Struggling to keep your mind on the job? Click here for our top tips on harnessing your brain, regaining concentration and, most importantly, enjoying yourself.
Despite all the charm, humour and intrigue they exude, our brains can be unpredictable. Concentration comes and goes, focus can slip away at pivotal moments, and our memories...well, what were we saying?
The good news is that, even on bad days, our minds are remarkable things. The even better news? There are many enjoyable and effective ways of encouraging better focus, and a greater level of engagement with the task at hand.
Both the prefrontal and parietal cortexes — located around the forehead and crown respectively — are largely responsible for our ability to concentrate, and they need plenty of stimulating and engaging ‘work outs’ in order to perform at their absolute best. Read more about our favourite activities for boosting focus, memory and brain function below.
Okay, so perhaps any relation between the words ‘fun’ and ‘exercise’ is up for debate, but there’s no arguing the benefits working out has for the brain and body.
Movement, exertion, and breaking a sweat all increase blood flow to the brain, and promote neural growth (important for ages 0-110). It also encourages the brain to release powerful endorphins that can boost mood, shake you out of the workaday funk, and boost concentration. Even a brisk, midday walk can set you up for a better afternoon’s work, so start off gradually if it’s been a while since you hit the gym.
Gaming — Seriously!
There is nothing better for the brain than regular practice at problem-solving, memorisation, complex decision making, and, of course, taking part in something purely for the enjoyment of it.
Games are pretty special in their ability to call upon numerous cognitive and social skills at once, and finding your place within the incredibly diverse world of gaming — even for just 30 minutes each day — is an excellent way of ensuring that you continue to learn, use your imagination, and develop skills that will feed into many aspects of life.
Taking part in a fun, lighthearted activity is certain to boost anyone’s mood. Give yourself a break from the grind and play a game or two with the online bingo site; a little downtime can help you to feel energised and better prepared for the day’s demands, and games offer an absorbing and brain-focusing activity that requires quick thinking, good critical reasoning skills, and a better memory.
Tune into Music
Music may well be the food of love — and, like your daily serving of broccoli, it’s a fantastic brain food.
Listening to music activates many parts of our brains, such as the occipital cortex and temporal lobe. It can elevate our moods, boost our ability to focus on or memorise important pieces of information, and help us to get over stress faster. Check out this TedTalk from neuroscientist Alan Harvey:
Many of us associate classical music with better focus, but the good news is that almost any music can help — it’s just a case of finding the right style, genre, tempo and mood for your brain. Unsurprisingly, many people report feeling anxious or tense when they listen to music from horror films, while video game music is designed to increase focus and concentration. Experiment with your playlists and find a pair of noise-cancelling headphones to cut out external distractions.
Life moves quickly. Deadlines are rarely qualified with a “just take your time over it”, and, whether we’re reading through a report at work, trying to relax over a good book — or, of course, perusing an article about boosting focus — it’s more than tempting to skim read, jump over the heaviest paragraphs, and make it to the end without investing the time it takes to truly engage with the content.
The trouble is, taking the time to read, process and absorb a piece of writing is an essential part of maintaining our brain’s ability to empathise with and critically analyse the information we are seeking.
It takes some practice to regain those all-important ‘patient reading’ skills, so we’ll keep it brief: Skimming through texts makes us impatient, unengaged, and unfocused.
The Right Amount of Caffeine
It was David Lynch who first said, “Even a bad coffee is better than no coffee at all.”
Of course, coffee-haters may well disagree, but there is certainly something to be said for a moderate dose of caffeine each day. ‘Moderate’ being, of course, the operative word.
While it may have its devotees, coffee can have a few less pleasant side effects, like jitteriness and insomnia. Matcha — also known as green tea — contains less caffeine than coffee, but enough to give a much-needed boost to energy, concentration, and mood during that mid-afternoon lull. It also offers a whole host of other benefits for your skin, hair, heart, and weight.
Getting Enough Sleep
We all know the feeling of a bad night’s sleep; lethargy, low mood, poor focus and a sudden craving for sweet, sugary or fatty foods are all common signs that you didn’t catch quite enough Z’s last night.
Unfortunately, we are not capable of growing accustomed to compromised sleep patterns — even if ‘being tired’ is beginning to feel like a personality trait. It is thought that over 50% of adults are not getting enough sleep, and that can have devastating consequences for our cognitive function.
REM sleep is the deepest stage of sleep, and it is absolutely critical to our ability to function well throughout the day. It is marked by ‘rapid eye movements’ and a deep, peaceful state, during which our brains process information, produce dreams, and sort memories.
Ensure you are going to bed armed with plenty of melatonin (a vital sleep hormone) by cutting down on your caffeine intake during the evenings, going for a gentle stroll after dinner, and investing in a good pair of blackout curtains for the windows.
Give Yourself a Break
Even during those 3pm slumps, your brain is working incredibly hard to keep you, you. The unavoidable stresses and tensions of everyday life take their toll, and certain peaks and troughs in focus and memory throughout the day are totally inevitable.
Having fun, losing yourself to an enjoyable activity, and ensuring that your mind and body are both kept healthy are all incredibly important. Productivity comes in many forms — whether that’s working solidly for an hour or two, or doing something fun and immersive in order to prepare your brain for the next nerve-wracking task.
Go outside, take a deep breath, and do something purely for the fun of doing it.
What to do If you Are Feeling Unfocused
Our brains are sensitive to short- and long-term influences. Getting your head down and working at double speed may work for a day or two, but it is not a sustainable approach. You need to ensure that your day is filled with plenty of variation: offset laborious or dull tasks with fun activities and brain-boosting games, and compensate for a hard day’s work with a good night’s sleep to ensure that you are always ready for tomorrow’s demands.
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