How to Get Over a Mental Block (According to 8 Experts)

Are you having trouble getting started on a task? You know that feeling when something is so familiar, but you just can’t seem to remember how it’s done? Does it feel like you have no idea what to do to achieve your goals?

According to experts, here are effective ways to get over a mental block:

John F. Tholen, PhD

John F. Tholen

Retired Psychologist | Author, Focused Positivity: The Path to Success and Peace of Mind

A “mental block” is any thought or emotion that inhibits constructive action. Learning to “unblock” can be critical to attaining success in life and enhancing our peace of mind.

Our automatic thoughts—the ideas that spontaneously come to mind—are determined by the complex interaction of the biology we inherit as well as our early life experiences—neither is under our command.

When that interaction has left us cynical about life or overly critical of ourselves, our automatic thoughts are frequently dysfunctional, causing discomfort without motivating any constructive action.

If left unchallenged in the focus of our attention, these dysfunctional thoughts can disrupt our peace of mind and inhibit self-assertion—despite the fact that they are almost always insufficient, unreasonable, or completely incorrect.

It can be addressed with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques

Doubts about our abilities or worthiness that unreasonably inhibit self-assertion are best addressed with Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques.

CBT is one of the psychological treatment approaches considered “evidence-based.” A review of 325 different research studies involving more than 9000 subjects found that CBT effectively treats depression, anxiety, and related conditions.

CBT works because it is the most efficient method of challenging our dysfunctional thoughts, and the most efficient form of CBT is the 4-step focused positivity strategy:

  1. Becoming more aware of our thoughts by writing down and analyzing the ideas that arise in our minds when we are experiencing retroactive jealousy.
  2. Identifying the dysfunctional thoughts that have come to be the center of our attention and are provoking our jealousy.
  3. Creating more rational, balanced, and functional options that reassure, inspire hope, or motivate responsible self-assertion.
  4. Redirecting our attention away from dysfunctional thoughts and toward functional alternatives in a systematic manner.

Our best response to any mental block is to employ the closest thing we have to a “superpower,” our ability at any moment to shift the focus of our attention to a more functional thought.

When we find ourselves unreasonably inhibited, we are likely to benefit from reviewing thoughts such as:

  • By learning to identify my dysfunctional thoughts and refocus my attention on more functional alternatives, I can enhance my peace of mind and attain tremendous life success.
  • By systematically challenging the dysfunctional thoughts that underlie my mental block, I will eventually learn to “let go” and trust myself.
  • My unreasonable self-doubts result from unfortunate biology and circumstances—both of which are beyond my control, not a reasonable reflection of my worth or ability, and don’t need to block myself-assertion.
  • Like everyone, I have human weaknesses and strengths—and may be able to compensate for the first if I can take advantage of the latter.
  • “Screwing up” or failing would mean I’m human, not that I’m a “loser.”
  • By displaying integrity and compassion, I can make myself worthy of understanding and decency, regardless of my efforts to be responsibly assertive.
  • By rejecting unreasonable fears and gradually taking on reasonable risks, I’ll enhance my confidence and my range of self-assertion.
  • There is no shame in being poorly treated by life; that’s entirely a matter of unfortunate heredity, experience, and opportunity.
  • Like all humans, I have hidden strengths, untapped potential, and the ability to grow in profound ways.
  • We all have illusions about ourselves that we can learn to overlook in favor of more balanced, reasonable, and functional thoughts.

Mindi Huebner

Mindi Huebner

Mindset Mastery Coach | Clinical Hypnotherapist

Are you holding yourself back from achieving success? If so, you may be experiencing the effects of mental blocks.

These are barriers that keep us from reaching our full potential by telling us that we aren’t capable, we don’t deserve to succeed, someone else is more qualified, it goes on and on.

Recognize that you are experiencing a mental block

The first step in overcoming a mental block is recognizing that you have one. Many of us are so used to our negative thoughts that we don’t even realize they’re holding us back.

Related: How to Get Rid of Negative Thoughts?

Pay attention to what you say to yourself, especially when you’re feeling down or frustrated. If you find yourself making excuses or putting yourself down, get curious! These are clues of mental blocks at work.

Mental blocks also love to disguise themselves as protections. The mental block of perfectionism presents itself as protection from failure, yet it’s stopping us from achieving any success on closer examination. We won’t take action until it’s perfect.

Challenge and change your negative thoughts

Once you’ve identified your mental block, you get to start removing and releasing. This can be done in several ways, but reframing is one of the most effective methods.

This involves challenging and changing your negative thoughts into more positive or even neutral ones as you get started.

For example, if you think, “I’m not good enough,” you could challenge that block by replacing it with a more empowering thought like I am capable, and I can do this or I’ve done difficult things before, I can do it again.”

You also get to remind yourself of a time in the past when you did feel capable or accomplished. Even if you think it doesn’t count because it’s so small or not the same thing, recognize it and celebrate how you showed up!

You are rewiring your brain to start noticing more of the times you showed up and believed in yourself and, at the same time, creating a new habit.

Change your environment

Change your environment. If you’re constantly surrounded by people who are negative or don’t believe in you, it can be difficult to overcome your doubts.

Seek out more positive peers who can help bolster your confidence and support your endeavors.

Change your routine

Change your routine. Try shaking things up a bit if you always do things the same way. This can help stimulate new ideas and thoughts.

If you are stuck in a rut, try going for a walk or working in a different location. Sometimes all it takes is some intentional change!

Move your body — literally

Move your body, literally. Get up from your chair and stretch. Take some big deep breaths. Take a mental reset, grab a glass of water, dance, and sing a favorite song.

Pattern interrupting can stop the habituated response. Once you’ve slowed or stopped it, move your attention to how you’d like to feel or a more empowering thought.

Give yourself credit for every accomplishment

Finally, don’t forget to celebrate your successes! Achieving small goals along the way will help keep you motivated and moving forward.

Give yourself credit for every accomplishment, no matter how big or small, and remember that you are capable of anything you set your mind to!

Remember that you are worth it

Overcoming mental blocks can be a challenge, but it’s definitely worth it, and so are you! Just like anything else, it takes practice, patience, and persistence.

By recognizing mental blocks when they show up, challenging and changing your thoughts, and interrupting your habituated patterns, you can begin to move closer to your dreams and achieve the success you desire!

Timothy Yen, Psy.D.

Timothy Yen

Licensed Clinical Psychologist | Author, “Choose Better: The Optimal Decision-Making Framework

Understand the purpose behind the mental block

My initial response would be to understand the purpose behind the mental block. It may seem like all mental blocks are simply a nuisance keeping us away from our desired goals.

What may be occurring is an unconscious defense mechanism that is “protecting” us from something potentially harmful if we actually meet that goal.

For example, a common mental block for writers is “writer’s block.” The author suddenly gets stumped and unable to write anything. There is a significant decrease in motivation and frustration that ensues the mental blankness.

Take the time to acknowledge the feeling of frustration

Take the time to acknowledge the feeling of frustration and calm your body down. Know that nothing is particularly urgent, and you can afford to take a pause.

Take a moment to identify any other emotions that may be contributing to it

From there, take a moment to identify any other emotions that may be contributing to the mental block. For a writer, there may be a fear of writing something wrong.

The commitment is to write their idea “perfectly,” but the pressure to do so contributes to the mental block.

If that is true, then acknowledging that need and responding differently, like putting random ideas down in a free-associative way, may help work through the perfection and create movement.

Understand that it is most likely trying to protect you from discomfort

Understand that the mental block is most likely trying to protect you from discomfort so take some time to identify the source of discomfort before changing things up.

It may also help to talk with a professional or someone you trust to work through the purpose behind the mental block.

Lena Suarez-Angelino, LCSW

Lena Suarez-Angelino

Licensed Clinical Social Worker | Writer, Choosing Therapy

Getting over a mental block usually isn’t something that happens at the snap of a finger.

Take breaks from your projects

Take a break. Even if you take a 5-minute break and move your body or work on a completely unrelated task, it often helps you reset the playfield and offers a new perspective.

When deadlines are fast approaching, it can be stressful, and feel like taking breaks is not allowed. To avoid burnout, you have to take breaks from your projects. Set a timer so you only break for the time you designated.

Challenge yourself to do something creative

Get creative. It can feel like all of your creative flow has been robbed of you when facing a mental block. Like taking a break, challenge yourself to do something creative that is unrelated to the mental block you are trying to overcome.

Getting creative can mean moving your body through yoga, running, or weightlifting. Getting creative can also mean drawing, painting, or doodling. Allow yourself to flow with your creation, with no end goal.

Use positive affirmations to restore confidence

Positive affirmations. Using positive affirmations to help you overcome mental blocks can help to restore confidence and give you the reassurance and validation that you are looking for.

Find affirmations that feel empowering and meaningful to you. Say them periodically throughout the day, aloud in your mirror, while driving, and even writing them down and keeping them visible to you.

Visualize yourself getting past your mental block as you say your affirmations.

Trust that you will overcome this and many other mental blocks

Take a deep breath. Trust that you will overcome this and many other mental blocks. The more pressure or stress you put on yourself, the bigger the block becomes. You got this!

Tricia Johnson, LCSW

Tricia Johnson

Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Choosing Therapy

Take off the pressure and walk away

Often, when mental blocks hit, we have a deadline, are under pressure, and feel like it’s time to deliver, we hit a wall, paralyzed by the possibility that a fresh idea will never pop into our brains again.

Never fear; it’s just a mental block! We’ve all had them, and the good news is that there are some great techniques to get the creative juices flowing again.

It may sound counterintuitive, but my first tip is to take off the pressure and walk away. Go for a walk, do a meditation, clean a room, organize your desk– just do anything to get your mind off the task at hand.

Write down your thoughts and let them flow

Once you feel sufficiently distracted and ready to start again, I encourage a “brain dump.” Grab a piece of paper and pen or open up a blank document on your computer and let your thoughts flow.

With a brain dump, it’s important to just write or type without making corrections for grammar or spelling (you can always go back and do that later).

The brain dump can be specifically about the project you’re working on, your thoughts or fears about it, or something completely unrelated.

It often feels good to get the thoughts out of your head. Finally, be your own advocate and start repeating positive thoughts about yourself, such as:

  • “I believe in me.”
  • “I am not my mistakes.”
  • “I am worthy of great things.”

Know that you will eventually get past this block, it may not happen as quickly as you would like, but time, patience, and self-compassion are key.

Akos Antwi, APRN, PMHNP

Akos Antwi

Co-Owner, Revive Therapeutic Services

A mental block can present in many different ways and manifest as stress, depression, or anxiety. As a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, I see this daily with clients.

Lean onto family, friends, and/or a therapist

Lean onto family, friends, and/or a therapist. Talk to someone, and let them know you need a listening ear.

Having a trusted outlet to exchange views and impressions can help you feel supported and less alone. Don’t be afraid to lean on others for support.

Give your mind time to rest and recover

Mental illness can make you both physically and emotionally tired. It’s essential to give your mind time to rest and recover. Mental blocks occur when you push yourself too hard without any time for relaxation.

Engage in self-care

Engage in self-care. Meditate, exercise, take warm baths, use towels fresh out of the dryer, or whatever you like to do, set boundaries.

I always advocate the importance of self-care. We have 24 hours a day. Take out 30 minutes to 1 hour to engage in something solely for you. Taking care of yourself can promote defense against mental blocks.

Create a list of 5 goals you want to achieve, whether short-term or long term and figure out ways to work towards achieving them.

This will help you feel more in control of your goals. You’ll have specific starting and ending points, which will provide a motivating sense of productivity to your way of accomplishing them.

Write about your mental blockage

At the end of your day, journaling allows you to write about your mental blockage. It is also a way to clear your mind before bedtime, like a “brain dump.”

Phil Kang

Phil Kang

Author | Founder, RunWithPace, LLC

Think more deeply about it and act in the opposite of our natural tendencies

Whether we’re authoring, innovating, leading others, or simply dealing with everyday challenges, we occasionally encounter mental blocks—the inability to get words on paper or see a solution outside of our current mindset.

The secret to getting over a mental block is thinking more deeply about and (sometimes) acting on the opposite of our natural tendencies.

We can think differently about our possibilities. Like kids in school, they have fun playing “opposite day” and see things differently. Get out of our own way—question our own common sense.

Examine the opposite of what our gut might say

We are taught to “go with our gut,” and when our gut is not talking to us, we need to examine the opposite of what our gut might say as a means to break the log jam.

Let us use an employee performance evaluation process as an example. The best leaders are supposed to take care of their employees. This puts bosses in a strange biased mode of behavior, defending their own and underestimating employees on other teams to win the year-end “game.

Not all bosses take this to its extreme, but deep down, I submit that most of us favor our own. This creates a subtle and dangerous mental block. My employees are better than the average, and it’s therefore challenging for me to see a peer’s employee as exceeding my own.

To breakthrough, we can think and act opposite to our natural tendency. This means I invest more time treating those employees the way I treat my own.

We might write the performance review verbiage for our non-direct report as if someone reported to us. Instead of favoring the org chart, we might go “out of our way” to attend their project out-brief, schedule a quarterly coffee chat, and give them a development plan.

We might not be able to do this at the same level of depth as we do for our direct reports, but I had found my perspective at performance calibration time dramatically different when I took this kind of effort.

Lisamarie Monaco

Lisamarie Monaco

National Independent Life Insurance Agent, Insurance For Burial

Stop what you are doing and take a step back

One of the best ways, probably the first thing to do when you have a mental block, is to stop what you are doing and take a step back, physically, emotionally, and mentally.

This is our first sign that you are overwhelmed and need to take a break.

Shut down all social media platforms

Shut down all social media platforms and put a do not disturb on all levels of work/home life.

Related: 25+ Benefits of a Social Media Detox

To regain any mental clarity and to be able to function at your highest level, you must be clear of any outside noise and drama. You must shut down every device and give yourself up to a 48 hour period to regroup.

Move forward toward mental clarity

Moving forward after you have regained a self of stability in mind, body, and soul, to avoid mental blocks moving forward, you should schedule a timeframe each week or each month to regroup regularly.

This will be beneficial to yourself, your business, and your family on every single level.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the common causes of mental blocks?

Various factors can cause mental blocks, but some of the most common include:

Stress and anxiety: These emotions can make it difficult for your brain to process information, leading to mental blocks.

Overwhelm: When juggling too many tasks or responsibilities, it’s easy for your mind to become overwhelmed, making it challenging to focus or think clearly.

Fatigue: Mental and physical exhaustion can significantly impact your cognitive abilities, leading to temporary blocks in thought.

Perfectionism: The pressure to achieve perfection can make initiating or completing tasks difficult, resulting in mental blocks.

Fear of failure: This fear can paralyze and prevent you from moving forward, causing your mind to freeze.

How can I identify a mental block?

To identify a mental block, look out for the following signs:

Difficulty concentrating: If you find yourself unable to focus on a task, it could be a mental block.

Procrastination: Putting off tasks or avoiding them altogether may indicate that a mental block is present.

Lack of creativity: A sudden drop in your creative output or struggle to generate new ideas might be a sign of a mental block.

Negative self-talk: Pay attention to any critical or negative thoughts that arise when you attempt to complete a task, as they can indicate a mental block.

Stuck feeling: If you feel like you’re hitting a wall or can’t move forward, you’re likely experiencing a mental block.

Why does my mind go blank when I talk?

Your mind going blank while talking is a common phenomenon known as “communication apprehension” or “speech anxiety.” This happens when the fear of speaking, being judged, or making a mistake causes your brain to enter a state of high alert. Consequently, your mind struggles to access the information you want to share, leading to that dreaded blank feeling.

Here are some factors that can contribute to your mind going blank during conversations:

Performance anxiety: Fear of not meeting expectations or being negatively evaluated by others can cause your mind to go blank.

Overthinking: Constantly analyzing your thoughts and words may lead to mental overload, making it difficult to focus on the conversation at hand.

Lack of preparation: Insufficient knowledge about the topic or not practicing enough for a presentation can make you more prone to blanking out.

External distractions: Loud noises, visual distractions, or unrelated thoughts can disrupt your train of thought, causing your mind to go blank.

Is it okay to have mental blocks?

Having mental blocks is a normal part of being human. We all experience them from time to time, and they’re often a sign that our brains need a break or a change in perspective. 

Mental blocks can also serve as a signal for us to address underlying issues, like stress or anxiety, that may be affecting our mental well-being. So, while mental blocks can be frustrating, they’re also an opportunity for growth and self-improvement.

How long does a mental block take?

The duration of a mental block can vary greatly, depending on the individual and the circumstances. Some mental blocks may last only a few minutes, while others could persist for days or even weeks. 

Factors that influence the duration of a mental block include the severity of the issue causing the block, your emotional state, and your approach to resolving the block.

When should I seek professional help for a mental block?

It’s essential to recognize when a mental block may require professional help. You should consider seeking assistance from a mental health professional if:

• Your mental block is persistent and doesn’t seem to improve over time, despite trying various strategies to overcome it.

• The mental block is severely impacting your daily life, relationships, or work performance.

• You’re experiencing other symptoms of mental health issues, such as persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, or extreme irritability.

• You’re unable to identify the cause of the mental block or find a suitable solution on your own.

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