Editor’s note: This article is the ninth in an A-Z series on issues related to creative blocks. This month we look at the role of immersion in creative work and ways to enhance the feeling of being fully engaged in an activity.
It may sound counterintuitive to suggest that many creative individuals are holding back when they are creating. The image conflicts with the widespread perception of an obsessive artist or scientist who has shut out the rest of the world and cannot think of anything other than his or her work/project. In fact, there are some creative types who work this way. The potential risk associated with this creative style is poor balance between work and personal life.
On the other hand, there is the creative type who feels detached, uninspired, and creatively blocked; in other words, the creative person who is not immersed in his or her work. The outcome is often dissatisfaction with the final product or with the experience of the creative process, and lack of creative fulfillment.
Immersion is the feeling of being pleasantly entangled in the web of our creative experiences. It involves surrendering to and embracing the challenges, new thoughts, unexpected ideas, rewards, and the in-the-moment flows that come with creative work. Immersion is important in helping us work through difficult and persistent creative blocks. So how do we achieve the feeling of being in an immersed state during moments of creative expression?
- Minimize external distractions: No matter how prepared you might feel to let your mind freely generate new ideas, external distractions can quickly interrupt your efforts. Make sure you give yourself the time and space you need to create in order to fully engage in the activity. The goal is to avoid becoming mentally fragmented due to interruptions from your surrounding environment.
- Minimize internal distractions: You may have the perfect external conditions and plenty of uninterrupted time yet still feel distracted—by your own mind. As we will see below, becoming mindful is one way to overcome this. Another technique is to keep a piece of paper next to you while you are creating onto which you can jot down all the random thoughts that come up. In the form of a list, without going into detail, just write down in one or two words the many thoughts that might be bouncing around in your head. This way, these internal distractions will be visually present and outside your mind. The goal is to be able to say, “OK, now I know what keeps distracting my mind; I can revisit these thoughts when I’m done working on my art, music piece, novel, etc.” As time goes on, the compulsion to engage in these distracting thoughts will be lessened.
- Choose appropriate task level: Working on something that’s too easy and repetitive can lead to boredom. On the other hand, something too challenging can lead to frustration and discouragement. Both of those feelings can make it difficult to feel rewarded and engaged in the creative work. Try working on the skill of finding “just the right amount” of challenge in order to maximize the feeling of immersion while creating. The goal is to be somewhat challenged but also rewarded by instantaneous accomplishments.
- Decide what’s meaningful: Prior to beginning your creative work, it might be a good idea to spend some time thinking about your motivation. What motivates you to bring something to life? Why is this meaningful to you? How does it help your mental health and your body? By feeling certainty and confidence about the importance of your work, you will minimize doubts and inhibitions that limit immersion.
- Be mindful: Our brains are constantly working and receiving input. It is inevitable that sometimes our thoughts will wander and take us away from the present moment. All it takes is a gentle mental command to go back to the task. This may sound something like, “I’m here now,” or, “This moment.” Doing this will help you remain focused and will maximize your brain’s capacity to come up with novel ideas.
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