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Last Updated on February 16, 2021

Mental Blockage: 9 Practical Ideas to Clear Your Mind

Mental Blockage: 9 Practical Ideas to Clear Your Mind

My daughter forgot her Chromebook at home; that tweet is going to cause a media storm; the space heater is making me sleepy. This laundry list of random thoughts flips through my mind while I’m trying to focus my brain on writing, creating a solid case of writer’s block. You’ve likely experienced this kind of mental blockage, as well.

A mental blockage is the inability to complete a train of thought. It gets frustrating as your thoughts are derailed by something. However, life keeps moving, and deadlines don’t change because you feel like taking a nap. Furthermore, big breakthroughs often wait just on the other side of these blocks.

Try these quick fixes the next time you need to get your thoughts back on track and get rid of mental blockage.

1. Remind Yourself That Mental Blocks Don’t Actually Exist

I know I just gave you a list of reasons I can’t write at the moment, but the reality is I’m still writing.

I pushed through the mind games and just put my fingers on the keyboard. I forced myself to write and got rid of all my expectations and fear of failure.

That’s the key: refusing to accept that your mental block exists and do the work anyway. Let’s apply this technique to something outside the literary world.

Say you are having trouble parenting your teenager. Nothing you’ve done is working, and you’re pulling your hair out trying to get through to them. You’re worried changing your parenting game will screw them up.

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Just try something, and get over your need for perfection when experiencing a mental block. Maybe you write him/her a letter and pour out your frustrations and love. It doesn’t have to be some grand gesture.

Once you start, you will have feedback. You’ll have that glorious feeling of progress. Either you can keep making small steps forward, or scrap that idea and try something new.

2. Avoid Your Crutches

Coffee, alcohol, sugar, and drugs can get you through a moment, but they don’t clean up the clutter or help you overcome mental blocks for more than a few minutes.

You don’t have to give up the cup of your morning ritual or the piece of cake to celebrate your loved one’s special day. It’s the moment you want to reach for that extra cup of coffee to churn out that big presentation that’s your greatest barrier.

If you’re stuck with mental blockage, mental stimulants won’t guide you through. They will add to the clutter and may only worsen the situation. Instead, stick with good nutrition and stay hydrated to keep your brain in optimal form.

3. Time to Turn in

Instead of heading to the kitchen to jump start your thought process when you feel overwhelmed, try crawling under the covers instead. Sleep is one of the best ways we can sweep the cobwebs off our minds.

When your foggy brain is begging you for that caffeine fix, try laying down for 20 minutes. You may not sleep, and that’s okay—just let your mind drift. This break from problem-solving mode might just be the breakthrough you need.

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Let’s say it’s 10 pm and you’re slumped over in front of your laptop, doing your best to stay focused on the design details of your client’s website. Instead of agonizing over subhead text options for another half hour, shut it down and head to bed.

You know when it’s been too long. Even if you’re up against a hard deadline, a well-rested mind will make better decisions in a lot less time.

4. Exercise

It’s common to hear someone say, “I’m going to take a walk to clear my head,” and that’s because it works when you’re feeling stuck.[1]

Is walking too mundane for you? Try running, and if that’s not your thing, jump on the Pilates reformer. There are a lot of exercises out there, even if you’re too busy to do them regularly.

If you’re living a busy life but still want to get into the exercise habit, check out this Lifehack course: Busy Yet Fit Programme. It will help you jumpstart your workouts and get into a great fitness routine.

5. The Headshake

Have you ever caught a teenager mid-daydream while studying? A quick “hey” breaks into their stream of consciousness. They shake their head and go back to math homework.

It’s a simple gesture, and almost automatic.

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Next time you catch your focus stuck on the same problem playing over and over in your mind, try shaking your head. Imagine that as a way to reset your brain and try again.

6. Write It out

You’ve heard the advice to write out what’s on your mind before, but there’s a twist. There are different ways to write, and you have to choose one that will move your mental blockage.

  • Brainstorm: Grab a piece of paper or a digital notebook, and write whatever comes to mind. My favorite way to brainstorm is by mind mapping.
  • Journal: This is the big brother of brainstorming. Here you are writing about your mental blockage in complete sentences, but there’s no formal structure to your writing. It’s just a stream of consciousness put into words on paper.
  • Pros/cons list: This is a favorite for the indecisive.
  • Essay: Imagine that your high school English teacher wants you to write a persuasive essay about your mental blockage.

7. Get Comfortable Being Alone

Mental blocks linked to complex problems require both focused and diffuse thinking.[2] Diffuse thought happens when your brain is on autopilot (like those “aha!” moments you have in the shower).

Focused thinking takes more effort and a quiet workspace. For those of you living in quarantine with a full house, this will be a challenge. When was the last time you reached a flow state while working from a laptop that’s propped on your kitchen counter with a household buzzing around you?

Here’s a secret for those of you in this current situation. You need to block off time while everyone else is asleep. Set your alarm for 5 am, and sit with your mental block. For you night-owls, stay up and get that alone time in after everyone is asleep.

8. Fix the Actual Cause

Say your mental blockage is on how to improve sales. You’ve scheduled time to meet with your marketing team, but this new product launch is falling flat. Your creative muse is hidden by the replay of the fight you had last night with your spouse.

It’s time to pick up the phone and rehash the argument about the family gathering plans. Your brain won’t stop replaying this loop until you spend time letting it play out.

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If it’s an obvious problem, that is what’s preventing you from moving ahead—an issue that comes into your head every time you sit down to work.

9. Take a Fresh Perspective

Try looking at your problem through the eyes of a child to tap into a new creative process. Better yet, ask your kid for ideas on how to move your mental blockage or solve a problem.

Kids have a sense of wonder when they look at the world. Lacking years of experience from looking at the same problems, their opinions are unfiltered.

Imagine giving a toddler free access to a cabinet full of Tupperware. They will entertain the kiddo for hours as they build towers, knock them down, bang on them, and maybe even pretend they are cars zooming around the kitchen. The last thing they will think of is filling it with last night’s pulled pork and plopping it in the fridge.

Of course, you can’t expect a toddler to figure out a marketing strategy for your product launch. However, I bet you could get some interesting ideas from a ten-year-old if you took the time to listen. Sometimes, all you need is a fresh perspective.

Final Thoughts

Mental blockage can come in many forms, and it can even manifest as stress, depression, or anxiety. When you notice you can’t get your thoughts to flow in the right direction, it’s time to choose one of the strategies above and try to punch through the mental clutter. This can take hours, or even days, but once you’ve pushed through, you’ll get back to being productive and less stressed.

More Tips on Clearing Mental Blockage

Featured photo credit: Nik Shuliahin via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Jennifer Theuriet

Writer and productivity coach for creatives who hustle.

How to Train Your Brain to Be More Creative Mental Blockage: 9 Practical Ideas to Clear Your Mind How To Generate Great Ideas Like An Ideas Machine

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Published on April 8, 2021

10 Simple Ways To Refocus a Wandering Mind

10 Simple Ways To Refocus a Wandering Mind

Want to know what Steve Jobs thought was the ultimate key in achieving success?

“Focus and simplicity… once you get there, you can move mountains.”—Steve Jobs

And this belief is even more important today than it was years ago. At your fingertips is a literal world of information and entertainment. So, it’s no wonder we all have such wandering minds nowadays.

Thanks to the internet and smartphones, attention is practically a currency we should be more budget-minded about. In fact, a person who can stay focused is not only more likely to get more done but also be more satisfied at the end of the day because of it.

Going further, a person who’s focused will more easily achieve their goals—anything from losing 20 pounds to getting a promotion at work is within the reach of this type of person.

So, in the spirit of that idea, here are 10 ways to tame that wandering mind of yours and turn it into a laser-focused brain that gets things done.

1. Find Your Totem

Remember the totem in the movie, Inception? It’s an item that reminded people they weren’t in a dream when they touched it, and it was able to keep them grounded in reality.

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You can replicate this idea when it comes to staying focused as well. All you’ve to got to do is find something to be your “focus totem,” and it’ll remind you that you should stop daydreaming and get back to work. Ideally, it’s something you can see and touch.

In the movie, a chess piece and a spinning top were used—both are good ideas. You could also use a picture of your family, a mini trophy, or even wear a ring to focus your mind as well. (In fact, a green lantern ring might be kind of cool for this.)

2. Promise a Reward

Incentives are an obvious way to go. Having gold at the end of any journey makes you want to press forward just for the sweet results. In general, rewards should correlate to the difficulty/length of the work.

For example:

  • Finish a quick house chore = a piece of chocolate
  • Complete an annoying administrative task = 10 minutes of Youtube
  • A successful day of work = a whole movie on Netflix

Pretty simple stuff, right? But you’d be surprised how often you forget to reward yourself for doing solid work on the regular.

3. Make It Stupid Easy for Your Wandering Mind

I don’t know about you, but if I perceive my work to require more effort than I care to use, I’m instantly turned off. This then leads to distraction and procrastination. But you can offset this by breaking a difficult task into a bite-sized piece.

Case in point, what seems easier: 30 pushups or 3 pushups?

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It’s obvious, but sometimes our brains need to be “convinced” we’re only doing a small amount of work to get things going.

But here’s something cool about this tactic: You can (and most likely will) keep going past your stupid easy benchmark. You don’t have to, but my experience tells me once you get going like this, it’s easy to go beyond your bare minimum goal.

4. Empty Your Mind With Journaling

Sometimes, there’s too much stuff floating around in your brain that is making your mind wander. In that case, it can help to spill everything in your head onto a journal to free up some space. You can use a pen and pad for this or something digital like Evernote.

There are two basic ways to go about it:

  1. Freestyle – where you just write whatever randomly flows through your brain without thinking or pausing. This is great if you’ve got a million different ideas racing through your brain.
  2. Focused – where you create prompts or an outline to streamline your thinking and you just respond to the questions or format. This is best when you want to grasp a certain topic.

5. Use the “Just 5 Minutes” Method

Try telling yourself that you’ll work for “just 5 minutes” and then you can stop. You’ll find that the task feels far easier to handle. And like the “stupid easy” method, this tricks your brain into thinking the task is lower effort than it really is. After all, 5 minutes for even the worst task is psychologically manageable for any person out there.

The key is to honestly allow yourself to stop at 5 minutes—no matter what. That’s what allows your brain to accept the method as legit and also lets it overcome the mental hurdle that makes your brain want to wander around and focus on anything but your task.

6. Recite a Focus Mantra

I like to think of mantras as a totem you can take with you anywhere you go. They serve the same purpose—reminding you to stay focused—but can be done anywhere and anytime.

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I find the most powerful type of mantra to be based on reality. I learned this approach from Dr. Jon Fader—a performance coach who was on “Good Morning America”—and his book Life as Sport: What Top Athletes Can Teach You about How to Win in Life. He calls this “objective optimism.”

Basically, you create a mantra that’s based on personal success in your life. That way, the mantra isn’t just a fluffy positivity statement, there’s also the weight of real-life success giving it power

Some examples:

  • If you’re struggling to make yourself go to the gym but have technically been there many times already, you could say, “just another day of heading to the gym—easy.”
  • If you’re suffering from impostor-syndrome after accepting a promotion, just say, “I’m here for a reason” to remind yourself that your efforts were recognized by others and are the real deal.
  • If you’re nervous about an upcoming sports competition but have trained diligently for it, you could say, “I’ve done all the work possible” to remind yourself that your earlier efforts have created the best version of you for the event.

As you can see, the most powerful mantras are evidence-based and positive. So, just find proof of relevant success in your life and transform it into a motivating mantra.

7. Use the “Multi-Yawn” Approach

One of the best ways to be distracted is to be tired. And sometimes, you’ll be tired in such a way that you’re “sort of” working but not realize that you’re actually constantly distracted.

If you can notice when you do this, one thing I like to do is crank out as many big, satisfying yawns as possible. Olympic athletes sometimes do this before their big events. It calms them down and helps them perform better in the process. And it works just as well for us regular folks. I find it has a similar effect to taking a good nap (and actually works best in unison), so you can imagine how effective this can be.

8. Find an Easy Win

Nothing feels good like winning. So, it can help to find a few simple tasks you can do with little effort and just get them done immediately. This will create momentum and propel your productivity forward. The feeling of success will lock your focus in on the task at hand and refocus your wandering mind. Use this when you feel “resistance” to getting your work started.

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9. Create a “Wins” List

Feeling like a capable person who can win at life is motivating in and of itself. In light of this fact, it can help to have an ongoing “wins” list to prove you’re an able person.

Just keep track of all your daily wins—big and small. And whenever your focus starts to wane, give that list a peek and remind yourself that you’re more capable than you realize.

10. Add Stakes to the Mix

If you were to lose $20 if you failed to complete a task, would you be more focused on completing it? Of course!

Try and find ways to put something on the line when it comes to completing your tasks, and you’ll find your focus, motivation, and ability to things done to be higher than ever before.

For example, if you’re at work, you could involve a co-worker by saying you’ll buy their food if you don’t complete a task before lunchtime rolls around. At home, you could say you’ll also mow the lawn if you don’t remember to wash the dishes before the day is over. Or you could just use something like Beeminder or TaskRatchet, which actually charges you cash for failing to complete a task or goal on time. (It’s scary but effective)

All are viable methods, so just give one of them a shot.

Who Else Wants More Success?

Of the many methods of winning at life out there, focusing is definitely a top-three contender. You can’t get anything you want in life if you don’t buckle down and get your work done—a wandering mind won’t create success.

But with these 10 focus tips, you’ll be ahead of the competition and be closer to a fitter body, higher income, and a flat-out better life than before.

More Tips on Sharpening Your Focus

Featured photo credit: Clay Banks via unsplash.com

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