The Rational Basis® of Happiness Podcast

← Return to Podcast List

00:00 / 00:00

Mental Block

It takes me hours to express what should take seconds.

(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)


Dr. Kenner: Here?s a question I received from Masa. ?Dear Dr. Kenner. I have a disorder that prevents me from being able to share my thoughts in a manner that would allow me to do things such as schoolwork - essays, reports, take notes or even properly carry on a conversation. It?s kind of a form of writer?s block, but affects every aspect of communication. I need to know what?s wrong with me and what I can do about it, but I have no access to professional help. I wish I could explain better. It?s taken over an hour and a half to write this much. As much as it sounds like I?m lying, it?s sadly true. Any help you could provide would be greatly appreciated. Masa.?

Masa, you first want to role out a medical cause of the slowness of your ability to express your thoughts. Maybe it is some sort of brain malfunction. However, if you get a clean bill of health and you think it?s more psychological, I can definitely give you a few ideas. 

Number one, and the most important one, learn to be your own best friend. Focus on your strengths. Odd as it may sound, even though you spent a long time ? an hour and a half ? writing to me, writing me the question, you were still able to share your thoughts with me and you did so honestly. So train yourself to recognize your strengths. Too many of us are self-critical. We act as our own worst enemy. And we create emotions such as anxiety, negative self talk and guess what happens when you?re saying, ?Oh my God, what if?? Writers block can set in. So watch me be my own worst enemy. 

If I want to ask a question, let?s say I was emailing like you did, a question and wanting to get some advice, I might say, ?I have to write a question.? Notice, already, I?m off to a bad start. I?m pushing myself by duty. Have to. Have to. Have to is the language of duty. Then I might put another stressor on myself. I have to compose the perfect question. Now my standards are so unrealistic that my subconscious is saying, ?Is this perfect? Is this perfect? Maybe it isn?t.? So the next thing is self-doubt. ?Oh my God, what if I goof up?? And then I start to criticize myself. ?I?m such a failure. I?m slow as molasses.? And then the biggie, I may be fearful that others will judge me negatively. ?Oh, they?re going to see how inadequate I am. I can?t take any criticism. I can?t take realizing that I really am as bad as I am.? 

This approach is absolutely going to backfire Masa. And it mostly comes from feeling you need to please others. You need to decide is it your life or not? And I resoundingly say ? the whole show is based on this ? it is your life! It?s yours to enjoy. I recommend the book that I read that turned me around. I learned how to enjoy my own life and see that it is my life and that?s the book The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. I learned that I didn?t like living in the shadows of others or reaching some weird standard of perfection that you can never reach, the way we all set those up.

You can do an exercise. You can write down where you?ve had a bit of success in your life and learn to motivate yourself by the benefits you would enjoy from opening up and communicating better. And you can even write benefit cards. Take little 3x5 index cards and write down all of the joys personally to you of opening up. You can write essays better in school. You can communicate better with friends. You can make some friends. There?s also The Loneliness Book. I?m going to give you several resources. Only pick one of them to start with, but The Loneliness Book by Mary Ellen Copeland, that?s at my website, There?s an absolutely phenomenal chapter that helped me in grad school grasp how important it is to motivate myself and that?s in a different book. Study Methods and Motivation by Ed Locke. That?s available at

The next point is to be very realistic in your approach to change. Enjoy gentle changes. If you expect yourself to change overnight, you are setting yourself up for failure, Masa. In dieting, people will lose a half-pound and say, ?Oh, it?s only a half pound. I?ve been dieting for three weeks and what?s wrong with me?? That awful question, what?s wrong with me, because you?re assuming that something is terribly wrong with you. In a dieting book, Dr. Judy Beck, a very excellent dieting book, she says every half pound counts. When you get on the scale and see you?re down a half a pound, you say, ?Wow. What progress. I?m making some progress and it?s in the right direction and I?m happy with it,? rather than beating yourself up for it. It?s only a half-pound. So next time, when you write an email or a question, it may take you an hour and 15 minutes, not an hour and a half, and you may say, ?Oh good, I?m starting to build a healthier mental habit.? Be aware that whenever we?re in the process of change, we have setbacks. Big deal. If you know that an occasional setback is part of the process of change, you won?t beat up on yourself. 

I?m going to mention another book, Changing for Good by John Norcross. That?s also at my website. You want to avoid damning yourself. You don?t want to say, ?I had a setback. I?m back to square one. It?s just me. Everyone else can change but not me.? It?s very common. We all do that. I?ve done that many times to myself, but I?ve learned not to do that to myself, so change is possible, even in your method of change.

The last point I want to mention is to have empathy for yourself. You want to understand on some level why you feel this way. Think about your own past. Did you have critical parents or maybe a very critical sibling? Did you have to deal with a bully in school and your strategy was to clam up because you couldn?t take the rejection? Were you badly hurt somewhere in your past? Maybe someone betrayed a confidence. If you can?t afford therapy, here?s my smorgasbord of good resources that are out there. You could get it at the library. Mind Over Mood, which is at my website also. So start enjoying any little progress you make Masa.