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Image: A stone face peering up at the camera over a hedge maze, exercising brainpower.

15 Simple Ways to Enhance Brainpower When You Lack Focus

Back when humans were hunting mammoths, or later, when we were plowing fields from dusk to dawn, muscle power was what we were dependent upon for our survival.

However, things have changed since then.

We now live in more sophisticated societies with complex social, economic, and technological systems. Therefore, the need for muscle power has been replaced by the need for brainpower in order to take part in and maintain these systems.

Imagine you’re an aspiring entrepreneur. Increasing your brainpower means being able to grasp market trends quicker, make better decisions, and solve challenges more effectively. Not only that, but it can also help you maintain a work-life balance, increasing your quality of life.

Image: A stone face peering up at the camera over a hedge maze, exercising brainpower.
Source: Unsplash

What is Brainpower?

Brainpower is what makes you, well, you. It is your intelligence that makes you think, learn new skills, and adapt to changes. It is the sum of your mental abilities—your intellectual capacity.

According to Merriam-Webster, brainpower is your intellectual ability.

However, what’s really interesting in the case of brainpower is that it’s not a fixed force. It’s not something you’re born with and stuck with forever. Rather, it is more like a muscle. And like with any muscle, the more you strengthen it, the more powerful it becomes.

As Jim Kwik, a brain performance coach and trainer of Mindvalley’s Superbrain Quest, says, “It’s not about mental intelligence, it’s about mental fitness.”

And from good nutrition to physical exercise, from mental stimulation to building a strong social circle, there are many ways you can increase your brainpower.

How Do We Measure Brainpower?

You’ve probably heard of the IQ (intelligence quotient) test. And chances are, you’ve also heard of an MRI or fMRI. These are all ways to measure brainpower.

Trying to measure human brainpower is a bit like trying to catch the wind—it’s not easy, but science is getting there. There’s always some new finding about the brain and its capabilities, including how they’re measured.

The traditional way is, of course, with the well-known IQ test. The typical test assesses a number of cognitive and problem-solving skills, including logic, analytical thinking, and abstract reasoning. 

And the outcome of the test is a numerical score that represents the person’s overall intelligence. The average IQ? Between 85 and 115.

Now, the more modern way of testing brainpower is through the power of technology. Brain imaging techniques, like MRI and fMRI, allow us to observe brain activity and structure. But while these methods don’t provide a direct measure of brainpower, they do offer insights into how the brain functions during specific mental tasks.

That said, it’s important to remember that no single test can capture all the capabilities of the human brainBrainpower can be influenced by factors such as education, experience, and the environment.

So, instead of getting too fixated on specific measurements, focus on how you can increase your brainpower in the long run.

Jim Kwik, brain performance coach and trainer of Mindvalley's Superbrain Quest
Jim Kwik, trainer of Mindvalley’s Superbrain Quest

How Much Brainpower Do We Use?

You’ve probably heard this common myth more than a few times: “People only use 10% of their brains.” Well, for good or for ill, this isn’t the case. This was debunked many years ago by neurologist Barry Gordon at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore.

Indeed, there are certain areas of the brain that may be more active during specific tasks. For example, when you’re solving a math problem, the parts of your brain responsible for logic and calculation (the parietal lobe) light up. On the other hand, when you’re listening to music, the auditory parts of your brain (the temporal lobe) become more active.

The bottom line is, we use virtually every part of the brain. And most parts of the brain are active most of the time.

15 Ways to Increase Brainpower

So how can you boost your brainpower through your day-to-day choices? Here are a few ways you can do so:

1. Stay curious

A curious mind is an active mind. It means seeking out new interests, learning new things, and venturing into uncharted mental territories.

As Jim points out in his Mindvalley Quest, “If knowledge is power, learning is your superpower.”

In practice, what all of these have to offer your brain is the creation of new neural pathways. When you have new experiences and learn new things, your brain tends to build new neural pathways. 

Through these pathways, the brain is able to connect and strengthen more neurons. As a result, brain health is improved as a whole.

2. Get physical exercise

Mens sana in corpore sano,” said the Roman poet Juvenal. In other words, “a healthy mind in a healthy body.” 

Jim shares the same sentiment. “As your body moves, your brain grooves”, as he often says.

These kinds of quotes highlight a basic principle: your brain lives inside your body. And to enhance the performance of the former, you also need to enhance the performance of the latter.

Today, science can even back up those claims. Exercise triggers the release of neurotransmitters (chemicals released by neurons), such as dopamine and endorphins. Those are more than “feel-good” chemicals; they elevate your cognitive abilities and increase your overall well-being.

3. Eat well

Fueling your brain with the right quality and quantity of food is, quite literally, vital for you. Foods for brainpower can take many forms, such as:

  • Antioxidants, found in colorful fruits and vegetables, 
  • Omega-3 fatty acids, mostly found in fish,
  • Vitamins and minerals found in a number of different foods, and
  • Brainpower supplements like L-Theanine, Choline, and Lion’s Mane.

Finally, you will be better off if you avoid sugar, excess carbohydrates, and processed food—all of which can lead to brain fog and raise blood sugar levels. 

The latter is pretty important because it has now been proven that above-normal blood sugar levels are linked to dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases.

4. Sleep adequately

Did you know that after five consecutive days of low-quality sleep, your IQ can go down by at least 15 points? What’s more, it’s also linked to poorer grades in school, worse performance at work, an increase in accidents, and a bad mood.

But what happens when you do get enough? During sleep, the brain goes into repair mode, which is necessary for its healthy function. It consolidates memories, processes information, and clears out toxins.

Therefore, it’s recommended to make your sleep a top priority. Here’s how:

  • Aim for 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. 
  • Keep your sleeping environment cool (about 65°F / 18°C).
  • Limit screen time before bed.
  • Stop working until late at night.
  • Try having some quiet time instead.
Sleep is Your Superpower!

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5. Read a book (or two)

It doesn’t really matter if it’s fiction or non-fiction, poetry, or prose, reading regularly broadens your perspective. 

How do you install new software into your brain?” asks Jim. “One of my favorite ways is what you’re doing right now. It’s called reading.”

What it also does is strengthen cognitive connections and slow the process of brain aging, according to a study on Neurology.org. And what’s more, it can help you be more empathetic and relax. 

Learn more: Speed Reading 101: How to Read Faster and Retain More

6. Stay hydrated

Fun fact: Your brain is 75% water. And just like your body needs water, your brain does too.

The lack of it can cause a long list of mental drawbacks, including:

  • Fatigue,
  • Irritability,
  • Sleep issues,
  • An inability to focus,
  • and Brain fog.

One study looking at the effects of dehydration and rehydration on cognitive performance and mood found that dehydration had negative effects on vigor, esteem-related affect, short-term memory, and attention. 

So it goes without saying, keep a water bottle handy.

7. Get enough sunlight

You don’t have to be a scientist to notice how weather, and more specifically, the sun (or lack thereof), affects your mood. Indeed, there is a strong correlation between how often we see the giant ball of light and how happy we are. Taken to the extreme, lack of sun exposure can lead to big serotonin drops and seasonal affective disorders.

On a sunny morning, get outside for 5-10 minutes,” advises Dr. Huberman, an associate professor of biology at Standford and a well-known podcaster. “Even on overcast days, there is still enough sunlight to trigger positive effects, but you’ll need to increase the time outside to at least 15-20 minutes. 

If it’s dark when you wake up or if the weather prevents you from going outside, flip on as many bright indoor artificial lights as possible—then get outside as soon as the sun is out.”

8. Try intermittent fasting

In the last few years, there has been a real buzz about intermittent fasting—and for good reason. Studies have proven time and again that intermittent fasting not only helps with weight loss and reduces inflammation but also enhances cognitive function and promotes neuroplasticity.

There are several intermittent fasting methods to choose from. Try experimenting and choosing the one that suits your lifestyle:

  • 16/8 Method: Involves fasting for 16 hours and eating during an eight-hour window each day.
  • OMAD (One Meal a Day): Fasting for 23 hours a day and eating one large meal within a one-hour window.
  • The Warrior Diet (20/4): Fasting for 20 hours and having a four-hour eating window in the evening.
  • 5:2 Diet: Eat normally for five days a week and restrict calorie intake to ~500 calories on the remaining two non-consecutive days.
  • Alternate-Day Fasting: Alternating between regular eating days and days with significantly reduced calorie intake or complete fasting.

Learn more: Intermittent Fasting: A Basic Guide for the Perfect Fast

9. Spend time in nature

Sometimes, all it takes is a simple walk to feel better. 

Now, if you can take this walk in nature, then you have in your hands (or rather, your legs) one of the best ways to increase your brainpower. Nature is, after all, powerful and has the ability to relieve stress.

Besides its anti-anxiety and anti-depressant abilities, spending time in nature brings you “into the moment” and restores attention fatigue. 

Lastly, it’s said to improve memory function and create increased feelings of generosity.

10. Start meditating

Meditation is a well-researched and well-documented way to increase your brainpower. Here are a few studies that support it: 

  • In one study, it was proven that the age-related decline of local gray matter was less prominent in long-term meditators. In other words, meditating regularly helps you stay young. 
  • Another study from 2013 found that mindfulness meditation helped people’s focus and memory. 
  • Research also shows that practitioners of different meditation traditions have increased gamma brain waves in their brains.

11. Practice deep breathing

With meditation comes deep breathing. This practice has been around for millennia, but only recently have researchers become so interested in its biological mechanisms and how it can hack your brain.

Indeed, deep breaths aid focus and mental clarity. Just a single deep breath followed by a prolonged exhale can act as a ‘soft reset’ for our body and mind. 

Similar to meditation, there are a number of different deep breathing techniques to choose from: 

  • SOMA Breath®
  • Diaphragmatic Breathing
  • Pursed Lip Breathing
  • Breath Counting
  • Box Breathing
  • 4-7-8 Breathing
  • Alternate Nostril Breathing
  • Ujjayi Breathing
  • Kapalbhati Breathing
  • Bhramari Breathing

12. Socialize more

Are you an extrovert or an introvert? It doesn’t really matter when it comes to the importance of  socializing. We are all social animals, and we need to act accordingly.

The impact of social isolation on cognitive health cannot be overstated. A study that used a large amount of data as well as MRI scans concluded that socially isolated people had poorer cognition, both in memory and reaction time. They also had lower volumes of gray matter in many parts of the brain, as well as a notably increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

13. Stop multitasking

At some point in time, society as a whole decided that “multitasking is cool.” After all, you do all these things at the same time, so you must be smart, right?

Though, in reality, doing many things at once does more harm than good. The same applies to switching between tasks, too. 

Multitasking comes with its own multi-costs, including reduced focus, decreased efficiency, lower productivity, increased stress, and an increased chance of errors.

14. Keep a journal

Expressing yourself is very important for your well-being. Whether it’s to others or even to yourself, both have similar benefits for your brainpower.

Keeping a journal provides emotional catharsis. Lastly, it boosts mental health by reducing stress, boosting confidence, improving emotion regulation, and helping you prioritize your concerns.

15. Maintain a positive mindset

Try not to stress” and “Cheer up!” hardly helped anyone. If anything, this kind of “counseling” can be more triggering than helpful.

Instead, here are a few tangible ways to maintain a positive mindset:

  • Practice gratitude
  • Limit negative media
  • Take breaks
  • Focus on solutions
  • Celebrate small wins
  • Make time for your hobbies
  • Practice self-compassion
  • Help others

In Jim’s words, “All behavior is driven by belief, so before we address how to learn, we must first address the underlying beliefs we hold about what is possible.”

This article by Effie Bersoux originally appeared on Mindvalley.

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