There's nothing quite like getting a cup of coffee, sitting down at your desk, flipping open your laptop with every intention of slaying the day... and coming up face to face with the problem of a mental block. You were so ready to tackle your projects, annihilate your to-do lists, and clock in a full day's work, but now you're sitting here tapping your pen and unsure where to start. It's not that you don't have ideas — you do, and a lot of them. You're just not sure on how to start them. You're eager to slay, but something is in the way that's not allowing you to get that first building block down.
So how do you get over your mental block? The obvious reaction could be to stare at your computer until inspiration hits and an answer comes, but if you've ever been in Hour Two of flailing, you'll know that's nothing but a time waster and an anxiety creator. You can also give up and call it a day, but if we just wait around to do work only during the times divine inspiration hits, we wouldn't get a whole lot done. So instead, here are some practical tips on how to get through mental blocks — try them and get back to killing it.
1. Go Do Something Fun For 15 Minutes
Look at your watch and note the time: You have exactly 15 minutes to go do something fun, non-stress inducing, and completely pleasurable. Whether that means going to go buy some baklava at the corner bakery, sitting in a sunny spot in your building's patio, buying yourself a pretty notebook, or closing your laptop and picking up a Jane Austen book instead, tell your brain you're taking some of the pressure off of it and giving it a breather.
Sometimes when you're too aware that the pressure is on and you need to crank out results, your brain gets intimidated and freezes up. It's like your very own proverbial blank page. Lifestyle writer Dustin Wax from Lifehack confirmed, "The brain is a funny thing – it often freezes up under pressure and then, when you’re least expecting it, starts churning out solutions to whatever thorny problems are holding things up." Distract yourself with something lovely, and you might get brainstorms half way through.
2. Force Yourself To Come Up With Crap Results
What makes the famous blank page so intimidating? Because you want to put down greatness on it, but don't know where to begin. You don't want to mark up all that white with inferrior drivel! Well, what if that's exactly what you give yourself permission to do? Just put down the worst or the most random ideas you can, getting all the bad out of the way so you can now focus on the good.
Wax suggested, "set a timer for 20 minutes and promise yourself to work until the dinger goes 'ding'." Tell yourself that for the next 20 minutes, you'll just work and work and work without pressure or eye-rolling-induced comments, giving yourself free reign to brainstorm and mess up as much as you need to. I promise you, along the way you'll strike among gold.
3. Research What Others Did
Writing about a certain topic and don't know where to start? Trying to take a project onto another level, but don't know how to improve it? Instead of staring at a white wall and racking your brains, research what other people did in your same position. it can give you some much needed inspiration, and can spark an idea of your own.
Business writer Erik Sherman from career development site The Muse, "How often do people sit at a desk, repeatedly going over something and getting nowhere? Do some research and get more information that might help you find a solution."
4. Switch Over To A Task That Takes Little Brain Power
Trying to pitch yourself over a mental block is a lot of work, so let yourself do a task that's more auto-pilot-y to give your brain a rest and wander-time. Put on some music and answer emails, catch up on tidying your desk, or do some mennial tasks that will let you zone out. While doing this, you can casually think about what you're working on and the words or solutions might just float over to you.
Sherman "Shift among different types of tasks and take up something that needs to be done but is more rote and requires less active mental energy. It’s like slowing to a jog after some sprinting to recover." It just might do the trick.
5. Close The Laptop And Go Learn Something New
How excited and bright eyed are you after you learn something new? It opens up your mind and throws it into a new tangent that can lead you towards some pretty interesting innovative ideas. So if you're blocked up, close your laptop and go learn something new.
Business writer Fira Kittaneh from Entrepreneur offered, "Expose yourself to new ways of thinking by learning something new. Read an article outside of your field, cook a meal that you have never attempted before or follow a how-to guide on juggling. Whatever you choose to engage in, line up new experiences to set your brain on course to think in novel ways." Exposing yourself to new things will make you think in different ways, and might just give you the answer you were looking for.
6. Think Back To When You Were Kicking Butt
Remember that one time you stayed up till three in the morning because you were in a wild, creative whirlwind? Or how amazing it felt waking up at six in the morning because you were so excited to jump into your project. When you're feeling low on motivation and can't seem to get passed your mental block, think back to those times to re-energize you and make you want to get back to work.
Kittaneh explained, "By returning back to a time and place where you felt less discouraged or unproductive, you can harness the positive energy you had back then to push yourself forward and accomplish even more."
7. Whip Out The Sticky Notes
Maybe all you need to start on your idea is to see it in a new way. Rather than focusing on it as a whole and figuring out how to tackle it, break it up into small pieces and see how it all fits together. That's where the sticky notes come in. Break up the pieces/goals/purposes/strategies of your project into individual notes, and then study how they all fit together and link the common themes. If you see it that way, you can notice what it might be missing or what might now belong, giving you your first idea on how to begin.
Entrepreneur suggested, "Keeping track of our thoughts can help us develop our ideas further, by allowing us to return to it at a later time and build on top of it. Remember, it take dozens of revisions to form a good idea and hundreds of revisions to create a brilliant idea." See how the pieces all fit, and you might see the missing link.
Whether your mental block seems insignificant or massive, you can get past it with a trick or two. You got this.
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