Cognitive Complexity: The Science of Overcoming Writer’s Block

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Writer’s block is inevitable when relying on words as a source of income. If you are an article writer, then you can relate to the pressure of a blank screen and a looming deadline. Your head feels congested and the stress of the deadline makes your muscles tense. Your current state of mental stagnation is threatening your livelihood, so you feel overwhelmed. If only you had the ability to direct your thoughts, instead of helplessly waiting for the glorious Aha! moment. Oh, but you do.

The Science of Writer’s Block

You don’t have to be a neuroscientist to know that your head feels different when you’ve tapped into the creative aspect of your mind. You feel lighter and your words flow freely. Conversely, article writers experiencing writer’s block feel burdened and nothing seems to be happening upstairs.

Scientifically, the two sensations correlate with brain activity. Research shows that individuals experiencing writer’s block have less activity in the frontal lobe, while their temporal lobe is hyperactive. Your writer’s block isn’t purely mental, it’s physical too. Who knew? So, how do you stimulate your brain? How can writers excite their frontal lobe? They can do so with a firm grasp of cognitive complexity.

Mental Freeways

James Bieri, the psychologist behind the idea of cognitive complexity, explains it is the ability to actively look for understanding behind beliefs, knowledge, and perspectives, then question those assumptions. It’s reflective thinking—true mind mapping.

So, how does cognitive complexity unlock synaptic activity and lead to a well-crafted article? Cognitive complexity stimulates multiple networks in your brain, all of which increase brain activity via electrical signals. Signals travel along these networks in a way similar to the way we travel freeways, except they facilitate thoughts and ideas in different areas of your brain. The more varied your thoughts, the more pathways you make accessible and this enhances your creativity. Aha!

Your neural freeways consists of the following:

  • The Execution Attention Network stimulates the part of your brain that controls mental acuity.
  • The Imagination Network energizes your memories and imagination.
  • The Salience Network tunes your brain into what is happening around you and manages your consciousness.

With three neural networks in your brain, the idea of right and left brain individuals is obsolete. Everyone is multi-faceted; this is demonstrated by the fact that the three networks are dispersed throughout our brain, not exclusively residing on one side or the other. Form meets function, right?

Get Mentally Physical

You’ve already read multiple books and articles about dealing with writer’s block, which prescribe the usual strategies—relaxing, reading, and de-stressing. The next time you are facing writer’s block, create a state of mental apophenia, and explore the premises behind your thoughts. Do this by purposefully cultivating seemingly uncommon mental experiences and ideas from each of your three brain networks to break through your writer’s block.

Jamie G is a freelance writer who dreams of working from the shores of Jamaica. When she is not writing, she is likely working with her Brain Trust to decipher this thing called life.


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