Feeling Blocked Or Burnt Out? Here Is How I am Tapping (Back) Into My Creativity.

By Sara McGlothlin

For the longest time, I had a story that I wasn’t creative. I have since traced this story back to a childhood memory, in which I am sitting in an elementary art class. The teacher called me out about something I made – a painting, drawing, clay sculpture…exactly what it was escapes me now. What I do remember is being ridiculed in front of the class. I also remember feeling embarrassed and ashamed; even if it was the slightest remark about it “not being good enough,” and even if I was to hear her same words now and have them roll off of my back, little minds are impressionable, and the seed of that experience got deeply lodged in my subconscious. I began thinking a thought, which then turned into a belief, that I must not be creative. All throughout school I struggled in art classes and excelled in those areas that are considered more “left-brain:” math and languages were definitely my strong suit (not so much sciences as they are traditionally known, but now I know why I love nutritional science so much). I would have much rather have been solving algebra equations or conjugating french phrases than sketching a still life. 

It wasn’t until my mid- to late-twenties when I started my first healthy living blog that I slowly started to shed that old story. Someone made a comment one day about how much creativity it takes to keep something like that going (a fond memory with regards to my creativity!), and it was that one comment that started to chip away at the story I had held on to for so long. As I started to develop a mindfulness practice, I finally understood the concept of a “story” in and of itself (I wish that was something that was taught in school). Now I am constantly observing and witnessing stories as they arrive, and I get to choose the ones I hold on to or let go of. It’s very empowering.

Stories around my creativity continue to come up. Some serve me, some don’t. The biggest one I have chosen to adopt in recent years is like all humans, I am a creative being, but the ways I express myself are through photography and food. No one in elementary school told me that could ever be an option (probably because they didn’t know it could be an option); it was something I had to figure out for myself. 

My skills around recipe writing and food photography have been one of the biggest evolutions of my life, and it is so fun to think back on where I started, where my talents currently stand, and the potential for the future. There have been some periods in the last five to ten years where I have put my creative interests on the back burner (there are stories behind that as well. See below), but it has never been a hat I could hang up for too long. I always come back to it. It’s a craving, a calling, and even when I am frustrated by my abilities (or lack thereof), it immediately puts me in the flow. On a micro level, I know if I am having a bad day, all I need to do is put on my apron and pick up my camera, and I feel so much better on the other side. On a macro level I never would have achieved my dream of writing a cookbook, started my business, or launched my current online magazine. I have had to let go of expectations and other people’s potential  perceptions, (still working on these) by shifting the narrative back to what creativity is about in the first place: the process. 

The pandemic plus becoming a new mom created a major block, mostly due to burn out, partially due to brain fog. I recently read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and the book was like a breath of fresh air. If anyone feels creatively blocked, I highly recommend it, but even if you aspire to be more creative in your career or daily life, it’s an amazing read for that too. Here are some ways I am actively tapping back into my creativity. 

Morning pages

I have had a regular journaling practice for almost 10 years. It started with training wheels, using The Five Minute Journal for gratitude, mantras, and retraining my brain exercises (it worked wonders!). The practice then evolved into more of a free-writing format, but I would revert back to writing down a few things I felt grateful for when I didn’t have anything else to write. I would often write to my intuition, which was a game changer for getting to know myself and connecting to my authenticity (I talk more about this in Counting Colors). 

Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way highly encourages “Morning Pages.” This entails writing for three pages unedited. Whatever comes up. If nothing comes to mind, you write “I don’t know what to write” for three pages. She is adamant and enthusiastic that this practice will help you connect to your creativity. At first I thought there was no way I was going to be able to fill three pages each morning, but from the first day I started, the words have poured out almost seamlessly (some days are easier than others). This method has definitely cracked some creativity wide open. Even when I write about the most mundane things (my to list for example), it gets the mental noise out of my mind and onto paper, and I have felt more in the flow with creative projects ever since. 

Observe the thought that is causing the block. Take the action anyway.

As mentioned above, I tend to build my own blocks around my creativity by the stories I tell myself. In a recent session with my life coach, I had this epiphany that these are just thoughts. Let me reiterate that: they are just thoughts. Our mind gives our thoughts a lot of power when we hold them as true or fail to separate them from ourselves. But when we acknowledge them for what they are (thoughts), they lose their power. As Viktor Frankel famously said “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” It is in that pause that you can actually choose your next course of action. For example, as a recipe writer and photographer, a precursor to my creative pursuits is planning out a recipe and photo shoot, going to the grocery store to ensure I have the right ingredients on hand, and actually making or baking whatever it is I want to write about. Sometimes I am lazy, and can perceive going to the grocery store as a chore. The thought of “I don’t want to go to the grocery store” can stop me in my tracks, creating a block around one of the earliest parts of the process. But if I just observe the thought, let it go, and take the action anyway (i.e. go to the grocery store), I break through the block and continue the flow. 

Feel present in the process.

When it comes to goal setting and achievement, I am someone who has put a lot of pressure on myself. This is still something I work on letting go of every day. The traditional school setting and parental expectations taught me to focus on the “result:” the good grade, the award, accolade, attention. In adulthood, this translated into getting a good job, making money, accolade, attention. In other words, picking up the shiny pennies and checking the boxes. Rarely did I allow myself to relish in the process of whatever I was working on. And when the end result didn’t match my expectations, that just led to disappointment and feelings of failure. It took me a long time to realize that creativity is mostly about the process. Sure, you produce something on the other side, but if you want joy, consistent contentment, growth and evolution to be a part of your art, you are going to have to shift your focus to the process. A few years after starting my first healthy living blog, I gave it up because I allowed my ego to overshadow my intuition. When I think about the flow I felt when I was blogging, I loved it. It was the first time I felt authentically myself. But my ego would rear its head and tell me it was dumb, no one was reading, and what’s the point. That is not to say that voice doesn’t still resurface from time to time, but it is more of a whisper than a shout and I can recognize it for what it is. Fortunately, the hindsight perspective is 20/20. One of my biggest regrets is when I stopped blogging all of those years ago, so I can use that hindsight perspective to persevere with my creative pursuits today. 

Prioritize creativity and view it as important. 

I can’t tell you how many times I have wished I cared less about my creativity. If only I didn’t love this so much, life would be easier. If only I was less passionate about writing, recipe creation, photography, sharing the health, life would be easier. I wouldn’t spend my free time flipping through baking books and magazines (yes, I do that), or scrolling food photography images on the internet in order to improve my craft, or sit on my front porch on a Saturday morning writing about chocolate cheesecake (true story). For so long I resisted that side of myself, and it always made me extremely unhappy. And as change would have it, it starts with a shift. Some shifts are more subtle, some more profound, and sometimes the subtle shifts are the most profound. This is who I am, I told myself one day, and it is important to me, simply for the fact that it makes me feel more authentically aligned. To align with your authenticity is a gift, and I wish that for everyone. I truly believe it is when we push down parts of ourselves and tamper the freedom of expression that we are more likely to turn to those numbing behaviors (food, alcohol, drugs, exercise, work), creating imbalances in the body, mind, and spirit. Authentic alignment gets underestimated in the wellness world. So if you do one thing to feel more Healthified, I encourage you to take a small step towards your creativity and authentic self.