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Ian Wilson
Ian Wilson

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Breaking Out of a Rut or Creative Block

Creative professions can be great fun when you're in rhythm. In this state, the ideas emanate from your fingertips. When you're productive: you're hitting your deadlines.

You push metal at the gym, clean your room, and beat the Elite 4. You're the unstoppable force that will build the next unicorn.

But then things take a turn. You have personal stresses at home like a breakup or a fatal pet emergency. You suffer an injury while lifting weights or downhill mountain biking. Your mojo vanishes, even for no clear reason at all — it happens to everyone.

Recently, I experienced a rut. It is a total lack of energy to do anything beside drink beer and watch all the Austin Powers movies. Not the worst fate, I will add, but I would like to do other things too.

To break out, I employed strategies that would help anyone whether you've been out of it for a single day or 6 months.

Action Yields Action

Consider the how you might try to break out of a writers block. I wrote my last article on September 13, 2019, with the goal to continue writing articles. Every week, I would write about fantastic programming topics like Rust or ReasonML.

Now it's 2020, and I'm writing the next one since then. I've had the intent to write something on my mind almost every day for the past several months but I never did it.

I sat down, wrote those first two sentences you can see above, and then vacuumed my living room.

And then, I wrote the rest of it.

My point is, the simple act of scribbling those two sentences spawned a flurry of motivation. By writing two sentences, I had convinced myself that I could do it.

I always knew I could because I had written plenty of articles before. But subconsciously, I could not execute.

I had created the inspiration that it would be possible to write this post. That inspiration led to motivation to continue writing, thus leading to more writing. That is the action which is our real goal here.

Watch a motivational speaker or a Get-Rich-Quick guru. You may come away with the feeling of inspiration.

"Wow look at these people, they are so rich and so inspiring!", you think. The crowd applauds until the final sales pitch, when they file out of the room.

After you get home, then what? Flip on Netflix, after all, seeing those people was stressful and now its time to relax. Even though that presentation (or video, or book...) was inspiring, it does not always spur the action that will get you to where you want to be.

Make a simple move towards where you want to be, and then dwell on it. Be proud of that effort, because it is proof that you can do it.

Try Not to Go All-In

Let us suppose you put in a little action and now you have more energy and motivation than you know what to do with. What now? While you could try to exhaust all of it in one sitting, I advise against this.

It is more effective to be increasing in productivity day by day rather than blow it over a short period. A single burst of activity will sound cool. You can show off how productive you were that one day, but consider the trade-offs.

  • If you do too much, you force your brain to think you'll be working this hard every day.

  • If you use all of your energy, you may lead yourself right back into a rut when you're mentally exhausted the next day.

  • If you have a full time job and you want to balance it with exercise, family, friends, and whatever other priorities you have... take it easy.

My suggestion is to start with small wins; a couple sentences, a new function/class, a single song on a guitar. When you've completed a simple action, the rest will follow.

After you've been working at it for 20-50 minutes, take a break and reflect on what you accomplished. You can continue for another period of time, or you can trust the same technique to help you carry on tomorrow.

Savor your victories today. The next ones will be bigger and even more rewarding. The goal is consistency.

Smaller, Yet Effective Tips

Here are a few little tips I can offer up to get you out of the rut.

  • Eat well. I've had a pretty big boost in energy with Athletic Greens after I saw it mentioned on Tim Ferriss's show. They don't sponsor me but there's a ton of benefit for getting your full daily quota of veggies right away. Its part of my excuse to eat whatever else I'd like that day.

  • Don't overeat when you go out, save your leftovers. When I go out, I prefer pasta since I know it will also taste good later. Meal planned.

  • Cleaning your living space has a tremendous effect on what you feel you can accomplish.

  • Exercise often, but not too hard! I run a lot, but I am much more depleted throughout the day/week when I spent too much time around 90% of my maximum heart rate. If you exercise after work, understand that being mentally exhausted will affect your perceived effort.

I usually post articles that are heavy on the technical side. If you're interested in ReasonML or Rust, definitely check out my other works.

If you came here to get out of a rut, then I hope a little action helps lift you out.

Thanks for reading, and see you next time!

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