When you’re working, nothing beats being in a state of “flow.” When your inspiration and motivation align, you’re likely to produce some of your most creative work. It also feels nice to cross something off your to-do list so you can move on to the next thing.
A mental barrier, on the other hand, might make work feel arduous and uninspired. When you have a mental block, forget about creativity; it’s difficult to even begin working on what you need to achieve. k
A mental block can appear in a variety of ways. For example, your imposter syndrome may be stifling your creative ideas, or you may be overwhelmed by the scope of a project and its approaching deadline. Perhaps you’re simply wary or anxious.
In either case, a mental block feels like you’re locked inside your own head, and it can severely limit your capacity to think creatively. The problem is that you’re so stuck in your own head that you don’t see other options for solving your difficulties.
Fortunately, overcoming these mental roadblocks is easier than you would believe. All you need are the correct tactics to reclaim your flow.
What Does a Mental Block Feel Like?
A mental block feels like getting stuck in the wrong gear. You lack forward momentum. And no matter how hard you try, you can’t muster up any mental clarity.
It’s a lot like brain fog or burnout. You might feel fuzzy, slow, or mentally exhausted.
Does that sound like you? Look out for these signs of a mental block:
- You can’t make decisions easily (also known as decision fatigue)
- You’re struggling to be creative or come up with out-of-the-box solutions
- You make simple errors all the time, even in tasks or skills you’ve mastered
- Your brain feels sluggish and isn’t firing the way it used to
Check these boxes and you might be stuck in a mental block. But never fear: you can get out of it!
An Example of a Mental Block
Mental blocks are most widespread in creative fields — that’s why ‘writer’s block is so common. But they’re becoming more prevalent in any career, especially if you’re in a high-stress and demanding environment.
Take sport. In a perfect example of a mental block, Simone Biles dropped out of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with a case of ‘the twisties’.
The twisty is a dangerous mental block for gymnasts. Basically, the brain gets out of sync with what the body is doing. When a gymnast’s mind loses touch with its surroundings like that, it can be impossible to execute even the most routine of skills — and it’s terrifying.
Simply put, their mind gets stuck. In a given moment, they can’t access the muscle memory of a skill they might have performed 10,000 times before.
That’s an extreme example. But you’ve likely experienced some version of it. Maybe you’ve found yourself making rookie errors at work, for instance. Or battled to make it through your to-do list, ending up doom-scrolling on social media.
What Causes a Mental Block?
Nobody is immune! There are a host of risk factors that could make you more prone to a mental block. Here are just a handful:
The impossibility of completing large projects is paralyzing. When you’re faced with a massive undertaking, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and unsure where to begin. This, in turn, leads to procrastination, which makes things much worse.
Have you ever felt like a phony? Imposter syndrome is the conviction that, despite your achievements, you are inadequate or unworthy. This type of self-doubt might be so overwhelming that it prevents you from focusing on the task at hand.
“Perfection is the enemy of good.” Hold yourself to unrealistic expectations and you’ll never be happy with yourself. Perfectionism is demotivating and can get you stuck in a mental block.
Poor Physical Health
Currently, one out of every three Americans is sleep-deprived. When bad nutrition is thrown into the mix, mental weariness is a foregone conclusion. Sleep and diet deficiencies deplete your brain and create mental degeneration.
Sufferers of depression often battle with brain fog. Depression is so debilitating that you lack the motivation to be productive or creative. That can grind your brain to a halt.
How Do You Get Rid of a Mental Block?
So, how can you get out of this bind? Everyone’s approach to breaking through a mental block is a little different. Most importantly, you must find a means to reintroduce energy into your life.
Keep in mind that this will vary depending on your situation. It won’t go away in the long run if you don’t address the fundamental source of your mental block.
However, there are a few tried-and-true solutions. Here are five strategies you can use to break free from your mental shackles:
1. Break Your Project Down
I was working on changing a company’s produces a few years ago that I thought would greatly benefit our customers. Isn’t that fantastic?
But, as motivated as I was to make people’s lives easier, the enormity of the undertaking felt overwhelming. I felt completely paralyzed every morning when I opened my laptop to work.
Yes, I liked the concept, but putting it into action felt hazardous. What if it didn’t come out the way I had imagined it? What’s more, where would I even begin?
Over coffee, a former coworker gave me some excellent advice
Change your mindset. Begin by breaking down the large undertaking into smaller ones.
Change your mindset. Begin by breaking down the large undertaking into smaller ones.
When you’re overwhelmed by a large job, you only notice the forest as a whole, rather than the individual trees. As you stare it down, you become disheartened by your lack of progress, which causes you to slow down even more.
The work feels more manageable when a large task is broken down into smaller portions. You’ll have various areas to start and end, which will give your process a driving sense of productivity and mastery.
Here’s where you can learn more about it: The Mental Process of Successful People: The MotivationFlowchart
Consider it a series of minor victories. You’ll know you’re in trouble when you realize you’re in it.
2. Change Up Your Scenery
Of course, there is a time and a place for sitting down to complete tasks. However, if you’re having trouble concentrating, changing your environment can help you get back on track.
Have you ever considered how your surroundings influence your performance and mood?
Your brain correlates certain feelings and behaviors with your physical surroundings. So, if you’re feeling mentally stuck, it’s possible that your mind requires some new sensory stimuli.
You might not be able to open a cafe or relocate from your cubicle to a conference room at this point in your life, so you’ll have to think outside the box. Try going to your dini if you operate remotely in a home office.
You might also reorganize your workspace. Don’t know where to start? Decluttering is a good idea. According to certain research, having a well-organized desk boosts efficiency.
The goal is to keep your brain active by exposing it to fresh sounds and visuals. When you work while breathing in the fresh air, listening to city sounds, or staying in the comfort of your own home, you may find a much-needed dose of inspiration.
3. Do an Unrelated Activity
A little distraction isn’t always a bad thing when it comes to productivity. This is especially true if your chosen diversion aids in your long-term productivity.
Have you ever noticed how your most creative ideas come to you while you’re lying in bed or showering? Scientists have discovered that people’s finest ideas appear when they aren’t actively trying to solve an issue, according to their research into the “incubation phase.”
Participants in a 2010 study had to find a roommate or new employee based on the profiles provided by the researchers.
People who had a short “incubation period” – in this case, working on an anagram — consistently made better decisions than those who deliberated longer.
Try doing something completely unrelated to work, such as washing your dishes, working exercise, or contacting a buddy, if you can’t seem to prime your brain for a project.
Finding another low-stakes project to concentrate on, according to some experts, might assist in jump-starting the creative side of your brain and stimulating your flow.
Allowing your unconscious mind to do its finest work, which is eliciting fresh knowledge that your conscious mind may be ignoring or suppressing, is the key.
4. Be Physical
Do you have a hankering for something to do? When your mind won’t seem to settle into a state of flow, try substituting a physical activity for your mental activity and observe how it affects your perspective.
While any form of physical activity is good for your health — and getting up and moving can be a good diversion — certain types of exercise have a more direct impact on the mind.
Relaxing, flow-based workouts such as dancing, yoga, or tai chi, for example, can create a subtle sense of momentum in your body, which can help your brain prepare for the same condition.
Stress-relieving activities may be required as well. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, try meditating or taking slow, deep breaths to relax your nervous system. When you’re worried, the rational, creative half of your brain simply shuts down, according to research.
On the other hand, when your mind and body are relaxed, you can think more clearly
, as well as the ability to focus for extended periods of time – all of which will aid you in overcoming a mental block.
5. Don’t Force It
Distraction isn’t always a negative thing when it comes to productivity. That’s especially true if your chosen diversion aids in your long-term productivity.
It might be aggravating to battle your own ideas. If your mental block persists despite your best efforts, it’s time to take a break. Forcing creative thinking will just increase your stress levels, limiting your ability to think creatively.
And if you stare at a project for too long, you’ll not only lose time, but you’ll start to equate it with frustration, resulting in work you’re not proud of.
“I know that forcing something would only provide subpar results, so I step aside and focus on something else until it hits me,” artist Ben Skinner stated of his creative process.
If your work isn’t time-sensitive, it might be a good idea to take a break and focus on something else, such as an administrative duty that doesn’t demand much creativity or a project that you’re excited to work on.
You’ll return to the original task with a fresh, innovative viewpoint when the time is perfect (hopefully).