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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

Mental Blockage: 9 Practical Ideas to Clear Your Mind

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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

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Jennifer Theuriet

Writer and productivity coach for creatives who hustle.

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Last Updated on October 4, 2021

How to Stay on Task And Avoid Distractions

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How to Stay on Task And Avoid Distractions

It has become more challenging to stay on task and avoid distractions. Unfortunately, the great benefits of today’s technologies have also become the biggest enemies of focused action. The pandemic has, of course, made its own corrections in the way we manage our time, business, family, and life. Did you know that the time-tracking market will increase worldwide by roughly 21 percent by 2025?[1]

With more and more distractions appearing in our daily lives, it’s understandable that people keep pushing themselves to squeeze every minute out of the day. But only a few realize that outside distractions are fairly easy to avoid compared to our inner triggers.

Mistakenly, we blame only outside distractions, thinking that they mess with our ability to stay on task and make it almost impossible to avoid them. However, our inner triggers are what play the biggest role in focused and productive action. While external triggers are cues from our environment that tell us what to do next, inner triggers are cues from within us. For example, when we’re hungry, we are cued to get something to eat and so on. Understanding what kind of trigger is pursuing you to take certain actions will help you determine the best solution to stay on task.

While distractions are everywhere, it’s not impossible to minimize them. Distractions itself is a topic long, wide, and deep enough for a book at least. On Amazon alone, there are more than 9000 books with a “distraction” on the cover. This once again proves our need for solid tools, systems, and new approaches to help us stay on task and avoid distractions.

Here is my formula for you to stay on task. It is not your typical “turn off your phone” and “close your emails” type of list. This formula has been crafted over years of experience, research, and knowledge. It looks deeper than external pings, rings, and dings.

I aim to give you a different perspective on how you are managing your time, attention, and decision-making. If used with one mind and willingness to truly build a skill to stay on task, this formula might be just the right read for you.

1. Manage Your Attention Before Trying to Manage Your Time

We can manage our time better if we can manage our attention. Time management depends a lot on attention, focus, and flow management, rather than planning and scheduling. Although technical support is a big part of focused action, if we lack prioritizing and attentiveness, we will eventually waste time one way or the other and make it difficult for us to stay on task. Therefore, getting clear on our intention behind the task is crucial for staying on it and not getting distracted.

Do you want to be more productive and feel good about what you accomplish at the end of the day? Do you want to have time to learn a new skill, building a better service so you can create more impact? Do you want to protect yourself from distraction, unwanted information, and more wasted time? Whatever your reasoning, if you can focus, you can get more important things done in less time. In that way, the focus is the ultimate “productivity hack.”

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We all have the same 24 hours. But what matters more than the length of time you put into a task is the intensity of focus because if you have an intensity of focus, you can reduce the amount of time spent doing it to get the same or better results. Even if you’re not in a state of flow, focus helps you get more out of the day.

A study from the University of California at Irvine found that, on average, participants (who worked in the tech field) could only work on a project for 11 minutes before being distracted. What’s worse is that it took them more than 25 minutes to regain their focus.[2]

Focus keeps you productive. It’s what determines whether you do what you want to or spend the day distracted. But it goes much deeper than this.

Being focused allows us to choose the life we want to live, not just react to what’s happening around us. So, let me give you some ideas on how to increase your attentiveness. If you want to improve your focus, you have to do more than just make yourself pay attention. Focus is as much about what you’re paying attention to as what you’re blocking out because unfortunately, the world around us is incredibly distracting and it makes challenging for our brain to focus on a task.

Learn How to Take Control of Your Technologies

There is no escaping from technology, but we need to understand that it is here to serve us, not the other way around. Many of the default settings on our devices are set to take our attention away, and it’s up to you to change them.

Create a Focus-Friendly Work Environment

This plays a massive role in your ability to focus., yet most of us don’t think much of it. Getting rid of clutter, organizing your stuff so you don’t waste time trying to find things, avoiding outside noise and unnecessary interruptions are what will help you stay on task.

Stop Multitasking

If you haven’t heard it enough times already, multitasking is a myth. When we try to do more than one thing at a time, we’re just quickly switching back and forth between the tasks. This isn’t very efficient, and it makes us more stressed. Even worse, the more you multitask, the more your brain looks for more things to do at once. It’s like your training your brain to be unproductive. However, focusing on one task at a time rebuilds your focus, lowers stress, and can even make you more creative.

2. Declutter Your Mind as Well as Your Desk

Clear space creates a clear head. It increases productivity and saves us from distractions. But clearing your desk is very technical. It’s fairly easy doable and repeatable. If you have a system in place that you love, you would only have to declutter once, and then you would just follow your path where clutter gets thrown away regularly. This allows for constant rotation of creative energy giving you space to evolve.

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However, a tidy space actually can keep you on the task only for that long. It can give you only that much of a clear head and distraction-less space. While it immensely helps to shift the energy, it will not keep you distraction-less forever, and this is where your mindset comes in. The “clear space creates clear head” is only partly true.

Clear space gives us more clear mind for that moment, but this is not your long-term solution. If you would have managed to keep your workspace clean, clutter-free, you would still have thoughts. According to research, an average person has 6000 thoughts every day![3]

Will a decluttered space be able to help you with all of them? No! But this is where the mindset work comes in. No tool, tip, trick, or hack will be able to solve your timing or focus issues. Only you can do that because you are the one in charge of your time, your commitments, your schedule, your plan, and also your mind.

If you ever tried to meditate, you know that it takes time to clear your head from thoughts, calm the mind, and thrive in presence. And it is definitely one practice that can help you understand how your mind works. If you are having difficulty staying on task, then it’s time to look for the cause.

If you think that another great new productivity app will solve your problems and you will finally be able to stay on task, it will not support your long-term vision. Yes, it might help for a month or two, but then what? Are you willing to go back and search for other solutions while your to-do list keeps growing and your time freedom is non-existent?

It is great to start by decluttering the mind. Support it with decluttered space on your way to great focus and productive work. Ask yourself: What is blocking you from undivided attention? Have you ever thought that you could be keeping yourself busy to feel worthy of your income? It’s a clue to your limiting beliefs! Imagine if you could replace that with a success mindset, how would your focus increase? It’s taking one mindset block at a time and working through it.

3. Work on Your Pain

What does pain have to do with focus? We waste our time when we get distracted, and we get distracted all the time. Imagine how much you would be able to achieve if you would stay focused on the task for that scheduled time, commit to that task and get it done. Who knows? You might even finish it in half the time you planned.

But let me explain to you something about pain. We allow ourselves to get distracted because it’s our decision to check that ping, ring, and ding. We decide to focus somewhere else when that ring comes knocking. We make that choice because of the pain. We feel discomfort, and we all love comfort, right? Our natural way of avoiding pain and discomfort is what makes us lean towards distractions rather than stay on task. It’s worth looking deeper and understand what are the underlying issues that you’re trying to avoid when distracted.

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Working on that pain will help you stay focused and committed to even the hardest of tasks. If you’re committed to your growth in all areas, it’s up to you to stay on task even when you don’t feel like it.

I challenge you to look where that pain is coming from that causes you to get distracted. Find it, and let it go so you can be attentive, present, and focused.

4. Rewrite Your Habits

We are in charge of building our success habits, so what are you working on today to allow yourself to stay on task with as little effort as possible? Below are the most common distracting habits that probably have been creeping into your daily routine as well.

Stop Adding Things to Your To-Do List

To-do lists give you too much flexibility, too much freedom of choice, and too much space for procrastination to creep in. Everything you’re planning to do, schedule it in your calendar instead. Plan your tasks, and put timing next to every task. Like that, you will create space for important tasks, prioritize wiser, and won’t be able to overbook your time.

If you think about it, putting your tasks into your calendar creates well-deserved peace of mind, gives you much more freedom, and keeps you productive. You’re no longer overshadowed by your never-ending to-do list that keeps growing by minutes and never gets completed. Staying committed to your calendar is a part that can’t be avoided if you want to stay on task. If it’s on your calendar, you have already committed to doing it. You have already decided that something is important enough to get on our calendar, so it’s worth your focus.

Stop Notifying Yourself and Scrolling Your Screen

Checking notifications, emails, messages as they come in. That “beep” sound distracts you in a fraction of a second, but unfortunately, it takes much longer to get back into your creative flow after an innocent “I will just quickly check-it might be urgent.”

For better productivity, you should set certain times when you allow yourself to check emails and it should not be more than twice a day. Seriously, it is enough times (I’m talking from experience). Scrolling through social media is nothing new, yet it still is the biggest time-waster. You get sucked into random posts only to realize that another 20 minutes have passed without creating results for your future. Mind your own business (literally), and create before you consume.

Stop Acting Like You’re Superhuman

Multitasking is not an admirable ability, it’s destructive behavior. You have probably heard about it, but let me remind you again: trying to do more than one thing at a time diminishes your productivity. The human brain simply isn’t designed to multitask. Your brain slows down as it switches between tasks, which takes more time and makes you less efficient.

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Focusing on one thing at a time will make you more effective. If you’re taking too many breaks, you end up lingering and not getting your focus back. Schedule your break to keep yourself in check and focused. Too many breaks lead to more wasted time. Oftentimes, it means working when exhausted. All it does is create more exhaustion and more mistakes. You may also end up facing burnout.

Do yourself a favor and make sleep a priority. The time you spend resting will pay off when you’re awake and ready to take on the world. Once you are clear on what wasted your time, create a to-don’t list to get clear on things you know you should not be doing.

5. Find Traction

We are used to thinking that the opposite of distraction is focus—where we are fully present, attentive, and focused on what it is that we are doing. But the opposite of distraction is actually “traction,” and traction from Latin is an action that pulls you towards what you want to do. So, distractions are actions that pull you away from what you want to do, and tractions are actions that move you towards what you want to do. This means that any action can be either a distraction or traction depending on what you intend to do with your time.

There’s nothing wrong with scrolling through your Facebook feed, watching YouTube videos, or playing a video game, as long as that’s what you intend to do. It’s when you do things unintentionally that you get into trouble. When you get pulled away from what you need to do to avoid discomfort, to avoid that hard work or that pressure dealing with a specific task, that’s when you allow yourself to get distracted.

So, if you’re asking if it’s possible to avoid distractions, the answer is yes. But you don’t want to do it! You want to notice these moments of discomfort and understand what causes you to get distracted. What are you trying to avoid? Why are you letting yourself get pulled away from things that you need to do?

If we dig deeper, we can see things for what they are, including ourselves, our believes, our thoughts, and anything that sabotages our focus without us realizing it.

Final Thoughts

Distractions are a very wide range of things. They are everywhere, looking for you to bring your attention to them. The good news is that you can stay on task if only you choose to. You are in charge, and now that you have a better insight into your triggers, it will hopefully allow you to get less distracted and more focused.

No matter what your distractions are, you are in control of your time, what you do with it, and where you spend it. Be sure to keep that control in your hands.

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More Tips on Improving Your Attention

Featured photo credit: Surface via unsplash.com

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