The other day I was talking with a friend, just catching up about what we’ve been up to lately as I hadn’t seen her in a while. She talked a little about how she was no longer pursing a project she had previously been excited about, and how she generally was feeling like she should just throw in the towel creatively. She’s a super talented photographer, and at one point she said she had even been thinking about just selling her camera. We talked about this for awhile and she eventually asked me something to the effect of how do you stay inspired. Or, how do you keep pursuing creative goals when you feel kind of bleh about your work. I am no stranger to self-doubt myself, but luckily, I was having a good day and (I think) was hopefully at least somewhat encouraging to her. But it got me thinking about more actionable things that you can do when you’re feeling this kind of bleh. This time of year is especially tough because the winter blues are REAL, but sometimes those feelings come up lots of other times of the year too.
There are probably a lot of different things you can do when you’re feeling uninspired, but after this talk with my friend, I tried to think of my own top 5. Here they are:
1. Make tiny goals, or break things up into tiny pieces.
For me, the biggest hurdle is often just feeling overwhelmed. When I start to get overwhelmed, I think everything I do (my school work, work tasks, relationships, etc.) just sucks. It can be hard to move forward with those crushing feelings that come with being overwhelmed. So, do VERY small things. For example, if your goal is to, I don’t know, write a novel, just write one sentence every day. Or just make an outline this week. That’s it. Just an outline. Or research one good book, course, or podcast you can spend time absorbing if you’re really feeling it’s not time to actually start. Just research something to read. Then start reading it. Just a little bit every day if that’s all you can find time for now. You don’t have to be signing up for a writing retreat or finishing your novel in a month if that’s just not where you are mentally yet.
The point is to just take SOME action. Move forward just a tiny bit. You can run an entire marathon on that, moving forward just a tiny bit at time.
2. Don’t think about the future.
I am a chronic future-thinker. I love to have a plan and I am a constant daydreamer. Now, I am not saying that you should never think about the future—this is just something to try when you’re feeling those uninspired vibes. This one again speaks to feeling overwhelmed by your dreams. Let’s go back to that aspiring novel writer. If you spend a lot of time thinking about submitting your work to agents (and maybe imagining getting rejected) or sharing your work publicly (and maybe people tell you it sucks) or your book being published (and maybe you get terrible Amazon reviews by strangers who haven’t even bought it), then you will probably quit. You’re already imagining failure, and you’re skipping past the part that (hopefully) should be fun! Sometimes to get re-inspired you have to work with no goal in mind. You’re not writing the next New York Times best-seller, you’re just writing for fun. Don’t make a painting hoping it will end up in a museum. Just enjoy painting some night, maybe with a glass of wine.
Don’t think about the future too much. Just create with no expectations.
3. Disrupt a habit.
This is great advice for feeling like you are uninspired, in a rut, or possibly stuck in some bad habits. Change something about your daily routines for at least a week but a month is even better. Stop watching TV. Wake up 30 minutes earlier. Go on a walk everyday. Get dressed really cute every day. Get lunch with a friend every week this month. Honestly, there are a million possibilities here. But what’s the point? Why disrupt a habit? For me, this will usually trigger other changes in my life. I think it’s because it usually causes me to change or broaden my perspective. It might make me realize how much more time, or less time I have. It might help me feel prettier, healthier, encouraged by conversations. It could add more education to my life. I almost can’t explain it, but I promise that if you truly disrupt a habit it will change you—it’s bizarre but I swear it’s a thing!
Loved this episode from Young House Love’s podcast where they talk about just not watching TV for a week and how it changes them.
Also, you don’t have to disrupt a bad habit. It could potentially be something you plan to return to later. But don’t add a bad habit. Don’t add things to your life as a disrupter that will cause you in some way to be less healthy (physically, mentally, or socially). That’s probably obvious, but just wanted to be super clear on that too.
4. Get active.
Find some way to get your heart rate up—bonus points if you sweat. 😉 I would not be so bold as to call myself an athletic person or really even someone who’s in the best shape. I’m pretty average I’d say. So if you’re thinking, “I’m not a gym person” so you can ignore this one, please don’t. If there is one place I feel more like an imposter than anywhere else, it’s the gym. But getting active makes SUCH a big difference to my overall mental health (obviously my physical health as well). If there are any scientists out there who’d like to give us the science in the comments, please do. I’m just offering up my personal experience, but I feel much happier when I get my heart rate up for a while. And I’ve often gotten some of my best creative and business ideas while on a walk. Getting active can be anything that fits your current physical state and schedule. Swim. Run. Walk. Yoga. Lift weights. Rock climb. Take classes at a gym because you have no idea what to do otherwise (raises hand firmly high!).
5. Just do it. It’s OK if something sucks.
I truly believe that creativity, and just doing great work (whatever it is) is essentially like a muscle. Sometimes it doesn’t look pretty, or you don’t feel like doing it, but you just do it anyway. And when you do, you grow. And you know what, some of it sucks, but some of it is really good. And that’s how it is. Just keep doing what you do. Even if it sucks sometimes. It doesn’t matter, keep going. That’s really the only way to get to better work is through a bunch of not-great work.
Feel free to add your own things you do when you’re feeling uninspired. I would love to hear!