Some times my brain rebels. It merely wraps itself in a fluffy blanket and says “I’m taking a break.” A common problem during the long, grey days of winter when my brain gets lost in the fog after only an hour or two of work. Therefore, I feel the need to get things done but lack the mental motivation or even cognitive capacity. Because one of my intentional living resolutions is not fighting my body, I no longer beat myself up or reach for the cookies and caffeine. If your mind needs a break, here are 5 ways to still accomplish something while your brain recharges.
1. Connect with a professional contact.
Connect with another creative artist or perhaps a gallery owner, show coordinator, or someone you admire in the field that you’ve always wanted to thank. Write a brief note. Ask what they’re working on or let them know you particularly liked something they did or posted recently or to thank them for something they’ve given you either through their work or just their time and attention in the past. Keep it brief and not in any way a pitch.
While it may not be the task you wanted to do, it will allow you to strengthen your professional connections and network. Oh, and if you are feeling particularly fuzzy, don’t send it until your mind is clear and you’ve reviewed it.
2. Do relevant research
Research upcoming exhibits, workshops, classes, or retreats you’d like to participate in. Or you can research galleries that you’d like to represent you. Make some notes of dates, locations, and other mundane information and also why you’d like to participate. What is appealing to you? For instance, is it simply prestige or does the subject or medium inspire you? What would you have to do to make it happen? Visualize this. Dwell in the experience. Start making a list of the steps necessary, working backward from the actual event to now.
Did your brain wake up? Did your spirit? (Did your inner critic? Make note also of any negative objections or thoughts that come up. This may be something you want to work on in your self-care.) Above all, be open to possibilities and new approaches.
3. Mindlessly engage
Knit, crochet, stitch, doodle, clean and organize your art supplies, file papers, or engage in some other mindless or mundane task while listening to a podcast, TED Talk, BBC Radio 4, or your favorite fun film that you have memorized. (I’m a big fan of Sally Melville’s The Knitting Experience Book 1: The Knit Stitch book* and the “Alexandra’s Airplane Scarf “pattern from Churchmouse Yarns & Tea as no-brainer projects.) Not exactly a mindful activity but it can provide a sense of achievement without stressing your mind or your body. Sometimes it’s good to let the brain go walkabout.
4. Take yourself on a date or give yourself a mini-retreat
In Julie Cameron’s iconic, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity*, she requires you to schedule a weekly Artist’s Date where you do something pleasurable and creatively inspiring. Maybe you go to a gallery, museum, or show. Perhaps you just take a class in an entirely different medium. Or you just go for a walk in a garden or woods and absorb the beauty. Possibly you pick (or pick up) some flowers and arrange them in a vase you put on your desk or bedside. For a mini-retreat, you may treat yourself to a mani-pedi, facial, or massage. It may be nothing more than a long, steamy, scented bath or simply an hour with some soothing music and fragrant candle or incense. Pamper yourself.
The point is to allow yourself — and your rebelling brain — to take a break from all the “shoulds” and “musts.” In addition, you embrace some self-care and nurture your creative artist.
5. Clear some clutter
As the Second Law of Thermodynamics demonstrates: entropy tends towards maximum. No matter how clean our studio was to start, we’re going to have to clean it again six months later. (Old joke.) In other words, visual chaos can create cognitive clutter. Our minds can be overloaded with distracting stimuli. The stress builds with increased disorder until we’re entirely blocked.
Frankly, when I suddenly feel compelled to clean, I know I’m either avoiding some other work or my brain is working in the background on a creative solution to a project. Or both. Possibly, I’m avoiding some work because my mind recognizes a problem with the task and is coming up with a better idea. Perhaps my approach is wrong. With time I’ve learned to listen to my unconscious. (If you think your brain may be trying to tell you something, you might try the Why Exercise.)
So if you find your brain has shut down for the day, start cleaning and tidying. If the task looks overwhelming, then tackle something small like your work table top or that drawer where all the miscellaneous ends up. You know which drawer I mean. If you find yourself with a neat and tidy room, take a moment to sit and savor the order. Take in the view and let your mind absorb the peace — and your success.
Numerous studies from several disciplines have shown that mindfulness meditation has many health benefits including increased creativity and cognitive repair. It’s also a cornerstone of intentional living. It doesn’t have to be a significant undertaking. Learn the basics of sitting quietly, focusing on your breath and the sounds and sensations around you to quiet your squirrel-mind. There are countless mindfulness meditation videos, podcasts, book, and classes. Many are free. So take time in your day for 5-30 minutes of sitting mindfully, intentionally, either focusing on a peaceful, positive experience or letting go of all thoughts — and worries. If you have trouble sitting still, you might try mindfully knitting or walking or some other repetitive action that allows you to dive into the flow.
These are just a few methods that I employ. Let me know if you have a favorite way of dealing with a brain on strike in the comments. Also, let me know if you’re interested in a course on mindful meditation.
Of course, we don’t always have to be “productive.” It’s perfectly okay to let our minds rest and percolate in the background — or simply drift and daydream. Research has found that daydreaming is often when our creative brain is hard at work. So relax.
(*Yes, this is an affiliate link. I get a few pennies from Amazon if you purchase through the link. My Amazon profits are donated to various wildlife & animal sanctuaries.)