Whenever I talk to people about how they set goals for themselves, the first barriers they cite to progress are often their own mental roadblocks. They start off too optimistic, or too pessimistic. They put themselves down, or they forget to plan out the next steps in their head. Mostly, they forget to adequately prepare their mind for taking action.
There are various ways for tackling mental blocks and drains on motivation, but from my experience there are a few simple, straightforward tools that can help just about anyone overcome those mental blocks, if implemented properly. The following was inspired by Caroline Webb’s recent book ‘How to Have a Good Day’.
Here are the three mental tools that you can use to help destroy mental roadblocks and tackle your top priorities in less time:
1. Create mental contrasts
James Stockdale was a US prisoner of war in Vietnam for 7 years. During that time, he described the fact that prisoners who were overly optimistic about their chances or too pessimistic were less likely to survive than those who were able to balance their focus on the end goal while having a deeper appreciation of the challenges they would face.
As he puts it, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” This philosophy of duality has come to be called the Stockdale Paradox.
To this end, consider the value of creating mental contrasts in your daily life. Sure, you likely won’t be facing hardships like those faced by James Stockdale, but you may very well find opportunities to balance both a positive outlook on future goals with a realistic understanding of the challenges you will face.
“The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.” – Moliere
One way of making sure you spend enough time focusing on strategic tasks which support your long term objectives is to balance positive thinking with negative. This means thinking about what is likely to get in the way of you achieving your goals so that you can address those issues head on without being blindsided by them.
This technique is called mental contrasting, and it requires holding both a positive outlook for the future of a task or activity while simultaneously looking holistically at the challenges and potential obstacles that stand in your way and will prevent you from reaching your goals.
You must balance faith that you will reach your goals in the end with the facts of the current (and often brutal) reality of the challenges you will face on a daily basis. Realistic idealism of this kind is important to drive action and help people achieve their goals. What’s important is that people simultaneously work to envision the goals they are striving for and the obstacles they are facing. The key is to plan for both so that you can weather any storm.
2. Prime your actions with the right thoughts and stimuli
Have you ever listened to a song that put you in a good mood which carried on through the day? Perhaps it made you feel more productive, more energetic, more likely to start a conversation with your colleague or that stranger down the hall.
What you associate with productivity and success can often be manipulated. Once one small part of your brain is activated in a positive way, you may be able to drive productive thoughts and activities throughout the day. This is often referred to by scientists as the spreading activation effect.
One way to drive your ability to tackle priorities is to prime your actions with the right thoughts and external stimuli. Consider the way your brain associates certain feelings with specific thoughts, images, ideas, etc. If you experience one positive emotion or sensation based on a certain stimuli (e.g. sitting in your favorite seat at your favorite coffee shop), you will subconsciously be more productive and more energised to take action and do more efficient work.
Unfortunately, this won’t happen every single time, but the more frequently you make these connections, the more likely it will be that these strong bonds are created. Neuroscientists say that “neurons that fire together, wire together”. Take this to heart as you consider which stimuli to expose yourself to as you consider the best way to stay motivated and focus on your objectives.
“The biggest obstacle to wealth is fear. People are afraid to think big, but if you think small, you’ll only achieve small things.” – T. Harv Eker
3. Conduct a mind’s eye rehearsal
Think about the last time you got ready to do something that was stressful or difficult. Perhaps it was preparing for a presentation or a speech or maybe you were psyching yourself up for a big race or a competition.
Research suggests that our brains activate in much the same way when we visualise something happening as when we experience it for real. If we visualise a speech going horribly wrong, or we envision ourselves tripping up at the starting block, chances are we won’t perform to our highest level when the time comes.
Practice makes perfect, and the more you visualise an activity in the way you would like to accomplish that activity, the more likely it will be that you can make that thing happen. Interestingly, the same neural pathways that are created when we repeat activities over and over again in the physical world are also created when we visualise those activities.
So, next time you want to get something done, consider rehearsing in your minds eye exactly what you want to get done, including every detail of the activity, and exactly what you want it to feel like when you accomplish your goal successfully.
How do you overcome mental roadblocks? Comment below!