Are you looking for a way to get more productivity from your brain?
Maybe you could hack it, bend it to your will and make sure it does what you want it to do at all times. If you aren't feeling productive, the answer must be to find ways to force your brain to focus. There must be ways to get those distracting thought out of your brain so that you can concentrate!
This, unfortunately, is probably NOT the most effective strategy. Trying to force focus may actually be counterproductive.
Instead of using force (which always generates resistance), how about allowing your mental state to dictate your actions? That way, when you felt engaged and sharp you would work on tasks that require concentration. But when you felt relaxed, you would allow your right brain to tap into your creative side.
The Ebbs and Flows of Brain Power
While you could use nootropics, cognitive brain therapy (CBT) and other techniques to make yourself be more alert and focused, that is fighting your natural flow.
The way your brain works naturally is to alternate between mental states.
At any point in time, your mental state is somewhere on a continuum between highly alert and aroused (as in the stress state of fight or flight) or calm state of relaxation. Throughout the day we are mostly somewhere between these two extremes. Many people call this balancing act homeostasis, but we prefer the term "homeodyamism,' which infers more dynamic movement. Our brains are constantly responding to both our internal and external worlds.
A Typical Day for Your Brain
Let's look at a typical day, and how your brain responds to your activities.
When you awaken in the morning you are in a fight or flight state due to low blood sugar. After fasting throughout the night, your physical state is low-key stress, which drives you to seek out food. Combined with morning light - which stimulates cortisol - your body and your brain is feeling aroused.
Many people find that they can take advantage of this state to jot down ideas and make plans for the day.
Once you eat, a surge of sugar enters your bloodstream. You absorb the sugar, leaving behind tryptophan - an amino acid that helps to build serotonin. Serotonin helps you be in a better mood (the "feel good" hormone). If you eat too much, especially if you intake a large amount of carbohydrates, you can feel sleepy. Carbohydrates make the tryptophan more available to your brain.
If you have a lot to get done, you may want to consider a higher protein breakfast - skip that giant muffin!
Exercise will increase your state of arousal for a while, but will set up a subsequent state of rest, as you recover from the exertion. Eating the right kind of meal after a workout can help your recovery and your brain. As mentioned above, be sure it includes some protein. Good choices are:
Of course, many circumstances will stimulate adrenaline and your fight or flight (arousal) response. Both physical and mental stimuli can get that adrenaline pumping. Adrenaline is part of the stress response and you may think this is a negative thing. But it can be used in a positive way to enhance motivation and make you sharper.
This is the whole theory behind Eustress vs Distress. Distress is something we are all familiar with, but eustress (pronounced yoo-stress) isn't as widely known. The term was coined by Hans Selye, who spent much of his life doing research on stressors. Eustress is "beneficial stress" and is positively correlated with life satisfaction and well-being. Whether a stressor is beneficial or not depends largely upon your perception. Click here to find more about eustress.
The following are a few activities that can stimulate adrenaline in a positive way. Obviously, some of them are actions you wouldn't be doing right before being productive, but you get the point.
End of Day
As you burn energy throughout your day, by-products of energy metabolism build up which slow our thoughts and start to release GABA, another neurotransmitter that reduces activity in your nerve cells and slows you down.
Applying this Knowledge for Productivity
So what now?
If you want to get the most productivity from your brain, you can use the awareness of the ebbs and flows of brain power to your advantage. Rather than forcing your brain to be productive, identify the times you are most alert and use those times to accomplish the most.
While there are some tricks you can use to make your brain more productive, it is easier to be aware of the ebbs and flows in your mental state. By being aware, you can plan your productivity to coincide with your alert mental states.
- You are more alert when you first arise.
- Eating, especially a meal high in carbohydrates, will slow your thinking. So plan to get things done in the hour or two before a meal.
- Immediately after exercise is a good time to accomplish tasks.
- A challenge or competitive activity will stimulate adrenaline, and can make you more productive if you view that in a positive light.
- At the end of the day you are winding down, and it is better to make lists for the next day than to try to force productivity.