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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.

How to Create an Action Plan and Achieve Your Personal Goals How to Set Milestones to Progress Towards Your Goal The Ultimate List of Deep Focus Music for Productive Work 10 Simple Hacks To Get Rid Of Absent-Mindedness How to Focus on Yourself and Accomplish Your Goals in Life

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Published on May 3, 2021

What Is Decision Fatigue And How To Combat It

What Is Decision Fatigue And How To Combat It

How often have you had the experience of needing to make tough decisions that pull you in different directions? You go round and round in circles and, in the end, you either flip a coin or make a snap decision because you’re just too tired to think anymore. Or maybe, you simply put off reaching a decision indefinitely, which is sometimes easier than making a tough call.

Can you relate to this currently? If so, then you’re likely suffering from decision fatigue. Poor decisions are made not because of incapability but because arriving at one or more choices takes its toll—to the extent that it severely weakens our mental energy.

Now that we know what decision fatigue is, let’s explore the primary ways to combat it to enable a stronger mental state coupled with better decision-making.

1. Identify and Make the Most Important Decisions First

If you have a busy personal or work life where many tricky decisions are on the table every day, this can easily and quickly become overwhelming. In this instance, create mental space by initially laying out all situations and challenges requiring a decision. Use a basic software tool or write them down on paper—a notepad file or word document is sufficient.

Once you have your complete list, carefully pick out the most important items needing a conclusion sooner rather than later. Be mindful of the fact that you can’t treat everything as urgent or requiring immediate attention. There have to be some things that are more important than others!

Prioritize and Declare the Appropriate Options

Equipped with your most pressing items awaiting decisions, add another layer of scrutiny by prioritizing them even further. The result should allow you to identify, in order, your most urgent and important tasks without any conflicting priorities.

The last part of this exercise is to highlight all of the options to consider for your most important decision and work through them one by one. With the visual representation of options and most critical decisions out the way first, you’ll be able to think more clearly and prevent decision fatigue from subtly kicking in.

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2. Implement Daily Routines to Automate Less Important Decisions

“Shall I have a healthy lunch today?” “Should I wake up earlier tomorrow?” “What time should I prepare dinner tonight?”

As trivial as these questions appear to be, each one still requires a decision. Stack them on top of other straightforward everyday questions in addition to more significant ones, and things can start to add up unpleasantly.

Small or less important decisions can eat away at your time and productivity. When many other decisions need to be made in parallel, it can lead to decision fatigue. However, there’s a method to avoid this. It involves streamlining aspects of your life by automating repetitive decisions, and this drives the ability to make better decisions overall.[1]

It’s Your Routine—Control It to Create Time for Other Activities

Instead of having to decide multiple times per week if you should have a healthy lunch, create a daily routine sufficiently ahead of time by dictating what healthy food you’ll eat for lunch every day. In doing so, you’re putting that particular decision on autopilot. Your predefined routine commits you to a decision immediately and without hesitation.

Invest time into highlighting all of the trivial and recurring situations requiring decisions daily, then implement a collective routine that relieves the need for you to give them much thought (if any thought at all).

3. Put a Time Limit on Every Decision

Making complex or big decisions increases the risk of draining your energy. This is especially true if you struggle with the fear of making the wrong decision. The doubt and worry bouncing around inside continuously are enough for the majority of people to become fed up and exhausted.

To make good decisions, you need to be in the right position to act. A tactic to deploy is to essentially force yourself to act by setting a time limit on your decision-making process. What might seem a little daunting—given that it can create a sense of added pressure—actually provides clarity on when you need to conclude since you can see the end in sight.

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Grow in Confidence by Reducing Hesitation

After making the decision, it’s time to move on. You’ll feel good and build self-confidence knowing that you didn’t linger on the choices available.

Only consider revisiting a previous decision if something unexpected occurs that impacts it. If that’s the case, then follow the same process by ensuring you make the revised decision before a new deadline.

4. Seek Input From Other People—Don’t Decide Alone

There’s a time and place to make decisions alone, but sometimes, it’s appropriate to involve others. If there’s any degree of struggle in reaching a verdict, then seeking opinions from people in your network can lessen the mental burden of indecisiveness.

Do you feel comfortable seeking input from other people to help make decisions? Trust and feeling secure in your relationships are crucial to answer “yes” to this question.

Explore the Thoughts of Others and Gain a Different Perspective

An insecure business leader likely won’t trust their team(s) to help them make decisions. On the other hand, an assured and secure business leader realizes they don’t “know it all.” Instead of going solo on all work-related decisions, they install trust among their team and get the support required to arrive at the best possible decisions.

The ability to make a great decision can depend on the information related to it that’s at your disposal. When faced with a difficult choice, don’t be afraid to lean on the relevant people for help. They can offer valid alternatives that are otherwise easy to overlook or hold the key to you making a well-informed decision.

5. Simplify and Lower the Number of Available Options

You’re standing in the store, facing an aisle of more than 20 varieties of peanut butter. You have no idea which one to choose, and although there are subtle differences, they all look fairly similar. No doubt you’ve been in this situation at least once in the past (maybe with a substitute for peanut butter!).

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This is a classic example of having too many choices—an event that makes you prone to decide to do nothing or waste time by continually pondering on which product to buy.

According to the psychological concept known as choice overload, simply having too many options can be disruptive and overburdening, causing decision fatigue.[2] Using the example above, you might make the easiest choice of avoiding any further thought, which often results in the purchase of the wrong item.

Extract Meaningful Information and Evaluate Options With a Binary Outcome

To simplify and lower your range of options, leverage the information available and extract what’s most important for you to make a decision. Is it the price? The protein content? Whether it has sustainable packaging or a combination of multiple details?

Keep a tight lid on having too many important components. Prioritize if necessary, and implement a binary outcome (of “yes” or “no” / “true” or “false”) to help arrive at decisions earlier, such as defining a limited price range that the product must fall within.

6. Eliminate Unnecessary Distractions

Arguably, attention is the currency of the modern world. The ability to concentrate better than the next person can mean the difference between a successful student, a thriving business, a happy parent, and a great decision-maker.

So, how can you improve your attention span to make better choices and avoid decision fatigue? There are many strategies, and one of the most optimal ways is to eliminate distractions. Today, the easiest distractions are a result of technology and the devices running it—all of which are at your fingertips 24/7.

Create Extended Periods of Time to Increase Focus

These distractions might be small or large, but the broader issue is the frequency of them, and they repeatedly cause a break in your focus. Dealing with this while trying to make the right decision can be mentally debilitating.

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Technology distractions commonly relate to email, instant messages, push notifications from mobile apps, and scrolling through social media feeds. Access to all of these technologies and tools must be limited to scheduled time blocks (ideally, using a calendar if it’s during a working day).

Switch off notifications entirely to all of the above to prevent distractions (where possible) when it’s not time to look at them. This enables you to think more deeply and focus for prolonged periods of time, ultimately boosting the chances of making good decisions.

Final Thoughts

Decision fatigue is a real phenomenon that can deplete energy levels and increase stress. It can affect anyone who has to make decisions, whether they are minor or major ones.

Overcoming decision fatigue needs patience and dedication. By applying the best practices discussed in this article, you’ll be on the path to implement valuable changes. These changes will increase your productivity, as well as drastically improve your consistency and ability to make the right choices.

More About Decision Fatigue

Featured photo credit: Jake Melara via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] FlexRule: Decision Automation
[2] Behavioral Economics: Choice Overload

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