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Last Updated on February 21, 2019

How to Use More of Your Brain to Become More Productive and Happy

How to Use More of Your Brain to Become More Productive and Happy

To answer the question how to use more of your brain, I want to share my story about overloading my brain….

I’m not a morning person. I always hoped that when I grew up, I’d become that person who was magically “on” (happy and productive) the second my eyes opened. You know, like the old guy in Jerry McGuire who wakes up, claps his hands and says “Today is going to be a great day!”

Adults are supposed to be morning people, right? We’re supposed to be able to use our brains and be productive members of society right out of the gate, waking with smiles on our faces with hearts full of gratitude.

That’s the pressure I’ve always put on myself anyway–that I should feel excited and grateful in the morning. But if I’m being honest, I’ve never felt that way. And generally, my mornings kind of suck…

I wake up everyday with a three year old pulling on my arm (or if I’m not so lucky she’s pulling up the lid of my eye) telling me it’s time to get out of bed because I’m officially on duty as her personal chef, stylist, and chauffeur. (I mean, I’m basically her glorified celebrity handler). Most days, it’s a battle of wills, struggling to get her to put on pants and get in the car and usually I resort to sugar-laced bribes just to keep my sanity.

Suffice to say, by the time I get home from taking her to school, I feel spent and quite honestly, stupid. As a mom of a preschooler, I feel like my brain is operating in “react” mode so much of the morning that I forget it’s possible for me to be an intentional, productive person in the AM hours.

I thought working from home would be easier in this way, but it turns out it’s actually a lot easier to not be productive without the positive peer pressure of other hyper-focused adults visibly working hard at their computers around me.

So what winds up happening is I get home and find it hard not to get on my computer and let my inbox send me on whatever trip my brain decides it wants to go on in that moment.

No plan, no focus, I’m just…doing stuff…I think? At least I’m fighting the urge to go back to bed, I tell myself. I’m being a grown up.

Most mornings I’ve felt like a failure as an adult because of this chronic morning brain fog. So recently I’ve been trying to figure out why I still feel like a 17-year old recovering from mono who can’t get out of bed for first period.

I’m not depressed. My life is good. I love my work.

So why is it so hard for me to follow through on doing things I want to do at a reasonable, productive “adult” hour? I couldn’t help but wonder…what is wrong with me?

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1. Focus on WHEN: The Forgotten Four-Letter Word

It turns out, I may have been asking the wrong questions. Instead of asking WHAT is wrong with me and WHY can’t I, the question I forgot to ask, and the question we all need to be asking is WHEN.

It all became a little more clear when my husband brought home a book called WHEN: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel Pink.

According to chronobiology experts, it’s very possible that a lot of our brain power, productivity and even happiness doesn’t necessary stem from what we are doing, but WHEN we are doing it.

Imagine you’re on a relaxing vacation for a week. No meetings. No kids or obligations. It’s just you, a cozy bed, and your whims. What time do you go to bed, knowing you can sleep in as late as you want and nap as much as you want the following day? Got it? Great.

Next, what time would you wake up, by choice?

Now take the time you’d ideally go to bed and the time you’d ideally wake up and find the time exactly halfway between the two. That time will tell you if you’re an “early bird” (or Lark), a Night Owl, OR, neither. Turns out 65% of us are what chronobiologists have come to call “Third Birds”—somewhere in the middle.

Once you determine your “type,” you can start planning your day’s activities based on the right time for your brain—or WHEN you’re best cognitively equipped for that type of task, based on science.

According to Pink and the research, knowing WHEN you are going to perform your best on certain tasks can be an absolute game-changer. For example, say you have an important exam that’s full of analytical questions: Larks and Third Birds are going to perform better on those sorts of tasks in the morning, but Owls are going to perform far better on analytical tasks in the late afternoon or evening.

Knowing when you’re in the ideal state to be your most productive self can make the tasks you do easier and relieve unnecessary stress.

Bottom-line is when it comes to using more of your brain and being happier overall, it may be more of a question of knowing your nature, asking WHEN, and leaning into your natural rhythm rather than constantly fighting it.

2. Manage the Impact of Technology on Your Brain

I’d be remiss, in today’s digital age, if I didn’t bring up the impact technology is having on our brains, productivity, and our general sense of well-being. I mean, the one thing I didn’t mention in my description of my morning is that I’m constantly fighting the urge to check my email or do work while I’m feeding, dressing and wrangling my three year old off to school.

It feels like a compulsive thing, like I can’t help myself from looking at my phone even though I know there’s nothing that can’t wait. If I have a “free” second, I feel the need to do SOMETHING (more accurately, HOLD something).

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It would be easy to posit that technology is a dirty, addictive brain-cell killer and I’m sure I’d find plenty of evidence to support that assertion, but the undeniable truth is that technology has enabled us to get so much more done in such a shorter period of time.

We no longer have to drive 30 minutes each way to a brick-and-mortar retailer to buy miscellaneous items, we can order them it in less than a minute with one tap. So when it comes to productivity, I feel like all of the good technology has done is not trumped by the bad.

That being said, there’s a flip side to the world literally being at our fingertips–especially when it comes to our cognitive abilities. The question on my mind is:

Now that our brains are able to get more information, or input, instantaneously because of how readily available it is, are we actually able to process all of this information without overload?

According to the experts, there’s a false belief among consumers that technology is helping us be better multitaskers, but it’s just not true. The fact is we’re not capable of successfully giving our focus to more than one thing at a time.[1]

Multitasking, at least for humans, is a myth.

So what is actually happening is this:

We think we can be more productive by using our phones to multitask but this leads us to spend more and more time on our phones where we usually get distracted by the overwhelming human need for connection.

One of the expert panelists, Larry Rosen, a research psychologist, explained how technology can actually make us feel chronically anxious because:

“we are feeling a lot of pressure that we have to connect, that we feel a responsibility to connect, and that’s the anxiety-provoking part.”

It’s really this innate desire for connection, for feeling a part of the “tribe” if you will, that leads us to what sometimes looks and feels like technology addiction. But according to Rosen “addiction should give us some sort of a good feeling, a pleasurable feeling.”

But since most of us don’t feel a “high” from being glued to our screens, he believes technology is more like an obsession or compulsion, since we feel a constant need to “check in.”

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The experts also agree that all of this “multitasking” and information overload has had consequences on how we learn and retain information because it’s just simply not possible for our brains to focus on so many different things at once.

So we have this desire to be productive, and an even deeper desire for connection, but a lot of the time our devices distract us from doing either very well.

3. Give Your Brain a Rest

I don’t know about you but my brain hurts from all of that tech talk. Luckily, I have the perfect remedy and if you love coffee and sleep as much as I do, you’re about to have a deep desire to hug me through your computer screen (but thank Dan Pink, I’m just passing this gem on).

If you’re feeling like your brain is fried and your productivity is waning, I’d like to introduce you to your new best friend: The Nappuccino:[2]

    According to the latest research, naps are incredibly beneficial for our brains and overall productivity, but only if done “right.”

    The Nappuccino is the recipe for the perfect nap: Since caffeine takes about 25 minutes to kick in, if you drink a cup of your favorite java, then lay down it takes approximately 5 minutes to fall asleep–giving you the optimal 20 minute snooze sesh (long enough to feel refreshed, but not too long to make you drowsy).

    When to do this, you may be wondering? The Mayo Clinic suggests that the best time for a nap is between 2pm-3pm, when we all typically hit our mid-day slump.

    The best part? You wake up with your caffeine kick in full effect, ready to get back to work.

    You’re welcome!

    If you’re not remotely jazzed about the fact that I just gave you permission to drink coffee and take a nap in the afternoon, you may be one of those people who hate naps.

    Maybe napping makes you feel like a lazy, good for nothing bum and you feel like it’s weak? You may even pride yourself in never taking a lunch break and eating at your desk. If this sounds familiar, you may need to hear this more than anyone:

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    According to Pink and all of the studies, taking lunch (more specifically a social lunch where we connect with someone face-to-face) as well as an afternoon nap, helps us work better, faster and more efficiently. It also helps prevent us from making mistakes.

    As Pink puts it “Breaks are not a sign of sloth, but a sign of strength.”

    And if you still need more proof, a student at Stanford noted in her report on trying the Nappuccino:[3]

    “This process has extended my capacity from measly journal entries to full-on drafts of essays. Thus, I have been proven utterly wrong in my castigation of naps as emblems of counterproductivity.”

    In other words, don’t knock it ‘til you try it!

    The Big Takeaways

    If you’re like most hyper-productive adults and you just scrolled to the bottom to get the gist of this article, I get it, no judgement. As I’ve stated above, our brains can only take in so much. So here’s the bottom line:

    If you want to be more happy, productive, and use your brain more efficiently:

    1. Lean into your unique internal clock and work your WHEN. If you’re a morning person, do the hardest stuff in the AM. If you’re a night person, give yourself permission to not think so hard first thing (and be nice to yourself, okay?)
    2. Focus on one task at a time (our brains can’t multitask, even if our phones can)
    3. Get your fix for connection by talking to other humans in real life (and take a lunch break)
    4. Give your brain a break by unplugging from the screen and treating yourself to an afternoon Nappuccino

    The truth is we don’t need to use more of our brains, we simply need to stop distracting our brains and start understanding them. Most importantly, we need to give our brains a rest so our incredible, life-sustaining, built-in supercomputers can function at their highest potential.

    These days, I’m not so hard on my more “Owly” nature. Somehow cutting myself and my brain some slack and giving it permission to not be “on” in the morning…online that is…has made “adulting” in the AM feel much brighter.

    It may take an hour or two, but eventually, after a couple of cups of coffee, I’m able to clap my hands and say “today is going to be a great day.” And mean it.

    More Resources About Boosting Brain Power

    Featured photo credit: Lucrezia Carnelos via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Computer History Museum: Our Mind’s on Tech: How Technology Affects the Human Brain.
    [2] Daniel Pink: When: Napaccino
    [3] The Standard Daily: The nappuccino

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    Kristina Voegele

    Author and Success Coach | Founder of Grit & Grace Living | Creator of the Writerpreneur Workshop

    How to Use a 5 Minute Journal to Invest in Your Happiness How to Use More of Your Brain to Become More Productive and Happy How to Find Motivation When You’re Totally Burnt Out

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    Last Updated on August 20, 2019

    26 Useful Things to Learn Now That Will Change Your Life

    26 Useful Things to Learn Now That Will Change Your Life

    If you pay attention to your everyday life careful enough, you’ll know that you can learn from everything and everyone you come across. Our life is basically full of useful lessons that we should learn.

    Here are 26 useful things to learn that Abhishek A. Singh shared on Quora. Let’s see how these life theories would lead you to live a different life.

    1. Primacy and recency: People mostly remember the first and last things that occurred, barely the middle.

    When scheduling an interview, ask the employer the time slots they do interviews and try to be the first or the last.

    2. If you work in a bar or in customer service of any kind, put a mirror behind you at the counter.

    In this way, angry customers who approach you will have to see themselves in the mirror behind you and the chance of them behaving irrationally will be lowered significantly.

    3. Once you make a sales pitch, don’t say anything else.

    This works in sales, but it can also be applied in other ways.

    My previous boss was training me and just gave me pointers. I was working at a gym trying to sell memberships. He told me that once I got all the small talk out of the way and presented the prices, the first person to talk would lose.

    It didn’t seem like a big deal but it actually worked. Often there were long periods of awkward silence as the person tried to come up with some excuses, but usually they bought.

    4. If you ask someone a question and they only partially answer, just wait.

    If you stay silent and keep eye contact, they will usually continue to talk.

    5. Chew gum when you’re approaching a situation that would make you nervous, like public speaking or bungee jumping.

    When we eat, our brain tell ourselves, “I would not be eating if I were danger. So I’m not in danger.” This has helped me to stay calm.

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    6. People will always remember how you made them feel, not what you said.

    Also, most people like talking about themselves; so ask lots of questions about them.

    7. When you’re learning something new, teach it to a friend. Let them ask you questions about it.

    If you’re able to teach something well, you will be sure that you’ve understood it very well.

    8. If you get yourself to be really happy and excited to see other people, they will react the same to you.

    It doesn’t always happen the first time, but it will definitely happen the next time.

    9. The physical effects of stress — breathing rate and heart rate — are almost identical to the physical effects of courage.

    When you’re feeling stressed in any situations, immediately reframe it : Your body is getting ready to be courageous, you are NOT stressed.

    10. Pay attention to people’s feet.

    If you approach two people in the middle of a conversation, and they only turn their torsos and not their feet, they don’t want you to join in the conversation.

    Similarly, if you are in a conversation with a coworker who you think is paying attention to you and their torso is turned towards you but their feet are facing in another direction, they want the conversation to end.

    11. Confidence is more important than knowledge.

    Don’t be intimidated by anyone, everyone is playing a role and wearing a mask.

    12. If you pretend to be something for long enough, you will eventually become it.

    Fake it till you make it. Period.

    13. Not to be creepy, but if you want to stare at someone unashamedly, look directly past them and wait for them to try and meet your eyes.

    When they fail to do that, they’ll look around (usually nervously for a second) they won’t look at you again for some time. This is your chance to straight up stare at this person for at least 45 seconds.

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    And as suggested by Brian Stutzman:

    If you’re staring at someone and get caught, DON’T turn your head or your body to look away, because that just confirms that you were staring.

    Just move your EYEBALLS off the person. Unlike turning your head, it’s instantaneous. And the person will think you were just looking at something behind them and that they were mistaken for thinking you were staring. Do it confidently, and ignore any reaction from the person, and you can sell it every single time.

    After a second, you can even look back at them with a “Why are you staring at me?” look on your face to really cement the deal!

    14. Build a network.

    Become the information source, and let the information be yours. Even grabbing a beer with a former colleague once a year will keep you in the loop at the old office.

    Former coworkers might have gotten a new position in that office you always wanted to work in, great! Go to them for a beer, and ask about the office. It’s all about connections and information.

    15. If you are angry at the person in front of you driving like a grandmother…

    Pretend it is your grandmother, it will significantly reduce your road rage.

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      16. Stand up straight.

      No slouching, hands out of pockets, and head held up high. It’s not just a cliche — you literally feel better and people around you feel more confident in you.

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      17. Avoid saying “I think,” and “I believe” unless absolutely necessary.

      These are phrases that do not evoke confidence, and will literally do you no good.

      18. When feeling anxious, clean up your home or work space.

      You will feel happier and more accomplished than before.

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        19. Always buy the first pitcher or round of drinks.

        You’d be surprised how long you could drink on the phrase “I bought the first one.”

        20. Going into an interview… be interested in your interviewers.

        If you focus on learning about them, you’ll seem to be more interesting and dynamic. (Again, people love to talk about themselves.)

        21. Pay attention parents! Always give your kid a choice that makes them think they are in control.

        For instance, when I want my son to put his shoes on I will say ,”do you want to put your star wars shoes on or your shark shoes on?”

        Pro-tip: In some cases, this works on adults.

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          22. Your action affects your attitude more than your attitude affects your action.

          As my former teacher said “You can jump and dance FOR joy, but you can also jump and dance yourself joyful.”

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          23. When a group of people laugh, people will instinctively look at the person they feel closest to in that group.

          Notice who you look at and who look at you when you laugh with a group of people!

          24. If you want to build rapport or gain someone’s trust quickly, match their body posture and position.

          If someone is sitting with her legs crossed, cross your legs. If they’re leaning away from you, lean away from them. If they’re leaning towards you, lean towards them.

          Mirroring and matching body position is a subconscious way to tell if someone trusts you or is comfortable with you. If you’re sitting with your arms crossed and you notice someone else is sitting with her arms crossed, that is a good indicator that you have/are successfully built/building rapport with that person.

          25. The Benjamin Franklin Effect (suggested by Matt Miller)

          I find the basis of the Benjamin Franklin effect is very useful and extends far beyond pencil borrowing. This knowledge is useful in the world of flirting too.

          Asking a girl in your class if you can borrow a pencil or her notes or to explain the homework will make her more likely to like you than if you let her borrow your stuff or are the one to help her. Even just asking a girl to buy you drinks (facetiously) leaves a much bigger impression than offering to or actually buying a girl a drink.

          The best part is it kills 3 birds with one stone: you get the advantages of the favor itself, the person subconsciously likes you more, and it makes them more open to future favors and conversation.

          26. Handle panic and anxiety behaviors by tapping fingers (Suggested by Jade Barbee)

          When you’re feeling stressed, worried or angry, tap each finger tip while thinking (or speaking quietly) a few specific words about what is bothering you. Repeat the same words while tapping each of your 10 fingers, including thumbs.

          For example, tap while saying, “I’m so angry with her…” Doing so will likely take the charge out of the feeling and return you to a more resourceful (better feeling) state of being. It’s called EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) or “tapping,” and it is useful in many life situations – emotional sadness, physical pain, food cravings, traumatic memories…

          Featured photo credit: Nicole Wolf via unsplash.com

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