Have you ever had the nightmare that you are in front of an audience about to deliver an incredible speech and you are frozen, unable to speak? Has there been a time you stared at a test blankly, unable to recall the material you spent countless hours studying? What about a key race you trained tirelessly for, only to finish subpar to your expectations because you could not focus on your strategy? These scenarios fall into a category defined as mental blocks.
Fortunately, there are ways to manage when your mind goes blank. Practicing skills and preparing yourself from a psychological standpoint generates big rewards. This article will prepare you for the next time you are feeling panicked and stuck.
Consult with others
Sometimes people are afraid of confiding in others and fearful that doing so will portray them somehow as less than or weak. On the contrary, most professionals are willing to talk through a situation and are encouraging. If you are reaching out to someone who is a bit farther along than you are, this person may be surprisingly honest about the struggles he/she faced. There is tremendous value in utilizing groups such as a mastermind, association, Facebook group, etc., which promote the growth of the members. Collaborating with others who have achieved the goals you are striving for puts you in a position to learn and accelerate your progress quickly.
A former supervisor taught me a valuable tool that can be helpful when feeling stuck. It follows the acronym GAIN. Using this format can help you look at the big picture, which is sometimes difficult to do, especially if intense emotions are involved.
To complete, write down the letters G A I N on the left side of a page, leaving space in between the letters to write.
G stands for goal. What is the goal you are trying to obtain? For example, improve team morale while games are suspended.
A represents Assets. What Assets apply in this situation? For example, the team has been together for three years and has successfully endured other challenges. The team has unlimited access to online platforms which allow them to connect virtually.
The letter I indicates Issues, what are the struggles? Brainstorm all the issues that are making this situation difficult. For example, players are receiving a reduction in pay, many parties (governing body, city, state, federal governments, medical officials…) have a say in when play will resume.
N is for Needs. What do you need to achieve this goal? For example, the team needs regular and frequent communication from governing bodies with updates to schedule changes. Alternative forms of cohesion need to be implemented in lieu of regular social interaction between players.
Give your brain a break
Your wellness is closely connected to the stress levels in your brain. If you are continually on high alert and stressed, your brain will not be able to function optimally. This is why the ancient practice of mindfulness meditation has a solid body of evidence proving an array of physical and mental benefits, such as decreasing depression, chronic pain and anxiety. (Powell, A. When Science Meets Mindfulness, The Harvard Gazette https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2018/04/harvard-researchers-study-how-mindfulness-may-change-the-brain-in-depressed-patients/.) There are countless ways to incorporate mindfulness into your life: dedicate 10 minutes every night to journaling, start your day with a walk outside and observe your surroundings, slow down your breathing…
Identify your most productive environment
We all have our “zone” where we are most effective. You may notice someone at work who is able to effectively and quickly complete projects when they are listening to their favorite music. Consider a teammate who consistently meets their pace goals when running their favorite trail. Maybe you are most successful after completing your morning routine. Regularly creating the environment that you need to thrive will pay off big.
Recall a situation you overcame something similar
Chances are you have already worked through many mental blocks. What worked for you the last time you were in this situation or in a similar one? It helps to remember the way you talked yourself though a tough time. For example, the match that you were facing your most competitive opponent. Instead of thinking about all the matches this player has won, you reminded yourself of the practices that you focused on backhand drills and how much your game has improved as a result.
It is easy to convince our self that something is not possible. However, giving ourselves permission to think about why we are fearful can help us examine the situation from a more rational standpoint. Often our worries can escalate and grow when we do not keep them in check. Let us consider a swimmer who has asthma and has suddenly blanked on her protocol to prevent hyperventilating after a race. She is fearful that she will have to go to the emergency room and miss the rest of the swim meet because of her asthma. One thing she could do to ensure she follows protocol is have a laminated check list on her swim bag, 1) lower heart rate to 50 beats per minute prior to race 2) complete four square breathing 3) have inhaler next to starting block.
Assess your environment
Who are you surrounding yourself with? Do you allow chronic toxicity in your life? As discussed before, when your stress levels are high the ability to think clearly and make rational decisions declines. Our environment plays a large role in our wellness. By surrounding yourself with others who are loving and uplifting, and making your physical environment soothing, you are maximizing your chances for success.
For additional tips to keep your mind focused, check out the video Nine Dots: Moving Beyond Mental Blocks, Monica Swope, https://youtu.be/Qnbt92BBTFs.
A great podcast on this topic is Episode 188 on Athlete Maestro, Why Athletes Suffer Mental Blocks and How to Overcome Them, https://www.podcastrepublic.net/podcast/1119152501.