How Doing Nothing Fuels my Creativity

feet, rest, black and white, recovery

When I studied for exams in college, I had a secret routine. After a few hours of studying, I’d turn to the wall staring at the blank white space. It was all I could after so much review. After a few minutes I’d fall asleep. I’d wake up recharged, clear-headed. It was magical: I became energetic enough to go work out, connect with friends, or even do a bit more studying.

But I didn’t want to tell people. Staring at a white wall? Falling asleep? I had friends who could pull all-nighters and go out afterwards for a few drinks. I didn’t know how they did it. What was so wrong with me that I had such limits? So, I used my secret habit for finals, and the rest of the time I ran myself ragged.

I wasn’t ready to realize the importance of rest.

When I started to write, I did the same thing. I pushed myself to the limit, eager to keep creating. It’s addictive, getting lost in the flow, watching yourself create something entirely new. Born between Taurus and Gemini, I’m under what astrologers call the Cusp of Energy. I certainly carry aspects of both: I can be as stubborn as a bull and have a mind fast as two four-year olds. I want to chase all the ideas. Worse, I want to follow through on all of them.

It doesn’t help that our society doesn’t teach us to rest. Tired? Have some coffee. You want it all? You can do it! Productivity is the name of the American game for doing more in less time. Want to do more? Just figure out how to push yourself a little bit farther.

Small problem: Creativity doesn’t agree with that. Creativity is a natural process, and like nature, it has cycles.

  • Night and day
  • Winter, spring, summer, and fall
  • Dry and wet seasons
  • Sleep and awake

Creativity’s other half is rest.

tangled sheets, mess, messy bed, bed, vsco cam

You can try to push it, but I can tell you what happens: you rely on old patterns, old thoughts to keep going. You rehash what you’ve done instead of forging into new territory. You burn yourself out. And then nothing comes, because you’re too tired to find it.

Creativity is work. It takes huge amounts of brain power, requiring multiple parts of the brain for the entire process. More, it requires an energy we don’t fully understand, not yet. The brain, while an amazing structure, is limited. As human beings, in physical bodies, we have limits. By acknowledging our limits, our need for rest, we respect the process. We respect ourselves for what we can, and cannot do.

Let me tell you, even if you don’t acknowledge your limits, they will find you. I’ve seen people have physical health issues because they can’t take the hint of ‘hey, no more please’. Your body will whisper, then speak, shout, and eventually throw a massive temper tantrum if you don’t listen.

fatigue, frustration, man tired, man holding his head, portrait, caucasian man

You may need rest if you:

  • Always feel tired
  • Can’t remember the last time you let yourself do nothing for 20 minutes
  • Can’t remember the last time you did something for fun
  • Your friends keep saying they haven’t seen you in months…and it’s true
  • The words “it never ends” often run through your head
  • You struggle to feel any inspiration (even with some Jedi mind tricks)
  • You dream about doing absolutely nothing

What does rest look like?

I won’t lie to you: I’m still trying to figure out what rest means. As of now, it means time to meditate and getting offline. It can be a walk in nature, and definitely includes eight hours of sleep. Sometimes I need green juice, or ice cream (sometimes they act as one whole meal).

two cats snuggle, black cats, black cats sleeping, sleeping cats, cats, cute cats

Asking yourself, what do I need right now? What will recharge my batteries? Is the best place to start. Then listen to what you hear from yourself. Maybe a big party is exactly what you need (although I’ll take my snuggie and a novel any day of the week.) Maybe you need to get out some sharpies and doodle. Respect the answer, whatever it is.

For so many of us, it sounds so much easier than it is. Why? We have to let go of our expectations. For many of us, our identities are wrapped around what we do. What will we find when we stop? Can we be enough if we aren’t doing something for our friends, our careers, our families?

Yes you can. But you have to allow it.

This is one of those weeks where I’m tired, and able to just do less. I have a ton of exciting projects I’m working on. But, they are also scary. It feels like there are a million things to do, and I can’t do them all. My heart begs for rest. And as exciting as the opportunities are out in the world, I also have to say no.

Let me tell you, this girl born on the cusp of energy doesn’t do ‘no’ very well. But I have to trust that it’s okay to be still. I have to trust that by resting, I will get more done in the long run.

It’s funny: we define ourselves on what we do. And yet, we call ourselves human beings. Creativity, one of the truest forms of self-expression, needs time for reflection, and rest to share that out into the world. We need stillness to create. We need to trust the process in all its twists and turns.

And really, who couldn’t use a good night’s sleep?

What does rest look like for you? Share your thoughts in the comments below! 

6 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your info. I really appreciate your efforts
    and I will be waiting for your further write ups thank you once again.

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