You KNOW what you planned to say.
You KNOW that person’s name.
You KNOW you can write that article or business plan
So WHY are you stuck!
WHY is your brain letting you down?
And what can YOU DO to jump-start it again?
These mental block moments occur in even the youngest of adults and it’s scary.
Your memory is an amazing set of reactions and processes that fire to help you recall information you need. It works best when you are operating in a relaxed and ‘normal’ mode. When you are in a happy, confident frame or mind and enjoying what you are doing.
This fast-paced world or ours, though, puts you and your memory under increasing and unrelenting pressure.
You may be tense, nervous, insecure or in a panic
You may have deadlines looming and be multi-tasking
You’ve been working on a project for hours and just can’t finish …
You may feel angry, emotionally charged or under threat
You may have suffered sleepless nights …..
Your body reacts to these pressures by sending more adrenalin into your system to help you cope.
But the bad news is:
The sustained release of adrenalin actually decreases your ability to think and remember well because adrenalin activates the ‘fight-flight-freeze’ responses of the amygdala. This brain shortcut saves you from being run over by a bus but your logical, normal brain processing is on hold.
Result: A mental block.
Mental blocks more than twice a week? Read this.
Mental Block Rescue Plan
Relax. The adrenalin needs time to return to normal levels to clear mental blocks, so take a few deep breaths and exhale slowly. Rotate your shoulders and loosely shake your arms and hands to relieve tension.
Change your environment. Go outside for a few moments and breathe deeply; move away from your desk and find a coffee, tea or snack; really study the details of a painting – any of these will help to disconnect you from where you had the mental block and will jump-start new brain connections.
Change HOW you are working. If you are at a computer, sketch out what you will do next on paper or a whiteboard. If you can, brainstorm with a colleague. The change of process helps you review what you were working on and relieves the stress the mental block is causing.
Give yourself 20 minutes. Set a timer and allow yourself ONLY 20 minutes to work. Then stop. Walk away and do something entirely different. Do some stretches. Just the jolt of having to leave what you are doing will often allow a solution or new idea to flow into your memory.
Thinking about the task you were undertaking from a different perspective will sometimes clear the mental block, also. How would your son or daughter view this task? What would your friend, golf coach, your dog(!) do in your situation? ….. you get the idea.
Use different words to describe the situation or problem causing the mental block can also give new ways for your brain connections to approach the task. (See an example of reframing below).
Skip the tricky bit. Leave a gap and move on as if it has been done. Or fill the gap with nonsense text and highlight it so you can find it later. Often just moving on will help your brain ‘fill in’ the gap much later in the project.
Don’t panic – if you are in a public situation, make a humorous comment and move on. Use one of the ways above to continue until your adrenalin returns to normal levels. Chances are, the thought, word or name you need will pop back into your mind seconds later.
Reframe your thinking – how?
Here’s a famous example:
Problem: The makers of hotel elevators received many complaints about the slowness of even their newest elevators.
After spending a lot of time analyzing the machinery and the physical impact on patrons of increased elevator speeds, some clever thinkers asked themselves questions and re-framed the problem.
Why did hotel guests complain?
Why did the lifts seems so slow?
Answer: Because they had nothing to do while they were waiting!
When visible screens indicated the progress of the elevator, and mirrors were installed inside and outside the elevators, the complaints ceased.
Want to know more about how to Re-Frame your Thinking? Read more
Trust your brain – given the right conditions, your brain will remember.
If you can control factors surrounding you at the time, mental blocks will be a thing of the past.
Or, if they occur, now you know what to do.
For more information, read https://www.brainfit.world/2013/05/25/find-that-word/
Thank you..what if you brain always acted in fight- flight- freeze mode?
In most cases, only a high state of anxiety or stressors that are constant and unremitting will lead to ‘always’ having a brain response of flight/flight/freeze. Even the worst anxiety will usually have some ‘down’ times when the nervous system has a chance to return to normal.
If the stress response doesn’t turn off properly that can result in a variety of chronic health conditions which may need further investigation with a specialist – a psychologist or someone recommended by a doctor. A good first step would be to rate personal stress levels with a simple questionnaire like this one https://www.brainfit.world/2014/11/29/check-your-stress-levels/
There is a fairly rare group of conditions called dysautonomia which you may wish to investigate also.
Constant stress is not helpful for anyone so it is always sensible to take steps to bring about a healthy life balance.
With every best wish
Dr Allison Lamont & Gillian Eadie
The happening that really concerns me is the increasing inability to have ordinary words “available” in conversation. I have so many times when I have to do a circuitous route round an unavailable ordinary word to continue with the conversation. In fact I have to do a sentence of explanation of what should have been one appropriate word.
Mary, I can totally relate to what you are saying, and the mere fact that a word eludes me while in conversation does cause stress. It’s even more stessful when the required word is flitting through the caverns of my mind but I just can’t pin it down at the moment I need it. It’s so frustrating!
It IS stressful I know, Lorna and Mary and knowing that is happens to nearly everyone once or twice a week doesn’t really help when it is occurring. The more you keep your brain agile, though, the less this is likely to happen for you. A lot of neural connections have to make contact for you to recall a word – remember that the visual imprint of the word and the image it conjures up are stored in different parts of the brain so they need to connect for you to have accurate recall. That’s why it is SO important to have as many associations and memory traces connected with information when you commit it to memory in the first place. I commend you both for taking time to keep your memory strategies sharp!
In your ” 7 day brain boost” book you recomend drinking 2 liters of liquid per day. I tried this but found it quite difficult to do and make 1.5 l my goal which takes persistence to achieve, especially if away from home for several hours. I would appreciate your comments. Bill
Of course you must adapt the plan to suit your own needs, Bill. 2 litres is the recommended amount and often, when you include cups of tea or coffee, an occasional glass of beer or wine and actual glasses of water, the tally soon adds up. I agree, it takes persistence to achieve but all of the neuroscience and nutrition experts agree that water is essential in getting the all important nutrients to various parts of the body (as well as ridding the body of toxins and other unwanted substances). So do your best! With every best wish, Gillian
My problem is coming up with a name of somebody I know really well when asked. My brain seems to just freeze. E.G. It may be my wife asking the name of an All Black while watching rugby, Or the name of a neighbour a couple of doors up who I went to school with sixty or so year ago and has always live nearby.
I’m now comfortably retired and definitely not stressed so it’s not work related.
I recently did a cognition test at the Drs as part of getting my eighty year driver’s licence and passed easily they told me.
Wonder what’s happening and what I can do about it? (It’s a bit embarrassing when it happens)
You are not alone in experiencing this! The brain changes that happen to everyone around the age of 50 or so mean that the complex task of retrieving the sound of the name, the context of the name and the face recognition of the person (all stored in different parts of the cortex of the brain) don’t quite connect together instantaneously. But the connection will eventually take place once the retrieval is complete (that’s why those ‘middle of the night’ eureka moments happen!) Brain processing is an extraordinarily complex task and these ‘misfires’ as we get older is a universal experience. It can be embarrassing, true, but there will be few who haven’t had the very same thing happen. Memory traces are so important because approaching finding the name from a different angle (e.g. recalling other players from the same team) can sometimes be the neural pathway you need to the name. Don’t give up!
I am 78 and that does happen to me too. Recently I met some one I had worked with and I hadn’t seen for probably twenty years. He remembered me and we had a lovely conversation with me desperately trying to remember his name. It came but three weeks later!! Not the retrieval I had in mind!
Thank you. I just tried it now!
Great work! Putting the strategy into practice is the key.