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How We Stay Inspired And Avoid Creative BurnOut - PART ONE

In the fast-paced social media landscape, ever-hungry for content, it can be challenging keeping up with the demands of creating original work. Alex and I have at times felt uninspired and creatively burnt-out; we've produced work that's average and obvious, feeling like we were on autopilot with the goal being just to get the job done. Sound familiar? But when you're competing for an audience's attention against a lot of high quality content, putting out sub-par work just doesn't cut the mustard.

Though I'm sure we will have more of these moments in our career, I've identified a few reasons why I get uninspired or burnt-out, and worked out creative solutions for myself to get my head back where I need it to be. I want to share them here, in hopes that it might be helpful to you.

1. I haven't worked on being inspired

This concept took me years to wrap my head around. It's something that I had to learn organically as well as deliberately. I find that creative inspiration doesn't just come to me unasked. Our minds make connections between the things and ideas we like, things we've researched, what's happening in our lives and the world. And, like magic, in the deep, shadowy recesses of your mind, there's a synthesis of all these things, and something new and original can emerge - but not necessarily when we want or need it to.

The times that I've abandoned being inspired are when I felt I didn't have enough time, or that there were more important tasks to do, or I was overstressed (tell me I'm not the only one).

I finally realised that I started finding creative solutions to problems faster when I started regularly taking the time to enjoy the things I love. I needed to be feeding my creative mind without expecting an instant pay-off. Reading books, watching movies, looking at photography and artworks, listening to music; making things that were unrelated to my work, like sculpting with clay or painting. I was open to allowing these things to influence me and sit in my mind, without any obvious use in the immediate future.

If I'm only focused on searching for inspiration exactly when I need to be inspired, rather than allowing myself to be open to it regularly, I know I will have dull, derivative ideas that have little depth behind them. So I need to invest time in what I love to keep my mind fresh.

I have to remind myself that being inspired is my job the most important part of my job. Because who wants to hire an uninspired, uncreative artist? Not me.

So, how have I remedied it? I had an 'aha' moment of, "Oh, I'm not just born a creative genius" - and I became conscious of needing to take the time to recharge myself creatively. And I do.

I think scheduling is a great way to monitor a goal and I found it especially useful in the beginning to keep myself accountable. As time goes by I find it just becomes a natural practice.

2. I stopped myself getting 'off track'

I am someone who was (and can still be) extremely hard on myself professionally, especially when I'm not crossing off my to-do list. I would get disappointed if I felt I hadn't been as productive as I'd wanted to be in a given day, always thinking I should have achieved more. And I would have to remind myself that I am only human, and there are only 24 hours in a day.

Something I would particularly feel guilt over (tremendous guilt, just tremendous) was getting off track - or what I considered off track - especially when designing concepts. My mind would wander and I would consciously try to re-orient myself to the task at hand, as where my thoughts had wandered wasn't relevant to the current project and were a waste of time. But that's not how creativity works.

In a talk on creativity in 1991, John Cleese, the legendary Monty Python member, said that, “Creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating.

"The most creative ha[ve] simply acquired a facility for getting themselves into a particular mood – a way of operating – which allow[s] their natural creativity to function.

"An ability to play."

(I'll link to the full video down below if you're interested. It's well worth watching.)

He goes on to talk about "open" and "closed" modes of thinking:

“By the closed mode I mean, the mode that we are in most of the time when we’re at work. We have inside us a feeling that there’s lots to be done, and we have to get on with it if we’re going to get through it all.

"Creativity is not possible in the closed mode.

“By contrast, the open mode is relaxed, expansive, less purposeful; in which we’re probably more contemplative, more inclined to humour – which always accompanies a wider perspective – and, consequently, more playful.

"It’s a mood in which curiosity for its own sake can operate. Because we’re not under pressure to get a specific thing done quickly. We can play. And that it what allows our natural creativity to surface.

“In order to be at our most efficient, we need to be able to switch backwards and forwards between the two modes. But – here’s the problem – we too often get stuck in the closed mode. Under the pressures which are all too familiar to us, we tend to maintain tunnel vision at times when we really need to step back and contemplate the wider view.”

I was for a long time someone who would get stuck in the "closed" mode of thinking. Now I allow myself to to play, to wonder, to turn over ideas in my mind, without guilt, knowing that the returns may not be immediate, but will be invaluable; that I can't afford not to take the time to play.

3. My inspiration goes stale

Ever gotten a little tired of your favourite sources of inspiration? Hell, I'm sure there were times even Julie Andrews had her fill of bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens.

I want variety in the things I look to for inspiration (this is a topic I'll probably look at in more depth in another post). But the long and short of it is: if I'm only inspired by one or two things, I'm not giving my brain the, uh, diverse microbiome it needs to create complex, original ideas. The inspiration itself isn't limiting but not having variation is.

I've found that it's normal for my interest to wane in particular areas from time to time. At first I didn't understand why I was getting bored of the things that I love, but I would naturally move on to something else that excites me.

Now, I know you're probably thinking, "this happens to everyone - it's called evolving creatively and it happens unconsciously." You would be right.

But I've been guilty of hanging onto things because its comfortable and easy. I personally have found it empowering to know when it's time to move on. A good indicator for me is when I get bored of my own work.

I also want to note here that for me this doesn't always mean moving onto an entirely different inspiration, rather digging deeper or looking at it from a different angle.

That's it for part one. Again, I hope it was useful. I'm working on part two which I'll put up in a few weeks.

We post a new blog weekly (most of the time) and you can keep updated by following us @threebentlegs as I'm usually promoting our blogs and work on there.

As promised John Cleese on Creativity In Management -

Until next time!

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