So you’re doing so well working on projects or achieving your goals and then BOOM. Your brain shuts down. Creativity becomes difficult. Goals seem impossible to achieve. How does one overcome these mental blocks? What is blocking you? Could it be that you’re overwhelmed, you have too much to do on your plate, or maybe you’re scared to fail?
A mental block is your brain reaching a barrier in accessing creativity, motivation, or productivity. Like any machine, things can short circuit or sometimes things are running a little slow. You might just need to reset. Just like the basic IT advice for any tech troubleshooting issue: have you tried turning it off and on again?
The inability to clearly think or process information can be caused by many things. It could be as simple as lacking proper sleep, not eating enough nutrient-dense foods, B12 deficiency, or it could be a side-effect of a variety of medications or substance abuse. If you have been procrastinating on a project and the due date comes looming over your head, this can lead to excessive stress which could contribute to a mental block. You could get a mental block from living or working in an anxiety-inducing environment. This could be the people you surround yourself with, clutter, or imposter syndrome. Maybe you’re getting a block because you are mentally exhausted from making decisions all day long (decision fatigue).
Have you ever felt like you’re not good enough to be where you are? You might have imposter syndrome. Impose syndrome is the fear that someone might find out you’re not qualified for the position you’re in. If this is how you feel, just remember: your employer hired you for a reason. If you weren’t qualified for your job, you would have never been hired in the first place.
This phenomenon is indicative of its name. Decision fatigue can come from being forced to make decisions all day long. If you start the day off with “What am I going to wear today? Which shoes should I wear with this outfit? What should I eat for breakfast? Should I ground my kid for doing that bad thing or let it slide? What should I put in my child’s lunch box? Should I take lunch or go out to eat? Which route should I take to avoid traffic?” etc, etc. That’s a lot of decisions to make before you even get to work! In order to defeat this, try streamlining some simple things so you don’t have to think about them. This leaves space in your brain for more important decision making. Try packing lunches and laying out your outfit for the day the night before. This leaves you fewer things to worry about and you can direct your focus elsewhere.
Writers are not the only people who experience blocks. While writer’s block is very much a thing, anyone can experience a mental block.
Here are some practical skills to implement to get yourself back on track.
Putting pen to paper or typing out your stream of consciousness is a sigh of relief. Journaling can be a form of release. You can write out all the things you need to do, your hopes, your fears, or how you’re feeling. Getting all the chaos out of your head and onto some paper can be very therapeutic and can help you discover where your block might be coming from.
2. Focus on the Now
Mindfulness is focusing on the present moment. It isn’t dwelling on the past or thinking about all the tasks you need to complete in the future. Mindfulness is letting yourself be in the here and now and just noticing. Be mindful of how you feel and what is making you feel that way. The disconnect you may be experiencing in your everyday life could be contributing to your mental block. One of the best mindfulness techniques is meditation. Before you roll your eyes, hear us out. Meditation can be done many different ways. It’s not just sitting crisscrossed, eyes closed, mouthing “om,” unless you want it to be. Just take 10 minutes to sit quietly, breathe deeply, and notice thoughts come and go. It’s all about clearing your mind and removing the tension in your body. Check out some of our guided meditations on our YouTube channel. It’s a great way to get started with meditation. Journaling can also help make you more mindful by seeing patterns in your routine that aren’t working or are stressing you out.
3. Affirmations & Positive Self-talk
Affirmations aren’t just “woo woo” spiritual stuff, but an actually proven technique to change your mindset. Choose an empowering affirmation to repeat in your head or out loud every day. This will reprogram your mind to focus on who you want to be and what you want to achieve. This can also help with the imposter syndrome you might be experiencing. Repeating affirmations like, “I am good at my job. I am a creative person. I deserve to be here,” over and over again until you truly believe them can chip away at that mental block. Plus, this is just good to do to succeed in any aspect of life.
4. Switch Things Up
If you’re stuck in the same monotonous routine every day that is zapping away your creative ability, try mixing up your environment a bit. If you’re working from home this is pretty easy to do. Instead of working in the kitchen, try your living room or bedroom. If it’s nice out, try working outdoors. Just a shift in outlook or environment can spark some creative juices to flow.
5. Seek Inspiration from Others
It’s not often that people would recommend scrolling through social media instead of working but sometimes you just need to get some external inspiration. Pinterest is great for this. Search up a term and start pinning things to a board. Soon you’ll have your own little inspiration gallery. The inspiration doesn’t have to come from just social media; it can come from nature, books, articles, TV shows, or anything related to the project you’re working on. It doesn’t hurt to be inspired.
6. Try to Gain a New Skill
If your block is being caused by the lack of knowledge in a certain area, instead of just staring at the project, trying to finesse it somehow, try learning the skill for it! For example, maybe a photo you took doesn’t look quite right and you don’t know how to fix it, head over to YouTube and discover how you can edit that photo using whatever program is available to you.
7. Give Yourself a Break
Your brain and body are machines that need to be reset every so often. Take a break. Go for a walk. Get some exercise. Take a nap. Do something restful and then come back to the project with fresh eyes. If you’re having difficulty focusing, try the Pomodoro method. The Pomodoro method can be used by yourself or with an app. It helps you work in intervals: 25 minutes of work, five minute break. The timer dings to remind you it’s time to start working or it’s time for your break. You can also adjust the time to something that works best for you, like 30 minutes of work and a 10 minute break. Having a specific time window to do a task is a good way to keep yourself on track. Focus To-Do is a great option. Sometimes a break is all you need for a breakthrough.
While the previous tips are great for projects you’re working on, what about if your mental block is blocking your motivation? One of our BHIOP facilitators, Andres Duran, suggested these two things to get yourself out of a rut when it comes to your general goals:
1. Make sure your goal is attainable.
Whatever goal you are trying to achieve must be something you are actually capable of accomplishing. You can’t say, “I’m going to run a marathon this year,” when you haven’t taken any steps toward that goal. Running a marathon is a large goal that takes a lot of hard work. In order to accomplish this, you have to tick off a few tasks. You need to sign up for a race in order to have a set date to reach your goal by. You might want to buy some new running shoes. Schedule time in your day to run, and also to recover from runs. Actually, run during those time slots. The list can go on. Maybe your goal this week should be to run three days out of the week for 30 minutes instead of the broad goal of “run a marathon”.
2. Do one thing in five seconds that will get you one step closer to your goal.
Using the previous example, when you are stuck in a rut and have zero motivation to run, maybe just get yourself to get up off the couch and put your workout clothes on. Once you start doing that, you’re more likely to want to put on your running shoes. Once you have your shoes on, you’ll feel compelled to go outside. Once you’re outside you might as well start running! It’s about doing that five-second task to take a step toward what you want to do.
By Andres Duran
Mental blocks really suck and can be a big deterrence of your progress professionally or creatively. At the end of the day, mental blocks are stress related. Finding ways to relax and reduce stress will help your overall health and productivity. Hopefully you can use the skills above to break down the wall you have hit with whatever you are working on. Remember that mental blocks are normal so don’t beat yourself up. Blocks will come but eventually you’ll sort through them.
Imani is a writer who is passionate about helping others through her work. Her own struggles with mental health and experience in therapy give her a unique perspective to empathize with our patients and readers. Her experiences influence the articles that she writes. In her free time, Imani enjoys traveling, making YouTube videos, reading, and obnoxiously singing to show tunes.
*All blog content that is written by Imani is approved by a licensed mental health professional.*