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Published on April 7, 2021

10 Simple Hacks To Get Rid Of Absent-Mindedness

10 Simple Hacks To Get Rid Of Absent-Mindedness

If you are feeling increasingly absent-minded these days, don’t panic. You’re far from alone, and entertaining fears that your mind is going will only heighten your anxiety and make things worse.[1]

The Covid-19 pandemic has done a number on everyone’s ability to focus. In the period spanning February through April of 2020, there was a 300% increase in the number of people going online to search for “how to get your brain to focus.”[2] If you’re among this horde of absent-minded people, your best first step might be to cut yourself some slack for not having it all together.

After accepting that everyone’s productivity is taking a hit, you’ll be in a better frame of mind to scrutinize your memory lapses. If you can begin a written journal of “incidents”—without plunging into despair—then do so. In that same journal, list any memory-improving tips you try, along with your perceptions of improvement over time.

To get you started, here are 10 simple hacks to banish absent-mindedness.

1. Eat Right

We’ve known for decades that foods with unhealthy levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol are bad for the heart. More recently, researchers at Harvard uncovered evidence that LDL cholesterol is bad for the brain as well.[3] LDL-saturated diets have been linked to the formation of beta-amyloid plaques, the same protein clusters that cause the brain damage associated with Alzheimer’s.

To counter this possibility, adjust your diet to include more mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, whole grains, and olive oil are all good sources of unsaturated fat.

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2. Exercise

According to the Mayo Clinic, research suggests a strong link between regular exercise and brain health.[4] Working out not only boosts blood flow but can also reverse the reduction in brain size that naturally occurs as we age.

While some remain skeptical of a direct causal link between exercise and brain health, the obvious benefits of regular exercise—increased physical health, elevated sense of well-being, etc.—are beyond dispute. For starters, exercise can help you better handle stress, so you’re more likely to keep those temporarily misplaced car keys in perspective. If studies continue to show that exercise improves cognition and memory, well, so much the better.

3. Cut Back on Alcohol and Caffeine

While there is nothing wrong with enjoying the occasional cocktail or cup of coffee, anxious times tend to cause our consumption of alcohol and caffeine to increase. A January 2021 Newsweek article reported that as a percentage of grocery bills, alcohol sales rose 686.9 percent in a two-month period last year.[5]

While you may initially resist any call to delay “wine o’clock,” this is another area where journaling can be your best friend. Commit to tracking your alcohol consumption as an experiment. You’ll be able to correlate those efforts with any noticeable improvements in memory performance in the weeks to come.

4. Read

There is a world of difference between doomscrolling Twitter and sitting by the fireplace with a hardcover edition of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

At least one vital distinction between these two forms of reading lies in how the brain reacts as it processes information. Hits of norepinephrine released by browsing social media keep your brain in an unhealthy state of fight-or-flight arousal. Time spent on a good novel, on the other hand, engages the imagination.

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Screens are great for instant access to information, but they’re lousy for relaxing and recharging. Go ahead, invest in a real book made from paper. They’re still around.

5. Converse

In the era of texting, making good conversation is a skill that is rapidly declining, even as it’s been shown to increase empathy and give our brains a workout.[6] So, make a habit of engaging in face-to-face (or mask-to-mask) conversation at least a few times each week.

If you’ve been classified as high risk for Covid-19, a videoconference call might do the trick, but calling in person is better. In person, we pick up on signals we often miss online.

6. Play Games

In addition to giving yourself a much-needed mental health break, games tend to sharpen brain skills.[7] These include processing speed, decision making, response time, planning, and strategizing.

If your goal is reducing absent-mindedness, then be choosy about which games to play. Video games often—though not always—excite the brain’s amygdala and threaten to overwhelm. Something more traditional could be a better choice. Card games, chess, and strategy board games can be a lot of fun and recharge your brain at the same time.

7. Make Use of Strategic Visual Cues

One proven way to reduce your frustration over absent-mindedness is to “cheat” by sidestepping the problem entirely. If a friend has asked to borrow one of your novels, throw the book onto the passenger seat of your car the night before you head to her house. The idea is to “booby-trap” your life so that you almost literally trip over visual cues as you go about your day.

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To make this tactic work, you need to act on your thoughts when they’re in the forefront of your mind. After you pour the last of the half-and-half into your morning coffee, don’t sit down to breakfast until you’ve jotted down the depleted dairy item on your shopping list.

Always be looking for ways to free yourself from the number of things swirling around inside your head. When you have fewer things to remember, you’ll be able to place your focus where it’s needed at any given moment.

8. Sleep

Few things will contribute to improving absent-mindedness more than a good night’s sleep. Our brains need rest to process information and turn it into memory.[8] When we deprive ourselves of sleep so that we can get more things accomplished, we are adding gasoline to the memory-loss fire.

While your brain can bounce back from an occasional all-nighter, an ongoing pattern of inadequate sleep will cause more problems than it solves. If you are having consistent problems with sleep, start journaling your experiences. Identifying insomnia triggers will help you take steps to improve your sleep hygiene over time or at least have a more informed conversation with your doctor.

9. Soak Up Some Sun

Time in the sun has been linked to the release of serotonin in the brain. That’s a good thing, as researchers at Johns Hopkins have found that reduced levels of serotonin transporters in study subjects who exhibited mild cognitive decline and memory loss.[9]

While its impact on absent-mindedness isn’t fully established, serotonin is known to have a positive impact on a person’s mood, relaxation response, and ability to focus. So, start treating sunshine as a valuable commodity. Location, time of day, and skin tone will affect how much exposure to sunshine works for you, but it’s worth upping your daily dose.

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10. Get the Help You Need

It’s a mistake to underestimate the impact the past 12 months have had on our mental health. No matter your age, the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns put tremendous pressure on everyone. Many of us were so preoccupied with our safety that we had to make several mental adjustments just to get through the day.

If you suffered the loss of a loved one, you’ve piled grief on top of information overload and fear. You need sympathetic ears, so be intentional about getting in touch with close friends. You might even consider a few counseling sessions until you feel you are back on solid ground.

Final Thoughts

Human beings are infinitely complex, and despite all of the advances in neuroscience, the inner workings of the brain are still somewhat mysterious. What works for one person may or may not work for another, and that’s okay.

As you battle your absent-mindedness, keep your journal close at hand. Review your progress at least once a week and tweak your routines until you see improvement.

More Tips on How to Avoid Absent-Mindedness

Featured photo credit: Ellen Mi via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

John Hall

John Hall is the co-founder and president of Calendar, a leading scheduling and productivity app that will change how we manage and invest our time.

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Published on April 8, 2021

10 Simple Ways To Refocus a Wandering Mind

10 Simple Ways To Refocus a Wandering Mind

Want to know what Steve Jobs thought was the ultimate key in achieving success?

“Focus and simplicity… once you get there, you can move mountains.”—Steve Jobs

And this belief is even more important today than it was years ago. At your fingertips is a literal world of information and entertainment. So, it’s no wonder we all have such wandering minds nowadays.

Thanks to the internet and smartphones, attention is practically a currency we should be more budget-minded about. In fact, a person who can stay focused is not only more likely to get more done but also be more satisfied at the end of the day because of it.

Going further, a person who’s focused will more easily achieve their goals—anything from losing 20 pounds to getting a promotion at work is within the reach of this type of person.

So, in the spirit of that idea, here are 10 ways to tame that wandering mind of yours and turn it into a laser-focused brain that gets things done.

1. Find Your Totem

Remember the totem in the movie, Inception? It’s an item that reminded people they weren’t in a dream when they touched it, and it was able to keep them grounded in reality.

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You can replicate this idea when it comes to staying focused as well. All you’ve to got to do is find something to be your “focus totem,” and it’ll remind you that you should stop daydreaming and get back to work. Ideally, it’s something you can see and touch.

In the movie, a chess piece and a spinning top were used—both are good ideas. You could also use a picture of your family, a mini trophy, or even wear a ring to focus your mind as well. (In fact, a green lantern ring might be kind of cool for this.)

2. Promise a Reward

Incentives are an obvious way to go. Having gold at the end of any journey makes you want to press forward just for the sweet results. In general, rewards should correlate to the difficulty/length of the work.

For example:

  • Finish a quick house chore = a piece of chocolate
  • Complete an annoying administrative task = 10 minutes of Youtube
  • A successful day of work = a whole movie on Netflix

Pretty simple stuff, right? But you’d be surprised how often you forget to reward yourself for doing solid work on the regular.

3. Make It Stupid Easy for Your Wandering Mind

I don’t know about you, but if I perceive my work to require more effort than I care to use, I’m instantly turned off. This then leads to distraction and procrastination. But you can offset this by breaking a difficult task into a bite-sized piece.

Case in point, what seems easier: 30 pushups or 3 pushups?

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It’s obvious, but sometimes our brains need to be “convinced” we’re only doing a small amount of work to get things going.

But here’s something cool about this tactic: You can (and most likely will) keep going past your stupid easy benchmark. You don’t have to, but my experience tells me once you get going like this, it’s easy to go beyond your bare minimum goal.

4. Empty Your Mind With Journaling

Sometimes, there’s too much stuff floating around in your brain that is making your mind wander. In that case, it can help to spill everything in your head onto a journal to free up some space. You can use a pen and pad for this or something digital like Evernote.

There are two basic ways to go about it:

  1. Freestyle – where you just write whatever randomly flows through your brain without thinking or pausing. This is great if you’ve got a million different ideas racing through your brain.
  2. Focused – where you create prompts or an outline to streamline your thinking and you just respond to the questions or format. This is best when you want to grasp a certain topic.

5. Use the “Just 5 Minutes” Method

Try telling yourself that you’ll work for “just 5 minutes” and then you can stop. You’ll find that the task feels far easier to handle. And like the “stupid easy” method, this tricks your brain into thinking the task is lower effort than it really is. After all, 5 minutes for even the worst task is psychologically manageable for any person out there.

The key is to honestly allow yourself to stop at 5 minutes—no matter what. That’s what allows your brain to accept the method as legit and also lets it overcome the mental hurdle that makes your brain want to wander around and focus on anything but your task.

6. Recite a Focus Mantra

I like to think of mantras as a totem you can take with you anywhere you go. They serve the same purpose—reminding you to stay focused—but can be done anywhere and anytime.

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I find the most powerful type of mantra to be based on reality. I learned this approach from Dr. Jon Fader—a performance coach who was on “Good Morning America”—and his book Life as Sport: What Top Athletes Can Teach You about How to Win in Life. He calls this “objective optimism.”

Basically, you create a mantra that’s based on personal success in your life. That way, the mantra isn’t just a fluffy positivity statement, there’s also the weight of real-life success giving it power

Some examples:

  • If you’re struggling to make yourself go to the gym but have technically been there many times already, you could say, “just another day of heading to the gym—easy.”
  • If you’re suffering from impostor-syndrome after accepting a promotion, just say, “I’m here for a reason” to remind yourself that your efforts were recognized by others and are the real deal.
  • If you’re nervous about an upcoming sports competition but have trained diligently for it, you could say, “I’ve done all the work possible” to remind yourself that your earlier efforts have created the best version of you for the event.

As you can see, the most powerful mantras are evidence-based and positive. So, just find proof of relevant success in your life and transform it into a motivating mantra.

7. Use the “Multi-Yawn” Approach

One of the best ways to be distracted is to be tired. And sometimes, you’ll be tired in such a way that you’re “sort of” working but not realize that you’re actually constantly distracted.

If you can notice when you do this, one thing I like to do is crank out as many big, satisfying yawns as possible. Olympic athletes sometimes do this before their big events. It calms them down and helps them perform better in the process. And it works just as well for us regular folks. I find it has a similar effect to taking a good nap (and actually works best in unison), so you can imagine how effective this can be.

8. Find an Easy Win

Nothing feels good like winning. So, it can help to find a few simple tasks you can do with little effort and just get them done immediately. This will create momentum and propel your productivity forward. The feeling of success will lock your focus in on the task at hand and refocus your wandering mind. Use this when you feel “resistance” to getting your work started.

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9. Create a “Wins” List

Feeling like a capable person who can win at life is motivating in and of itself. In light of this fact, it can help to have an ongoing “wins” list to prove you’re an able person.

Just keep track of all your daily wins—big and small. And whenever your focus starts to wane, give that list a peek and remind yourself that you’re more capable than you realize.

10. Add Stakes to the Mix

If you were to lose $20 if you failed to complete a task, would you be more focused on completing it? Of course!

Try and find ways to put something on the line when it comes to completing your tasks, and you’ll find your focus, motivation, and ability to things done to be higher than ever before.

For example, if you’re at work, you could involve a co-worker by saying you’ll buy their food if you don’t complete a task before lunchtime rolls around. At home, you could say you’ll also mow the lawn if you don’t remember to wash the dishes before the day is over. Or you could just use something like Beeminder or TaskRatchet, which actually charges you cash for failing to complete a task or goal on time. (It’s scary but effective)

All are viable methods, so just give one of them a shot.

Who Else Wants More Success?

Of the many methods of winning at life out there, focusing is definitely a top-three contender. You can’t get anything you want in life if you don’t buckle down and get your work done—a wandering mind won’t create success.

But with these 10 focus tips, you’ll be ahead of the competition and be closer to a fitter body, higher income, and a flat-out better life than before.

More Tips on Sharpening Your Focus

Featured photo credit: Clay Banks via unsplash.com

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