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With more distractions than ever before, mental focus seems to be an increasingly precious commodity. So how do you strengthen your attention span and get your head to stay in the game?
Losing your mental focus doesn’t mean you’re also losing your intelligence—your brain’s just tired. And, just like any other muscle, it has to rest to recover properly.
Here are eleven habits to get your brain game back. Work on two habits a week and before you know it, you could be more productive and focused than you’ve ever been.
1. Go to Sleep Early
It’s the first and most obvious step: you need to fix your sleep habits. Go to bed earlier, reduce your late evening caffeine intake, and avoid bright screens (like your cellphone) for an hour before you hit the sack. When you go to sleep earlier, your brain is naturally ready to focus on your to-do list when morning hits. You’ll start your day sharp and focused.
2. Early Exercise
There’s nothing like sweating with a great workout to help improve your mental focus. You don’t have to go to extremes, but exercising before you hit the office will get your blood pumping and your brain prepared for the day ahead.
3. Pop In Your Headphones
In a modern office, you’re probably working in an open space with many coworkers. While an open office can help collaboration, it can also destroy your focus. Invest in a quality pair of headphones to block out the extraneous noise. You don’t have to listen to music: it can be white noise or even podcasts. When you keep your headphones at your desk, you’re going to be more productive and more focused when it’s time for work.
Don’t be so surprised: the very thing you think is a symptom of distraction can actually be helping you focus more. Doodling is actually a form of meditation that calms and attunes the mind. Famous thinkers and more than a few presidents were serious doodlers. When your hands are kinetically engaged and your brain is calmed with doodling, you’re actually more able to focus on the details of a coworker’s presentation and more able to solve problems. If you’re not a doodler, buy one of the popular adult coloring books on the market.
5. Take a Midday Walk
Studies show that a ten-minute walk around the middle of the day can help you be more focused during the afternoon. After your lunch, walk around your building, take the stairs to the fourth floor, or explore a little around your complex. Taking a daily midday walk will help your creativity and increase your mental focus.
6. Eat Brain Food
Not all food is equal, especially when it comes to brain-building foods. Increase your intake of omega-3 rich foods like fish, avocados, nuts and seeds, and even curry. All of those foods can help your brain perform better, giving it the healthy energy you need to keep you on task.
7. Let Your Brain Not Focus
You read that right. In order for you to be able to focus, you have to allow your brain to be unfocused for certain periods. Let it wander and let it daydream. Studies show that people who daydream are more creative and can be even more focused when they’re actually engaged. Nothing can run at full capacity all of the time, including your brain. Give yourself permission to have some brain down time while you’re awake. When you’re truly ready to complete a task, a rested brain will help you turn that wandering into focus.
8. Turn off Your Social Feeds
Nothing distracts you faster than checking Facebook or Twitter for what’s new. Close the applications on your computer and uninstall them from your phone if you have to. When the tabs aren’t open and the apps are closed, you’re going to be more focused and productive. Even though it craves constant stimulus, your brain simply isn’t built to handle it. You’ll instantly increase your focus when you turn off your social feeds.
9. Caffeine and Natural Boosts at the Right Time
Caffeine is probably the first habit you turn to in order to boost your mental focus, but knowing when to drink it and how much to drink is an important consideration. Drinking caffeine too late in the day can disrupt your sleep, which will likely leave you feeling tired and unable to focus the next day. When it comes to the amount, everyone’s caffeine tolerance is different. Start by drinking just a small amount and work your way up to see what works best for you. However, because caffeine is a drug, it’s not right for everyone. If caffeine doesn’t work for you, try a product like AXIO. It contains natural brain-enhancing ingredients without the jitters from caffeine and it will help your mental focus.
10. Plan Ahead to Avoid a Candy Fix
If you’ve developed a habit of reaching for the candy bowl during the late afternoon in an effort to boost your mental focus, you could be undermining yourself with every wrapper. Those simple carbs will give your brain a short burst of energy but leave you feeling tired and unable to focus not long after. Plan ahead by packing nutritious foods like apples with almond butter or baby carrots and hummus— they’ll help you focus on your work without sabotaging it with a crash.
If you’ve been working overtime and your stress levels are through the roof, take a page from your yoga friends and get into meditation. You don’t need any special equipment or even an hour; just find a quiet place and block out the world for ten minutes. By focusing on one thing, breathing deeply, and visualizing a calming space, meditation hits the reset button on your brain. A daily practice of meditation promotes better, more effective mental focus when you do reenter the world.
Starting any positive new habit takes diligence, but it’s worth putting in the effort to have a healthy brain. Again, start by implementing just one or two suggestions and then try adding a few more. You’ll soon find yourself able to think clearly and conquer your day more effectively. And that’s just plain smart.