How to Break Out of a Mental Loop

How to Break Out of a Mental Loop
Image by kalandrakas.

Note: This is a guest post by Kristen Galles of BookClubClassics.

Recently I have experienced a spate of technological difficulties of the nature that frequently plague new bloggers who, amazed by the amount of free information available on the web, decide to do everything themselves! The difficulties were just hard enough to be frustrating, but not quite insurmountable so I found myself stuck in a mental loop, obsessing over finding solutions.

I believe the proper psychological name for this is “perseveration” — when your mind worries a problem like a dog worries a bone… like a song that gets stuck in your head and can’t find its way out… like an argument that is resolved only in your mind… over and over…

Realizing this obsession confronts us all from time to time, I thought it might be useful to learn — or simply be reminded of — ways to break out of a mental loop…

1. Get Moving.

Personally, a walk outdoors is the first tactic I try. Any exercise is bound to help, but wide open spaces can provide perspective faster than the interior loop of a treadmill.

2. Find Flow.

Any activity that encourages flow will take you out of your mind and into a more meditative state. Riding my horse does this for me since I must concentrate on her and my surroundings and not on my own mental world. Really, any activity that you love enough to lose yourself in will work.

3. Read.

This item should be no surprise to the readers of my blog, BookClubClassics. When I was recently experiencing computer problems, I was also working on my latest kit which was fortunately on Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. Just try thinking about anything else while wrestling with Woolf’s stream of consciousness meditations on mortality — I dare you! Within minutes I was trapped in Woolf’s mind rather than my own, which was a welcome diversion (obviously my own issues were pretty severe…)

4. Sleep on it.

This trick worked well for me in college when I was struggling to find an original, interesting thesis. Think of the problem or, even better, write the problem down, right before going to bed. Now, I recommend then reading a bit of fiction to free your mind from your problem. When you first wake up — see what solutions have come to you in the night.

5. Talk to a friend.

My introverted nature compels me to place this tip last, but many would prefer to try this first. Finding a good listener who allows you to work through your condundrum verbally is invaluable.

This time around, my technological problems were resolved by the time I reached tip #3, but I’ve used all of the above with success. It is easy to forget that our brains are able to work on problems subconsciously, and sometimes the best thing to do is to get out of our own way!

Hope these tips help the next time you are trapped in the confines of your mind. Any other ideas? I would love to hear them!

Kristen Galles has taught English at a public high school for 15 years and writes about yesterday and today’s literary classics at her own blog: BookClubClassics. If you enjoyed her post, consider subscribing to her feed or check out one of her favorite posts 5 Ways to Finish That Book Even Faster.

If you like this article, please give it a thumb up in Stumbleupon. Thanks a lot! =)

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • My chosen strategy is to first accept what that, it is what it is. Next, I take a break from thinking, acting or reacting. Once I’ve accepted the feeling of being over-whelmed and let it go, I find I’m open to some clarity.

    Find it explained here..

    It helps to remind myself, of what some wise guy said…

    “worry is your imagination, working overtime to make things worse”


  • I think I have a little tip to add. I have been stuck in mental loops for months on end now and all I can say is: Act on your insights. I don’t really think I have.

    I did learn a lot by doing so, but somehow because matters are left onresolved, they tend to get worse. I think it’s like being stuck on a runaway ‘turn mill’. You have an option. Jumping of and trusting you’ll pick yourself up, or you will have enough time to brace yourself for impact. The other option is finally getting so sick and/or tired, you are thrown of, with no sence of where or how you’ll land.

    I hope, pray and believe that I’ll find the strength to go with the first option within three days! Maybe that’s my final tip. If your mental loop, concerns a tough decision make a promise to yourself and preferably others to resolve it on a specific moment or within a specific time. I haven’t really stuck to my promises sofar, but that doesns’t really do the idea justice. It think setting a deadline does help. People tend to think clearer faster or with more ‘ power’ when deadlines are nearing.

    Good luck!

  • Meditation helps me. It helps me identify the loops and break them before they get out of control.

  • Great tips — thank you! Accepting reality (“it is what it is”) and then focusing on our reaction to it is so important to remember, and so easy to forget. I like the idea of setting limits on certain thoughts, too, even if it can be so difficult to implement. However, meditation is a great way to train your mind to do this — to allow thoughts to pass through our minds and not get stuck. Thank you for your comments — all so valuable!

  • Hi Kristen and everyone else!

    You’ve probably heard of Dr Joe Vitale (if you haven’t, he’s featured on the secret)

    I’m an admirer of his work, and one of his recent books is called Zero Limits which features a Hawaiian cleansing technique called Ho’oponopono..

    I know it sounds weird but I’ve told some of my friends about it and they’ve thanked me for it.. So it might help you if you get in this situation..

    Basically, you just say four things and it’ll start the cleansing process..

    1. I love you
    2. I’m sorry
    3. Please forgive me
    4. Thank you

    You don’t say this to anyone or anything in particular, but direct it to the Universe.

    Try repeating it like a mantra.

    I want to explain it here but in fear of too long an entry but if you’d like to know more.. I did a book summary on this at

    To CANI,

    The World’s First Teen
    Personal Development Video Blogger

  • TomMcIn

    A quick way to interrupt a mental block is to breath into your stomach two or three times. This seems to relax the rest my body and my mind.

  • Thank you, SaiF and TomMcIn! I have not heard of Dr. Vitale, but I will look into him — I’ve heard about The Secret, but haven’t read it yet — I’ll be sure to check out your summary on your site. I love your breathing tip, TomMcIn — so easy to do anywhere, too. Thanks for the comments!

  • Great tips. Business or just life in general can wear you down and knowing how to cope with this is a must if yo want to become successful.I been involved in running a number of companies and if any one is interested I would be more than happy to share any information I have. If interested just go to my blog.

  • The reason i procrastinate is because i dislike my life and compromising. . I have to make money and can’t do what i want to do now. I want to travel, take time to be me and i want to study design. I am really tired of the same routine and of Law School. So i get stuck in my room and start reading about Philosophy, David Bohm and spirituality, to a point where it seems my mind that used to be so productive and write is now passive receptor of the thoughts of other people. I don’t want to go out, don’t want to party, or meet friends. I am just stuck here, locked in my bedroom. I am listening to deliciously chilled music though.
    I’ll just let it rock me, as in a rocking chair, or hammock, and taste this moment.

    Loser? future loser? Wasted unchanneled energy?
    I am losing the plot.

    I’ll try the :

    1. I love you
    2. I’m sorry
    3. Please forgive me
    4. Thank you

    I am all those things. For Real ( Like ali g would say?

    I guess i am having a bad day, or week to say. I want to find a way to make the energy come back. I guess my dream , desire and intention for it will have to be the foundation block to start working towards the life i want. the fire, the spark, the gold. I know, i know…. but i get lost sometimes. There is a schism between the life i am living , what is expected from me, and what i want and who i am. I want what i do and my life to be reflection of me. It’s all inside
    Or maybe by the time i am 60 i’ll have a bucket list, and look back and say what have i done with my life. I know, it’s more simpler no reasons to be scared or stuck, just go ahead and do what i feel like doing. I just wish that design scholarship had been awarded to me last year, it wasn’t and i decided to finish the last year of law school, really good grades, but i just don’t feel it.
    I’ll do what it takes to make things happen. and just stop going to law classes .

    I just exposed the sustained incoherence my life is here.
    Thanks for the tips. I will try the going out one.

    RIght i’ll get out of here and do the effort of going to yoga and dance class today, i have not gone in one week .

    Peace and inner peace for you. all