6 Ways to Boost Your Mental Acuity At Work

“When every physical and mental resources is focused, one’s power to solve a problem multiplies tremendously.”

Man thinking

- Norman Vincent Peale

Whether you’re having trouble concentrating at work or you just need an extra mental kick to make it through your finals, there are some easy tricks that can improve your memory, concentration and focus.

It doesn’t matter how brainy you are or how much education you’ve had, if you combine some of these “brain fixes” you’ll have boosted your brainpower in no time.

So, here are six ways to flex your grey matter and get the best out of your brain cells:

1. You are what you eat, and that includes your brain.

Studies from Switzerland, Hawaii and Boston, Massachusetts, support the memory and cognitive benefits of a diet rich in antioxidants (vitamins C, E and beta carotene) and B vitamins.

If you have an important morning meeting, Douglas Kalman, director of clinical research at Peak Wellness, suggests eating a high protein breakfast to help raise your serotonin levels, which produces hormones that make you feel alert.

If you’re feeling sluggish midday, boost your serotonin with a small dose of carbohydrates, such as fruit or an energy bar. Also, drink lots of water. A craving for sugar can be the initial stages of dehydration.

2. Think positive, loving thoughts; it is easier than you might imagine.

A decade of research at the W.M. Keck Laboratory for Functional Brain Imaging and Behavior led by neuroscientist Richard Davidson found that choosing specific thoughts and emotions can permanently change the working of the brain.

When participants practiced feeling love and compassion, their brains went into action – connecting and building new circuitry at high speed.

Davidson has concluded that emotions play a strong role in mental acuity and that spending just 10 minutes a day focusing on feeling loving and kind can make you smarter – and happier.

3. Don’t be a slave to technology.

In more than 80 clinical trials, Dr. Glenn Wilson, a psychiatrist at King’s College London University, found that workers distracted by phone calls, e-mails and text messages suffer a greater loss of IQ than if they’d smoked marijuana.

The IQ of those juggling messages and work fell by an average of 10 points – equivalent to missing a whole night’s sleep and more than double the four-point fall seen after smoking pot. The drop in IQ was even more significant in men.

To keep sharp, resist the urge to check messages continually. Instead, schedule blocks of time throughout the day to retrieve and respond to them.

4. Physical exercise can boost brain as well as brawn.

Exercise boosts circulation and bolsters brain-nurturing chemicals that improve your creativity, reaction time and retention. Researchers at Middlesex University found that participants scored higher on a creativity test after engaging in 25 minutes of aerobic exercise.

Likewise, a University of Illinois study found that inactive individuals increased their memory and ability to multitask by more than 15 percent after participating in a walking program.

5. Never underestimate the power of a good night’s rest.

Lack of sleep also results in reduced productivity and increased errors. A National Sleep Foundation study found that half of all workers in the United States say sleepiness interferes with the amount of work they get done – and nearly 20 percent say it causes them to make mistakes.

Sometimes those mistakes are tragic. Government investigations of human error in the space shuttle Challenger explosion and Exxon Valdez oil spill cited sleep deprivation as a “direct cause” of those accidents.

“The brain keeps an exact accounting of how much sleep it is owed,” says Dr. William C. Dement, a Stanford University sleep expert who says we all need to get one hour of sleep for every two hours we’re awake. “If you sleep one hour less each day then you’re supposed to, you will acquire ‘sleep debt.’ ”

“Everyone should block out eight hours of sleep,” Dement adds. “Consider it an appointment that can’t be broken.”

6. Put your mind to work in the right way.

Mental exercise is important, too. Using your brain to learn a new language, master a new hobby or engage in friendly debate stimulates blood flow and strengthens the connections (synapses) between nerve cells in the brain. A Washington University study found that memorization techniques also encourage the brain to work more efficiently and may reduce age-related memory loss.

Dr. Robert Goldman, author of Brain Fitness, suggests reading challenging books, doing puzzles – even combing your hair and brushing your teeth with your other hand.

Or check out some of the “brain gyms,” such as Mybraintrainer.com, which has proven so effective that the testing company Kaplan Inc. offers the service to high school and college students preparing for entrance exams.

Studies of workers’ IQ levels show they rise and fall throughout the day depending on a variety of factors and events.

So, boost your mental acuity with these easy tips and you’ll operate at your peak.

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22 Comments

  • NeoTechie says:

    Great post. I have used your some of the tips you mentions, and they increased my productivity at work.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Ririan says:

    NeoTechie Thank you :)

    I’m sure these tips can help increase our productivity and I think it is very important to make improvements that will allow us to put more time into the things we really need to focus our attention on.

  • Alvaro says:

    Ririan, great post. “Brain exercise” and Brain Fitness Programs is precisely what we do. In summary, we advocate the need for novelty, variety and stretching practice in order to improve cognitive and emotional fitness and help prevent potential brain problems.

    Most of your points do make much sense, but let me mention a couple of them that would be rebuked by most neuroscientists today: the one on gingko biloba and gotu kola, and the one on Mozart effect. None of this has been shown to have solid results (apart from the placebo effect).

    Looking forward to your next post. I am not sure for how long you have been involved in this, but I would venture that your series on stress and mental acuity is a superb example of personal development in action. Congratulations-good for your brain :-)

  • viji says:

    Thanks for your comment on my cooking. Appreciate it. As you said – yes, I concentrate more on nutrient value while cooking. My diet will be 5 fruits (minimum) a day, handful of nuts with veggies. Though cooking is my passion, cooked food is hardly 50% of my diet.

    Coming back to this article – First point – again eating! – see :). Yes, I believe – you are what you eat. When you eat mild foods with less spicy – it changes everything for good. Second – positive thinking – how? – by reading your articles  – Slave to technology – but without that I can’t read your article  – so minimum – Physical exercise – 45 minutes Yoga in the morning and 30 minutes brisk walk in the evening keeps me fit through out the day – Night rest – I make it as a habit that I get my 7 hours night sleep – Learning – I try to learn something new everyday – atleast a new word  .

    So I think, I got 100% from your suggestions. Have a good day. I really enjoy reading your articles. Viji

  • Justin Cook says:

    Great points! I especially agree with #1 and #4!

  • Marwan Aziz says:

    Turns out that I am already doing #1 by being on the South Beach Diet. My breakfast every morning is high in protein (eggs, tuna salad, cheese, etc.). I also “snack” on fruits throughout the day – mainly apples.

    The one item that I struggle the most with is #3. Specifically, checking email regularly. I find myself checking emails every hour. Some times, more than once per hour. It is like an addiction. I will definitely try your suggestion of blocking out certain times to check email.

    As for brain exercise, my favorite is logic puzzles like the ones found in Dell Logic Puzzles magazine. I can spend hours doing them. A perfect time to do them is while you commute to work (bus/train). Not while driving :)

    Thanx for a great post. Keep up the good work.

  • Joe says:

    I like the way the claim is made that smoking marijuana lowers your IQ. Is that a fact? Is any of this article relevant?

    It’s good info but why the need for unsubstantiated claims? Besides, it seems like a lot of common sense to me… like people might want to be doing these things anyway. They all help you to pragmatically FOCUS on your work (the task at hand) which is all you have to do to boost productivity, and all of these things are a form of (self) discipline. It’s a lifestyle choice.

  • J says:

    “suffer a greater loss of IQ than if they’d smoked marijuana.”

    That’s easy since there is NO link between marijuana consumption and loss of IQ.

    It might as well have said:

    “suffer a greater loss of IQ than if they’d drank 3 glasses of water.”

    Many people experience a greater focus when working under the influence of marijuana.

  • Secret says:

    Physical exercise is bad for you, which you should have known already. Your cells, muscles and bones wear off…

  • omj says:

    po’op’op’

  • Ririan says:

    Alvaro, I agree that there should be more studies about the effects of ginkgo biloba and gotu kola, and the one on Mozart effect, but still:

    A significant amount of research has been conducted in Europe which has demonstrated positive effects with Ginkgo Biloba containing supplements on cognitive dysfunction, however the majority of the studies have involved patients with dementia including various degrees of Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, some research has shown potential benefits of Gotu Kola and DHA in affecting factors related to cognitive function. To date, only one randomized clinical trial involving GB has been reported in the US.

    Also, a 2004 research has revealed a molecular basis for the “Mozart effect” – the observation that a brief stint of Mozart, but not other music, may improve learning and memory.

    Rats that heard a Mozart sonata expressed higher levels of several genes involved in stimulating and changing the connections between brain cells, the study showed. The team, including the researcher who first proposed the Mozart effect, hope the results will help them design music therapy treatments for people suffering from neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

    Oh, and thank you for your kind words Alvaro :)

  • Ririan says:

    Viji, Thank you again ;) And I’m glad you’re having a healthy lifestyle. Because today, despite clear evidence of the health benefits, few adults conform to common healthy behaviors that together characterize a healthy lifestyle. So, you’re doing great!

    Justin, Proper diet and exercise are the mainstays for a healthy lifestyle. Great choice :)

    Marwan, The hazard of the “quick check” is that it breaks your flow. Productivity has very little to do with total time spent on something. Rather, it has to do with productive time spent on something, which for many things means uninterrupted time.

    The Outlook beeps or systray icons are huge offenders. Shut them off. Try checking e-mail during logical breaks (i.e. when you switch from one activity to another).

  • Ririan says:

    Joe and J, here is a research on marijuana smoking effects:

    “We know a lot about the acute effects of marijuana use, but researchers are just now beginning to look at the long-term effects,” says Dr. Jag Khalsa of NIDA’s Center on AIDS and Other Medical Consequences of Drug Abuse. “This study demonstrates that marijuana smoking has chronic, dose-related effects on cognitive impairments up to 28 days after last use. But how long do these effects persist beyond that point? That’s something we have to examine.”

    Secret, Exercise is bad for you?!?!? Many people will love this news! Because it confirms their strategy for longevity: sitting on the couch and watching TV. :)

    You have to keep in mind what level of exercise you are subjecting yourself to. There’s no doubting that physical exercise can be quite strenuous on the human body. This is especially true if you engage in strength training.

    But regular physical exercise has a number of proven, positive health effects. Vigorous exercise strengthens the heart as a pump, making it a larger, more efficient muscle. Exercise can offer other benefits, including strengthened muscles, increased flexibility, and stronger bones, which can help ward off the bone-thinning condition called osteoporosis. Regular activity also promises mental-health benefits, like relieving stress and anxiety. It can help you sleep better and renew your energy.

    I think that if exercise could be bottled, it would be a best-selling potion at the local pharmacy. :)

  • Gletscher says:

    Your blog posts help me a lot, and this is one of the best. I’ve sent the url to some friends, and that surely have made it easier for them to work too.

    I guess number 2 gets expanded in “How To Best Spend 60 Seconds”.
    :D

  • Hi,

    Very interesting post, indeed!

    A side note: in my workplace somebody can get to you by phone, mail, Messenger or even directly. I’ve disable Messenger and Outlook notifications and [b]it helps a lot[/b]. To make things worse, the room is completely open so imagine 35 people working and 5 shouting every other minute: it’s almost impossible to work. We work with IT here so studying a new technology is a common task and is almost impossible to learn something during worktime. There was a time I said to myself: I JUST CAN UNDERSTAND A WORD OF WHAT I AM READING! Really, it was useless. I have to shout back to people to make them stop the nuisance but the brain doesn’t immediatly work at the same frequency it was before, it will take some time do adjust – I think this is so dangerous, so agressive to the brain that this kind of environment leaves some “scars”.

    Btw, I’ve made a free translation to brazilian portuguese and I will forward the text to my workmates. There is a link to this website, off course. Hope you don’t mind.

  • Ririan says:

    Guys, I’m glad you found my articles interesting enough to share them with your friends :) and of course I don’t mind.

    Gletscher, thank you for writing those words :) I really appreciate it.

    Eduardo, I also find it really hard to concentrate on tasks that require logical thinking when there is a lot of other things going on in the same room, especially if those other things are causing a lot of noise.

    And many offices today are really bad with regard to background noise. What is worse is that there isn’t a whole lot you can do about much of that noise (provided you don’t want it) :)

    So, unless you have the luxury of having a room of your own, put some headphones on and turn up the volume. It does get hot and uncomfortable after a while, but listening to good music through a good pair of headphones will help you focus better on your tasks.

  • Alvaro says:

    Ririan,
    I have been having problems trying to post a comment-sorry for the delay. I can’t see the image you use for anti-spam verification, and am asking a colleague to add this comment on my behalf.

    On those 2 points

    1- something that helps Alzheimer’s patients does not necessarily help you or me. The research needs to be user-specific, at least within reasonable limits. For example, we have a very good working memory training program for kids with ADD/ ADHD, and we know that healthy adults can expand their working memory through training, but I wouldn’t recommend that to you until we have more specific data for healthy adults and the benefits it can bring.

    2- the article you point to regarding the Mozart effect includes this quote “The findings are intriguing,” says Howard Gardner, an IQ expert at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and sceptic of the Mozart effect. “It suggests stimulation in general has measurable neurochemical effects. But whether this effect is due to music, let alone Mozart, still has to be determined.” This reflects more accurately what I know of the matter. You would be interested in learning more about Marian Diamond’s findings on “enrichment”, that are simply spectacular, and more solid than Mozart music. See http://www.sharpbrains.com/blog/2006/10/22/marian-diamond-and-the-brain-revolution/

    In any case, again, you wrote a superb article. And this is a rapidly evolving field, where we need good bridges between science and popular knowledge.

    Alvaro

  • Joe Brochin says:

    Number 5 is probably one that sticks out most to me. I have a bad habit of just running on coffee and adrenaline. Sleep is the ultimate of feel good and is especially important for those who are physically active.

    I would like to find a study about the relationship between rest and injuries.

  • I’d prefer reading in my native language, because my knowledge of your languange is no so well. But it was interesting! Look for some my links:

  • I’d prefer reading in my native language, because my knowledge of your languange is no so well.

  • Carlo says:

    Articles here have been very helpful to me. Thanks to all of you.

  • herbert says:

    I would like to thank you ,for solving my problem as earlier than an expected.

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