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Whole Self: Mental Barriers

Do you ever feel like you've hit a wall or just back a block in front of you keeping you from moving forward? For writers this is just called writer's block, but for general life-livers it's a feeling of being stuck in our goals or making forward movement. When working toward building on your self to create the whole self it's easy to come across road blocks. Here are a list of culprit life-blockers that may have some solutions.


This is probably the most common life block or mental barrier. Procrastination has been theorized to come from a number of places. Laziness, perfectionism, lack of motivation, low self-esteem, but what is it really? When it comes down to it procrastination is simply a delay of duties or tasks that are put off typically because they're unpleasant. In the psychology world this is just avoidance behavior. Avoidance comes from an underlying belief or experience that when we put something off we feel better. Our brains are tricked to belief we can experience a sense of relief not because we accomplished something but because we've pretended it's not there. Procrastination can be thought of as borrowing time on interest, where the amount of time it takes to complete a task increases depending on how long we decide to put it off. Classic example: dishes. Obviously if you did dishes every day it would take maybe 10 minutes and your sink would always be clean and you would walk into your kitchen stress free. If you complete dishes in 10 minutes every day, that's 70 minutes a week. If you wait until the end of the week to do dishes, you have to factor in how long it takes for the soap and water to dissolve all the dried particles, having to dry the dishes in the drying rack and waiting before doing the next round, taking more care and time to wipe down all the wet spots that build up, and this could end up taking much longer than the 10 minutes a day. Even if it doesn't take longer that's still spending 70 minutes all at once (increased misery) compared to 10 minutes a day (less misery).

So why do we torture ourselves with procrastination? Our brains are wired to seek immediate gratification in that the easiest route is usually the primary route taken to reduce energy expended. It's about efficiency. The easiest way to conserve energy is to not do the dishes, while your brain tricks itself into believing this is a sustainable approach. But it's not. In fact, every time we choose to procrastinate, we loose the opportunity to train our brain to release all that dopamine we get when we accomplish a task, which in the long run will train us to tackle a task from the get go instead of waiting (because that IS where the immediate gratification actually comes in). Procrastination can even trick your brain into believing that it was BECAUSE you procrastinated that you succeeded in your task (ever heard those people say they work better under pressure?). So what do you do? Start small. Tackle unpleasant tasks for a few minutes each day instead of putting them off so you can begin to build the foundation of gratification and accomplishment. Eventually your brain will start connecting the pleasant experience of your clean sink to your ambitious go-getter attitude. As usual on WHV, our advice is to always start small and keep the bar low so you can build it up big. If you go into tomorrow with a long to do list of unpleasant tasks, you'll end up miserable all day because all you did was stuff that made you miserable. This can have the opposite effect so remember, balance is key.

Negative Thinking

Negative thinking styles are common for people with mental health concerns but they also come up frequently for people who are just generally experiencing stress. Maybe you feel stuck because you don't believe you're capable of doing what you set out to do. Maybe you have underlying beliefs or anxieties that keep you away from trying to pursue your ambitions. Negative thinking styles, also known in the psychology world as cognitive distortions, come in all shapes and sizes and can be sneaky. Negative thinking, like most unhelpful things in life, is a product of our brain trying to protect us. If your brain is constantly looking for threats, maximizing problems or minimizing your own problems, you'll ultimately avoid negative experiences--though that's what our brain has learned over time and evolution but doesn't actually work in the long-run. Avoiding circumstances that provide challenges will only reinforce the belief that negative experiences are bound to happen. Challenging yourself to take risks within a certain reasonable level will sometimes provide negative experiences but also positive ones. The end result to being open to experiences is the ability to view negative experiences as learning opportunities and therefore not something to be avoided. You train your brain to recategorize these situations and it changes the way you think about them. But you can't do any of that if you're trying to avoid negative experiences altogether.


Sometimes mental blocks come from our internal dialogue, negative self-talk, avoidance habits, and putting things off. Sometimes though mental blocks may come from burnout. Pretend you're a writer and have been going at it for a good 6 hours. Even when taking adequate breaks every hour or two, eventually your brain is going to hit a point of fatigue that says, "okay I'm done today." When you're sitting and physically doing nothing, if your brain is thinking or working, you're expending energy even if it's little. The more you think through problems or analyze your work, study, memorize, all the cognitive functions, you expend that mental energy which does cap out at some point. Ever try to problem solve a situation, reach a point of impasse, sleep on it, and the solution comes to you later the next day? That's because your brain at some point needs to "reset." You can burnout your "thinking" processors and it's at these points you will have hit a mental block. What do you do? Just stop. Get away from work, do something mindless, take a nap, or promise yourself you'll pick it back up in the morning. There is no way around burnout without rest and self-care.

Mental blocks are frustrating but manageable. If you're lucky you'll realize that your mental block is a problem you created for yourself (procrastination/negative thinking) and therefore is completely in your control to fix. But when it comes to burnout, don't be so hard on yourself. Everyone needs to have the grace to allow themselves to just exist and be.

Don't forget to stop by the forum to discuss your own strategies to overcome mental barriers, or stop by for a mindful moment to take a break!

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