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Last Updated on December 1, 2020

21 Counter-Intuitive Brain Break Ideas to Boost Your Productivity

21 Counter-Intuitive Brain Break Ideas to Boost Your Productivity

Every self-help program talks about the importance of taking a 10-15 minute break to boost your productivity.

Breaks give us much needed time to rest our eyes, move around, stretch our stiff muscles, get more blood and oxygen flowing to our brain, to unwind and obtain a fresh outlook on complex work problems.

There is just one problem – we often forget to take them. (Note: Going to the bathroom, grabbing a cup of coffee or checking Facebook updates does not count, as these activities hardly give us enough time to energize our body and restore our concentration and productivity.)

As strange as it may sound, taking regular breaks throughout the work day requires discipline and a little bit of planning. Actually, the reason why so many people push themselves to the limit of exhaustion is simple – they just can not think of any interesting activities they can do, during their break time. So they end up working for 4-5 hours straight until their body offers them a painful reminder.

If this sounds like you, here are 21 counter-intuitive brain break ideas that help to restore your energy, sharpen your focus, boost productivity and avoid burnout at work.

1. Listen to a Guided Meditation

There are plenty of 10-15 minute meditations that allow you to trigger your creativity, let go of muscles tension and take your mind of the work at hand.

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All you have to do is put on a headset, close your eyes and enjoy peace and relaxation even in the midst of work chaos.

Here’s one for you: The Guided Morning Meditation for Beginners (That Will Change Your Day)

2. Share Your Break with a Co-Worker

Alone, you might not always have the strength to pull yourself away from the computer, but if you have a friend taking breaks with you, it is much easier to stick with your break routine. In addition, it offers a great opportunity to bond with your colleagues and get to know them better.

3. Step Outside for a Fresh Perspective

Leaving a stuffy office and letting yourself enjoy the warmth of the sunlight, the coolness of a breeze and the freshness of the spring air can do miracles to your mind and body. You will come back feeling rejuvenated and ready to approach your work with new energy and a fresh perspective.

4. Close Your Eyes and Take 10 Deep Breaths

Stand up and walk away from your desk. Find a quiet place, where you can sit down, close your eyes, smile to yourself and take a few deep breaths. Imagine tension, stress and anxiety leaving your body as you breathe out, and peacefulness, positivity and relaxation filling your mind with every breath that you take.

5. Say No to Tension Headaches

Slowly roll your neck to the right noticing a slight tension in your neck muscles. Hold this position for a count of 120 (2 minutes), then turn your head to the opposite side and repeat. Enjoy the feeling of warmth and flexibility return to your neck and shoulders.

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6. Try People-Gazing

Watching people walking down the street, chatting in a nearby café, and driving by, is meditation in itself. In addition looking outside the window helps to take the strain off the eyes.

7. Rock out to Some Great Music

Music is a great mood changer, especially if you allow yourself to get up and move with it. Just a few minutes of humming and dancing can put a smile on your face and get your blood moving.

8. Take a Thumb and Pinkie Brain Break

This is a great break idea if you need a quick distraction from the problem at hand to get your creative juices flowing:

  • Take your left hand and have your fingers in and your thumb up.
  • Then take your right hand and put all the fingers in except the pinkie. So in other words, your left thumb up and right pinkie out.
  • Now switch the roles of your hands. And now try doing it faster.

Not as simple as it looked, right?

9. Delete Some Tasks from Your To-Do List

What can be more satisfying than taking a long hard look at your do-to list and crossing off a few unimportant tasks?

10. Eat an Apple S-L-O-W-L-Y

In the middle of a busy day, when you feel rushed, take a 2-3 minute break to eat an apple (or another fruit that you like). Just do it very slowly. Notice the flavor, the texture, the freshness. Doing something at a slow pace might feel weird, even annoying at first. But after a few minutes you feel much calmer and less stressed.

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11. Say Thank you

Grab a notecard and your favorite pen and write a quick thank you to someone you appreciate. Then attach a stamp and go downstairs to put it in a mailbox. This simple act of gratitude will take your focus away from any pressing work problems and will put you in a good mood.

12. Take a “No Cell-phone Walk”

Leave your cell-phone in the office and head outside for a brisk walk. Shake off apathy and fatigue. Walk even faster, raising your heartbeat and letting the excitement and the sense of freedom re-charge your mind and body.

13. Read a Magazine or a Book

Pick a read that has nothing to do with your area of work or the latest news. Give your brain the pleasure of not to thinking, being stressed or making decisions.

14. Re-Waterize Yourself

First drink a full glass of water. Second splash some water on your face: warm to relax, cold – to wake up and energize yourself.

15. Make Animals of the Clouds

This is a great exercise to entertain your children, but it is also a great game you can play alone as it helps to tap into your creative potential and distract your mind from upcoming deadlines or customer complaints.

16. Pick up the Pace

If you feel yourself tired and sleepy, deliberately pick up the pace, and try to move a little faster than usual. Type faster. Speak faster. Read faster. Make decisions faster. And, of course, go home sooner.

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17. Laugh off the Tension

You can start by simply saying, “Ha, ha, ha.” and keep repeating it, until you are really laughing. A few minutes of a good belly laugh help to get rid of tension, relax a lot of involuntary muscles and increase blood circulation.

18. Stretch out Stiffness

Getting up from your desk to do a set of sun salutations or this might not be an option if you work in a room full of people. But it does not mean that you should deprive yourself of the pleasure of stretching your body and getting some exercise. Try a simple stretching exercise.

  • Plant your feet firmly on the ground, lift your arms and look at your palms.
  • Stretch your spine for about 30-60 seconds, gradually increasing pressure, as if you were trying to touch the ceiling with your fingers.
  • Relax, lower your arms and feel the energy moving up your spine.

19. Do Something Artistic

Write a short, funny poem and dedicate it to your co-worker. Draw a picture for your kids. Take a few photos of your surroundings. Let your creative side shine!

20. Unclutter Your Desk

A great way to take a much needed break, while looking “busy” is to unclutter your desk. Not only is it relaxing, it also helps to activate productive energy flow.

21. Juggle

Learning to juggle isn’t particularly difficult and it could be a great exercise to take during a break (maybe not in the office itself, but in a place, where balls flying left and right will not bother anyone). Juggling requires fine muscle control, timing and concentration. But most importantly, it is fun!

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Featured photo credit: Joanna Kosinska via unsplash.com

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Arina Nikitina

The author of "Real Goal Getting guide" and she is on a mission to help people achieve goals, and keep focused and motivated.

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Last Updated on June 1, 2021

Brain Training: 12 Fast, Fun Mental Workouts

Brain Training: 12 Fast, Fun Mental Workouts

Exercise isn’t just for your body. Just as important is keeping your mind strong by training your brain with fun mental workouts.

Think of your mental and physical fitness the same way: you don’t need to be an Olympian, but you do need to stay in shape if you want to live well. A few cognitive workouts per week can make a major difference in your life.

The Skinny on Mental Workouts

Physical fitness boosts your stamina and increases your muscular strength. The benefits of working up a mental sweat and brain training, however, might not be so obvious.

Research suggests that cognitive training has short- and long-term benefits, including:

1. Improved Memory

After eight weeks of cognitive training, 19 arithmetic students showed a larger and more active hippocampus than their peers.[1] The hippocampus is associated with learning and memory.

2. Reduced Stress Levels

Mastering new tasks more quickly makes the work of learning less stressful. A stronger memory can call information to mind with less effort.

3. Improved Work Performance

Learning quickly and remembering key details can lead to a better career. Employers are increasingly hiring for soft skills, such as trainability and attention to detail.

4. Delayed Cognitive Decline

As we age, we experience cognitive decline. A study published by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that 10 one-hour sessions of cognitive training boosted reasoning and information processing speed in adults between the ages of 65 and 94.[2]

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Just like in physical exercise, what’s important isn’t the specific workout. To be sustainable, cognitive workouts need to be easy and fun. Otherwise, it’s too easy to throw in the towel.

Fun Brain Training Exercises for Everyone

The best about fun mental workouts? There’s no need to head to a gym. Feel free to mix and match the following activities for daily brain training:

1. Brainstorming

One of the simplest, easiest ways to engage your brain? Coming up with solutions to a challenge you’re facing.

If you aren’t good at solo ideation, ask a partner to join you. When I’m struggling to come up with topics to write about, I call up my editors to bat ideas around. Friends or co-workers are usually happy to help.

2. Dancing

Isn’t dancing a physical workout? Yes, but the coordination it requires is also great for training your brain. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.

Studies suggest that dance boosts multiple cognitive skills.[3] Planning, memorizing, organizing, and creativity all seem to benefit from a few fancy steps.

3. Learning a New Language

Learning a new language takes time. But if you split it up into small, daily lessons, it’s easier than you might think.

With language learning, every lesson builds on the last. When I was learning Spanish, I used a tool called Guru for knowledge management.[4] Every time I’d learn a verb tense, I’d create a new card to give me a quick refresh before moving on.

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4. Developing a Hobby

Like languages, hobbies take time to develop. But that’s the fun of them: you get a little better—both at the hobby and in terms of brain function—each time you do them.

If you’re trying to train your brain and improve a certain cognitive skill, choose a hobby that aligns with it.

For example:

  • Attention to detail: Pick a hobby that requires you to work patiently with small features. Woodworking, model-building, sketching, and painting are all good choices.
  • Learning and memory: Choose an activity that requires you to remember lots of details. Your best bets are hobbies that require lots of categorization, such as collecting stamps or coins.
  • Motor function: For this brain function, physical activities can double as fun mental workouts. Sports like soccer and basketball build gross motor functions. Fine motor functions are better trained through activities like table tennis or even playing video games.
  • Problem-solving: Most hobbies require you to problem-solve in one way or another. The ones that test your problem-solving skills the most, however, take some investigation.

Geocaching is a good example: Using a combination of clues and GPS readings, geocaching involves finding and re-hiding containers. Typically done in a wooded area, geocaching is a fun way to put your problem-solving skills to the test.

5. Board Games

Playing a board game might not be much of a physical workout, but it does make for a fun mental workout. With that said, not all board games work equally well for cognitive training.

Avoid “no brainer” board games, like Candy Land. Opt for strategy-focused ones, such as Risk or Settlers of Catan. Remember to ask other players for their input.

6. Card Games

Card games build cognitive skills in much the same way board games do. They have a few extra advantages, though, that make them worthy of special attention.

A deck of cards is inexpensive and can be played anywhere, from a kitchen to an airplane. More importantly, a deck of cards opens the door to dozens of different games. Challenge yourself to learn a few in an afternoon.

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7. Puzzles

Puzzles are great tools for building a specific cognitive skill: visuospatial function. Visuospatial function is important to train because it’s one of the first abilities to slip in people struggling with cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s.[5]

Choose a puzzle you’ll stick with. There’s no shame in starting with a 500-piece puzzle or choosing one that makes a childish image.

8. Playing Music

Listening to music is a great way to unwind. But playing music goes one step further. On top of entertaining you, it makes for a fun mental workout.

Again, choose an instrument you know you’ll stick with. If you’ve always wanted to learn the violin, don’t get a guitar because it’s less expensive or easier to pick up.

What if you can’t afford an instrument? Sing. Learning to control your voice is every bit as challenging as making a set of keys or strings sound good.

9. Meditating

Not all cognitive exercises are loud, in-your-face activities. Some of the most fun mental workouts, in fact, are quiet, solo activities. Meditating can help you focus, especially if you have pre-existing attention issues.

Don’t be intimidated if you’ve never meditated before. It’s easy:

  • Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down.
  • Set a timer for 10 minutes, or for however long you have to meditate.
  • Close your eyes or turn off the lights.
  • Focus on your breathing. Do not try to control it.
  • If your thoughts wander, gently bring them back to your breath.
  • When the timer goes off, wiggle your fingers and toes for a minute. Slowly bring yourself back to reality. Remember the sense of serenity you found.

10. Deep Conversation

There’s nothing more mentally stimulating than a good, long conversation. The key is depth: surface-level chatter doesn’t get the mind’s wheels spinning like a thoughtful, authentic conversation. This type of conversation helps in training your brain to think more deeply and reflect.

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Choose your partner carefully. You’re looking for someone who’ll challenge your ideas without being confrontational. Stress isn’t good for brain health, but there’s value in coming up with creative arguments.

11. Cooking

When you think about it, cooking requires an impressive array of cognitive skills. Developing a cook’s intuition requires a good memory. Making sure flavors are balanced takes attention to detail. When something goes wrong in the kitchen, problem-solving skills come into play. Motor control is required to stir, flip, and whisk.

If you’re going to cook, you might as well make enough for everyone. Invite them into the kitchen as well: coordinating with other chefs adds an extra layer of challenge to this fun mental workout.

12. Mentorship

Whether you’re the mentee or the mentor, mentorship is an incredible mental workout. Learning from someone you look up to combines the benefits of deep conversation with skill-building. Teaching someone else forces you to put yourself in their shoes, which requires empathy and problem-solving skills.

Put yourself in both situations. Being a student makes you a better teacher, and teaching others gives you insight into how you, yourself, learn.

Final Thoughts

Your mind is your most important possession, and training your brain is needed to maintain its health. Don’t let it get soft.

To keep those neurons firing at full speed, add a few fun mental workouts to your schedule. And if you’re still struggling to get your brain in gear, remember: there’s an app for that.

More Tips for Training Your Brain

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

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