2 things that improve focus and cognition in 15 minutes a day, without expensive supplements
I’ve experienced an immediate and noticeable increase in focus and processing speed since adding these two activities to my daily routine.
My girlfriend was doing a crossword puzzle and watching Jeopardy on TV, while I was reading and pretty much tuning the TV out. She will often throw out a crossword clue she’s stuck on, and just as often, I don’t know the answer. I’m not very good at crosswords or trivia. But I gave the answer for the first one without hesitation. And the second. The third I didn’t know, but got through a synthetic process similar to answering a multiple choice question and gave the right answer pretty quickly. Odd. I’m really not good at crossword puzzles. But I went back to reading. The Jeopardy questions drifted by my ears. I didn’t exactly stop reading, but just started answering them to myself. Then answering them out loud. One after another after another. I’m not bad at trivia because of general stupidity, but I do have problems with recall, and especially quick recall.
“Did you take mushrooms today?” My girlfriend clearly knew something was amiss. I gleefully shared my quite mundane tricks with her. That was day 1. On day 2, I noticed the effects in a more useful setting, at work during sprint planning when I was easily able to call up a mental map of parts of the codebase I haven’t looked at very often or in quite some time, easily and without delay or much effort. For me, these two simple activities have been a revelation. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a weighted mental vest filled with depression, anxiety and ADHD, so I have more margin for noticeable improvement, perhaps, than you do. But still, I want to share in the hopes that, whoever you are, you might benefit. The activities take very little time and probably won’t require spending any money at all.
Without further ado, the activities are:
- Drink 3 cups of green tea every day
- Do 10 burpees, 3 times per day (15–20 seconds of high intensity work times 3)
Including time for steeping the tea, I’ve added about 15 minutes worth of activity to each day that has made an incredible difference in focus, cognitive speed and mood stabilization in just a few days. In fact, I felt the effects distinctly from day 1. And the increase in fitness, which wasn’t my primary goal, has been rapid as well.
Green, black and white teas contain L-theanine, an amino acid that promotes relaxation without drowsiness, and improves stress response (btw, examine.com is a fantastic resource for supplement research). It is especially effective when ingested with caffeine, which accompany it naturally in teas. It is thought to have this effect because in animal studies, it has been shown to increase the neurotransmitters dopamine (improved focus for those with ADHD), seratonin (relaxation) and GABA (inhibitory neurotransmitter often used by the body to slow respiration) which would indicate it would improve focus, calm and reduce blood pressure in humans. I have not found anywhere that the animal studies have been replicated in humans, though. I only know that in my study of one individual, results are promising.
There’s nothing magical about burpees. The tip for improving focus as well as supporting weight loss and a host of other benefits comes from Andy Galpin, PhD, professor of kinesiology at Cal State Fullerton. He talked about his concept of “exercise snacks” on the Huberman Lab podcast where you do 20 seconds of high intensity exercise 3 times a day. The 20 and the 3 in that sentence are approximations. Do some pretty intense activity for a short period of time a few times a day. Get your heart moving and breath hard, then stop, recover and go about your day. I tried it, and yep, it feels great, and my focus has been sharp.
To be clear, I chose burpees because I can do them in my office quickly without needing any equipment. In Dr. Galpin’s research, he had people sprinting up stairs. The type of activity is completely up to you as long as it’s safe, high intensity, short and repeated a few times a day.
An added bonus to the cognitive improvements that I was aiming for is that my fitness level has increased pretty rapidly. I’m not as young as I once was, and not nearly as fit as I was 10 years ago, before I made a career change into software engineering (I’ll write about how you should not attempt that type of change under any circumstances some other time), but within a few days, I found I was doing burpees almost twice as fast to achieve the same high intensity output. I increased to 15 burpees 3 times a day within a couple of days and then 20. If you’ve ever tried to get in shape or train for a sport, you know it usually takes a little longer to increase fitness level. In this case, less has definitely been more.
That’s it. It has worked for me so quickly and effectively that I thought I should share it. But you should definitely not take my word for it. Try it out.