Have you ever noticed how creative you get while exercising for extended periods of time? That’s not a coincidence, either – it’s biological. According to Molecules of Emotion by Candace B. Pert, continuous exercise like running, long-distance swimming, aerobics, cycling or cross-country skiing appears to contribute to an increased production and release of endorphins. These endorphins are morphine-like substances that have strong affects on the brain and body during exercise. They result in a sense of euphoria that has been popularly labeled as the “runner’s high.”

For example, I run 8 miles every Sunday. It’s my weekly “mental emptying.” Interestingly enough, since I’ve been running for the past 6 or 7 years, I’ve written articles, speeches, even parts of books while jogging at the park! It’s almost like taking a mind expanding drug every week to boost my creativity – except it’s legal, free and safe.

MELON MOTIVATOR #2: The floor is your friend.

Do you ever feel like your desk is caving in on you? That you have dozens of papers, reports, books and folders coming from all directions, reducing your actual workspace to the size of a Post-It Note?

If so, try working on the floor. It works wonders for enhancing your creativity, especially from a visual standpoint. First of all, you’ll have plenty of room to spread out your materials. This will help you more effectively solve problems, come up with new ideas and brainstorm because you’ll see all of the elements involved.

And once you sit down on the floor, you’ll start thinking about how silly you look, whether or not your pants are getting wrinkled and what you’re going to say to your boss when he walks in the room. Good. That’s the perfect way take your mind off your mental block.

Displacing your vertical position also reveals patterns you never would have noticed otherwise. For example, I’m sitting in the grocery store right now as I write this article. To my left are Navel Oranges for $5.99 a pound. And wouldn’t you know it? Right below the oranges on the ground level are 16 oz. bottles of Little Rainbow Fruit Juice – for those unsuspecting little grocery shoppers of the youthful persuasion. Interesting…

MELON MOTIVATOR #3: The world is your office.

Isn’t it ironic that “thinking outside the box” is such an unoriginal and overused cliché that it’s actually become an “inside the box” type of phrase?

That being said; forget about getting outside the box, and get the heck out of the office! Wherever you live, there are bound to be dozens of workspaces you never would have thought to utilize. Coffee shops, all-night diners, copy stores, 24-hour libraries, hotel lobbies, hospital cafeterias, even grocery stores are perfect to claim as your new “spot.” Just be sure to find somewhere that’s relatively quiet and appeals to the five senses in a manner that differs from your typical workspace.

In a recent article from Innovation Network, Jonathan Vehar revealed two examples of famous thinkers’ workspace techniques. “Einstein came up with his greatest theories while sailing. And Edison, a man with over 1,000 patents to his credit, would go down to the dock and fish.” As for me, I like the produce section. What about you?

MELON MOTIVATOR #4: Motion creates emotion.

Have you ever noticed that movie and television characters always seem to “go for a drive” when they need to figure out their problems? They don’t do this because their cars have magical powers. They do it because of the displacement.

Barring any road rage encounters, driving can be a relaxing activity. And it’s a perfect refresher for your brain. The combination of constant motion, changing scenery and your favorite music will certainly help you displace your mind and your body. Hopefully not too much – you do want to make it back to work the next day.

As another example, look at Robert Lutz, the recently retired president and vice chairman of Chrysler Corporation. According to Johnathan Vehar (ibid.), “Mr. Lutz was driving the back roads of southeastern Michigan in a V-8 powered sports car. He conceptualized using their new V-10 truck engine in a new sports car as a way to add excitement to their product line. This eventually turned into the hot V-10 powered Dodge Viper!”

Conclusion

As you experiment with these four displacement techniques, remember that creativity isn’t a once a week or even a once a day thing. It’s perpetual. And it’s up to you to be on the lookout for materials you can use to build your ideas and get over that mental wall.

And while you’re at it, also remember that creativity is largely about breaking the rules. So don’t feel restricted in any way. After all, I’m writing this article at 11 PM on a Tuesday night sitting in the produce section of my local grocery store. Now THAT’S what you call motivating your melon!

Scott Ginsberg is a professional speaker, “the world’s foremost field expert on nametags” and the author of HELLO my name is Scott and The Power of Approachability. He works with people and organizations who want to become unforgettable communicators – one conversation at a time.

  • Brian Ging

    Hi Scott. This is a really extraordinary article. I am a filmmaker and feature film editor and I have been doing this but never really realized what I was doing. I like the way you write about simple changes like the grocery store. I always thought going to a coffee shop to write instead of my office was “revolutionary”. Now I feel like I’ll take my script down to the grocery store tomorrow to write, or maybe a pet store! ;-)

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