Your brain needs exercise just like a muscle. If you use it often and in the right ways, you will become a more skilled thinker and increase your ability to focus. But if you never use your brain, or abuse it with harmful chemicals, your ability to think and learn will deteriorate.
Here are 5 simple ways anyone can squeeze a bit more productivity out of the old gray matter.
1. Minimize Television Watching – This is a hard sell. People love vegetating in front of the television, myself included more often than I’d like. The problem is watching television doesn’t use your mental capacity OR allow it to recharge. It’s like having the energy sapped out of a muscle without the health benefits of exercise.
Don’t you feel drained after a couple hours of TV? Your eyes are sore and tired from being focused on the light box for so long. You don’t even have the energy to read a book.
When you feel like relaxing, try reading a book instead. If you’re too tired, listen to some music. When you’re with your friends or family, leave the tube off and have a conversation. All of these things use your mind more than television and allow you to relax.
2. Exercise – I used to think that I’d learn more by not exercising and using the time to read a book instead. But I realized that time spent exercising always leads to greater learning because it improves productivity during the time afterwards. Using your body clears your head and creates a wave of energy. Afterwards, you feel invigorated and can concentrate more easily.
3. Read Challenging Books – Many people like to read popular suspense fiction, but generally these books aren’t mentally stimulating. If you want to improve your thinking and writing ability you should read books that make you focus. Reading a classic novel can change your view of the world and will make you think in more precise, elegant English. Don’t be afraid to look up a word if you don’t know it, and don’t be afraid of dense passages. Take your time, re-read when necessary, and you’ll soon grow accustomed to the author’s style.
Once you get used to reading challenging books, I think you’ll find that you aren’t tempted to go back to page-turners. The challenge of learning new ideas is far more exciting than any tacky suspense-thriller.
4. Early to Bed, Early to Rise – Nothing makes it harder to concentrate than sleep deprivation. You’ll be most rejuvenated if you go to bed early and don’t sleep more than 8 hours. If you stay up late and compensate by sleeping late, you’ll wake up lethargic and have trouble focusing. In my experience the early morning hours are the most tranquil and productive. Waking up early gives you more productive hours and maximizes your mental acuity all day.
If you have the opportunity, take 10-20 minute naps when you are hit with a wave of drowsiness. Anything longer will make you lethargic, but a short nap will refresh you.
5. Take Time to Reflect – Often our lives get so hectic that we become overwhelmed without even realizing it. It becomes difficult to concentrate because nagging thoughts keep interrupting. Spending some time alone in reflection gives you a chance organize your thoughts and prioritize your responsibilities. Afterwards, you’ll have a better understanding of what’s important and what isn’t. The unimportant stuff won’t bother you anymore and your mind will feel less encumbered.
I’m not saying you need to sit on the floor cross-legged and chant ‘ommm’. Anything that allows a bit of prolonged solitude will do. One of my personal favorites is taking a solitary walk. Someone famous said, “All the best ideas occur while walking.” I think he was on to something. Experiment to find the activity that works best for you.
Conclusion – I hope you aren’t disappointed that none of the techniques I’ve proposed are revolutionary. But simple, unexciting answers are often the most valid. The challenge is having the will to adhere to them. If you succeed in following these 5 tips, you’ll be rewarded with increased mental acuity and retention of knowledge.
If you’re still hungry for more, check out the follow up post: 5 More Ways to Make the Most of Your Intelligence.