Hit a wall in your creativity? Maybe you need to learn to recuperate.
Roadblocks to Progress
“I can’t seem to figure out where I went wrong with this pattern,” I moaned to my mom. I had fifteen costumes to sew for the senior English class play, and one of the elaborate gowns had me stymied.
“Go outside and play with the dogs,” she suggested. “They need their afternoon walk.”
“Fine.” I grumped a little as I turned off the sewing machine and untangled myself from yards of fabric and leg-o-mutton sleeves. The deadline for finishing the costumes loomed so close I had brought two of them to work on during a long-weekend vacation out of state to visit family.
We pulled on jackets and boots and headed up the hill behind my sister’s property with a gaggle of dogs—including my two German Shepherds. I threw sticks in between chatting with my mom and sister.
An hour later, we had made the two-mile circuit around their hilly property, and I went back into the sewing room to tackle the leg-of-mutton sleeves again. Only I’d already won the battle. Somehow, during the hour I’d spent outside, the directions made sense and the problem quickly resolved itself.
I’ve found physical action, especially physical action I can do without thinking, frees my brain to tackle creative problems on a subconscious level. When we allow our mind to recuperate from creative stress, it solves many of its own problems.
Scientists have started to study this exercise-creativity phenomenon. They wondered whether people felt more creative because exercise improved their mood, or if people just had more creative power because they exercised. According to one study, exercise enhances both mood and creativity—but independent of each other.
A Dutch study seems to confirm the connection between exercise and creativity.
Why We Need to Take Time to Recuperate
We don’t just need to recuperate from our creative endeavors, though. We can hit a wall physically, as well. Athletes (and even non-athletes like myself), can overtrain and lose their enthusiasm for their sport. The Women’s Sports Medicine Center,
Hospital for Special Surgery warns, “too much training can actually lead to a decline in performance.”
Although no one would ever accuse me of being an athlete, exercise enthusiasts such as myself can fall prey to overtraining as well. Fitness trackers such as a Fitbit or Apple Watch stoke my competitive streak.
I recently purchased an exercise bicycle to help change up my routine. The bicycle came with a one-year free membership to iFit, and I discovered the fun of doing a live spinning class. The problem? The class has a leaderboard with all of the participant’s stats right there on my screen. I can see what other 50-something females are doing during the workout (as well as males and females from other age-groups).
By my fifth workout, I realized I had started to pedal at the end of the workout while everyone else took a moment to stretch and recuperate. Just because I wanted to maintain my top three position for mileage. The other participants (except for the one or two other uber-competitive people like myself) followed the coach’s instructions to stop pedaling and stretch. Not me. I stretched while pedaling.
While this competitive bent serves me well in many areas, I understand it can cause me to overtrain or go overboard at times. The symptoms of mental, artistic, physical, and spiritual burnout look surprisingly similar.
- feeling stuck
- increased or decreased appetite
- inability to concentrate
- reduced performance
- feelings of hopelessness
Sabbath Rest for Recuperation
The cure? Taking time to recuperate. The period of recuperation may also include one of the other four points on the MAPS compass. Physical activity may reduce creative burnout. Creative activity may reduce mental burnout. Spiritual activity may reduce any of the other types of burnout, and any of the other may reduce spiritual burnout.
God created us to enjoy a variety of things. Any time we force ourselves to do too much of one thing, we start to suffer. Take ice cream, for example. I absolutely LOVE Extreme Moose Tracks Ice-Cream. But if I eat more than a small bowl, it starts to just taste cold. The flavors wane. My enjoyment dissipates.
Although I love photography and birdwatching, a steady diet of those activities will leave me feeling worn-out and fatigued, too. And I love my students and teaching them, but we need vacations from each other.
God created us to need time to recuperate. Seven to eight hours in a day, and one day in a week. I use the Sabbath to recuperate from all my endeavors. I set a playdate with God and unplug from work, online, blogging, social media, and anything else that interferes with my need to recuperate.
In doing so, I honor his plan for humans, spend time with fellow believers, spend time in his second book (Nature), or replenish my sleep bank. For more ideas on how the Sabbath can help you recuperate, you can check out this post.
Photography, Creativity, Sabbath Rest and Recuperation
Although it might seem like an odd bag I’ve opened today, remember this: If you take time to recuperate, you’ll have renewed focus in whatever area you experience burnout. Furthermore, a weekly time to recuperate will help prevent bigger problems with burnout that will take longer to recover from.
Take a break from your to-do list, your striving, your creative endeavors.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”Matthew 11:28-30 The Message
You didn’t think I’d forget, just because I wrote about the need to recuperate, did you? Make an if-then list.
If I get stuck writing, then I’ll take a walk.
Come up with your own list of ways to recuperate or change things up when you feel stuck. Keep it posted near your creative workspace. Extra credit if none of your ‘thens’ has calories. Share a few in the comments, too! I’d love to hear how others change things up to move past roadblocks.
Come Back Tomorrow
Drop in tomorrow when I’ll explain my hacks for better moon photography in the next installment of 28 Days Behind the Lens.