14 Brain Hacks That Instantly BOOST Your Attention
Oh yes, attention:
Your ability to focus on what you want, when you want, and for however long you want.
Yet, if you’re like the average person, your attention sucks. You can barely concentrate on anything for more than a few seconds. Frankly, your mind is all over the place.
The good news:
There are ways to INSTANTLY increase your attention.
So if you’re trying to finish a whitepaper, do some studying, read a book, or you just generally want to increase your attention (smart idea), then this article is for you.
I’ll show you 14 ways to immediately boost your attention (yes, immediately!)…
1. STOP Multitasking
First of all, there really is no such thing as multitasking.
Instead it’s your brain rapidly switching back and forth between tasks and it should therefore be called serial tasking or task switching.
The problem with switching between tasks is that your brain isn’t very good at it. Every time it has to stop and restart a task, it loses time. And so it takes more total time do finish two tasks simultaneously than it takes to finish the tasks one after the other.
Researchers suggest that multitasking reduces productivity by up to 40%. (STUDY)
Multitasking = 40% (!) Less productive
And as far as your attention is concerned, it just makes sense as well:
If you want to have more attention, stop dividing it up on multiple activities.
Instead of scattering your attention on two or more things, just put all of your attention on one thing. By doing that (singletasking), you’ll have more attention on that one thing. (Duh!)
(Note: I've written an entire article on why multitasking sucks. Check it our here: 7 Scientifically PROVEN Reasons to Ditch Multitasking)
Do this: Stop multitasking and do one thing at a time to instantly channel your attention and boost your productivity by up to 40%.
2. Take a break
Apparently our brains aren’t supposed to focus on one thing for long periods of time.
A study in the journal Cognition showed that people can maintain their focus or vigilance much longer when their brains are given something else to think about every 20 minutes.
That seems to be the time when thinking becomes less efficient.
So just because your mind isn’t as sharp after a long block of work, doesn’t mean it’s completely fatigued. Instead it might just mean that it needs to focus on something else to refresh the specific neural network you’ve been using.
Neuroscientist Mark Waldman confirms this:
“Our research has found that taking 2-3 breaks during each hour to consciously relax, stretch, meditate, or do something pleasurable –even for 10 seconds –will reduce stress, enhance your awareness, and significantly boost your concentration and productivity.”
Do this: Take short breaks every 20 minutes or so to recharge some of your attention. It’s a smart idea to incorporate some of the other tips into your breaks. You could for example do a super quick exercise (point #9), do some deep breathing (point #10), or just yawn a couple of times (point #12).
3. Declutter your space
Clutter literally drains attention, focus, and concentration out of your brain. It overloads your brain and DESTROYS its ability to think clearly.
This study used MRIs and other diagnostic tools to see the brain’s reactions to organized and disorganized stimuli. The findings are clear:
Clutter significantly decreases your brain’s ability to focus.
Every piece of clutter seems to fight for your attention.
For your brain that’s as if 50 different things were screaming at it and demanding attention.
Do this: Get rid of unnecessary clutter and clean up your space. Remember that every piece of clutter sucks a little bit of attention out of your brain. The more you declutter, the better you’ll be able to pay attention.
4. Listen to some music
No, I’m NOT talking about the latest Justin Bieber single. (I’m pretty sure that would be counterproductive for your attention.)
I’m talking about music without lyrics.
There are various studies that prove listening to such music can significantly enhance your ability to pay attention.
One recent study shows for example that listening to a Mozart minuet boosts your ability to concentrate and shut out distractions.
Here’s a track I currently enjoy listening to.
Do this: Listen to some relaxing music without lyrics. It doesn’t have to be Beethoven, Bach, or Mozart… just make sure it doesn’t have lyrics because they are distracting and could harm your attention.
5. Try some of these smart drugs
Now THAT’s something that sparks your interest, eh?
I get it. We’re all after the quick fix.
And while smart drugs aren’t a magic pill for a better life, they are certainly powerful and very helpful cognitive enhancers.
Yes, they do make a difference.
No, I’m not going to make any specific intake recommendations in this post.
If you want to learn more about smart drugs, the subreddit r/Nootropics is a great start.
Do this: Try out smart drugs such as nicotine, phenylpiracetam, smart caffeine, noopept, bacopa monnieri, or acetyl-l-carnitine (ALCAR) for immediate energy and focus boosts. Be sure to inform yourself and follow safe dosage guidelines.
6. Grab a cup of coffee (unless…)
Coffee is one of the healthiest beverages on the planet.
It’s a great source of nutrients and antioxidants. In fact, it’s the biggest source of antioxidants in the standard western diet. Studies show that it contributes more antioxidants than fruits and vegetables combined. (Hint: that standard western diet isn’t very healthy… you’re better off with a healthy high fat diet…)
Coffee is also a big source of caffeine which is the main reason coffee landed on this list.
Multiple studies show that caffeine is a PROVEN attention and alertness booster. And it also boosts various other aspects of human brain function such as mood, memory, vigilance, reaction time, and general cognitive function.
Check out the well-researched article Does Coffee Make You Smarter for more on the black goodness.
So yes, coffee is a great attention booster. There are, however, two situations when you DON’T want to rely on caffeine and/or coffee:
- When it’s past 2pm: Caffeine has a half-life of 6 hours or so. And studies have shown that late-day caffeine harms your sleep (you can read more about that here).
- When you’re already feeling the jitters: Maybe that’s just me, but sometimes it’s better to slow down than go for another caffeine hit. I’ve experienced this many times. After too many coffees I’m all amped up, jittery, and my attention is all over the place.
Do this: Drink some coffee to boost both your energy and focus. Skip the coffee if it’s past 2pm and/or you’re already on too much caffeine. Too much will definitely hinder your ability to pay attention. Oh, and skip the sugar…
7. Grab a cup of tea
Coffee’s little brother – tea – is also quite the attention booster.
Most teas contain some amount of caffeine which is partly responsible for their ability to boost attention.
Many teas also contain the amino acid L-theanine which increases the activity of the neurotransmitter GABA, in turn leading to anti-anxiety effects. And L-theanine also increases the production of alpha brain waves and dopamine in the brain.
The attention and energy boosting effects of the caffeine + the calming effects of the L-theanine lead to a stable, non-jittery, and very relaxed focus.
One interesting study showed that tea drinkers were better able to pay attention and outperformed those who were given a placebo to drink. (They used black tea in this study.)
For seriously strong brain-enhancing effects, try out some yerba mate, matcha, gyokuro, or sentcha.
(And check online for the caffeine count of your tea. Some of them have a lot and so you want to avoid them late in the day.)
Do this: Drink a cup of tea to get a stable, non-jittery, and calm focus. Green and black teas are usually your best bet. Or, if you want to try out some real hard-hitters, try yerba mate, matcha, gyokuro, or sentcha.
8. Restore some of your attention with a walk in nature
This is cool:
Studies show that a walk in a quiet park is sufficient to refresh your attention span.
A walk down the street, on the other hand, is shown to NOT restore your attention span.
Researchers suspect that you can’t “switch off” your mind completely during a walk down the street. That’s because your brain requires too much attention to make sure you don’t get run over by a bus.
Do this: Take a walk in nature to restore your attention span. A nearby park will do the trick, but a forest would be even more powerful.
9. Bang out some pushups (or burpees)
Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your brain. Period.
As far as attention is concerned, studies show that it’s higher for about 2-4 hours right after you’ve exercised.
One study found that exercise increases cognitive control. Students with ADHD who participated in 20 minutes of moderate exercise could pay attention longer and scored better on academic tests.
Best of all:
Even just 5 minutes, or 2 minutes, or 30 seconds can be enough to increase blood flow to your brain and boost your attention a little bit.
Do this: Bang out a short exercise session either right before you need attention or during one of your short breaks (see tip #2). Something as simple as this will do the trick: 20 pushups, 20 burpees, and 50 jumping jacks. (If you can do it outside, that’s even better.)
10. Take some deep breaths
The 21st century is ruled by distractions…
There’s a new Facebook alert, here’s a new message, there’s something cool to check out, here’s another popup, there’s another cat video… oh and here’s something else happening… oh and… and… and… oh… and here… and there…. And…
Sometimes I’m surprised that nobody has yet died of a “head explosion”.
The point is:
When you’re trying to pay attention, but your mind is all jittery, distracted, and frankly all over the place… then it’s probably time to slow down.
And the best way to slow down is by changing your breathing.
Take a few deep breaths into your belly. Breathe in to the count of 6, hold for 2 seconds, and breathe out to the count of 7. (Repeat as many times as you like.)
This kind of deep breathing activates your body’s parasympathetic nervous system (aka your relaxation response), relaxes your body, and slows your mind down.
Once you’ve taken a few deep breaths, you should feel a lot calmer, and be able to concentrate much more easily.
Do this: Take a few deep breaths to activate your relaxation response and calm down your mind. Try breathing in to the count of 6 seconds, then hold your breath for 2 seconds, and then breathe out to the count of 7 seconds. (Make sure your outbreath is longer than the inbreath.)
11. Chew gum
Chewing gum can increase your alertness and improve your attention according to this study.
In another recent study 159 students were given several cognitively demanding tasks such as solving logic puzzles or repeating random numbers backward. Half of the subjects chewed gum while the other half were given nothing.
Those randomly assigned to the gum chewing group significantly outperformed those in the control group on 5 out of 6 tests.
You’ve heard right:
Chewing gum increases your alertness, boosts your attention, and even lets you perform better on cognitive tests.
Crazy or what!?
Do this: Chew gum. That’s it. (Oh and if possible get chewing gums that are sweetened with xylitol. You don’t want sugar or artificial sweeteners in your system… they’re slowing you down.)
No, that’s not a mistake.
Yawning is a great way to increase alertness and boost attention.
It’s a trick I’ve learned from Mark Waldman and Andy Newberg in their book How God Changes Your Brain.
They state that “yawning is one of the best-kept secrets in neuroscience”.
And they advise everybody to yawn as many times throughout the day as possible; when we wake up, when we’re preparing to go to sleep, whenever we feel anger, anxiety, or stress, before we give speeches, or when we face a tough problem at work.
Or, of course, when we need a small focus boost.
Mark Waldman and Andy Newberg cite 34 studies showing the proven positive effects of yawning. In their book they give us 12 essential reasons to yawn:
- Stimulates alertness and concentration
- Optimizes brain activity and metabolism
- Improves cognitive function
- Increases memory recall
- Enhances consciousness and introspection
- Lowers stress
- Relaxes every part of your body
- Improves voluntary muscle control
- Enhances athletic skills
- Fine-tunes your sense of time
- Increases empathy and social awareness
- Enhances pleasure and sensuality
I should really use this trick more often, because whenever I yawn multiple times during the day, I feel much more relaxed and at ease.
I highly recommend you try it out… it WORKS!
Do this: Yawn. As many times throughout the day as possible. During your short breaks (see point #2) would be a good idea.
13. Take a nap
Taking a nap is a great way to sharpen your attention and come back fresher, more energetic, and more productive.
One study in particular showed that a 26 minute nap can boost performance by 34%.
Other studies show that a nap can improve subjective sleepiness, performance level, and self-confidence, as well as reduce stress, and improve post lunch cognitive flexibility (the ability to multitask).
Two quick tips for getting the most out of your nap:
- Nap between 10-30 minutes: Less than ten minutes seem to bring little effects, while more than 30 minutes leave you at risk of waking up more tired than you were before (because you’ve entered a deeper sleep cycle).
- Nap between 1-4pm: That seems to be the sweet spot simply because that’s when most of us fall into some sort of afternoon slump. Don’t nap too late in the day because that can disrupt your sleep at night.
Do this: Take a nap to freshen up and get a significant boost in your attention and afternoon performance. To get the most out of it, nap between 1-4pm and for about 10-30 minutes. I usually just put the timer on 30 minutes.
14. Take a caffeine nap
Here’s a neat trick that I first heard about here from biohacking legend Dave Asprey.
Before you take your nap, drink some coffee or throw in a caffeine pill (100-200mg).
Research shows that the cognitive and behavioral effectiveness of this so-called coffee or caffeine nap is better than the effects of just napping or just drinking coffee.
In several studies the nap + coffee combination led to higher scores on a driving simulator test than just the nap or just the coffee alternatives.
If you want the strongest possible boost in alertness and focus, choose coffee naps.
Do this: Take a caffeine nap to get the benefits of both napping and caffeine. This leads to a significantly stronger boost than just napping or just caffeine alone.
Optimizing your attention – the ability to focus on what you want, when you want, and for however long you want – is absolutely crucial if you’re looking to get the most out of life and reach your full potential.
Here are again the 14 ways to get an INSTANT attention boost:
- Stop multitasking and focus on one task at a time
- Take short breaks every 20 minutes or so
- Declutter your space (the less clutter, the more attention)
- Listen to relaxing music WITHOUT lyrics
- Try out some smart drugs (smart caffeine is a good start)
- Grab a cup of coffee (unless it's past 2pm or you're already on too much caffeine)
- Grab a cup of tea (check the caffeine count online)
- Take a walk in a nearby park (or a forest)
- Bang out some pushups, burpees, jumping jacks, or whatever else that gets some blood flowing
- Take some deep breaths to activate the relaxation response and slow down your mind
- Chew gum
- Take a nap (for 10-30 minutes optimally)
- Take a caffeine/coffee nap
So which of these tactics are you going to use to instantly boost your attention? Let me know in the comments below!
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