Musings on designing experiences & (re)engineering complexity

Jul 2019

Mental Knots

Reading a piece about totems and tantrums, was reminded of a term heard once before — mental knots. Basically, when people get into a cognitive state where their ability to filter sensory, contextual, and other input streams finds itself overloaded and unable to untangle from itself. This state is pretty easy to see in developing children. And somewhat also able to be discernered from drivers who approach other’s on the roadway as “in their way” or “not moving as they should.” What it amounts to in these contexts is an inability to untether all f the stimuli, ans therefore paralyzes and incites.

Mental knots also show up in organizational contexts. You might have an org in a transition state but unable to figure out how to get from under certain ties. A common scenario has a consultant come into a space, then ask people of various roles, experience levels, etc. their day-to-day activities. The consultant would be there in the capacity to address some process inefficiency. Yet, they find in these conversations such a tethering to their processes that any innovation would be met with a high amount of friction (resistance, tolerance, etc.).

How does one break or loosen these mental knots? Part of an answer is found in acknowledging the truth of the current state and one’s inability to move forward without first releasing some areas of tension. Another comes in looking at one’s abilities versus what was being attempted — knots are spaces where friction to move in a specific direction is unable to overcome the levels of input/output which sit on either side of that tie. An article prescribes walking as a means of releasing some of the bonds which restrict mental steps forward. Walking, physical exercise, mindfulness activities, can help to relieve some of those stressors — when an org takes a walk, this might look like a retrospective, a month of paused projects, or even a service activity.

Recognizing mental knots is simply self awareness of an inhibitor. An org recognizing them and taking steps to alleviate stress is also self awareness — and a market opportunity.