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Smashing Your Mental Blocks

Have you ever really, really wanted to do something, to the point where you spend hours each day planning it, thinking about it, but when it comes time to actually do, you just can't?

If so, you're not alone. Most of us have a variety of mental blocks installed by the time we reach adulthood, and we have the ability to create even more for ourselves. Isn't the human mind wonderful?

While this is a surprisingly understudied field except in sport psychology and writing, there are a few possible causal factors:

  1. General Belief: One of the most important stages in childhood development is being allowed to take risks and fail, and to know that it's alright to do so. The more protective our parents, or the worse our experiences of failure, the less inclined we are to take risks, and therefore to take action at all. We can plan until the cows come home, but going beyond planning is difficult. This is not to say that caution and planning are bad, only that we need to find a way to take the next step.

  2. Fear of Success: Fear of success differs from fear of failure. Fear of success may mean fear of having to be in the limelight in front of people, fear of having our lives taken over by this one endeavour, fear of having to maintain success once we're there. If you're about to speak up on something you care passionately about, but know it will bring controversy and backlash, well, many of us are conflict-averse.

  3. Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Motivation: This one is important to pay attention to, because it can tell us whether we're on the right track. Intrinsic motivation means something internal and organic to us, a type of motivation that is inherently strong. Extrinsic motivation is imposed from outside, whether a parent pushing us into a career or society telling us what we need to do to be 'successful'. If you can find an intrinsic motivation for what you're doing, great. If not, it may be time to re-evaluate.

  4. Subconscious Blocks: These are the most insidious ones. If something inside us is subconsciously averse to some aspect of what we're about to do, we can get hung up on it for a long, long time. The key is to identify the blocks (which can be tricky - they like to hide on us) and work on them as directly as possible.

  5. Mechanical Thinking: This is a basket term for the types of behaviours we tend to adopt when we're uncomfortable with something. Caution leads to the mental-chemical state Joe Dispenza calls Survival Mode, which leads to Newtonian thinking, the perception of a solid, mechanical reality. Rule-following, hyper-practicality, focusing on the 'how', perfectionism - all of this inhibits us from actually creating, from going from planning to doing.

When you meet a mental block, there are a number of useful approaches you can take. The big distinction to make here is between minor blocks and major ones. For minor ones, you can:

  • Shift to working on something else for awhile.

  • If you've been doing brain work, do some manual work to let the rational mind rest and give the creative mind a chance to come through.

  • Pick one small aspect of the problem that you can solve. Doing builds its own momentum.

  • Freewrite - start outlining for yourself whatever's bothering you, and thereby make the problem clearer.

  • Change your environment - either clean your workspace, or go outside or find a new workspace.

  • Go learn something new, whether or not it's related to what you're doing. Learning helps get the brain in creative mode.

  • Visualize the result you want, and articulate clearly, on paper, what it will look like and feel like.

  • Get off technology - take a break from all the screens, and the habits associated with them. Change mental gears by reading or working with your hands. The mode of thought that technology encourages is not our best creative state.

Minor blocks are not only easier to shift, they can be qualitatively different from major ones. As a writer, I can say that there's a difference between having a block in my writing, not knowing what to write next, versus having a block about writing that piece at all.

For the really tough ones, you may need to go deeper.

  • Full body-scan relaxation - our emotional tension lives in our bodies as physical tension. By finding it and allowing it to relax, you're giving yourself feedback that it's alright to relax emotional tension on this particular issue.

  • Guided meditation - this is one of the most powerful tools for dealing with mental blocks, both in identifying their source and resolving them.

  • Creative Mode - most of the suggestions in the list above are techniques for getting out of mechanical thinking and into creative mode. Even if it doesn't directly resolve the block, creating something you're passionate about in an area related to your block, even if you think it's not going to help you with your goal, will reward you with new thoughts and insights, and maybe even attract people who will help you.

  • Find a mentor in the same boat. If there's some personality trait or aversion that 's holding you back, try to find someone who's been where you are, and has had to make the same adjustment. Having someone to talk to who understands what you're going through always helps.

  • Accustom yourself to productive failure. Look back over some of your older work, analyse the mistakes you didn't even notice back then, and appreciate how much you've learned. Find someone you trust to give you honest feedback on your work, so that you no longer have to be the one who is hunting for potential mistakes. Learn a new skill, knowing that it will take awhile before work is anything to write home about.

Let us know if there's a technique that's worked particularly well for you!

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