What is a mental block? Why do they happen, and how can you overcome them? These questions are coming up more frequently as most of the global workforce transitions to full- or part-time remote work.

Before the pandemic, you could easily walk into your colleagues' offices to ask questions or talk through creative blocks. Today, however, many remote employees find it difficult to get the answers and support they need when facing mental blocks at work.

This article delves into how to overcome mental blocks, whether you’re working remotely or in the office. But first, we’ll discuss what mental blocks are, how to identify them, and their most common causes. 

What is a mental block?

A mental block is a psychological obstacle or limiting mindset that prevents you from completing important tasks and achieving success. Mental blocks are invisible barriers standing in the way of your productivity. 

If you’re dealing with mental blocks at work, you may find it challenging to complete a train of thought or see a project to the end. You may ruminate on the same problems over and over, unable to focus long enough to make progress. 

Mental blocks usually occur when we get trapped by our thought processes. We may feel so overwhelmed or anxious about a project's outcome that we’re unable to do the work required to complete it. 

You can often recognize a mental block by your mood at work. Do you find yourself unmotivated, irritable, or unable to eat or sleep well? Left unchecked, mental blocks can have long-term effects, leading to burnout and may even impact your physical endurance in the future. 

How to identify a mental block at work

Employees in the marketing, creative, and professional services are the most likely to face mental blocks at work. A healthy work culture can help creative employees overcome mental blocks and maintain high productivity, engagement, and morale. 

You can identify mental blocks by paying attention to your recurring thoughts and behavior patterns. Take note of those that affect your confidence and prevent you from focusing on the task at hand. 

You may discover that you’re worried about a project outcome, unsure about your next steps, or not confident in your team's ability to deliver. You might realize that you face mental blocks when confronted with a new problem or doing something for the first time. 

What are common causes of mental blocks?

The most common mental blocks causes are: 

  • Mental exhaustion: Having to make too many decisions within a short time can be exhausting, leading to mental blocks. 
  • Lack of sleep: Having little to no sleep makes you prone to mental blocks.  
  • Poor nutrition: Poor nutrition causes mental blocks. For example, vitamin B12 deficiency can cause depression and memory loss leading to mental blocks.
  • Medication: Mental blocks may occur as a side effect of prescription medications.
  • Procrastination: Procrastination can lead to anxiety, which in turn causes mental blocks. 
  • Cluttered work environment: Cluttered or chaotic work environments may make it difficult to get into a productive mind frame. 
  • Impostor syndrome: Impostor syndrome, or the feeling that you’re inadequate or incapable at work, is a common cause of mental blocks. 
  • Perfectionism: Perfectionism can lead to procrastination, self-doubt, and mental blocks.
  • Pessimism: A negative outlook causes mental blocks. If you believe you have no chance of success, you may become unmotivated. 

How to get over a mental block

If you find yourself facing a mental block at work, there are many ways to improve your focus and output. The list below is not an exhaustive account of how to get over a mental block but details some of the easiest ways to do so. 

1. Break down the project

One of the best ways to get over a mental block at work is to break down your projects into smaller tasks and activities. If you’re overwhelmed by the project’s size or how much you have left to do, ease into making progress by tackling the smallest possible tasks first. Wrike's collaboration workspace helps you break down your projects using a simple list, table, Kanban board, or Gantt chart

2. Declutter your workspace

If your work environment is cluttered, your mind may be cluttered as well. The cleanliness of your workspace can affect your thinking and performance at work. An organized desk helps you find and reach your tools without interrupting your flow

3. Take a break

If you’ve tried unsuccessfully to work through a mental block, the next best thing you can do is take a break. Try some unrelated activities like solving a crossword, washing dishes, or talking to a friend. Breaks help to reset your mind and connect the dots. You could even take a nap to allow your subconscious to work through the mental block.

4. Get an outside perspective

Most times, mental blocks are caused by getting stuck in your thinking about an issue or project. Exposing yourself to new ideas gives you different perspectives and solutions for your work. Try reading articles, talking to others, and doing some research online. You can also get over mental blocks by using templates to guide and outline your work. Wrike's creative brief template, for example, helps creative professionals and agencies set expectations, define project goals, and start projects on the right foot.

5. Control your inner chatter

If you pay attention to your inner monologue, you'll notice the thought patterns that block your progress – fear, perfectionism, impostor syndrome, or even a combination of several emotions. When you know what these thought patterns are, you can tackle them. Exercising, meditating, and journaling are great ways to become more mindful and control your inner chatter.  

6. Improve your skills

Feeling inadequate is one of the main reasons why people experience mental blocks. If you feel unprepared for a project, you should take time to research, learn, and practice. Over time,  you’ll get comfortable enough to overcome mental blocks and perform better at work. 

7. Reduce stress

A daily schedule can help you reduce stress. Knowing what you have to do, reduces the need for decision-making. In turn, this eases mental fatigue and improves your efficiency. Keeping your work and workspace organized also helps to reduce stress and workplace anxiety

8. Compartmentalize your work

Compartmentalizing your work and setting early deadlines for critical tasks alleviates the mental blocks that can come from feeling overwhelmed with too much to do. Wrike's project management tool provides both work and personal spaces for you to organize and schedule tasks alone or with your team. 

9. Use your fear positively

If you believe you will fail before even starting a project, you may self-sabotage or perform poorly, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Utilize your fear by preparing for adverse project outcomes, as well as positive ones. When you’re aware of all that can go wrong, you’re better equipped to deal with it, especially in the project planning stage.

10. Rest

Resting is one of the best ways to maintain mental health and overcome blocks. Getting a regular 7-9 hours of sleep every night keeps your mind sharp and ready. If you push yourself relentlessly, your exhausted brain will throw up mental blocks.  

Why mental blocks are the downfall of creativity

Almost every creative professional struggles with mental blocks in the creative process. It’s universal and inevitable. If you aim to grow your career, you will often find yourself in situations that are out of your comfort zone — and that's especially true right now, when many are struggling with the adverse effects of remote work (including depression working from home).

Good habits and self-knowledge are the best tools to get over mental blocks. These skills also make you reliable at work. On the other hand, if you have bad habits and avoid self-reflection, you could face chronic mental blocks leading to low creative output and less confidence. 

It’s important for creatives to understand their limiting thought patterns to overcome mental blocks and perform at higher creative and productive levels. When left unchecked, mental blocks are a common cause of missed deadlines, mediocre work, and lost opportunities.

Useful articles about creativity and productivity

Are you eager to learn more about overcoming mental blocks and enhancing your productivity at work? Read through our curated list of articles below and start a two-week free Wrike trial to manage your work and workspace better.