Have you ever felt like you couldn’t think clearly, no matter how hard you tried? Maybe you were in the middle of making an important decision or solving a difficult problem, but you just couldn’t summon up the mental energy to move forward.
Don’t worry, there’s nothing wrong with you. What you experienced is a mental block, and it’s happened to most of us (usually at the most inconvenient time.)
In this article, we’re going to look at some ways to overcome mental blocks. But first, let’s learn more about what mental blocks are and what causes them.
What are mental blocks?
Think of mental blocks as barriers standing in the way of your creativity, motivation, and productivity.
We’ve all heard the term “writer’s block” before. Hearing it usually conjures up an image of a writer sitting at their desk for hours on end, struggling to get started on a writing project or having a difficult time picking up where they left off.
Despite its name, “writer’s block” can happen to anyone––not just writers. That’s because people experiencing writer’s block are actually just having a mental block. You can experience it when you’re planning an international trip, when you undergo a major household project like remodeling your kitchen, or when you’re approaching a particularly difficult task at work.
What causes mental blocks?
A lot of things, actually.
According to Harvard Health Letter, the inability to think clearly can be caused or exacerbated by:
- A wide range of prescription and over-the-counter medications
- Vitamin B12 deficiency
- Lack of sleep
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are also a number of other factors that can lead to mental blockage, such as:
- Decision fatigue: Mental exhaustion that comes from having to make too many decisions
- Clutter: Working in a cluttered or chaotic environment boosts cortisol levels (the “stress hormone”) and can lead to anxiety
- Procrastination: Putting off important tasks also leads to stress and anxiety, and can make it difficult to begin or resume a project
Then there’s the dreaded impostor syndrome, which is the fear of being people discovering that you’re not the best person for the job. You’re so preoccupied with the irrational fear of being exposed as an impostor, that you can’t focus on anything else.
If this sounds familiar, don’t worry. It’s something that a lot of the best and brightest have experienced, including Neil Armstrong, Michelle Obama, and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Like many others, they’ve all admitted to feeling like an impostor at some point or another.
Living in the perfect environment for mental blocks
If you feel like your mental clarity has been declining over the years, you might be right. The good news is that it probably has little to do with your age and more to do with your environment. Most people tend to live and work in a perfect setting for mental blocks.
According to the CDC, one in three Americans don’t get the sleep they need. On top of that, workplace stress is on the rise. According to a survey in the United States, a whopping 83% of people polled admitted they’re stressed at work.
Combine that with the mental exhaustion from making decisions throughout the day, in addition to being bombarded with messages and emails, and you have a recipe for mental blockage.
Now that we’ve looked at the problem, how do we fix it?
How to stop mental blocks from zapping your productivity
First, let’s be clear: There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to overcoming mental blocks.
Mental paralysis can happen for a number of reasons. With that said, there are some ways you can work through your mental blocks so they don’t completely rob you of your creativity and productivity. Here are five helpful tips for overcoming mental blocks.
1. Start with the small tasks
Sometimes we experience mental blocks because we’re so overwhelmed with work that we don’t know where to begin. This can lead to feeling stressed and anxious. One of the easiest ways to work through a mental block is to take a little off your plate. Make a list of the things you have to do and start with the easy tasks. Knocking a few assignments off your to-do list can help you get into a positive headspace, which helps with motivation and creativity.
“Reducing input and focusing on small tasks helps me a lot. I’ve realized that when I’m experiencing a big mental block, the behavior that manifests is a continuous loop of email and social media checking. Nothing gets done, but I stay busy. However, when I zoom in on a small task without taking any new information in, I’m forced to produce something.” -Bredan Hufford, Founder of SEO for the Rest of Us
2. Take breaks when needed
If you’ve been sitting at your desk for half an hour unsuccessfully trying to work through a mental block, it might be time for a break. Remember when you were in school and your teacher told you to skip a test question you didn’t know and come back to it later? There’s a reason for that.
When we try to work through a mental block unsuccessfully for an extended period of time, we tend to focus more on our mental block than the actual thing we’re trying to accomplish. Taking a quick break helps clear your head and can also give you the chance to approach your task with a new perspective. So next time you get stuck halfway through an assignment, have a cup of coffee. Or better yet, knock some of those smaller items off your to-do list. The feeling of accomplishment that comes with that may be just enough to revitalize your mind.
“I like to get up and take a walk when dealing with a mental block. A change of environment can help shake it loose most times.” -David Hoos, Director of Marketing at TheGood
3. Tidy up
Einstein once said, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” While this sounds really cool, it doesn’t work like that for a lot of people. As we mentioned, clutter can lead to stress and anxiety, which can cause, you guessed it, mental blocks.
If you’re someone who gets easily distracted or overwhelmed by working in a busy environment, clutter could be one of the things triggering your mental blockage. Take some time to tidy up your desk and/or office space. Your work area won’t feel as claustrophobic and distracting, meaning you can devote more mental energy to your tasks at hand.
4. Don’t overextend yourself
Everyone has their limits. While it’s good to be known as the person willing to go above and beyond, you never want to bite off more than you can chew. Don’t commit to tasks that you know you can’t finish, especially when you’re already busy with other work. Overcommitting can increase your stress, have a negative impact on the overall quality of your work, and can lead to burnout.
If you work in an office setting and your supervisor is assigning you more work than you can complete within a week, talk with them about it. Explain your situation and ask if there’s any way you can restructure your workload, focusing on the top-priority assignments first. This will help lighten some of the cognitive load that leads to mental blocks.
“I celebrated twelve years as an entrepreneur this month, and it was only within the last few years that I allowed myself to take breaks whenever work-related mental blocks overcame me. It’s these breaks that have kept me moving forward, ironically. Whether they’re one hour, one day or even one week on occasion, I find that allocating time to step backwards from work is exactly what I need to keep moving ahead.” -Nicole Leinbach Reyhle, Founder of RetailMinded
5. Take care of yourself
Just like physical strength, your mental stamina needs time to rest and recover. If you push yourself too hard without any time for rest and relaxation, you’re going to experience mental blocks at some point. Self-care is one of the best tools for promoting health and happiness, and happy people are generally more productive.
“My secret to getting past mental blocks are lots of therapy and professional coaching.” Helena Hambrecht, C-Founder of Haus
Here are some ways you can overcome mental blocks through self-care:
- Get 7-9 hours of sleep every night
- Avoid taking work home with you whenever possible
- Set aside some time to exercise during the week
- Be more mindful
Don’t let mental blocks get you down
While mental blocks can happen for a number of reasons, stress is commonly linked with them in one form or another. For this reason, self-care and healthy work-life balance are important for your mental health, and they’re your first line of defense against mental blocks and burnout. Take care of yourself and make your mental health a priority to get through these tough periods when you feel blocked.