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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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
- 5 Practical Ways to Get Over a Mental Block
- 31 Simple Ways to Free Your Mind Immediately
- 10 Ways To Remove The Distractions That Keep You From Doing the Best At Work
Featured photo credit: Nik Shuliahin via unsplash.com
|||^||American Psychological Association: The exercise effect|
|||^||Science Direct: Chapter One – The Middle Way: Finding the Balance between Mindfulness and Mind-Wandering|