Inspiration on demand
How to beat a case of the "mehs" and get unstuck
Like most creatives, inspiration is a big frickin’ deal for me.
Yes, it’s a feel-good word that sometimes gets a bad rap, lumped into the category of 1990s-era motivational office posters and cute-but-fluffy social media content featuring puppies and rainbows.
That’s not what I’m talking about.
For me, true inspiration leads to action.
When my writing moves someone to think or feel differently and make a positive change, that’s when I know I’ve genuinely connected with them.
So when I hear from someone that I’ve inspired them, it’s probably the greatest compliment they could give me.*
Of course, my ability to inspire others is contingent on finding inspiration.
Usually, that’s not a problem.
I source it everywhere, from everyday interactions with my family, friends, clients, and strangers, to books I read, podcasts I listen to, and movies I watch.
My weird little brain makes connections most miss, so I love finding a way to connect the dots for others. It’s almost like it taps into download mode, actively receiving tons of creative fodder on demand.
But even I struggle at times to find inspiration.**
Because despite my seemingly always positive, never-ending source of creativity, this prolific writer isn’t immune to a case of the “mehs.”
And neither are you.
It happens to the best of us (and never at a good time). Project deadlines loom as your interest wanes; you want to get started but can’t seem to find a way to get unstuck.
Though it’s usually only temporary, figuring out how to move forward can be challenging.
And although I haven’t found a way to spontaneously stream inspiration yet (😉 see number 5 below, and BTW, how cool would that be?), I have compiled a list of 13 tried-and-true ways to find inspiration and get unstuck:
1. Make sure you’re clear on what you want
Sometimes we feel stuck because we don’t have clarity on exactly what we want. As Marie Forleo says, “Ambiguity is the enemy of execution.” Figure out the one thing that’s most important right now and focus on that.
2. Pause the self-judgment
Beating yourself up is counterproductive to making progress. Research shows that self-care drives success, so treat yourself the supportive way you would a treasured friend or colleague. This means being kind and caring toward yourself rather than harshly self-critical.
3. Turn that frown upside down
When you’re feeling stuck, it’s tempting to wallow in your misery. But staying in a negative headspace won’t help you move forward. Instead, shift your mindset to one of positivity and possibility where you consider what could be.
4. Help others and practice gratitude
One of the best ways to deal with feeling uninspired is getting out of your head and helping someone else. Proactively offer assistance to those struggling. Put yourself in their shoes. It’s amazing the shift that occurs when you move from a selfish position to one of service. When you help someone solve a problem, you feel better, which changes your mindset and paves the way for more good.
Another way to do this is to practice gratitude. Write a thank you letter to someone who has impacted your life. Make a list of things for which you are grateful. This becomes a virtuous cycle for positivity and good and a win-win to help get you back on track.
5. Add “yet” to reframe your situation
When you feel frustrated about your lack of inspiration and progress, it’s easy to get trapped in a downward spiral. However, when you add the word “yet” after a negative statement, it transforms it into a more positive one: “I haven’t gotten started” becomes “I haven’t gotten started yet.” “Yet” implies that there will be a future solution or resolution; the current situation is only temporary.
6. Phone a friend
Feeling stuck? The first step is acknowledging it. The next is to reach out for help. A trusted friend or mentor can offer words of encouragement in a supportive and non-judgmental voice to inspire you. Chances are, they’ve been there before and help you find your way out—and, if needed, give you a gentle kick in the pants.
7. Walk away and do something completely unrelated
Have you been toiling away at your laptop for hours and have nothing to show for it? One of the best things you can do is to get up and walk away. Clean out your junk drawer. Play a video game. Take out the garbage. Whatever you do, aim for something completely unrelated to the task at hand so you can shift your focus and hit the reset button.
8. Try moving to a new location
Sometimes a change of venue can provide a much-needed boost of inspiration. For example, if you usually work in your home office, try hitting your local coffee shop or moving outside to get recharged and ready to tackle your project.
9. Sleep on it
If you have an active imagination and a brain that works overtime (even when it’s supposed to be resting), let go and allow your subconscious mind to take over while you sleep. When inspiration strikes, be ready with a pad and pen on your bedside table so you can jot down ideas when they occur.
10. Get your sweat on
Having your brain switch from mental to physical mode can clear the cobwebs and refill its creative juices. Plus, you’re not thinking about that undone project when you’re busy sweating. If you’re feeling stuck, try doing something active, whether practicing yoga or hitting the gym.
11. Connect with nature
Try taking a walk in nature where the only reason you have your phone is to use its camera function. By literally focusing your attention on the beauty of your surroundings — and capturing it in photographs — you’ll allow yourself to relax and make room for inspiration to flow again.
12. Hit the showers***
The next time you’ve hit a roadblock, take a shower. Science tells us there is a direct connection between creativity and showering: a whopping 72% of us get our best ideas in the shower. As Scott Barry Kaufman, a cognitive scientist and co-author of Wired to Create, says, “the relaxing, solitary, and non-judgmental shower environment may afford creative thinking by allowing the mind to wander freely, and causing people to be more open to their inner stream of consciousness and daydreams.”
13. Think micro, not macro
Fixating on all the work you have to do can cause overwhelm and deplete your inspiration. Remember that when it comes to executing, it’s the small actions, done consistently, that matter most. Progress isn’t derived from a single bold, sweeping gesture; it’s made one step at a time. And taking action—however tiny—begets more action.
Another unexpected way you can get (and stay) stuck?
Fixating on the wrong things.
In my latest Forbes article, I share why focusing on what you can control (and letting go of what you can’t) can help you master your career.
P.S. When I’m not writing this newsletter or doing my best to download inspiration on demand, I’m a social media ghostwriter. (Yep, that’s a thing). I help founders, entrepreneurs, and CXOs craft their stories to communicate and connect better by magnifying their reach and impact. (Think personal branding and thought leadership.) Learn more here.
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*This makes complete sense, given my “why” a la Simon Sinek is “inspiring transformation,” and that I aspire to inspire millions of people with my words, one person at a time.
** True confession: Ironically, the inspiration for this issue came from a time when I had zero motivation! But after taking my dog Rigby for a walk to the park (employing numbers 7, 8, 10, and 11 listed above), I had an aha moment, and voila!
*** This is legit for me. I’ve even investigated getting a shower whiteboard to capture the bursts of inspiration I have there.