30 Days Challenge, Creativity

Creative Rest: 5 Things To Remember When Feeling Overwhelmed.

Removing yourself from work can feel threatening. But, you need to take rest regularly – not when you feel you can ‘afford’ it, but you need to strategically carve out some time for creative rest. For some people this can mean more than just a daily or weekly break – sometimes you will need to step back from your work for months to refuel your creative tank.

“A creative life is built through consistency, not by lurching from one outsized explosion of effort to the next. If you’re feeling a bit burned out, overworked, or even a little stuck, rest can work wonders.”

Chase Jarvis

5 Things To Remember When Feeling Overwhelmed:

1. Your Pauses Carry Power.

person sitting and meditating outside
Photo by Mental Health America (MHA) on Pexels.com

Studies show that just sleeping is not – we need to incorporate different forms of resting activities in our daily life. Meditation and mindfulness are powerful forms of creative rest. As we sit still with just our thoughts and train ourselves to observe them without judgment, we make the creative side of our brain stronger.

In mindfulness, when you are directing your focus, you train yourself to put one foot in front of the other. Creative projects are mostly complicated – with hundreds of different tasks handled by a group of collaborators. As you practice being right here right now, you start to gain clarity about what the next most important step should be for you and your team.

Meditation helps you access a verifiable fourth state of consciousness, which is different from all the other three states of consciousness: waking, sleeping, and dreaming. In one of her talks, Emily Fletcher talks about how during meditation, your left and right brain work in unison. Your left brain is the analytical one, your right brain is the creative one.

During different activities of the day, different areas of our brain light up – signifying which group of neurons are actively responsible. However, scientists are now seeing that when we meditate, the whole right and left hemispheres light up at the same time – showing that our left brain and right brain are working in unison.

It is also recorded that people, who practice meditation for as little as 10 minutes every day, have increased thickness of the corpus callosum (the tissue that connects the left hemisphere and the right hemisphere) and a decreased size of the amygdala.

The decreased size of the amygdala serves as a blessing for people doing creative work. When doing creative work, we need to take risks – things are often uncertain. Our brain is wired to ensure our survival – consequently, it dismisses the ideas that it is not familiar with. The novelty that creative work requires is innately adverse to our survival instincts.

Negative feedback (especially during the early days of a creative project), criticism of our work, or rejection from opportunities can all trigger the amygdala and hijack our creative confidence. A daily practice of meditation helps regulate the amygdala in the face of a trigger and allows us to lean into our creative projects.

2. Resting Is Not the Same As Quitting.

attractive asian woman with mirror on floor
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It’s important that we learn to quit the things that aren’t just working – that’s wise. But at other times, you might realize that quitting would actually create more problems that are less manageable than the ones you have at this moment. The grass on the other side always looks greener, but grass doesn’t get green without work on someone’s part.

So you need to ask yourself – has the situation truly and honestly given up on me, or am I just giving up on a bit of hard work?

If you feel like it’s a dead-end, and you have completely stopped enjoying the process – by all means, go ahead and quit. But if you feel like it’s just burnout and you are still passionate about your craft, give yourself the permission to have a creative rest.

Creative rest is very different from quitting. Taking a creative rest may look just like quitting – but creative rest comes without the commitment. Not every decision to quit is reversible. Creative rest is an opportunity to refresh and take a break, without being drastic and dangerous – without risking your livelihood.

Take a rest. Have a break. Take your creative mind for a walk. When things get messy and overwhelming, it’s tempting to throw your hands up in the air and be done with it. But many times it’s important to learn to take a creative rest, not quit. Resting will allow you to be in the headspace to weigh out the pros and cons of your decision to quit – and often times you will realize that you were being impulsive in the first place to decide just to quit.

3. Stop Feeling Guilty About Getting Rest.

creative rest
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Taking care of ourselves is often labeled as being self centered. And guilt is one of the biggest barrier in our way of taking a creative rest.

Even though we often feel guilty for resting, there’s something profound about not doing anything, even if it is for just a moment. Consider practices like meditation, or prayer, or breathing exercises, or general stillness, or mindfulness. When we allow ourselves the opportunity to sink deep enough within, there’s a depth we reach that otherwise remains unattainable when we grind ourselves.

As much as we want to check off things from our to-do list, most of those things are surface-level. We’re trying to get everything done on our agenda, just for a momentary sense of fulfillment and “success.” We work long hours for a job or project and take pride in the fact that we didn’t take any breaks and we “worked hard.” It’s just not unhealthy, it’s unrealistic.

The most obvious way to stop feeling guilty about rest is by simply resting. It is easier said than done. One way to go about this is to intentionally prioritizing stillness and scheduling it at different points throughout the day-the key is to keep doing it when you don’t feel much difference in the first few days. Start with short periods of time, and then increase as it feels appropriate. Eventually, the effects will be evident.

Be realistic about what you can get done in one day. I used to have 4-5 things on my plate for a day. The scenario has changed during the pandemic. Sometimes I get only one thing done and call it a day. I don’t force myself to do more or feel guilty for what isn’t accomplished. For tasks that you have in your mind as necessary, ask yourself, “Is this really going toward something meaningful and purposeful? Or is this just a task that keeps me at bay over my underlying guilt?”

4. You Get More Done When You Rest.

photo of a sad girl holding paint brush
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Although this may sound counterproductive, it is true. When you are constantly sprinting and pushing harder, you get burned out. And if you get back to work without properly recovering from one burn out, recovering from the next burn out becomes even more difficult. The recovery becomes more and more difficult as you delay the process of recovery and rest.

Your productivity is also dampened as you try to push yourself without recovering from a burn out. It is similar to a muscle injury-you can definitely pop a few pain-killers and go on with your life and work as if nothing has happened, but the injury keeps getting worse in the background. At one point, you are actually forced to stop and go through a complicated surgical process. You are forced to stop at that point, and sometimes it even costs you the work that you were doing – an athlete may have to give up his career in soccer, a musician may have to stop playing her cello, an artist may never be able to pickup his brushes because of an injured muscle in the leg or the wrist.

Similarly, your creativity is a muscle. It gets stronger the more you use it, but it also gets depleted if you keep flexing it constantly, beyond it’s natural capacity. If you can strategically plan periods of rest, you will be surprised how many great creative ideas come running to you.

The greatest ideas that came to me were when I had completely separated from the creative project that I was currently undertaking. Sometimes, I wrap up my camera, or art supplies, or laptop and don’t touch them for a time period of of one week to several months. When I pick them up again, I see remarkable change in the quality of work that I was producing.

Your brain needs time to process all the information that you are putting in it. I get the best comprehension after thoroughly learning and practicing something, then totally separating myself from the work, and then coming back to it after a while. If I keep pushing myself to constantly make progress, I easily become resentful towards the very craft that I am trying to master.

5. You are Valuable Regardless of What You Do.

man in red polo shirt smiling
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This is the part that I most struggle with. Most of us grew up in environments where our worth as a human being was tied with how well we performed in academics or sports. Nobody ever told us as a child that we are still worthy when we are not performing. We enter into adulthood with the same set of beliefs and constantly push ourselves to be more productive.

Since my childhood,  I have been a hard worker. I studied hard in school and got good grades. Even now, I do a lot of different work at the same time and aim to perform equally well in all the activities. I strive for positive feedback daily for the work that I do. I  tend to equate my self worth with my level of productivity and the amount of positive reinforcement I receive from other people on a given day. Even during this pandemic, I beat myself up when my level of productivity dropped as compared to the previous day.

There are two major problems that come with this kind of mindset. First, our sense of self-worth is entirely dependent on something that we have little to no control over. Second, it’s fiction that one has the same level of productivity every day.

As people doing creative work, we constantly require to need to take the risk that what we are so dearly investing our time and energy (probably money too) MIGHT JUST FAIL. There is always the possibility that no one will buy the product or service we are providing – or that there will be no one to applaud at the end of our stage performance. No one might enjoy the art that we are so passionately making, at least not at this moment. (Remember the story of Vincent Van Gogh’s life.)

Does that mean we should just stop doing the work that we are doing? NO.

But that doesn’t imply that we will overwork ourselves and have a burn-out every single month. That’s where the concept of creative rest comes in. We often tell ourselves that we can’t afford to take a creative rest unless we get to finish the work that we are working on, even when our bodies are telling us otherwise. We have the feeling that if we rest, we will fail – the whole project will come crashing down. We will go back to square one when we return to our project after taking the time to rest. Or we might feel that our worth as a human being is dependent on our productivity.

There is a question that you have to start asking yourself: HOW AM I ENOUGH? The answer to this question is very personalized. I can’t answer it for you in this article – it’s something that you have to find out for yourself. The really important point about self-worth is that it stems from a place of self-care.

Do you feel like you (gasp) DESERVE to afford a creative rest? Asking yourself this question can bring a lot of difficult emotions to the surface. And it’s important that you take the time to process them – either alone or with a trained professional. Once you start exploring this question, you will be surprised what all answers you get from yourself.

No joke, once you get this aspect of your creative life sorted, you will be amazed by how much of a boost you get. Once you learn to accept that you are valuable no matter how much work you get done at the end of the day, you will feel what a huge weight is lifted off your shoulder and how much easier it is for you to get going.

This article is inspired by Rukmini Poddar‘s Instagram post.

DAY 24/30

See the 30-Days-Challenge here.