The Psychology of Momentum: 5 Steps to Get Yourself Out Of A Mental Rut

Do you ever find yourself in a mental rut?

Sometimes you have days, or even weeks, whereby as much as a part of you wants to be active, you just can’t bring yourself to do so. It can literally feel like you’re wading through quicksand!

There’s one thing, however, that can not only help get you out of the rut but can help keep you out.

And that is; momentum.

See, the brain is a pattern making machine that’s built to find a route and follow it consistently. It does this because it wants to conserve energy, it’s stingy, and this is why it’s so hard to make a behavioural change, particularly when you don’t ‘feel’ like it. It completely goes against your homeostatic drives.

However, that also means that once you have a habit in place, momentum can be a powerful tool to use to your advantage. After having established a pattern of behaviour, you will continue to follow it, and it will become easier and easier.

In a sense, momentum is far more important than motivation.

Though in the moment it can feel incredibly difficult to get up and break the cycle, there is a similar, repeatable process that you can do which will help you create enough momentum to get out and take action consistently.

Here are five steps to get yourself out of a mental rut.

  • Flood your brain with dopamine

If you want to make any behavioural change when you’re dealing low energy and enthusiasm, you have to begin by altering your state. To do that you need to change your neurochemistry by naturally stimulating your dopamine production. Dopamine, sometimes known as the motivation molecule, will help you to feel like you want to get stuff done.

Here are a few ways to boost your dopamine:

 

  • Set a strong intention

I mentioned setting effective goals as one of the ways to improve dopamine production. This is partially why setting an intention is vital. When you have something to work towards your dopamine naturally increases. The other reason this is so important is that it keeps your mind focused. Mind-wandering is incredibly taxing on your mental energy, and it is much more likely to occur if you don’t have a guiding goal to direct your attention towards. The stronger the intention, and the more emotion you can associate with it, the more profound the effects are going to be.

For example, you may want to get out of a mental slump you are in by setting yourself the intention of running every day and competing in a 10km race. You can make the experience emotional by thinking about how good you’ll look and feel about yourself when you’ve finished the race. Don’t worry about being a little vain; the point is to get yourself excited about the idea.

  • Choose a set of reference experiences

It can be tough to take on a new challenge when there aren’t any recent memories of similar experiences. A reference experience is a smaller goal whose main purpose is to serve as an example in your memory, reminding you that you can do something. Once you’ve set an intention, you want to think of a set of actions that will compliment your intention and show you tangible signs of progress.

So for example, you may not be able to run 10km yet, but you are physically capable of running 3km, so you can decide on a shorter route that you can do, and start to visualize yourself doing it. You could then slowly scale up to 5km and 7km trails in mental preparation for the larger race. Reference experiences will give your body endorphins as a reward for completing them, which reinforce the behaviour in the future and help in the momentum process.

“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.” – Vincent Van Gogh

  • Take the smallest step and increase it incrementally

The first part of this step is to start your momentum train with the smallest action you can imagine. In the example I’ve been using this far, that may even just be putting on your running clothes and stretching. Any movement is better than no movement, and it’s more effective to start small to avoid burnout. After that you want to decide on a time scale at which you’re going to increase it slightly, I’d recommend once or twice a week. You want to be in a position where you’re looking forward to the increase. If you’ve decided that your first step is to put your running shoes on, then you can do that for three days so by the third day your itching to get out and run around the block.

  • Repeat

 

Finally, once you’ve gone through all of these steps, continue to make small improvements until you get the sense that you’ve reached a plateau and are ready for a new intention.

If you feel like you’re stuck in a mental rut, understand that it’s just a feeling. It’s not going to last forever and practicing mindfulness of your emotions will ensure that you are better able to see this over time. The human mind is a wonderful tool when you can get it to work in your favour, and the principle of momentum can help you do just that. Follow these five steps, and you’ll quickly see how fickle the feelings of sluggishness truly were, and how rapidly vitality can become the norm again.

What experiences have you had with momentum? How has it worked for you? Let us know in the comments!

 


 

Benjamin Fishel is a freelance writer, meditation practitioner, and the creator of the popular blog Project Monkey Mind. He’s also currently studying his Masters in Applied Neuroscience. If you’d like to know how you can calm your mind using Modern Psychology and Eastern Spirituality, get his free cheatsheet 10 Hacks to Calm Your Monkey Mind (in 5 minutes or less).


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