Congruent Joy

Letting Go of a Mental Block

How did you let go of that mental block? Could use some help there

Well, there are techniques for this kind of thing like the Lefkoe Method.

But I’ll tell you how I do it in practice.

Which, I’ll preface by saying this is what seems to work for me, with my personality. Other people may be different.


It starts with emotion.

Some kind of ridiculously strong emotion for something trivial.

I feel silly and stupid to be e.g. feeling rage or fear or anguish over some minor task or interaction.

Or, I’ll see someone saying something wrong in online and I’ll start ranting about how wrong they are and then I think, “Um, wait a minute, why do I care again?”

Maybe from some objective perspective they actually are “wrong” (Or not, maybe they’re not being wrong for them)… but what about this is so triggering for me?

Which suggests to me I have some kind of mental block going on.

When Is It a Mental Block?

Sometimes someone is frustrated that they don’t know how to accomplish something and they call that a “mental block” or a “limiting belief”, but I think this is often instead a question of strategy.

How do we get from where we are in the world to where we want to be?

In my experience, the answer to that is often out in the world, not as much blocks inside us.

Go out and learn. Experiment. Practice.

How do I know which to focus on? The world, or inside myself?

A clue is whether the amount of emotion I’m feeling seems reasonable to me or not.

I might be frustrated, really frustrated, totally and completely frustrated… and that can be reasonable. For the situation I’m in. Yes, this is a really frustrating situation.

The response to that is to take action.

On the other hand, if I’m thinking, “Um… why am I angry? …why am I afraid? …why do I feel like taunting someone??”

Oh, OK, there’s something going on inside of me.


The next step is, do I want to deal with this right now?

Releasing mental blocks, for me, is often emotionally painful.

I usually take some kind of hit to my ego, my self-esteem, my plan for the future.

It’s a temporary pain. I feel better afterwards. I’m glad I did it.

But sometimes I can go for a day or two feeling like I was a piece of gum that got run over on the highway by a tractor trailer.

My Brain and Me

What helps is that I don’t really think of my brain being “me”.

I appreciate my brain. It can be pretty amazing sometimes. It can generate a poem or a piece of advice and I’ll say, “wow, that’s a pretty cool poem. That’s a pretty cool piece of advice”.

Or sometimes I’ll say, “Um, brain, are you… being snide in the guise of offering helpful advice?”

And my brain will say, “Ohh, ummmmm, maaaaaybe?”

And as for me, I’m more like the gatekeeper. I can choose to take that formulation my brain has created and type it into the laptop and click “Reply”.

Or not. If I don’t think it actually would be a good idea.

My brain can be pretty amazing, but it also evolved to be successful in a hunter-gatherer tribe.

So I appreciate that it does a pretty good job in modern society, it’s actually rather impressive, but I don’t expect it to be perfect either


OK, so say I feel like I’m ready to deal with this right now.

The next step is to experience the emotion, to indulge in the emotion.

Because emotions are generated by our subconscious.

(More on this in Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, where he uses the more percise term “System 1” to talk about this part of our brain).

And our subconscious will shield us from pain if we’re busy with something important and being distracted by pain would be bad.

It’s like if a friend brings up an issue and I can either say, “OK, let’s talk about this now” or “Sorry, I’m in a rush right now and I need to get this done, I’ll talk with you about this later.”

Indulging in the emotion is a signal to my subconscious that I’m ready to talk about this now.

I can signal my subconscious by being intellectual (by e.g. thinking or journalling “OK, what’s going on?”), but it’s more effective to speak the language of the subconscious.

Which is emotion. Art. Drama. Being expressive.


hmm I wonder why I feel this way?

But instead:


Somewhere where people aren’t going to think I’m a weirdo

If I’m embarrassed at feeling this silly emotion then my subconscious will protect me by avoiding it.

Be Physical

Being physical helps a lot. A friend I know likes to play squash and pummel the ball. I like to go running and pound out my frustration.

And then see what comes up.

Seeing a Therapist

Nowadays, maybe because I’ve had practice, I can usually see what’s going on.

In the past, I’ve found seeing a therapist very helpful.

I found it most useful not to see a therapist and say, “I’m broken, please fix me”, but rather, “Help me understand where these emotions are coming from”.

I find for myself that therapy is usually only half of the equation.

Sitting in a quiet office and being analytical can often be super helpful.

But by itself it’s missing out on the “RAWR!” of being physical and expressive. I find it’s most effective to do both.

Model of Reality

A mental block or false belief is usually some mismatch between my mental model of the world and reality.

For example, I believe, or want to believe, that I’m powerful in a way that I’m actually not.

(Which is scary).

Or, alternatively, I believe, or want to believe, that I’m not powerful in a way that I actually am.

(Which means I have responsibility for that power. Even if the most responsible thing turns out to be to not to use my power, that’s still a choice. A choice I wouldn’t have to make if I didn’t have that power).

Or, for example, I want to believe that I’m a good person, but I realize that actually I’ve been an asshole.


For me, seeing the truth of what I’ve been avoiding is usually enough to dissipate the knot of emotion.

And then I’m ready to take a long, hot bath to recover

Which may be just me and my personality. In the Lefkoe Method for example you then go on and reimagine what had been a traumatic experience. I haven’t done that, but I don’t claim that everyone else is exactly like me either.

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