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15 Eating Habits to Make You Stay Productive at Work

15 Eating Habits to Make You Stay Productive at Work

Everyone knows it: staying energetic at work can be a real drag. Only a few hours into your Monday and your eyes are blurry, your back is sore, and you are longing for the weekend once again. While getting a good night’s sleep and maintaining a healthy exercise routine both play important parts in daytime productivity, eating habits are crucial as well. By simply avoiding foods that will slow you down, and building eating habits that move you forward, everyone can stay more productive at work. While this may seem like a daunting task, some of the most effective ways to boost your productivity at work are actually incredibly simple changes to make.

Don’t eat junk food

Whether you have a sweet tooth or just have a lot of free snacks around the office, eating junk food is a quick way to lose your alertness at work. Foods that are high in trans and saturated fats will make you feel sluggish, while foods high in sugar will give you a quick energy high, followed by a crash. Despite the fact that sugary and fatty snacks tend to be easy to transport and consume on the go, you are better off eating nutritious foods if you want to stay sharp at work.

Be careful with caffeine

When you start to feel your productivity at work slide, it’s all too easy to reach for a triple espresso, or a handful of chocolate covered coffee beans. Even though it seems counterintuitive, consuming sizable amounts of caffeine can actually make your productivity at work suffer. Much like unhealthy snacks, consuming too much caffeine at once will give you a quick spike in energy, but guarantees a productivity-harming crash. To stay productive all day, it’s better to consume small amounts of caffeine, like the amount in a cup of green tea.

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Eat breakfast every morning

Another foolproof way to keep your energy up at work is to make sure you eat breakfast. Even if you are not someone who is generally hungry in the morning, eating breakfast ensures your body moves out of its sleep-friendly energy-conserving state and into its wakeful daytime state. Even a glass of juice, protein shake, or piece of fruit in the morning is better for your productivity than nothing.

Eat the right foods for breakfast

Now that you are comfortable eating breakfast, make sure you eat the right snacks in the morning. Much like gaining steady energy by eating complex carbohydrates, foods known as low glycemic foods are digested slowly by your body. To fuel up effectively for the rest of your day, eat low glycemic foods for breakfast. In doing so, your body gains a steady source of energy to get you through until lunch.

Eat small, frequent meals

Similarly, eating small, frequent meals is a good way to keep your blood glucose levels constant, which helps you have energy. If you eat infrequently, your body’s blood sugar levels dip excessively low in between meals. When you finally eat, you are more likely to overeat, causing your blood sugar levels to go higher than normal. This yo-yo cycle in your blood sugar makes your energy levels unpredictable. Having low energy at inopportune times will cause a serious dip in your productivity. By eating smaller and more frequent meals, you space out your body’s fuel supply more evenly. By spacing out your meals equally, your energy levels fluctuate less dramatically, so your body stays energized.

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Keep lunch moderate

On a related note, staying productive at work is easier when you eat smaller portion sizes. For example, though many people believe that turkey is to blame for feeling sleepy on Thanksgiving, many scientists agree that it is actually overindulging in our portion sizes that causes the dip. This means that eating a giant lunch, especially while you’re at work, will have a similar effect. If you want to stay productive at work all day, make sure the amount you eat at lunch is moderate.

Don’t eat tryptophan on an empty stomach

Tryptophan is the ingredient in turkey and other poultry responsible for that pesky rumor that Thanksgiving foods, and not their portion sizes, is what causes drowsiness on the holiday. In reality, tryptophan only causes sleepiness when ingested on an empty stomach. For this reason, foods high in tryptophan should be avoided when you haven’t had anything to eat in a while. Foods high in tryptophan include turkey and other poultry, milk and cheese, as well as some fish.

Do eat fruit on an empty stomach

Fruit is uniquely situated to give you long-lasting productivity during your day at work. Fruit contains fiber and complex sugars, which breakdown slower then simple sugars (like those found in candy and junk food). Fruit is also easily digested by the body, which lets you skip the fatigue associated with hard to digest snacks or large portion sizes. When you haven’t had anything to eat in a while, it’s best to reach for a bit of fruit instead of dairy or poultry so your body gets off to the right start.

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Eat whole grains

When you eat carbohydrates that your stomach breaks down quickly, your blood sugar levels will spike, which is always followed by a bottoming out of your energy levels. Multigrain and whole grain carbohydrates take longer for your body to digest, which means the energy you gain from them is spread out over a particularly lengthy amount of time. This steady gain in energy will help you stay productive at work for greater periods of time.

Skip the steak

While you don’t have to cut meat out of your diet entirely, eating less meat for breakfast and lunch can help you be more productive at work. Meat is usually high fat, and is always high-protein, which makes it more strenuous to digest than other foods. It’s perfectly healthy to love meat, but indulging in large portions of meat before and during work could hamper your productivity.

Eat extra omega 3s

Omega 3s are an essential fatty acid found in many nuts, oils, and fatty fishes. These critical ingredients help keep your brain cells thriving, as well as help your body store carbohydrates as energy, rather than fat. Making a special effort to ensure you have enough omega 3s in your diet can help you stay alert at work.

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Hydrate

Not only does drinking enough water help your body to stay healthy, keeping hydrated aids the transport of energy-providing nutrients throughout the body. Not only that, as you grow dehydrated your blood thickens, which forces your heart to pump with difficulty, which makes you feel drained more quickly.

Eat enough fiber

Much like complex carbohydrates, eating enough fiber helps your body to digest food slowly and steadily. This means your energy levels stay uniform, letting you be more productive, more alert, and better prepared for your day.

Avoid drinking to help you sleep

While having a glass of wine before bed might help you nod off initially, alcohol may actually make your sleep less restful. Alcohol affects the way your body metabolizes food, plus it depresses your body’s energy levels. Although this makes it easier to fall asleep, when the alcohol wears off in the middle of the night you might be more prone to waking up. Staying productive at work is tied to getting enough rest, so avoiding alcohol before bed the day prior to work will help you get more efficient sleep.

Fight the afternoon blahs intelligently

Much like eating quick and healthy meals, fighting your afternoon slump without caffeine will help you be more productive at work. As mentioned, too much caffeine will cause your energy levels to crash, severely affecting your productivity. However, another way caffeine makes you less productive is by messing with your sleep. Consuming too much caffeine in the afternoon can negatively impact your sleep later that night, which will give you an even less productive tomorrow. Instead of reaching for caffeine-heavy beverages when you grow groggy in the afternoon, which are often heavy in sugar as well, try one of the other energy boosting methods on this list. A quick snack that is high in omega-3s or fiber, or simply drinking a glass of water, can be a better way to boost your energy and skip the crash.

Featured photo credit: Wall_Food_10051/Michael Stern via flickr.com

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Alicia Prince

A writer, filmmaker, and artist who shares about lifestyle tips and inspirations on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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