Updated: Apr 30, 2021
It's the greatest tool you have.
What you Focus on...
And Results Show.
(-Some smart person)
It's easy to get stuck in a rut.
Maybe you were kicking ass at your job, school, and... life for a while. Super motivated, super driven, nothing could stop you... and then you hit a wall. Conscious is clouded. It seems like there's a million things that you could do, but don't know where to start. You feel sluggish. When that 3rd cup of coffee doesn't kick in, you've got deadlines, wife is mad at you and the kids have 3 different sports to get to all at the same time... The negative self-talk starts creeping in... I'm not driven- I'm not smart enough - why does Susie seem to be so on top of it? why can't I focus? ... and the vicious cycle continues.
This is where most of us function, most of our lives. Life is hard. There's no denying that, but if you want to get out of that rut, and start truly living the life you want to live and not be chained down by a clouded mindset, then it's time to make some changes.
When this continues long enough in the same pattern, and all it takes is for someone to point out your 'problem', and for you to accept that maybe they have a point. It may not even take a 'doctor' to 'diagnose' you with a 'condition', that you don't really have. Even if they're trying to be empathetic and supportive. This could have a label like ADHD or anxiety, or a general state like fatigue, lack of motivation, etc. All REAL experiences and are not discounted, as these things impact a massive portion of our population. What is worth considering is that in reality you've just accepted a title and fate that shouldn't define you for the rest of your life. As you are only defined by your current dysfunctional patterns that have developed over time, and have shaped your current subconscious processed, and subsequent reality.
There's a reason why 1 in 12 Americans are dealing with moderate to severe depression (17+ million) and 40 million are dealing with chronic anxiety. This isn't a result of 'bad genes'... but more as a dysfunctional environment that we're subjected to through our social circumstances and tensions, family, neurotoxic foods and products, chronic stress, etc. It may not be your fault, but, you can take small steps to dramatically help your outlook and health.
You don't NEED drugs or artificial means to have a sharp mind and clear focus.
--> You just need the right action steps and build a healthy brain will launch you out of that rut, and on a completely new track in life.
Yes, addressing the obvious factors will help:
Effective planning and scheduling
Breaking up tasks efficiently
The team your surrounded by, and consult with
All can make a significant impact on your focus and productivity.
We won't go into that here, but once these areas have been addressed, you can take it to the next level:
First step is addressing the very factors that affect how well your brain functions.
Starts between the Ears
There are endless nerdy, biohacky things to do in effort to improve focus. But, at the end of the day, your focus will be internally created and driven. The only way to create sustained attention over a long period of time, as most good things in life don't come over night.
So dig DEEP. Unearth what makes you excited and inspired. What emotionally moves you. What you would stand up for, even against the most ruthless devils-advocate. Motivation will only last so long without a deep-rooted foundation. There are many books, courses, documentaries, talks, professionals, etc that can steer your in a clear direction. A direction that may take many twists and turns, rerouting dozens of times and never truly coming to a destination... but one that fulfills your deepest passions and upholds your God-given purpose, whatever that may be.
Effective routines and an efficient schedule can help you focus on the most important tasks at hand from week to week, daily, and hourly. These may change monthly, and even daily, but having a clear vision of the most important tasks from a personal, professional, social, spiritual, and whatever other values and commitments you want to prioritize.
Trick to this process is... actually following through. Start by outlining your entire week. Day by day, and even hourly. Block out times you absolutely have to be somewhere, and the times that you have open for the things you've been wanting to do; exercise, walk, spend time with your kids, etc.
For yourself. And hold yourself accountable.
Hold yourself to a high level. We are far more capable than we allow ourselves to believe. It just takes commitment and consistent action to carry it out. Not ever day is going to be a grand slam, but you can make small single base hits consistently.
The easiest way to start positive habits around this is... plan. Plan for success, which starts with planning to hit the steps that are going to get you there. You may see the big picture, but what needs to be done on a daily, and even hourly basis, to get there? Does it start with getting up a half hour earlier? Cutting out watching your favorite Netflix series? Forgiving someone? What's holding you back from making those small, consistent steps to get where you want to be.
This planning process needs to happen ahead of time. Even consiously reviewing your next week's tasks, day by day, will help you set the stage for what needs to be accomplished. Making a clear game plan as to what each day will look like, down to the very hour. My mentors would call this creating your 'war plan'. Others may call it 'block scheduling'. Either way, get crystal clear about what HAS to be done, and then move on to what you WANT to get done as well.
Now stick to it, and hold yourself accountable!
Stabilize your Rhythms
It's easy to get out of sync; or not even get into it in the first place. When we get into a rhythm, life seems to flow. Things fall into place, and good things just happen. We break ourselves out of this rhythm with distractions. And yes, distractions will come from every direction sometimes, but keeping your focus on your priorities, and what is going to get you closer to achieving those goals will get you back on track quicker. Staying in rhythm with your priorities and life.
Surround yourself with Inspiration
Protecting your mindset is the most important thing you can do. It's what shapes your every day reality.
Between the media, social media, coworkers, family... your mindset is continuously being infiltrated by various perspectives, moods, energies, which creates a tough environment to continually shape and grow your mindset to the best place possible. Becoming deeply rooted in your values and philosophies will help you be more resilient to negative invaders, and will help you become even stronger over time.
First, ditch the toxic sources; delete social media, vow to never turn on the news.. whatever you need to do.
You can then offset the toxic propaganda by finding books, podcasts, churches, YouTube channels, etc that you can anchor to on a daily basis. Fulfill your mind with inspiration that you can take into your day, and inspire others with.
Spice up/down your Workspace
UP: Create an environment that fosters focus, creativity, peace, tranquility.
Also-- upgrade your ergonomics. Your workspace should promote good postural and spinal health. Reduce stress, tension, and it'll save you years of deterioration of your spine. My patients that have the worst spines typically come from backgrounds where they've been stuck, hunched over a desk for years.
Down: Reduce the clutter. Research shows that multitasking is worse than smoking copious amounts of weed. Some studies show that a cluttered work space actually shows higher levels of intelligence; just take that with a grain of salt. I'm the last person to talk when it comes to a clean work space... but if you can manage to clear out the excess junk, your mind will be able to focus on what's at hand much better.
Upgrade your Physiology
Build the healthy brain you need to be at your best
Our brain interprets our external and internal world, and is what carries out our response to any situation. Having a healthy brain and nervous system is the single most important factor we can focus on, as we have control over the most important factors when it comes to creating a healthy brain. The age-old idea that your brain steadily declines with age, and doesn't have the capacity to rebuild and renew itself, is wildly misleading. We just need to stimulate your nervous system, and provide it with the right resources to function and heal properly.
It starts with; toss out the toxic junk--in all areas of life.
Eat real food. Hydrate. Move your body. Breathe. Manage stressors, distractors and improve self-talk and mindset resilience. Embody gratitude. Stop ingesting or applying toxic chemicals.
Honestly, leaving it at that would help 95+% of the population, tremendously.
This is because the health of our brain and nervous system is directly dependent on the environment in which we immerse it.
Easier said than done. I get it.
But, if more people understood how all the toxic junk that they're consuming on a regular basis is affecting their physiology and affecting their overall health, and in particular, the health of their brain and nervous system, making small changes to improve on this would be a no-brainer. Pun intended.
Trash the Toxins
The food we eat, can be riddled with toxic junk. Synthetic chemicals that are added to foods to change flavors, colors, textures, preservative agents, stabilizers, etc, etc, ALL negatively affect your hormones, gut, microbiome, brain and nervous system... literally every aspect of your physiology. Synthetically derived compounds that are created in a lab and produced in a factory... have no business inside your body.
Thousands of studies show the negative health impacts of these additives, yet mainstream health sources turn a blind eye. Some food additives will mimic (i.e xenoestrogens) or damage hormones, others will damage your cells, many are known carcinogens (cancer causing), and others go to a much deeper level-disrupting our cellular machinery and DNA to create dysfunctional cells. With enough time, this leads to inflammation and systemic issues.
Solution? Cut out the junk. Yes, it's enticing. And addicting. Billions of dollars go into making sure of these two things. They do a great job marketing their products, even tricking you into thinking they're healthy, but at the end of the day, are only harming you and the health of your family.
Buy SINGLE INGREDIENT foods. Yep, your veggies, proteins, fats, fruits, sprouted nuts n' seeds, water. Eat in abundance! Cook some, leave some raw. High quality, and as organically sourced as possible. Simple as that.
Yes, organic. A lot of conventionally sourced produce is laden with toxic chemicals during the growing, harvesting, or transportation process. Pesticides/herbicides are one such chemical used, and these toxic chemicals will dramatically impact your health. Starting with your gut health and microbiome (which has a direct impact on brain health).
Head to ewg.org to check out their 'Dirty Dozen' list for foods that should absolutely be bought organically.
Throw out your 'non-stick' pans! They release numerous chemicals that can affect our brain and hormones. Stick with the natural products; ceramic, cast iron, stainless steel.
Check your personal care products; the average female leaves the house with over 200+ synthetic chemicals on their body. Your skin IS your largest organ, and many of those chemicals are immediately absorbed into your body. Some will have a direct impact on your integumentary (skin) system, others will impact your liver, and many others will affect your brain. Look for truly natural personal care products; swap them out all at once, or one-by-one, either way you'll be doing yourself a great service.
Trash the toxic cleaning and other household chemicals
Dish soap/detergent, candles, laundry detergent, fabric softener, dryer sheets, air 'fresheners', etc are all mostly made of chemicals and can have a negative impact on our physiology. You're much better off using products that are derived from natural sources. Again, ewg.org is a great resource to see what is in your household products.
Google (actually, you're better off using duckduckgo.. less censored) 'mode of action' or side effects of _________ (insert whatever med you're using). This is an eye opening experience for a lot of people who are on, or use, any type of medication.
Rarely, are we fully aware of the 'side-effects' of the medications that we're consuming daily. We assume it's helping us stay 'healthy'... when in reality no medication on the planet is designed to get you 'healthy'. They're designed to mask symptoms, and the 'side-effects', are just 'effects' of taking the medication. They all have them. We all just have a unique, individualized make-up that causes many of us to respond differently to different medications.
Many medications have neurological effects. Whether that's the intended effect, or a 'side' effect. The long term effect of taking many different kinds of medications is mostly unknown with most; and there's never been studies to determine the effect of taking multiple medications at once. Never. It's impossible to determine the short and long term effects, which, unfortunately, most Americans are currently experiencing to some degree.
Even ibuprofen, or other NSAIDs, have a toxic effect on the body. They're harmful to our stomach, gut, liver, kidneys, and other systems of the body. They deplete our natural stores and production of glutathione; our body's master antioxidant... making any other toxic substances we're consuming even more harmful.
Anti-psychotics/depressants/anxiety as well as ADHD (and other stimulants) meds are all extremely damaging to the nervous system, as well as our hormones, gut, kidney, liver, and quite literally ever other system of the body. I'm not going to argue that there isn't a time or place for the use of such meds... but they should not be lifelong, or the only 'solutions' for someone that truly needs constructive help.
Check toxic stress; although unavoidable, going unchecked or chronically infiltrating your every day life will create major health problems. According to some studies, stress is the number one culprit of emergency room visits (up to 75%), and a major contributor to chronic disease. Hormones, neurotransmitters, and organs are affected by the physiological response that accompanies stress; forcing our body to adapt. When it comes to our brain and nervous system, stress pushes us into more of a sympathetic dominant state, which has numerous impacts on our overall health. It tends to shut off our neocortex and higher areas of brain function. So focus and overall cognition can negatively impacted. Some stress is good, which is called 'eustress'. It can help us get things accomplished and even help us in moments that we need to perform at our best. But over time, this state can cause major problems, so properly addressing this factor can have a massive improvement on our focus, and overall health.
From a physiological perspective; chronic stress will release inflammatory cytokines. These messengers are what induce the immune system to initiate the inflammatory cascade. Good during life-saving situations, but very problematic when chronically stimulated.
There are COUNTLESS things you can do to help your focus and overall brain health. Let's focus on the BEST ones to start with.
Fats are ESSENTIAL for optimal brain health and hormone balance. Fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) require fat for absorption in the gut.
Toxic fats are absolutely necessary to cut out. They're highly inflammatory and terrible brain food. Any seed oil that's highly refined and processed (canola, safflower, peanut, soy, 'vegetable', etc), fake fat substitute (margarine), and conventionally raised butters.
Restock your pantry with healthy oils like coconut, avocado, and olive oils. MCT oil is also great to use, particularly for quick, easy burning energy that is readily converted to ketones by the liver. You don't need to be slamming down spoonfuls on the regular... but utilizing these healthy fats for cookings, dressings, etc will give your brain, hormones, and every cell in your body an extra boost! While cutting down on the inflammation that accompanies toxic, rancid oils that are dense in omega-6 fatty acids.
Every system of our body requires bountiful amino acids to function and heal properly.
Conventionally raised animal products are also a no-go as these products can be highly toxic and inflammatory for our bodies. Containing an overabundance of omega-6 fatty acids, as well as other residues from their feed and medical attention. Farm raised fish are also highly toxic and should be avoided at all cost. Large predatory fish tend to carry a higher toxic load as well due to the effects of bioaccumulation. For example; tuna, halibut, swordfish, etc tend to have higher levels of heavy metals, as well as other contaminants. Heavy metals of any kind or quantity can have a negative impact on our neurological health.
High quality animal products are well worth the extra buck. They're loaded with a higher concentration of high quality nutrients. For example; pasture-raised eggs are higher in choline, retinol (bioavailable form of vitamin A), omega-3 fatty acids, and other nutrients that are essential for optimal brain function. Wild caught salmon, as well as sardines, mackerel, anchovies, are all much higher in omega-3 fats than less superior farm-raised products.
Vital Fruits n' Veggies
Incorporating a wide variety of vegetables will not just provide your body with a copious amounts of vitamins and minerals, but also phytonutrients that are less commonly talked about.
Contain a ton of healthy fats, as well as vitamins B and C that need to be consumed in adequate quantities on a daily basis to be replenished. The brain requires these nutrients, especially folate (active form of B9) and methylcobalamin (B12).
Great to top salads, lettuce wraps, and even add to smoothies for a creamy texture.
Copious Amounts of:
Dark, leafy greens
Cacao (or, real dark chocolate)
Algae, chlorella, spirulina
Berries: Any type
Grape seed extract
Every fruit and vegetable has a unique nutrient composition; so eating a variety of these will help provide your body with a full spectrum of healthy nutrients!
Cut the carbs
-Top thing to cut (in excess) ASAP. Easier said than done, I know, but it is neurotoxic and dramatically impacts brain function, as well as every other system of our body.
Excess sugar (6-9+grams/day for most) can interfere with nutrient and protein absorption, and interfere with brain development. It will also increase blood sugar levels that can create systemic inflammation, which will include inflammation within the brain.
Grains & Gluten
Known culprits of gut disruption and brain dysregulation. Grains may be touted as 'health foods'... but this claim can be drastically misleading. They may be 'fortified' with vitamins, but that doesn't make them healthy. As most fortified vitamins are synthetically derived and even toxic to your body (like folic acid). Most grains contain a ton of toxic herbicides and pesticides, all of which are terrible for the brain and digestive system. You don't NEED grains, there are plenty of other healthier foods to put in your body!
Easy to say, I know, especially when grains are definitely a 'comfort' food for most of us, and the research even shows how carbs, as well as gluten, is an addictive substance. So it's not your fault! But, after you replace them with better options, you'll realize you won't miss them, and function much better without them. You may notice other improvements too; I commonly hear people notice better skin, decreased bloating, drop a few pounds relatively quickly, etc, just by cutting out these foods.
When it comes to brain health, fasting (particularly when paired with a lower carb diet plan) can help induce a state of ketosis. Your body converts fatty acids into ketones, which are utilized by the body for energy. In this state, your body burns energy cleanly and efficiently, lowering inflammation and balancing various hormones. Most people notice an impressive improvement in mental clarity and focus when they are able to attain this state.
You can mimic longer fasts by starting with intermittent fasting. Typically, a 16:8 fasting to eating window is manageable, and highly effective. This may not be a forever thing for you, and there are certain people that respond better than others, but it's a powerful approach for many people and worth trying for at least a month!
The benefits of fasting are vast; covered fully in another article.
Gut Health=Brain Health
By addressing a lot of the guidelines above, you will naturally create a better environment for your gut, and your natural microbe biome that influences countless health factors.
The gut and brain have a steady ability to communicate via the nervous system, hormones, and the immune system. Some of the microbiome can release neurotransmitters, just like our own neurons do, speaking to the brain in its own language via the vagus nerve.
Changing the environment of your gut biome will have immediate impacts on your overall health, as well as brain health.
Some of the superfoods and supplements below will also contribute to a healthy gut environment.
Supporting this diverse system starts with the food that you're feeding it. Whole Foods, in their natural state, is a great place to start. Reducing sugar/carbs to stop overfeeding the problematic bacteria and yeast. Adding in probiotic rich foods like kefir, fermented drinks, sauerkraut, and raw dairy. And consuming plenty of fiber and pre-biotic rich foods.
SUPERFOOD & SUPPLEMENTS
Herbs n' Spices
Ginger, turmeric, cinnamon,
Gut healthy foods
Pro/prebiotic rich foods.
Collagen rich foods
Homemade bone broth or bone broth from high quality brands.
We've all heard of cocoa... which is the processed version of the cacao bean. Unprocessed, raw cacao is loaded with powerful nutrients; antioxidants, polyphenols, theobromine, magnesium, etc. Great things for your brain.
Lions mane is an easy go-to mushroom for cognitive improvement and focus.
Chaga makes an amazing tea, and a great thing to start your day with. Add a little raw cacao
Reishi is a great mushroom to incorporate later in the day
Maca root, ashwagandha, rhodiola, ginseng, astragalus, ginger, turmeric, CBD
These are functional foods that will help your body mitigate and handle stress better. Not to mention countless other functions in the body.
50-80% of people don't get enough of this vital element. Utilized by hundreds of processes in the body; deficiency can look different depending on the person. Find a high quality form that is easily absorbed and utilized. Bioavailable forms would include Glycinate, citrate, malate, threonate. Citrate would have more of a laxative effects; Glycinate/malate/threonate would have a better effect on nervous system function.
Vitamin D, copper, zinc, vitamin A
These are all important nutrients, that all need to be obtained in their most natural state; from food. If supplemented, from a Whole Foods source.
There are a handful of great companies that package together powerful nutrients to optimize brain function.
As I share with anyone looking to improve their cognitive function, short term memory capacity, reaction time, focus, and prevent mental fatigue... you can't out supplement a poor lifestyle; poor food, poor sleep, chronic toxic stress, surrounded by toxic chemicals, etc.
There are definitely a lot of gimmicks out there too; so you'll want to focus on companies that have high quality, organically sourced products.
Bio-optimizers & Cognibiotics
The most widely used nootropic on the planet. American's number 1 source of antioxidants. It can be a powerful tool... but I would use it as such: a performance enhancing drug. Because, it is. I wouldn't use it as a crutch.
Organic, shade grown, mold-free is going to be best.
Helpful additions: lions mane, chaga, reishi mushroom extracts. MCT oil.
Organic is a must.
Supporting our innate endocannabinoid system is beneficial to mitigating stress, and balancing our system as a whole.
More specific details in the Resources section below, if you care to nerd out on what this system is, and how it can be modulated with the right supplements.
Peppermint & Spearmint
MOVEMENT & OXYGEN
The single most effective tactic in optimizing brain function. Hands down. You can utilize these factors to dramatically improve your focus and cognition. They're free, and highly effective. Within moments, you can change your state.
Getting any movement in will do; go for a walk, do a lap around the office, take the stairs, etc.
The best? High intensity exercise utilizing functional movements.
Sun-gazing: Great way to reset our circadian clocks... and easy to do! Watching the sun come up, and go down is a powerful way to get a full-spectrum of light to your eyes, which will impact your brain and nervous system. There's a good reason people talk about how great it is to witness these moments! So take some extra time out of your day, to intentionally relax, watch the sun, and feel how good it feels to soak these rays in. It's helping your nervous system more than you know!
Little known benefits of the sun:
Most are well aware of the necessity of the sun to synthesize vitamin D...
But consistent sun exposure has numerous other benefits that are well-documented as well.
Nitric oxide production (needed for better blood flow and oxygen delivery to the brain and tissues of the body)
Hormone production and balance.
Circadian rhythm balance
You obviously know what it feels like to be deprived on sleep; waking up groggy, feeling like you NEED that cup of coffee to get going.
Yes, shooting for enough hours (~7-9) would be a great place to start.
But, you will also want to focus on sleep quality.
Yes, you do this subconsciously thousands of times a day. But, pay attention to how you're breathing. Most of us are breathing shallow; just utilizing the top part of our lung field.
Your brain NEEDS oxygen to function. Period.
Practicing various breathing techniques can help optimize saturating your body and brain with oxygen.
References and Resources
How food affects our stress hormones
15 Brain Foods to Boost Focus and Memory
Most Effective Combination of Nutraceuticals for Improved Memory and Cognitive Performance in the House Cricket, Acheta domesticus
The Gut-Brain Connection, Mental Illness, and Disease
Psychobiotics, immunology, and the theory of all chronic disease.
Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function
" Newly described influences of dietary factors on neuronal function and synaptic plasticity have revealed some of the vital mechanisms that are responsible for the action of diet on brain health and mental function. Several gut hormones that can enter the brain, or that are produced in the brain itself, influence cognitive ability. In addition, well-established regulators of synaptic plasticity, such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor, can function as metabolic modulators, responding to peripheral signals such as food intake. Understanding the molecular basis of the effects of food on cognition will help us to determine how best to manipulate diet in order to increase the resistance of neurons to insults and promote mental fitness."
Revenge of the "sit": how lifestyle impacts neuronal and cognitive health through molecular systems that interface energy metabolism with neuronal plasticity
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