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Getting creative with negative thinking

This is a little embarrassing. I do feel bad about it… but I must come clean. I admit —with blushing cheeks and a sheepish gaze — I have a creative block. I can feel the muscle-clenching, brain-melting, feet-stomping frustration ooze out of me. What was once a minuscule, barely-there stint of writer’s block has swelled into a giant cement wall that seems to be separating my creative juice from my brain. And it’s starting to get to me. It’s all very topical. Because today I have set out to write about how a gratitude habit like the Top Five can benefit your creative and problem solving skills. This isn’t supposed to happen to me, right? I’m a positivity and gratitude ninja! Grateful words should flow out of me like water from a spigot. But this struggle spares no one. So the question becomes, where do we go from here? Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Tick… tock.

Top Five to the Rescue

As I do when anything has me feeling frustrated and less-smiley than usual, I go to gratitude. I am a true believer in the power of writing a Top Five. I believe that when you take the time to think positively about your life, the gratitude overflows and the goodness procreates. I believe that positive thinking becomes positive doing, and when one person adopts a more positive way of life, then other people will follow. I believe that when lots of people are filled with happy, joyful thoughts, then the world becomes a better place. And believing in all this gives me heaps of inspiration. Soul-lifting, heart-fluttering, finger-tingling inspiration. It’s the kind of inspiration that will help me overcome a nasty case of writer’s block. Let’s get inspired together, shall we?

Positivity as Muse

Everyone has lapses in creativity, in critical thinking, in problem solving. Am I right, friends? Some days, work duties, family life, friend drama and responsibilities seem to suck all the originality from you. The key to overcoming this is knowing there are ways to harness your inner artist, scientist and engineer. There are simple, satisfying, stress-free ways to boost your creativity and cognitive skills.

Find inspiration in your everyday

Thinking positively can unlock a whole treasure chest of ideas and energy. It can build your confidence, grow your leadership skills, enhance your relationships and improve your health, memory and sleep. It’s a cure-all. And it can also help you release those creative juices.

Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage and leader in positive psychology, believes his happy-go-lucky philosophy is more than just smiles and good will. “Happiness fuels success, not the other way around,” he writes. “When we are positive, our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient and productive at work. This isn’t just an empty mantra. This discovery has been repeatedly borne out by rigorous research in psychology and neuroscience, management studies, and the bottom lines of organisations around the globe.” 

How, you ask, is that possible? 

Having a positive-thinking practice like the Top Five can grow your awareness of the times you have thought quickly and creatively, which can be inspiring. It can help you to hold on to and savour the things, people and places that really motivate you, so you can call on those entities when you need them most. It allows you to connect the dots of life — helping you identify the lessons you have learnt from past experiences and bringing those lessons into your current challenges. It can help you boost your confidence and make you more conscious of your crazy, amazing skills.

It’s about celebrating, supporting and fostering your creativity.

Getting Creative With Negative Thinking

The best part of positive thinking is that it leaves little room for negative thinking. When you notice the makes-you-want-to-dance decency in the world, you tend to forget about the average and crappy parts. 

And that’s a good thing. Especially when you want to be a quick-witted, problem-demolishing creative. 

Fear, lack of confidence and negativity all stifle creativity. Science even says so. 

Just ask Dr. Paul Hammerness, a Harvard Medical School professor of psychiatry. Hammerness writes about how positive emotions improve your brain’s function while negative emotions can sabotage your ability to solve problems and lead to you being distracted more easily. 

You see, there is thing called the amygdala. It’s a small, almond-shaped part of your brain. It’s our emotion centre. It also controls motivation. This little glob at the bottom of your brain treats negative emotions like a threat, and it responds powerfully when they are present. 

“Functional brain imaging has shown that activation of the amygdala by negative emotions interferes with the brain’s ability to solve problems or do other cognitive work,” Hammerness says. “Positive emotions and thoughts do the opposite — they improve the brain’s executive function, and so help open the door to creative and strategic thinking.” 

Other studies show that positive, happy, hopeful, optimistic, joyful thinking inhibits cortisol and releases serotonin. Serotonin creates a feeling of well being. Now your brain is performing at its maximum capacity.

I couldn’t handle science back at school, but I bloody love it now when I learn things like this! Move over bunsen burners and period tables. 

Here’s something else: It also comes down to confidence. Not ego. Confidence. That whole loving, caring, adoring way you think about yourself. When you tear yourself down, you are doing yourself a big, fat disservice. You are saying, “Hey self, you can’t do it! So why even try?” That’ll dry up your creative juices fast. 

When you feel abundant, you think abundantly. When you get excited about the challenge at hand, the skills you get to show off, the impact you get to make, it fuels you.

Fuel your confidence,
Rev your creative engine.

And now you are in the driver’s seat.

Friends in Creative Spaces

Sometimes we can spend a lot of negative energy comparing ourselves to others. Especially when it comes to mental and creative work. It’s really easy to look at someone’s presentation or project or writing, and think, “I wish I could do that.” 

And you can, I know it. 

This woe-is-me habit doesn’t mean you should avoid people who fill you with envy. It means you need to stop the critical comparisons and begin the celebration of critical thinking, creativity and problem solving. Soak in their energy, learn from their habits and find inspiration in their process. 

But also know that you have the capability to be that source of inspiration for them. 

Wale Oladipo says you should “walk with the people that unlock energy, productivity and creativity in you.” He suggests that your creative brain is extremely adaptive. After some time, it can upgrade or downgrade to your closest friends’ level of thinking. 

That is why, he says, great thinkers hang out with each other. So the next time you feel pangs of jealousy toward another person’s skill or talent, get up close and personal. 

Similarly, you should not get discouraged by the aspiring vision you have of yourself. I’ve written about Dan Sullivan’s  theory of “the gap” while talking about leadership and procrastination (enter links). And it very much applies to creativity. When you think about your ideal outputs — the projects, the work, the talent — don’t become overwhelmed by the vision. Be inspired by it.

Conquering Your Creative Block in Three Exercises

By now you are probably wondering, “What the heck happened to her creative block?!” 

It’s gone, gone, gone. I pushed aside that giant wall of frustration, I gave myself a pep talk and I just started writing. I used my own experience as motivation, and I looked to others for inspiration. 

And now it’s your turn. Harness your creative, quick-thinking, deep-reasoning energy with these three exercises:

Find your happy place

If you aren’t feeling creative, take a moment to observe if your day has been influenced by negative or positive emotions. If you notice a connection between negative feelings and lack of creativity, take some time to drive positive emotions. Get exercise (or movement), meditate, change your scenery or listen to some mood-lifting music.

Prepare for creative block

Better yet, make a list of the activities, people or elements that help create positive emotion. Make this list when you are at your creative best (You may not be able to create this when you are in a miserable mood). Call it your Creative Block Survival Guide and keep it handy in case of emergencies. For me, things like listening to inspiring podcasts (love The Brave Exchange), dancing, listening to ’80s or classical guitar music, getting fresh air and walking are on my list. I also get great inspiration when I get to connect with someone in my life who brings a laugh or positive emotion.

Focus on you

If you find that observing other people’s work is leaving you uninspired then stop doing it and just focus on your own steps. Get started with one small action toward your own goals. I can go either way with this: Sometimes I am totally inspired by my peers, and other times I can find it draining. Anytime I get a block, I listen to my gut and then adjust based on my feeling.


Really, sometimes becoming more creative is just about doing. Take action. Cross some items off your to-do list. Put some paint on canvas and words down on paper. You’ve got this.

Lastly, if you haven’t already, I encourage you to sign up for my regular so-useful-you’ll-thank-me emails. I am all over the best and brightest developments in the world of positivity and self development. So let me do the sorting for you and bring you only the most effective tools and tips to help you live longer, be healthier, happier, more confident, less lonely, more relaxed, more creative, help you bounce back from hard times quicker, experience improved emotional balance and even sleep better.


With loads of gratitude,



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