6 Simple Ways to Accelerate Your Mental Performance
Successful entrepreneurs must be able to think quickly and stay on their toes. It’s easy to get caught in the habitual drone of everyday life, but if you follow these six tips, you’ll have a sharp mind in no time.
1. Break free from routine.
A habitual mind is a restricted mind. Those who engage in experiences that are new, challenging and exciting are more likely to retain high cognitive functioning, a study by the Association for Psychological Science claims. Passive involvement won’t cut it, though -- listening to new music and even playing most “mind-training” computer games will hardly result in mental development, if at all.
“It seems it is not enough just to get out and do something -- it is important to get out and do something that is unfamiliar and mentally challenging and that provides broad stimulation mentally and socially,” says Denise Park, psychological scientist and study lead at the University of Texas at Dallas. “When you are inside your comfort zone, you may be outside of the enhancement zone.”
Try once each week to do something new that’s outside of your comfort zone -- you may even find yourself a new passion.
2. Keep moving.
Exercise has its obvious physical benefits, but a healthy body is also closely connected with a healthy mind. In spring of 2014, researchers at the University of Minnesota found that cardio respiratory fitness correlates directly with improved cognitive ability in the future -- specifically with better verbal memory and improved psychomotor speed.
Physical activity also has positive effects on common mental illnesses like depression and anxiety, which often prevent even the most ambitious from getting things done. If you aren’t already an exercise “buff,” this could be your new outside-the-comfort-zone activity!
3. Get enough sleep.
Entrepreneurs often have to sacrifice plentiful sleep for hard work, but if you aren’t catching enough Z’s, it could be the reason your personal or business development has slowed down. A study at Brown University has confirmed that sufficient sleep “locks in” knowledge gained from learning new tasks, particularly by sigma brainwaves, which are most active when you’re asleep.
Most people don't know that even though they can choose which time to go to sleep, drowsiness can “switch off” the brain involuntarily, making much of the learning or working you do from that point onward relatively useless. That project you finish during your 19th hour of being awake isn’t quite the quality you thought it was after you wake up -- and it’s all because of lack of sufficient sleep. Most adults require at least seven hours of sleep per night, but everyone’s different – if you’re performing particularly demanding tasks while awake, you may need a few extra hours.
4. Keep circadian rhythms on-track.
A circadian rhythm is the nearly-24 hour cycle that regulates organisms’ physiological and psychological processes. Though this cycle operates mostly on its own, it can be manipulated slightly by temperature and light. Research shows that exposure to light at the right times (like in the morning and afternoon) can keep your circadian rhythm on-track, while exposure during the “wrong” times (like right before bed, or in the middle of the night) can throw it off, forcing you awake at awkward times and, as mentioned, damaging your ability to think clearly.
In order to regulate your circadian rhythm, expose yourself to natural light in the mornings and afternoons by keeping windows open or even working outside -- just a brief outdoor walk during your lunch break will work as well. It’s best to avoid computers, smartphones and tablets in the evening due to the blue light they emit, but if nighttime work is unavoidable, try downloading software like f.lux to place a virtual yellow filter over your screen.
5. Eat brain-enhancing foods.
Stuffing yourself with fish and leafy greens right before an interview may not help you land the job, but in the long-term, it could improve your mental performance. Foods that are rich in iron, such as meat, eggs and dark-colored vegetables may be responsible for improved concentration and a higher IQ, while whole-grain cereals and breads, which contain the vitamin B1, are thought to improve the speed of your mental processes.
Antioxidants, found most in blueberries and acai berries, may slow the detrimental effects free radicals have on the brain. Foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like fish and nuts, may fight off depression and improve cognition over time. Don’t skip breakfast, either -- the lack of food in the morning can interrupt cognitive ability and memory.
Laughter and other forms of positive affect, like watching a short comedy film or receiving a meaningful gift, may improve your ability to think creatively and look at problems from a new, out-of-the-box perspective. This doesn’t necessarily mean you should spend your most productive hours watching cat videos on YouTube or playing tickle monster with your child, but it is recommended that you laugh regularly to consistently release endorphins, reduce the stress hormone cortisol, and help eliminate epinephrine, which contributes to hypertension and heart failure.
Laughter can even affect the number of intestinal flora in the human body, many of which are responsible for atopic eczema, a common inflammation of the skin.
As you can see, several methods of improving mental ability are at your disposal. With cognitive research on the rise, hundreds of others are bound to be discovered in the near future. Which methods are you planning on testing out? Have you noticed any particular lifestyle changes that facilitated a change in your mental performance?
Related: 4 Ways to Be Mentally Tough