Take a Break: Creative Reset

This past winter was rough for us. We found ourselves in a major slump.

No motivation.

No hustle.

No interest in photography.

No confidence in our work.

As creatives there are always ups and downs, but this low point seemed somehow more significant than the slumps of the past. In the past we’ve just kind of waited things out, hoping that eventually we’d want to shoot again and the ball would start rolling again. For the most part, that strategy has worked. Except that I think our inaction in the past had simply been a bandaid on a wound that needed some deeper healing.

We had been pushing, pushing, pushing – stressing out – feeling guilty for not doing enough – arguing about the business – Basically, we had come to the realization that photography was not fun anymore.

So, we stopped, re-evaluated our priorities, and came up with a plan for our 1-month creative reset.

Our idea was that we needed to make our personal health and happiness a higher priority than our photography success. Constantly thinking about work and constantly trying to make things happen was not advancing our career and it was making us feel like crap. So, we took some steps:

Step 1. Stop Trying So Hard

We had to sit down and face the fact that what we’re doing isn’t making us happy. Therefore, if pushing and stressing about work isn’t really accomplishing anything, then let’s just stop thinking about it for one month.

“Whoa! What about money!” I get it. We were scared too. But, we decided that our mental/emotional well-being was far more important to us than any missed potential income, and that this was a necessary step that we needed to take if we’re going to keep doing this long term.

We decided that, as much as possible, we would not allow ourselves to think about photography. When ideas for shoots would pop into our minds, we wrote them down and closed the notebook; no planning allowed. When we received inquiries for shoots, we would default to a quick and easy ‘No’ or simply not respond. We’d only consider taking a shoot if thinking about it caused joy rather than stress. We were super, super picky.

Essentially, we needed to gain some separation from our photography. Our self-worth was too closely tied into our work, and not enjoying our work was causing us to not enjoy our lives. 

Step 2. Keep Your Goals in Mind

Now, this may sound counter-intuitive, but I’m not talking about career goals or financial goals. I’m talking about big-picture, deep, inner goals.

We took an evening together to stop thinking about career, wealth, status, and popularity, and came up with a list of our simplest, truest, most deep-down life priorities.

This was our list:

  • To be happy (this kind of sums up the rest)
  • To be confident in myself
  • To have fun
  • To have freedom
  • To have an amazing relationship with each other
  • To have friends I love and trust

We took our time to really consider what’s actually important to us.

Then, we committed to reading this list every day. Right when we woke up. Right before we went to sleep. Right when those stressful thoughts kicked in. The idea was that, each day, we want to keep our thoughts centered on our true priorities, and prevent our minds from constantly freaking out about our daily stresses.

Step 3. Take Care of Your Mind

Our feelings toward photography, our stresses about our career, our anxiety when the email sound plays from our computer; it is all in our minds.

That’s not to say that our problems don’t exist, but rather that everything we perceive about ourselves and our problems is filtered through the lens of our mind. Not only that, but we learned that our thought patterns are habits, just like anything else. Since we’d been feeling stressed and anxious every day for a long time, those thought patterns had become habits which then became our norm.

Basically, our minds needed some rest and recovery.

We made a pact that every day for one month we would:

  1. Meditate
  2. Read positive, mindset-boosting books
  3. Read our life priorities
  4. Try to limit our screen time, especially in the morning and before bed.

We used Headspace for our daily meditations. It’s very easy even if you’ve never meditated before.

(The books that helped us up can be found in the Resources section of this post from Katie’s blog)

We committed to making our mental well-being a major priority. 

Step 4. Feel Good Now

We realized that we can only make good work if we’re feeling good while we’re doing it. So we need to get in the habit of feeling good.

So, insofar as possible, during this month we would:

  1. Notice when we were feeling bad, guilty, anxious, stressed
  2. Write down how those feelings felt. How they felt in our brain. How they felt in our body. Accept that they are simply thoughts and feelings. Feel them fully and then let them go.
  3. Make a physical change to feel better right now.

For us, that physical change meant going for a walk, ordering pizza, going to the gym, calling a friend, taking a nap, watching a funny movie, meditating, laughing at memes, listening to music and dancing, etc. They were all light, easy things we could do whenever our thoughts or feelings got too heavy.

Our go-to mantra was “Be lighter”. Whenever we’d start feeling down or getting caught up in a thought loop, we would remind ourselves to be light. Don’t take things so seriously.

The Result

The results honestly surprised us. 

After a week, we noticed a physical and mental difference. The anxiety pit in my stomach was smaller, and I didn’t feel so terribly worthless. In fact, spending all this time on myself had made me less concerned with myself. My mood swings lessened, and Katie and I laughed about how different we felt so quickly. Our relationship with each other improved. Our stress around photography had started to decrease.

After the full month, neither of us could remember how badly we felt in the beginning. I had so much more energy and life within me. We actually felt happy – I’m not promising this to anyone, but the possibility for this change is real. It was seriously a laughable change, a life change. I am committed to protecting my mental health from here on out.

I see now how I was the only one who was standing in the way. My mindset was shaping my experience of life, and I was speaking horrible things to myself. Negative thoughts were going past me completely under the radar. I had let it get completely out of hand, and it was destroying me. I’m not saying this to blame myself. It’s actually quite empowering to think that you do have control over a lot of your life. But if you stop being vigilant, you can get carried away by yourself.

I used to think being positive was corny, but the opposite is definitely not helping you. You can’t go all the way to “Yippee, I’m actually so loved and everything will be alright!” when you’re depressed. First you have to go to a place where you can just “be” and breathe.

Summary

So, this is what worked for us. 

  1. Put a pause on photography. Stop thinking about it for one month. No guilt allowed. Give yourself some separation from your work.
  2. Review your big-picture priorities, and read them every day.
  3. Do a daily practice to heal your anxious, worn-out mind. Mediation, reading, resting. 
  4. Don’t take things too seriously. Stop your negative thought loops. Make a change to feel good right now.