This article was written by Rick Alexander and originally published on BuzzFeed
There are many factors that will cause an otherwise well running motor to have serious efficiency issues. The engine computer, acting in concert with the engine air flow sensor, electronic fuel injectors, and exhaust oxygen sensor, ensure that the motor is running exactly how it was meant to. When the ratio of oxygen to gas is correct then fuel efficiency is maxed out. If even one of these things is off, it begins to bog down the entire car. Engines weren’t meant to carry excess friction and when they begin too, the motor must work extra hard in order to maintain the same performance.
How many things do we have in our life that bog us down mentally? Is your motor running at maximum output or is mental fog and lack of clarity forcing you to work extra hard just to maintain normal life? The better question is, if you could free up bandwidth, what else would you be able to accomplish? Our minds are one of the most important tools that we have and when it is working efficiently and in concert with the brain, we are open to achieve much more in the same 24 hour day. In contrast, when it is not, we have to work extra hard to get through the same 9-5. As an entrepreneur and a creator, my ability to think clearly and flush out concepts is perhaps the most important asset that I have. Here are the three easiest fixes I have found that allow me to leverage as much brain capacity as possible.
1. Declutter your life. Clutter seems to have a way of transcending the physical world. The useless chachkies that lay around our houses, the half filled cups of water sitting on our night stands, the clothes we have not yet folded, all of these and more; act like an app running in the background of our smart phones. Although we are seemingly paying them no mind, they are there, in the back of our head utilizing precious bandwidth and draining our battery faster than we would like. That’s why many people find they can work so much better at a coffee shop. Although there may be slightly more audible noise, there is nothing around us immediately vying for our attention. No unfinished chores, nothing dirty that we need to clean, nothing at all to stress us out.
Eliminating these things help you to get into flow much more easily, which of course leads to productivity in a single task. If you are looking to get work done at home, consider starting with a 15-30 minute cleaning session. Pick things up, knock off your to-do list for everything that might sit around you. The accomplishment of things we can immediately control not only reduces our stress levels but it helps us to mentally get things out of the way so that we have more focus for what matters. The time cleaning may seem wasted when you have a lot to get done mentally, it will pay dividends when it comes to leveraging the whole power of your mind.
2. Spend your free time on activities that cause your mind to expand and leave you energized instead of simply consuming. When we get out of work it is tempting to want to “veg out,” and do something mindless like turn on SportsCenter and crack open a beer or to watch the latest episode of scandal and pour yourself a glass of wine. The work day is long and stressful, I get it. But don’t make it worse by using the free time you have left to fill your brain with useless information and other people’s problems. Almost anything that is purely entertainment based is going to utilize a basic story arc to capture your attention, meaning there will come a time when there is turmoil, chaos or a mixture of the two. Something the main character will have to overcome. The media, every sitcom and every movie all grab your attention by using a similar narrative and they keep you around because deep down we all want to see negative situations resolved.
It works much like clutter, only it doesn’t run in the back of your mind. It sits there at the front, ensuring the majority of your ram can’t be used for anything worthwhile. When we do things like learn a new activity, read and write or even listen to some podcasts, it causes your brain to stretch and expand in order to adapt to new concepts. When the narrative of a movie or TV show is spoon fed to us it all but ensures we don’t have to reach cognitively. Over time, the brain just like any other muscle atrophies when it adapts to a sedentary lifestyle. This makes it even more difficult to use it when we actually need it.
To ensure that I don’t fall into the all too easy habit of turning the TV on and my brain off, I often journal when I other wise would simply plop down on the couch and turn the TV on. I like to start with a single concept and begin flushing it out on paper. Write everything that comes to mind. This has a domino effect when it comes to idea creation. The act of writing and thinking will begin turning your mind on and before long you will be running at a much higher level, especially if the work day did what most do, which is tire you out and drain your energy level.
3. Leverage the physical body in order to maximize mental capacity. BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor) in increased when we exercise. BDNF causes brain cells to bind to one another making synapses and connections between brain cells more dense. We are literally able to think better because our brains capacity is improved from exercise. Spark written by Dr. John Ratey, explores the mind body connection. He found that even 30-45 minutes of physical activity, i.e. breaking a sweat, helps fight memory loss, damper the symptoms of psychosomatic disorders and even temporarily improve IQ. His findings were that exercise was the most effective way to improve memory and attention.
As if that isn’t enough, studies suggest that exercise has the ability to trigger the creation of new brain cells in the hippocampus (the brain's gateway to memory.) The kicker is that exercise alone isn’t enough (sorry meatheads.) If the brain isn’t immediately challenged with memory and focus, it will lose the new brain cells in just a few days. For this reason, the two must work in concert. And why shouldn’t they? Physical exercise helps create new brain cells while mentally exercising allows you to not only focus better and work at a higher level but it also allows you to keep these newly created cells. It’s a win-win situation and we should all frequently be taking advantage of it.
My most effective days occur when I begin them with 30-45 minutes of low impact cardio. The key is to find an exercise that doesn’t exert yourself too much, leaving you with unwanted brain fog following the exercise. Remember these sessions aren’t necessarily meant to build fitness as much as they are meant to leverage the power of exercise to help you think better. I have found best results with an elliptical, stationary bike or stair stepper. For the purposes of mental clarity, try to maintain your exercise at an aerobic level, meaning you are sweating but could hold a conversation if you needed too.
We often think that it is extremely difficult to create and grow and learn. That thought leaders and academics are somehow manufactured without effort but the truth is that by shuffling just a few things around, there is a lot of room for cognitive growth within all of us. By decluttering our lives and our minds we open up the ability to not only create but also to learn faster. Every single one of us is capable of thinking at a much higher level if only we learn to set up our lives and leverage what we know in order to make it possible.