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Clearing the Fog: 5 Things To Forgo for Better Focus – and 5 More To Embrace

Ila lives in the Garden State with her family and four chickens. She has been growing produce and perennials for 20 years, and recommends gardening for food and fun, but not for fortune.
Published: June 23, 2022
Brain fog is a common syndrome that affects mental clarity. By making some healthy lifestyle changes, you may be able to restore your cognitive abilities and find your focus. (Image: Horia Varlan via Flickr CC BY 2.0)

Brain fog is a cloudy-headed feeling that makes it hard to focus or think clearly, and easy to forget. Brain fog itself is bad enough, but the ensuing frustration from reduced cognition may also lead to physical and mental exhaustion, lack of motivation, or other symptoms of illness. 

Since stress, anxiety, poor diet or other lifestyle choices can all contribute to this syndrome, there are several actions one can take toward improving mental clarity; some involve letting go of unhelpful habits, while others revolve around building new, healthy habits.

5 things to forgo for better focus

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A tidy work environment is essential for good focus. (Image Lisa via Pexels)

1 – Clear the clutter

Keeping a tidy environment is a good way to clear the mind. Clutter weighs us down both spiritually and psychologically. When we become attached to various possessions for sentimental reasons, we set limits to our spiritual growth; while the visual presence of too much stuff creates a stressful mental burden. Both of these factor into poor focus, and can lead to physical symptoms as well. 

Try to see your possessions as transient beings that can have a life beyond their time with you. Once something is no longer useful, come up with an appropriate way to pass it along, exchange it for something more useful, or repurpose it. Tackle your favorite spot first – the piece of mind that cleared space gives you will inspire you to take on the next area.

2 – Multitasking taxes concentration

Swapping your attention from one thing to another takes time and energy, tiring your brain and reducing your productivity. While it can be difficult to eliminate distractions altogether, you can remove any anticipated disruptions to your work. 

Silence your phone, give your kids something to do that doesn’t require your attention, and get the quick little necessities taken care of before sitting down to an important task. This way you can give it your full attention.

3 – Urgency undermines productivity

Learn to distinguish between important and urgent—they aren’t the same thing, although sometimes they overlap. Important tasks contribute to your long-term goals, and are in harmony with your values, but they easily get neglected due to the “urgency” of something less important.

Urgent tasks can also be important; but oftentimes, they are things that someone else is demanding of you but doesn’t really need, or could take care of him or herself. Taking the time to train others well and communicate your limitations can relieve you of many “urgent” tasks so that you can focus on the important ones. 

4 – Comfort makes us complacent

While comfort can make us feel good and give us confidence, too much of it is a dangerous thing. Mental stimulation is achieved by exiting our comfort zone. Without mental stimulation, dendrites, the branched extension of our nerve cells, become atrophied. Keeping them active with new endeavors can increase the plasticity of the brain, keeping it fresh and alert.

Plasticity research pioneer Michael Merzenich says, “It’s the willingness to leave the comfort zone that is the key to keeping the brain new.” For improved mental clarity, rather than seeking comfort; look for adventure, try new things, and learn new skills.

5 – Inactivity leads to lethargy

Similar to comfort, physical inactivity slows down our brains. Moving the body exercises some functions of the brain which can, in turn, improve cognitive function. Regular exercise is known to improve sleep, increase blood flow to the brain, and enhance memory

To keep the brain in top shape, avoid a sedentary lifestyle. Tear yourself away from social media and your devices, and get outdoors. Once you’re up and moving, turn it into a routine. Walk for transportation, engage in a sport, or play with your kids and pets—your productivity will improve and your body won’t complain either.

Brains feel the effects of inactivity just like the body does. Get up and do something active every day. (Image: Kampus Production via Pexels)

5 things to embrace for better focus

1 – Practice mindfulness

Try giving your full attention to whatever you’re engaged in, be it conversation, doing laundry, or walking your dog. Start to notice sounds and sights that you might normally disregard. Let them enter your thoughts and arouse your curiosity. 

Remember how, as a child, everything was exciting and new? With the right attitude, adults can enjoy awe and discovery just the same. Put away the “been there, done that” mentality, and embrace each experience as something entirely unique, as it truly is.

Mindfulness also includes paying attention to our thoughts and feelings. Observe the things that go through your mind. As different thoughts and emotions arise, try to look at them objectively, without judging, rejecting, or engaging them. 

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Eating a varied and healthful diet can give you the nutrients you need for better focus. (Image: Anthony Langdon via Wikimedia Commons Public domain)

2 – Enjoy a nutritious diet 

A nutritious diet is always key to physical and mental health, but some nutrients in particular, are especially good for the brain. Vitamin D, for instance, has been linked with memory, concentration and mood. Vitamin D is naturally obtained through exposure to the sun, although foods like fatty fish, nuts, dairy can also provide this nutrient.

Omega-3 is also connected with cognitive health, and can be sourced from fatty fish, nuts, and purslane, a wild edible. Maintaining adequate levels of magnesium, Vitamin C, B vitamins and L-theanine, a compound found in green tea, are all recommended for mental clarity. 

With all the processed, nutrient-deficient products on the shelves today, navigating a balanced diet may seem like a challenge; but it’s not that complicated. As Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma advised, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

3 – Get more sleep

Most people need between seven and nine hours of sleep to function optimally. While many of us depend on caffeine to become alert in the morning, we should remember that, although it is not a controlled substance, caffeine is actually a drug. Although coffee, tea—and even dark chocolate—can be part of a healthy diet, too much caffeine can have adverse effects on your brain and body. 

Sufficient sleep is essential for optimal brain function. (Image: Ketut Subiyanto via Pexels)

As sleep scientist Dr. Matthew Walker puts it, “Sleep is non-negotiable.” Sleep is the time for our bodies to repair and rejuvenate, making us fit for another day. Continually cutting these hours short is likely to increase stress, irritability, and—of course—brain fog. 

Try to maintain a regular sleep schedule. Getting natural sunlight during the day, and avoiding screen time before bed will help you fall into your natural circadian rhythm. Warm temperatures and alcohol consumption both disrupt sleep, so keep your bedroom relatively cool, and stay sober. 

4 – Spend time doing things you enjoy

Sometimes it is hard to squeeze any time for ourselves into our busy schedules; yet when we neglect self-care, our responsibilities can become overwhelming and stressful. Make a point of finding at least half an hour each day to do something that makes you feel relaxed and happy. It doesn’t always have to be the same thing.

Do something you enjoy every single day. A refreshing change of scenery helps reduce stress and improve your capacity to focus. (Image: Sasha Kim via Pexels)

Consider reading classical literature before bed, meeting your friends for a morning walk, taking on a home-improvement project, or creating a bit of garden to nurture. If it takes a little longer than you planned, don’t stress. Allow your brain to fully recharge and you will feel more alert and productive. 

5 – Don’t be afraid to take breaks

Trudging through difficult tasks without relief does nothing for productivity. Many sources suggest that the brain can only concentrate effectively for 45 minutes at a time, after which, you should take a 10-15 minute break. 

You can just chill, or if you choose to use this time productively, you might tackle those little things that you are no longer “multitasking.” In any case, get up from your work, move around, and do something entirely different. When you come back, you will be refreshed and ready to forge ahead.

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As with any self-development strategy, take your time and be patient with yourself. If these methods do not improve your symptoms, you should seek medical advice. While it is a common phenomenon, brain fog is not a physical condition itself; but may be a symptom of other issues that need to be addressed.