Existential Psychology

Feeling Uninspired

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Activities that demand creativity are the best kinds of activities. They allow us to unfold our human potential while putting our own unique fingerprint on the world. We get to feel productive in the best sense of the word. But creativity means relying on inspiration, a state we can’t really control. It’s quite a bit safer to learn a craft where you can mechanically produce the same product time after time, without having to rely on a muse. You’ll often hear people say that great works are 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration but still, what do you do when that 1% is nowhere to be found, when you’re feeling uninspired?

The worst thing you can do is get down on yourself, allowing negative, judgmental thoughts to seep into your consciousness. You might not be able to control when that bolt of lightning comes but you certainly can control your state of readiness for it. In my view the open, hopeful, expectant attitude is more conducive to grabbing on to that bolt and running with it. I know there are a lot of tortured geniuses out there who would disagree with me, who rely on their melancholy to produce their works, but might this not be a case of a false positive? Like thinking that drugs are necessary for creativity, might not relying on negativity be a crutch they could do without?

Regardless of whether you think you need to be naturally melancholic to be creative, you can’t force something that’s not there, so why add to your misery by getting down on yourself when it’s not? This is a classic example of emotional and psychological pain resulting from an unnecessary secondary emotion. You’re feeling uninspired, and this is bad enough on its own, but if you just stay with this state you are in your primary emotion. Most people don’t stop there though. They put several negative value judgments on the experience, and before they know it they’re mired in more negative feelings like guilt, anger, or feelings of worthlessness. Much better to just mindfully stay with the primary emotion, saying to yourself “I’m feeling uninspired right now,” and leave it at that, without allowing the cascade of other thoughts and emotions to wreak havoc in your life.

Speaking to my own experience in psychology, when ideas aren’t coming, instead of hitting my head against the wall and wasting my time producing an inferior, uninspired product I go back to the activities that are nourishing to me, remembering that they are all grist for the mill. I think of ideas as like seeds; some of them take longer to sprout than others, but they are all the end result of everything we do and think in our lives. The best way to set ourselves up for that bolt of inspiration, that bubbling up of thoughts into conscious awareness, is to stay plugged in to life. These experiences often act as lightning rods. For example, many of the ideas for my articles come bubbling to the surface while I’m lying on my mat after a yoga session or when I’m practicing walking meditation, and these are the times when I really don’t have to work for them at all. They aren’t the product of a conscious string of thoughts or of any effort on my part, they just strike out of the blue. But of course they really are a product of a long sequence of events and have been waiting for the ideal time to show themselves. If you can cut yourself a break when you’re feeling uninspired and leave the work alone for a bit, going back to the activities that nourish you, you’ll become unstuck, the ideas will start to flow, and you’ll be a whole lot happier in the process.