The stress from working full bore toward an achievable goal has a very specific feeling to it. It can burn and it can leave you tired, but because it’s cut with the relief or satisfaction of appreciable progress and the potential for growth it’s not entirely draining. With time to rest, you can remain motivated and possibly even happy that you’re returning to this state. Depending on your feelings on exercise, this can be like going for a run or lifting weights.

Stress from being blocked is different. It’s heavier, it turns your mood sour, it bends spines out of shape, and worst of all it’s self-perpetuating. It leads you to distraction because of the discomfort of maintaining this posture. Periods of rest are anxious and you dread returning to this state even if you think you’re about to climb your way out of it. This type of stress is more like sitting in an uncomfortable chair: fruitlessly squirming, looking for a way to get comfortable when the only lasting way to improve your situation is to leave the chair.

Differentiating between these two states can be obvious in retrospect, but if you recognize it in the moment blocked stress can be almost entirely avoided by changing your path, approach, or focus accordingly.

Identifying the block

  • Notice when you’re distracted. When you take a break or at the end of the day, think back on how often you turned away from the work in front of you. Over time you’ll get better at noticing distraction as it happens, and be able to adapt more quickly.
  • Notice when you’re in a bad mood. Snapping at the people around you? Frowning? Sinking feelings? You might be blocked.
  • Notice poor posture. This can come from trying to solve the problem through brute force of concentration, which leaves you both physically and mentally inflexible, only worsening the problem.

Bypassing the block

Breaking the block sounds cooler, but the answer is rarely involved with increasing force and more often involved with redirecting it.

  • Step back, go over all the details and make sure everything still makes sense. Rather than looking harder, try seeing more.
  • Involve another person. Sometimes just explaining the situation so another person can understand it will lead you to the answer.
  • Focus on a different part of the problem, a different problem, or just go for a walk.

Avoiding the block

With enough time and experience bypassing blocks, you’ll start to be able to anticipate and avoid running into blocks entirely. Reaching this point is impressive, and you certainly don’t need my counsel any more. Good luck on making your way there.