When a student or client is facing any creative or strategic stuckness—especially when it comes to writing, creativity, or anything connected to access their inner genius—I often ask a series of questions that take them by surprise.
“How are you sleeping?”
“What is your diet like?”
“Are you exercising regularly?”
“Tell me about your morning and evening routines.”
“Do you have any added stress in your life right now (work, relationships, etc.)?”
“How do you limit distractions during the day? Do you feel like you’re able to focus or like you’re constantly interrupted?”
Sure enough, the more I dig and prod, the more we uncover unhealthy routines, habits, relationships, or situations that are stealing their focus. More often than not, once those are adjusted, they are able to access creative focus and flow.
How about you? Do you ever feel unmotivated? Unfocused? Exhausted? Distracted? Blocked creatively? Stuck? These are all completely normal human experiences. It’s just that the solution isn’t usually within the problem. For example, if you’re having trouble formulating a solid strategic plan for 2022, the solution isn’t to stare at the darned strategy document for another hour while email notifications pop up every three minutes. Instead, the solution might be to cultivate habits that allow you to focus deeply on the task at hand. If you’re dealing with writer’s block, especially if it’s a consistent issue, the solution isn’t to stare hopelessly at the blinking curser until you cave, scroll your Instagram feed, make tea, fold laundry, and then come back and stare at it some more. And if you’re dealing with motivation to even sit down to create in the first place, look to your life because you may come down too hard on yourself. What habits need to shift so you can regularly show up to write?
It’s not you; it’s your habits.
Do A Life Audit
When I start to notice myself slipping in productivity—maybe I have a couple of off days writing or am struggling through a creative project—I do a life audit, asking myself a set of questions much like I asked above. I do the same for my clients and students, and you can walk through this list yourself, either through writing or deep thinking.
- Morning routine: Am I cultivating focus by staying off screens (no email, social, etc.)? Am I sticking with my habits that beget creativity?
- Workday: Have I created consistent, clear parameters on my calendar around my creative space, and am I protecting that time like a mama bear? Have I removed unnecessary meetings from my calendar? Have I eliminated distractions (phone on do not disturb, computer notifications off, door closed)?
- Evening: Do I have an evening routine, supported by healthy habits, that allow me to have a healthy, organized home life?
- Sleep: Do I go to bed at a good time for my body? Am I getting seven to eight hours of quality sleep every night?
- Food: Am I limiting sugar, carbs, and alcohol and filling up on veggies, protein, fats, and water?
- Exercise: Am I moving daily and exercising at least forty-five minutes, four to five days a week? Am I enjoying my fitness or do I need to join a class or group to make it more enjoyable?
- Relationships: Are my relationships (partner, family, friends, coworkers, etc.) nourishing or draining? How can I nurture those relationships? Are there any I should let go?
- Financial: Am I financially healthy (not stressed, clear goals)? Am I planning for my future?
- Mental/intellectual: Am I filling my mind with positive information? Am I spending more time reading than watching shows? Do I find myself aimlessly scrolling social media, or do I set healthy limits around social media use?
For any areas that aren’t working, pick one habit you’ll commit to for a set amount of time, and choose no more than three to five to focus on for thirty to forty-five days at a time. For example, your life audit might reveal that your nightly two glasses of wine, hours of social media scrolling, and lack of exercise are causing you to be out of balance. (No judgment, by the way. We’re all humans reading this, and we all have habits that aren’t ideal.) So you decide, for the next month, to completely remove alcohol, limit social media to twenty minutes a day, and go on a thirty-minute walk, five days a week. Knowing yourself, you put parameters in place to help achieve these goals: put the wine in the basement, install an app to limit social media usage, and decide to get up thirty minutes early to walk, since you know if you get it in right away, you’ll get it done.
Personally, I was dealing with some brain fog and distraction a few months back. While I could eventually get myself focused at my desk, it was a struggle. I also felt exhausted each morning and night, and just not like myself. When I audited my life, I noticed I’d been eating more sugar than normal, and I’d been having a glass of wine a few nights a week—which I didn’t feel particularly bad about (I enjoy wine), but I was curious to see how I’d feel if I cut it out. So I completely cut out sugar, alcohol, and most carbs. While I hadn’t planned to do it long term, I felt so focused and present that I kept it up and am still eating clean.
During other “slump” periods, I’ve adjusted my morning routine, revamped my exercise, and made sure to drink more water—my life audit helps immensely to be able to adjust my habits. (Note that I don’t try to overhaul my whole life. I pick a habit or three and stick with it for a set period of time. More often than not, it sticks long term.)
If you’re stuck creatively, look to your life. Ask yourself thoughtful questions and answer honestly. Be clear and specific, and create life habits to support your success.