You’ve heard it before I’m sure, but a little reminder once in a while is in place. Technically you are the owner of the most powerful and adaptive, self-organising system on the planet – your brain. It’s that natural wonder underneath our skull we take for granted most of our lives. Till present, It’s sheer power and flexibility is still unparalleled by any human design and engineering. With trillions of connections among its neural pathways, it has the capability of processing a massive amount of data in parallel and has enough ‘plasticity’ to rewire itself and create new connections on the fly. We think, associate, deduct, remember and learn new patterns hundreds of times in a single day. It’s truly amazing, yet like any other system, natural or otherwise, it needs maintenance and care.
Is you Brain working Optimally?
Although it’s designed to be highly adaptive and flexible, it can easily work ‘sub-optimally’ in adverse conditions, and it’s no surprise that it’s often the case. Think about a situation where you felt a real good mental performance – your were focused, had clear thoughts, could remember things in a flash and creative solutions were flowing in easily. Now compare that to a time when your thoughts were foggy, found it hard to concentrate for more than a few minutes, got stuck for words or names and felt mentally drained in general. That’s the difference between a healthy brain functioning optimally and one that is not.
Luckily adverse conditions to brain performance are easy to identify, even if perhaps we are not aware of them most of the time. Some of the main culprits are stress and tension, lack of good sleep and over-thinking and worrying. These are the main sources of a sub-optimal brain function. In extreme cases they can lead to acute mental fatigue, exhaustion, depression and a general apathy towards life.
Is your environment You-friendly?
Less obvious but can equally be adverse, especially when aggregated together, are environmental and rhythmic factors. In the case of environmental factors, these could be spending a long time in a crowded and noisy environment perhaps with not-so-good air ventilation and uncomfortable furniture. The latter is of course also a source of physical symptoms.
Sitting in poorly designed chairs or sitting in a bad posture for several hours can create both physical and mental issues. The brain is picking up information from your body all the time and if your body is constantly sending distress signals while you are doing some mental weightlifting on your job, it ends up dropping off your optimal mental level. Environmental factors are also psychological such as spending long hours in a socially unhelpful environment – in other words dealing with negative, judgmental or unsupportive people.
Keeping the Rhythm
Rhythmic factors are when our daily schedules brush against our natural cycles. The most common bodily cycle that effects our brain performance is the circadian rhythm because it involves regulating sleep and hence mood and mental acuity. If you sleep only a few hours a day or your sleep is constantly disrupted, it will obviously effect whether you wake up in a worst of moods or refreshed and ready to face a brand new day. In the long term, poor sleep can seriously affect mental performance. For example, one way in which we go against our circadian rhythm is by using electronic screens till late. The ‘blue light’ emanating from the devices is easily confused with daylight and will delay the circadian cycle from kicking in. The solution to that is either stop using electronic devices (laptops, PCs, tablets) after 6pm or else some people use orange filter glasses to filter off the blue light.
The 5 Kickass Brain Performance Aids
1. Move your Body:
Regular exercise is still one of the best things to help you maintain both mental and physical health. Ironically, physical exercise is even as important, if not more important, than doing mental exercises. It isn’t so hard to imagine why though. The brain is of course physically embedded and part of the whole physical body. If the body is healthy and supplying the right amount of oxygen and nutrients to it, it will have enough resources to keep working efficiently. One of the best exercises is running or fast walking in highly-oxygenated tree areas.
2. Supplement & Reinforce:
The power word in today’s health supplement world is Nootropics. Nootropics are prescription-free supplement pills that have a variety of cognitive enhancing abilities – enhancing memory, focus and concentration and mental alertness / acuity in general.
The three most powerful and popular cognitive enhancers are Adrafinil, Sulbutiamine and Noopept which sometimes you can find to buy in a cost-saving pack such as this one which also includes Alpha GPC.
Sulbutiamine is a powerful memory and mood enhancer. Noopept is considered to be the strongest among the cognitive-enhancing group known as Racetams which are usually taken to improve concentration, increase verbal skills, decrease anxiety and increase motivation . Adrafinil is converted by the body into Modafinil, a substance known to greatly increase attentiveness. In fact Modafinil on its own is usually sold as a very expensive prescription drug.
Although these supplements are known to have negligible to no side effects, it is always highly recommended to follow the dosage instructions and check out for known contra-indications.
3. Brain Training:
This is my favourite part because it involves ongoing brain research. There are various forms of training we can use to keep our cognitive faculties sharp. The traditional ones involve mental exercises such as completing crosswords and word games or math games so as to keep giving mental input and stimulus for the brain to work on. Memory games are also very important which can be social – such as family board games – or perhaps digital such as simple online memory games and quizzes.
Recent research is also shedding light on how video games can positively effect cognitive development. Contrary to common fears that video games are addictive and promote adverse psychological conditions, some experiments have shown that certain games can produce long-term benefits such as improved attention and memory, visual processing and better decision-making. Although the subject has been shrouded in controversy and debate, there is an increasing number of note-worthy studies that are changing the way we look at the relation between gaming and cognitive development.
4. Brainwave Entrainment:
Apart from training the brain there are also ways of ‘entraining’ the brain and creating a setting that is conducive to better concentration and learning. ‘Brainwave entrainment’ is a process by which the brain is ‘entrained’ to enter into slower brainwave states – commonly Alpha and Theta states – through the use of special sound tracks called ‘Binaural beats’ or ‘iso chronic tones’ (see more here).
When we are at work, or go about our day, our brain produces electric signals which EEG devices record as ‘brainwaves’ that range predominantly in a certain frequency range known as ‘Beta’. When we are relaxed, chilled out or for example in a calm and focused mood, our brainwaves slow down into the Alpha range, or deeper still into the Theta range. When the brain is in the alpha or theta range, it is more prone to function better and learn deeper or retain more information. So, the idea behind brainwave entrainment is to induce such brain states through listening to binaural beats or sound tracks that are engineered to produce the effect. For instance I use brainwave entrainment quite often as I find it to be an easy, effective method that is completely free from any side effects. I use it when I need to concentrate more, unwind or for meditation purposes.
5. The Art of Sleeping Better
Having good restful sleep at night is one of the most important factors in maintaining good mental performance and good mood in the long run. The effects are of course quite evident and we all have experienced them. All we need to do is compare how we perform mentally after a good night sleep in contrast to a sleepless night.
There are some natural things that can help you induce sleep easier or enjoy a longer, healthier sleep at night. For instance herbal teas that are based on plant extracts such as Chamomile, Lemon Balm, valerian root and passion flower among others can be effective in helping you relax and unwind right before bedtime.
Listening to relaxing music is of course a well-known sleeping aid which can affect people to certain degrees depending on their predispositions or practical circumstances. Also interesting is the fact that I know people who prefer to listen to sounds that use ‘white noise’. An example of white noise is the ‘static’ on a blank TV channel. White noise is when all the hearable frequencies are played together at random. Since it is so constant and diffused, it can help some people enter and remain in sleep better.
Another sleeping aid is eating foods that contain a relatively high amount of Tryptophans such as nuts. Tryptophans are amino acids that are metabolised into the neurotransmitters serotonin and melatonin, both of which are responsible for regulating sleep.
Last but not least are messaging certain pressure points such as the Shimien pressure point, sometimes referred to as the insomnia point. It is found by drawing a line from the ankle bone down to the sole of the feet, just ahead of the heel. It is a very tender spot so massage gently with your thumb without applying excessive pressure.