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How To Improve Your Memory And Concentration

How To Improve Your Memory And Concentration

Your brain is like a muscle. Without going to the gym and feeding your muscles with the right food, they simply won’t grow. The same applies to your brain. Without giving it any care and attention, it will be just like any other body part, continuing to serve you with a series of mundane tasks that it’s used to doing every other day.

What if there was an easy method to improve on your brain power which would improve memory and concentration tremendously? Would you try it? Of course you would. But would you take that method and convert it into a good habit? You probably would not. Why? Because we are creatures of habit — and, sadly, they’re mostly bad habits.

So, having said that, we urge you to read on, as there are things you might not know about your body which you can use to your advantage and turn into habits to improve memory and concentration.

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1. Be The Master Of Your Own Sleep

We all know that getting the suggested 8 hours of sleep a night can be tough, especially in today’s fast-paced world. Instead of chasing the norms, why not take power naps during the day? According to the National Sleep Foundation, 85% of the mammal species are polyphasic sleepers, meaning they take naps — we humans are also in this category. A short nap of 20-30 minutes can have a great impact on your concentration and memory.

2. Understand Your Periods Of Wakefulness And Sleepiness

Understanding when you are most awake and alert helps increase productivity. Studies have shown that people feel most alert at 10 in the morning and items on the top of the to-do list should be done during this time.

However, alertness varies between different people and understanding when you are most awake is important. Why not keep track of your productivity levels by penning down the times when you have accomplished the most? By doing this, you will be able to know your best times of alertness.

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3. Develop A Ritual To Kickstart Your Engine

There’s a lot of research that looks into how CEOs are so productive. One method used by CEOs is the 3 wins for the day technique. By setting out 3 big tasks you want to accomplish before your day starts, you position your mind to complete these 3 big tasks in order for the day to be a success.

4. Understand Focus And Losing Concentration

Breaking focus is an innate involuntary reaction to keep us safe. While selective focus is about top-down attention, breaking focus is a bottom-up reaction. For example, a loud voice or a very bright light breaks our focus most of the time. Once our focus is broken, it takes us approximately 25 minutes to refocus again. With this knowledge, you can focus for long periods of time provided that there are no distractions around.

5. Exercise To Improve Memory And Concentration

When we exercise, our nerve cells produce proteins called neurotrophic factors which trigger other chemicals that help in learning. A study in 2010 on monkeys published by Neuroscience has proven that regular exercise helps monkeys learn new tasks twice as fast compared to non-exercising monkeys, and it is one benefit scientists think would apply to humans as well.

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6. Play Brain Games

“If you don’t use it, you lose it,” and this applies aptly to the brain. Research into brain plasticity tells us that by providing your brain with brain exercises, you can stop this degeneration.

A program called Brain HQ is designed to provide our brain with different stimuli to improve different areas, from reading and comprehension to memory improvement. Just by checking out smartphone app stores, you can find many various brain games. However, it’s advisable to only invest 20 minutes a day on brain games, as these will become just like any other mundane task if performed for longer on a daily basis.

7. Practice Visualisation And Association

Images are easier remember than facts, and scientists have uncovered that we actually never forget anything. The reason why we cannot remember things is the lack of “mental hooks” that help us retrieve the information from our brain.

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To use the V&A method of remembering things, you associate things that are memorable. For example, to remember a grocery list can be quite daunting. With an item such as blueberries, you can associate it with something memorable, such as a blue bear. Blueberries are not memorable, but riding a blue bear sure is!

8. Hang Out With Friends Often

A study done by the Harvard School of Public Health found that people with active social lives show lesser mental decline. Humans are, after all, social animals, and being around friends often not only is a benefit to our emotional health but also to our brain health.

You can take advantage of the memory-boosting benefits of socializing by reaching out over the phone, volunteering, or even joining a club. And if everyone’s just busy doing their thing, you can turn to a pet — especially a highly sociable dog.

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Lim Kairen

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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

3. Move Your Body

A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

4. Connect With Another Person

Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

5. Use Your Imagination

When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

Final Thoughts

Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

More on the Importance of Taking a Break

Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

Reference

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