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 pursuing 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:
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 creative work, other 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. Like, 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.
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.
Disrupt a habit.
This is great advice for feeling like you’re 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 (I work from home so this is a stretch for me, ha). 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.
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 not from road rage or something). 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!).
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. Sometimes people look at me and Elsie and the things we’ve built or done with our business and they think there must be something special about us. Not really. Maybe I shouldn’t lump Elsie in here (sorry, sister!) but it’s true. We really aren’t special or extra talented or something. We’re just like everyone else, but I do think one thing we do right is we don’t stop. It’s kind of funny, but it’s also true. We keep making things, publishing posts, creating stuff that we find interesting. 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! xo. Emma
Thank you so much for these tips! I am also such a future-thinker and in constant self-doubt about my creative projects and I think especially your last tip about just doing something even if it might suck is so helpful to me!
Thank you, Emma! I loved this post as I’ve been feeling a little uninspired – or actually: inspired, but too much in my head to start – lately. Your tips are super helpful, especially that reating something imperfect is sometimes better than over-analyzing and never starting. (:
Gosh I absolutely love this post and it’s so timely. My word of the year is Focus and yet I seem to have a dozen creative projects (and deadlines) starting to pile up and we’re only in February. Cue the overwhelm, self-doubt and all that icky stuff. This is a great reminder that i just need to break it down and take it, as Anne Lamott put it so beautifully… ‘bird by bird’.
I love this list! Especially the one about disrupting a habit!
I usually go on my phone and computer immediately after I meditate and I find it counter productive. Perhaps a cup of tea/some light stretches and listening to music instead?
This is so good, I totally agree with the disrupt a habit. I think when you are working at home and blogging, you can get such a narrow view of life. I always feel refreshed if I get out of the house a bit. I also find that I want to quit when I’m tired. I will be working late at night and will think…I don’t even enjoy this, what’s the point. In the morning I feel different. Thanks for the tips!
LOVE the breaking it into tiny pieces tip. This totally helps me. I use the Pomodoro technique too for large projects so that I’m really focusing for a 20-30 minute block and then reward myself with a quick brain break.
Wow! this Ira Glass quote is really mind blowing. I’ve never understood that having good taste is why you’re not appreciating your work! That seems to take the pressure off a bit. I also heard something on a Brooke Castillo podcast that i loved – she talked about how you should be trying to fail. I’m a huge procrastinator on things i’ve never done before and going into it knowing it’s ok to fail has gotten me to try so many new things and some have even been successful! a total game changer for me. 🙂
Have you ever heard the Ira Glass quote about taste? I think it’s pretty applicable here.
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
Some great ideas. I really like the idea of writing a sentence. It sounds so manageable. Writing a paragraph seems enormously hard.
The perfect Friday inspiration for all those wanting to get things done over the weekend. I have so many unfinished DIYs and projects, this is the kick I needed.
Thank you for your lovely article.
I am in such a rut right now with my blog. I know that I need to mix up my routine a bit so I can get the creative juices flowing. I just needed a little reminder.
I love this, especially doing things even if they suck. I love brainstorming and I come up with ideas that are so exciting to me, but then the thought of doing them and them not being as good as I wanted takes the wind out of my sails and I don’t follow through. I need to stop worrying about things not being good enough because I hate thinking back on all the things I could have accomplished but didn’t because I got discouraged by something not being good enough.
I love this! Will definitely need to put some of these into practice soon.
Good tips, Emma! I actually try and change the environment – go out for a run, clean the kitchen instead of moping around inside my bedroom – anything to divert my mind. Often I come back to the task much more refreshed! 🙂
Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
When I’m in a rut, I like to go to the library and flip through anything that catches my eye. Design, cookbooks, gardening, graphic novels, anything! Its a great way to get out of my head and let others inspire me.
These are such great tips. There are often times in my life that I feel uninspired as well. Sometimes it is just feeling uninspired in work, and other it is just feeling uninspired at life in general. It is so important to take time to recognize your feelings, but then turn them around and keep working towards your goals.
Woah. I truly needed this today. Thank you. ♥️
Take a class! Or do a workshop. It doesn’t even have to be related to something you are currently working on. Just learning something new can help get your creative juices flowing! I mean, it could be astronomy, or an improv class, or a dance class. Or even just watch a youtube video on something you think could be interesting. I’ve been watching a lot of watercolor videos recently. I bought the paints and brushes months ago, and still haven’t pulled them out, but watching the videos is a step!
These are GREAT tips. Practical and perfect for combatting a slump. The one that jumped out at my was ‘disrupt a habit.’ I’ve never thought about using a break in routine to refuel and think it’s brilliant.
Thank you for another timely personal post, Emma! I am in the process of a job change due to a workplace closure, and looking at several possibilities, sadly none of which were the job I really really wanted (and did not get, sigh). I am leaving a job I was in just a short time but disliked intensely, as it stifled the professional skills I most wanted to develop while dangling them right in front of my nose on a daily basis. Though not my dream job, thanks for the reminder that this next move can be a step towards that dream, and is still a step forward.