Inside: Feel like you’ve hit a wall with your creativity? The key is not to work harder, but to rest better. Here are 14 ways to get creative rest. 

An ancient king of Syracuse once gave a scientist named Archimedes a first-world problem to solve. The king wanted to determine whether a certain crown made for him consisted of pure gold. 

Legend says Archimedes had a flash of insight while climbing into a public bathtub. He realized a pure gold crown would displace less water than an impure one made of gold and silver. 

Bubbling with excitement, Archimedes leaped out without his clothes. Dripping wet, he ran home shouting “Eureka! Eureka!” (“I’ve found it! I’ve found it!”) 

The Unexpected Power of Rest

Perhaps you’ve never sprinted home naked after solving a problem, but some of your best ideas have come when you least expected. Like in the shower or tucked into bed. Or chowing down on a donut Homer Simpson-style.

The power of rest in the creative process is undeniable. Studies show that we get the best ideas when our brains are most relaxed. In this article, I’ll show you how to use creative rest to revive your creativity—no matter your craft or life circumstances.

What is Creative Rest?

In her book Sacred Rest, Dr. Shaundra Dalton-Smith lays out the seven types of rest that we all need. A deficit in any of these areas can cause us to feel chronically depleted. Creative rest is one of these types of rest and involves taking a break from the creative process. 

Creative rest allows your brain to unwind so that it generates more ideas. It can awaken your sense of awe and wonder, which jump-starts your imagination. And it renews and restores you so that you don’t burn out. 

You need this kind of rest if your work involves problem-solving, developing new ideas, or creating from scratch. Creative rest not only increases our capacity for innovation, but it gives us the refreshment we desperately need in today’s 24-7 world. 

Your Creativity as a Muscle

You might think of your creativity as a muscle. God has given some of us naturally bigger muscles than others. But all of us have the muscles and the potential to develop them further. Even if you don’t think of yourself as the “creative type.”

God desires us to develop our talents to the best of our abilities (see Matthew 25:14-30). We can increase our creative output through diligent practice and training.

But as any personal trainer will tell you, working out without resting leads to worsening performance. So as with any physical muscle, we need to take breaks from creating. Thinking of your creativity as a muscle will help you remember to do so. 

When Do You Need Creative Rest?

So how do you know when your creative muscles need a break? Here are some clues:

  • You work long hours without breaks
  • You’ve run out of ideas—no matter how hard you try
  • You feel frustrated, self-critical, or cynical
  • You’re started to dread your work 
  • You experience the Sunday Scaries most nights
  • You’ve lost your passion for your craft
  • You feel depleted or burned out
  • You’re going through a major life change

If any of these sounds familiar, here’s what you can do.

14 Ways to Get the Creative Rest You Need

1. See creative rest as part of the process.

If you’re like most people, rest doesn’t come naturally. Your mind still shuffles through your to-do list when you’re trying to unwind. You feel antsy, guilty, or even empty. 

The first step is to change your mindset. The creative process doesn’t only involve creating. It includes both creating and resting. Learn to view rest as part of the creative process—not as something apart from it. 

If you’re the overachieving type, challenge yourself to get the rest you need. View rest as a positive opportunity, not a negative annoyance. Make it a goal if needed.

2. Take a break before you overextend yourself.

We’ve all been there. You’re stuck on a project, but instead of taking a break, you grit your teeth and push through anyway. Your frustration mounts as you end up like that head-banging-on-the-wall emoji.

Taking short, regular breaks helps stave off creativity exhaustion and burnout. The key is to take these breaks before you hit the wall (pun intended).

You could determine to take a break once an hour, for example. Set a timer for when you want to stop or use the Pomodoro technique.

3. Stop after reaching a small milestone.

The Zeigarnik effect says that when you start but don’t complete a task, thoughts of the task continue to linger in your mind. Once you finish the task, however, your mind will let it go. 

Use the Zeigarnik effect to your advantage. Break down your work into smaller, attainable goals. If you rest after these milestones, your brain will be able to unwind better.

(If you’re worried that you’ll lose your train of thought, jot down your ideas before you take a break.)

4. Immerse yourself in nature.

Studies show that spending time in nature increases our creativity by calming the prefrontal cortex, the logical part of our brains. When this area relaxes, our minds dip into our memories, ideas, and imagination instead.

Nature also inspires our sense of awe and wonder, which has been shown to increase flexible and novel thinking. Throughout history, many artists created their masterpieces after an experience of awe and wonder.

For Christians, being in nature also helps us worship and reconnect with God—the ultimate Creator. 

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5. Get moving.

Physical movement enhances our creativity levels as well. In one study, people who walked outside came up with twice as many creative ideas as those who sat in a room. Even the subjects who walked on a treadmill indoors saw an increased number of creative ideas.

So exercising is one of the best ways to get creative rest. But even if you can’t squeeze it in, pacing or taking a walk while you think will increase your creative potential. Walking meetings have become more popular for this reason.

6. Get some shut-eye.

Sleep is another option for creative rest. During REM sleep, your brain dreams, organizes memories, and forms new associations. It continues to subconsciously process the challenges of the day, which causes you to wake up with new insights. 

In one study, participants had the chance to look at a math challenge before sleeping. Getting a full night of sleep more than doubled the chances of them discovering a new solution to the problem. So if you’re stuck, the best thing to do is to sleep on it and come back later.

7. Do nothing. 

The idle mind is anything but idle. When our brains are bored, they attempt to fill the void by seeking stimulation (usually on our smartphones).

But without outside distractions, our minds form new concepts and ideas. In other words, our minds start to create. 

If your creative well has run dry, it could be that your brain is occupied all your waking hours. So embrace moments of boredom rather than fill them in.

Allow white space in your schedule. Let your mind relax and wander. Reflect and ponder. Take a real break—and do it without your phone.

RELATED ARTICLE: 13 Ways to Create Space in Your Life

8. Contemplate other people’s creativity.

Creative rest can involve admiring other people’s creativity. Check out local museums, galleries, or festivals, especially if you’ve only been focusing on your work. Vary your creative inputs by trying new music, genres of books, and podcasts.

The more we expose ourselves to novel and diverse concepts, the more inspiration we get. And if we manage to tap into that sense of awe and wonder, even better.

9. Engage in another creative hobby.

Another option is to switch to a different creative hobby. In his book Rest, Alex Pang calls this engaging in deep play. Deep play involves enjoying leisure activities that fully engage our attention and help us enter the state of flow. 

Not only does this take your mind completely off your main work, but it also gets your creative juices flowing in other areas. These hobbies often become rewarding in ways that our jobs may not be. Deep play increases—and sustains—our creativity levels.

10. Incorporate play.

Brené Brown has a different definition of play. She defines play as “doing things just because they’re fun and not because they’ll help achieve a goal.” It makes us lose track of time and self-consciousness. 

Play can be as easy as singing your favorite song aloud in the car, as adventurous as rock climbing, or as silly as doing face painting with your kids. 

Studies have shown that play increases original thinking and innovation. But for most of us, fun has been replaced by a list of responsibilities and obligations. If you can’t remember the last time you exclaimed “Fun!” consider adding some play to your life. 

11. Work on another aspect of your craft.

If you can’t take a break right now because your creative work is your main source of income, there are ways around this. Getting creative rest is still important—if not more important—to prevent burnout.

If you create for a living, consider working on a different aspect of your craft for a time. For many people, “less creative” work involves business-building, promotion, social media, or administrative tasks. The goal is to give your creative muscles a chance to rest and recover. 

12. Mind your mindset.

Perhaps you struggle with a comparison mentality and judge yourself based on other people’s work. You have an inner critic that haunts your mind with negativity. Or you worry more about your social media followers than following God.

Negative mindsets and the fear of man will sap your ability to get creative rest. Give your work to God before stepping away. You’ve done all that you can, so entrust the outcomes to Him. 

Don’t use your time off to mull over your doubts and fears. Make a list of Scripture you can meditate on whenever these thoughts arise. Ask God to help transform your mind so that you can rest.

13. Get out of your comfort zone. 

If you’re stuck in a creative rut, chances are that you’re in a life rut as well. Routines are necessary, but too much can be restricting and stifling. When our lives start to resemble Bill Murray’s in Groundhog Day, it’s time to break out of the ordinary.

Pick a different path to walk (or route to work). Check out that restaurant that just opened. Broaden your social network. Try your hand at a new skill, hobby, or class. Add some romance or adventure to your weekends.

14. Reconnect with God.

Let’s not forget that God is the ultimate source of creative rest. He’s the original Creator, who brought about the universe from nothing. And we create only because we were made in His image.

As such, God is the best source of imagination and inspiration. Whether we’re out of ideas or running on fumes, God wants us to go to Him, not the things of this world. 

When we spend time with God in silence and solitude, He’ll fill our empty tank. He’ll give us the rest—and the creativity we need to keep going. 

The Work of Rest

In today’s fast-paced world, rest goes against our nature and society.

As Dalton-Smith writes, “Rest is not for weaklings. Hollowing out space for rest is work…It means saying no. It means having limits with ourselves. It means having limits with others. It takes courage to rest in the midst of an outcome-driven society. It takes strength to walk away from good in the pursuit of better.”

So no, rest won’t come easy for you and me. But it’s well worth it. I’m sure Archimedes would have agreed. 

Recap: How to Get Creative Rest

1. See creative rest as part of the process.

2. Take a break before you overextend yourself.

3. Stop after reaching a small milestone.

4. Immerse yourself in nature.

5. Get moving.

6. Get some shut-eye.

7. Do nothing. 

8. Contemplate other people’s creativity.

9. Engage in another creative hobby.

10. Incorporate play.

11. Work on another aspect of your craft.

12. Mind your mindset.

13. Get out of your comfort zone. 

14. Reconnect with God.

How do you currently find creative rest? Are there any new ideas that you could try?

For more on this topic:

Seven Types of Rest: The Key to Recharging Your Energy

Living with Margin: 13 Ways to Create Space in Your Life

25 Unique Ways to Get the Mental Rest You Desperately Need  

 

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About the Author

Helen Rees

I am a Christian, wife, stepmom, psychiatric nurse, and writer. I write about research-backed ways to navigate the challenges of fast-paced modern life while growing in your Christian faith.

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