Blockages and Barriers to Creativity

Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.                    Roald Dahl

Unblocking Your Creativity:

What are your blockages and barriers to creativity and how can you eliminate them? Learn to identify and eradicated those things that are common deterrents to creativity.

Often definitions of creativity speak of the ability to generate novel responses to problems and challenges, or to think of something in a different or usual way, or from a uniquely different perspective. If we want to encourage creativity then it helps to know what deters or hampers it from happening. Here is a list of things to consider:

Creativity is hampered by environments that are too hectic, ones that do not provide quiet time for reflection and introspection. It is also hampered by:Sedona2_0008

  • overly sterile environments that do not feed the senses ( this needs to be balanced, as there are also classrooms and work environments that are overly stimulating and excessively cluttered)
  • demands  to quickly produce results
  • harsh words (from others or from ourselves)
  • rigid rules and barriers that prevent us from gathering information and/or from connecting with others
  • being too busy and getting too involved with a problem
  • having conflicting goals and objectives
  • not allowing ourselves enough time to relax, to dream, to just sit and think

Other factors that limit creative behavior include:

  • Stress. Stress is not only a distraction which drains the energy we might channel into being creative, it is also very bad for our heath and concentration.
  • Restrictive routines. Routines or set ways of performing tasks have their uses and sometimes make life flow a bit more easily.  However, set routines can also limit the range of responses and solutions we have in attempting to solving problems. They can also restrict how we view an event or even how we approach a problem. Strict insistence to rules, routines, and regulations can lead some people to have what can be called a “bureaucratic mind.” I would define a bureaucratic mind as one so committed to the adherence of rules that it fails to see beyond those immediate regulations in unusual or emergency circumstances.
  • Beliefs. Having a strong belief in something cannot only limit our response options, but cause us to limit the way in which we perceive and process information from the outside world. We may “filter out” information which contradicts our beliefs, and end up in our own “reality tunnel.” In this short-sighted state we remain blissfully unaware of much that occurs in front of our very eyes. We can remain committed to a belief without becoming blind to what is around us. Strong beliefs are meant to be tested, and sometimes revised according to new information. This is not to imply that we must have no beliefs, merely that we need to be very aware of our beliefs and the possibility of their consequent limitations.
  • Fear. Fears come in many forms. Psychologically the fear of self-expression or of the judgment of others can severely limit our creativity. Physical fear can also limit our responses, imaginings, risk-taking behaviors, and production as we are more concerned with mitigating the cause of that fear and in seeking equilibrium and safety.
  • Self-criticism. Negative thinking and constant self-criticism and self-doubt are also very limiting factors to creativity. We can talk ourselves out of taking creative risks, or of trying new things, or of seeking new forms of expressions.
  • Ego. The ego is identified as one’s perception of self or the “I.” This conceptual framework helps us assume and project our unique, highly individualized identities. In creative production an overly active sense of self can prohibit exploration, or personal or creative growth. This may cause an individual to become stuck in one’s past glories, or in producing tired permutations of the same thing over and over.
  • Functional fixity. This is a term in the world of creativity that refers to the cognitive inability to look passed the designated function of an object or idea. It is a strong cognitive bias that prevents people from seeing something beyond the initial or designated function of an item, term, or concept. For instance a paperclip can be only used to clip papers; or a pencil is only for writing; or a barrette can only be used to hold hair. The term first emerged as functional fixedness and came from Gestalt Psychology, a psychological movement emphasizing wholeness.

Adopted, revised and added to from – now a dead link


Blockages and barriers that keep creative ideas from fully developing


  • Tradition
  • Control
  • Overspecialization
  • Negativism
  • Prejudice
  • Fear of failure
  • Impatience
  • Uniformity
  • Fear of Ridicule
  • Conceit
  • Lack of Funding
  • Confusion



  • Jealousy
  • Group Pressure
  • Laziness
  • Apathy
  • Lack of Commitment 
  • Lack of Support
  • Intolerance
  • Tenseness
  • Fear of Change
  • Toxic Nostalgia
  • Insecurity


Check the ones above that stomp all over your creativity. Can you think of others to include?

Original materials on this site are copyrighted to Leslie Owen Wilson – e-mail 


Outside Links

Need some books to help you get over your creative slump? There are all kinds of books out there. First you need to decide what kind of help you need. Do you need some techniques to get you out of a mindset? Do you need something for creative inspiration, or do you need something leaning more to creative problem solving? There are a lot of helpful books in all areas of creativity — just dig a little. Check these out.

Bagnall, J & Koberg, D. The Universal Traveler : A Soft-Systems Guide to Creativity, Problem-Solving, & the Process of Reaching Goals– This gem has been around for years but is still one of the best books for teachers (and parents) and students on creativity. It is loaded with ideas for classroom use (and life usage) and does a nice job of taking many different aspects of creativity and explaining them, simply! Even though this is older and inexpensive, it is a real gem.

Carson, S. Your Creative Brain: Seven Steps to Maximize Imagination, Productivity, and Innovation in Your LifeInteresting perspective as the author thinks that the different aspects of creativity have different brainsets or states. She lists 7: Connect, Reason, Envision, Absorb, Transform, Evaluate, and Stream. Includes tests and inventories readers can use to find out which state they prefer. 

Ealy, C.D. The woman’s book of creativity– Some great exercises, as well as thoughtful discussions about the acute differences between traditional male perceptions of creativity and that of females’ perceptions, actions, and reactions. Another older, dirt cheap book that offers exercises and solutions.

Gelb, M.J. How to think like Leonardo da Vinci. A wonderful compilation of stories about the times and life of Leonardo. The author then takes readers into a transitional series of exercises and perspectives designed to help readers think like “the master.” (Well realistically, as the author artfully points out, since Leonardo is one of the world’s greatest minds, the intention here is to help readers begin to think a little bit like the master.) Entertaining, informative, instructive and fun!

Michael Gelb’s (2014) Creativity On Demand: How to Ignite and Sustain the Fire of Genius.

Golden, B. Unlock Your Creative Genius (A guide for exploring creativity at personal levels) If you are looking for something to help you become more creative, this is very helpful.

Michael Gelb’s (2014) Creativity On Demand: How to Ignite and Sustain the Fire of Genius

Kent and Steward. Learning by heart: Teachings to free the creative spirit – This is one of my favorite books. A very gentle book with a series of wonderful visual and introspective exercises guaranteed to make you see the world differently. This was out of print for years, but has now been reissued! Praise be!

MacKenzie, G. Orbiting the giant hairball – Here MacKenzie offers priceless tips on how to maintain creativity within the overwhelming rules and regulations of governmental and corporate structures. Personally, this is one of my very favorites and I used it in my graduate creativity class. My students loved it— it helped them think outside the box and offered insights into the real world or work.

Maisel, E. Fearless creating: a step-by-step guide to starting and completing your work of art. – Some great exercises, many of which can be adapted to the classroom.

More to come

Other Sources:

*Continue your search – 30 things you can do to promote creativity – A wonderful article by Miriam Clifford on how to promote creativity from informED

*Insights into Creativity – What is it like to be obsessed with a creative project? Explore the thought process of a creative mind. Consumption by Inspiration