How to stop a mental block from ruining your whole day

When you have a mental block, it can feel like the end of the world. Overcome it with these simple steps

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When you have required work to do, a mental block can feel like the most painful thing in the world. On an easier day, you might take the rest of the day off or take a long break. But when deadlines loom – a client meeting, legal obligations, or other items on a business owner’s checklist – you have to overcome a mental block quickly so you can get back to work.

Most people are tempted to try social media – scrolling Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn to get some fresh ideas in your head. But you’ll end up taking much more time than you want to: the average person engages with media for 11 hours per day. You don’t need that extra scrolling session (and it won’t help your mental state, anyway).

What does mental block mean?

Having a mental block is fairly simple. Most of the time, it means your brain is overloaded.

There are a lot of psychological meanings as well. It can be as simple as forgetting something all the way up to issues around depression and anxiety. For the purposes of this article, we’re talking about needing to get work done but feeling like there’s something stopping you; like your brain just doesn’t want you to work, but you have to.

It can feel like a case of needing to be better at time management, but there are likely other things at play, too. Either way, you need to get through it quickly so you can get back to work.

Once you understand the root of the problem, you can get out of a mental block quickly – often in 10 minutes or less.

Journal through your mental block

Writing out your circumstances and frustrations is a great way to overcome a mental block

If your brain is overloaded, one of the best ways to solve the problem is to get the thoughts out of your head. How? Writing them down.

If you’re hitting a roadblock or mental hurdle, there’s probably a reason. You’re likely either:

  • Dealing with too much in your head, or;
  • You’re too focused on the details and missing the big picture (happens to a lot of people, so you’re not alone if this is you)

Journal prompts

Get a piece of paper and a pen – this is a no-tech task – and answer the following prompts:

1- I’m in a mental block about my work and it feels like…”

2- “I am trying to accomplish…”

3- “I want to accomplish that end goal because…”  

4- “The work I am supposed to be doing is on…”

5- “The work I am supposed to be doing helps the end goal because it…”

For each prompt, just write what comes naturally. If you need to swear, go ahead. If what you really want to write is that you had a crappy sleep and some days you want to quit… write it down. It’s not meant to be therapy – though it can feel therapeutic – it’s just meant to get the brain waves flowing again.

Impact of journaling on mental blocks

If you’re able to free-write on each of the prompts above, one of two things will likely happen:

1- You’ll clear your mind of the “gunk” that caused the mental block. These are usually just thoughts that come into our minds and find a way to nestle in some corner of the brain. Writing everything out helps to get them unstuck so you can focus.

2- You’ll have a moment of realization and get insight into your problem. Some cases of mental block are caused by a lack of data (perceived or real), and journaling may give you the clarity to realize what you didn’t have. Often, the fear of losing because of “what you didn’t know you didn’t know” can be paralyzing, so getting clarity on that will help you move ahead.

Rubber-duck your way to clarity

Try “rubber duck debugging” your brain when you have a mental block

Borrowing from the rubber duck debugging premise for coders, treat your brain like a huge compilation of code that isn’t working properly.

The idea behind rubber duck debugging is to explain your problem to, well, a rubber duck. To complete this experiment, take the same prompts from the journaling step. Instead of writing everything down, say it aloud – to the rubber duck.

Talking prompts for rubber duck debugging

1- I’m in a mental block about my work and it feels like…”

2- “I am trying to accomplish…”

3- “I want to accomplish that end goal because…”  

4- “The work I am supposed to be doing is on…”

5- “The work I am supposed to be doing helps the end goal because it…”

The impact of talking through your mental block

The power of saying it out loud is that you not only think about the words as you prepare to say them, but you hear them in the real world once said. That gives you two opportunities – and two mediums – to digest, analyze, and think through your words and problems. You’ll often find a huge moment of clarity somewhere. People who do rubber duck debugging often report finding themselves saying “Oh, wait, I know what went wrong” before they even finish all the prompts.

If talking to a rubber duck feels a bit too weird for you right now, ask a trusted friend, team member, mentor, or coach to be your rubber duck. The benefit here is that because you just need them to listen, you don’t need to worry if they have relevant domain expertise. The person need only be someone you trust.

Get active to overcome a mental block

If you can’t concentrate, try a walk or other light physical activity

Sometimes, you just need to get the body moving to clear the mind. So go for a 10 minute walk. If you’re in a larger office or coworking space, you can walk through the halls. Otherwise, go outside (if weather permits).

While walking, try to clear your mind and not think about the problem at hand. You’re walking to not only engage your body, but to remove thoughts about your mental block from your mind. This is a chance to restart the engine, so to speak.

How to overcome mental blocks on a walk

If you find that you can’t stop thinking about the work you have to do while on your walk, then consciously start to acknowledge everything in the world around you to help you overcome a mental block. That means:

  • Building materials of the buildings you walk by
  • Tiles on the sidewalk
  • Noises you hear
  • Steam, smoke, and anything else you see
  • How the road, hall, or sidewalk feels on your shoes
  • Where the sun is
  • Anything in your physical surroundings

This will keep your mind active – which it clearly wants to be – but fill it with other content to get your mind off your mental block.

Other physical activities to try that aren’t a walk

Sometimes you can’t go for a walk due to a number of circumstances. If that’s the case, try:

Or anything else that works for you. It’s just about getting your body moving and your mind off your mental block, so get creative.

Meditate or practice mindfulness to easily remove mental blocks

Meditation and mindfulness is a quick way to overcome mental blocks

If being active and keeping the brain “on” isn’t a good fit for you, then you may like mindfulness or meditation to actively turn your brain “off”.

Now, this doesn’t mean you do nothing. Instead, you spend your mental energy doing two things:

  1. Staying as still as possible
  2. Acknowledging a thought then letting it go

Mindfulness or meditation can be very difficult if you’re not used to it, so you may want to try a YouTube video guided meditation before doing it yourself.

5 minute guided mindfulness mediation to overcome mental blocks. Source: YouTube

This method may not produce huge results the first time you do it, but it can act as a preventative measure over time. A consistent practice of meditation strengthens your ability to acknowledge then let go of thoughts, hopefully stopping future mental blocks before they happen.

Overcome a mental block and take back control

When you’ve got a mental block, it can feel like you’re not in control. You know you need to work, but you can’t. That can lead to a lot of fear and doubt about your entrepreneurial venture, but you can absolutely overcome fear and doubt. It might also be an indication that you need proper rest if you are to be successful long term, so don’t miss out on that opportunity to avoid burnout.


This article originally appeared on PulseBlueprint.

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