We live in a world full of distractions. Information overload results from the endless options competing for our most important resource: time.
It takes a rare sort of person, and one that thinks clearly, to plan for their future amidst the chaos of modern life.
Cognition includes abilities like gaining knowledge, directing attention, and using memory. Think of cognition as the overall capability of your brain.
Doing well in certain skills such as rote learning is mostly innate, yet almost every field of study has your effort applied in many ways to reach the highest levels.
The right forms of exercise, nutrition, and rest will all improve your cognition. Success within these will also support other areas. These include health and happiness in addition to your fitness.
While the tips here will help you to perform simple tasks like math more quickly and accurately, most seek to do well at more complex activities like those at work. These will aid you to perform your best there as well.
In the end though, you need to form the right habits to achieve a plan for what you want out of life. You still must choose what to do. Therefore, we will focus on biology but address some psychology too.
All you need is the plan, the road map, and the courage to press on to your destination.
– Earl Nightingale
- Get enough omega-3 fats.
Omega-3 fats are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). The three types of omega-3 fats are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Omega-3 fats tend to be lacking in most of our diets yet are essential. Most experts believe we had a more even ratio in the past compared with the abundance of omega-6 fats today. You want to aim for at least 1-3 grams of DHA and EPA together per day.
Plant sources, except for some sea vegetables such as algae, come in the form of the longer-chain ALA. ALA seems to convert inefficiently into the shorter-chain fats EPA and DHA. It seems we are more likely to thrive with foods directly containing EPA and especially DHA for the brain.
The best source is seafood, though EPA and DHA are also rich in grass-fed animal foods. Sardines, which bring other nutrients such as calcium and creatine, or salmon both work well. These have less mercury compared with more dominant predators in the water.
Though known as a brain food, fish can even help with depression and anxiety, along with reducing inflammation throughout the body.
The more you learn, the more it seems that seafood is among the most healthful of all foods. It provides a lean, complete source of protein. It also compliments a plant-based diet through different vitamins, minerals, and compounds.
- Limit saturated fat.
Some saturated fat is fine. It may have positive effects like slightly boosting testosterone. Nonetheless, the science makes it clear that too much will harm your health.
Animals eating more natural diets in the past may have had leaner bodies. Perhaps we consumed more game meats. Only the effects matter though, and how our ancestors ate can only give us a starting point.
Focus more so on eating less of the wrong foods. You may want to eat foods such as red meat sparingly, perhaps 1-3 times per week at the most.
This goes beyond just eating animals though. Using oils, for example, is a bad idea, despite many wishing this not to be true. While foods like coconut oil do bring some benefits, the glut of saturated fat and calories all at once, along with its poor nutrient density, is not good for you.
- Restrict calories.
Fewer calories limits oxidation, which occurs from breathing oxygen no matter what. It also prevents obesity, with a lean body working better in many ways. Losing weight will can also balance your hormones such as by increasing testosterone. Try to have less than 20% body fat, ideally far lower, at least for men.
Many will say their minds are sharper when feeling a bit hungry. Perhaps this trait developed during our evolution so as to drive us to hunt and forage. This may explain why some choose to train on an empty stomach in the morning, despite this being frowned upon in the past, and do well.
Experiments with occasional fasting, for no longer than 24 hours, may be worth a try.
Nonetheless, we likely do our best with at least some food in us. This seems especially for more intense exercise that demands glucose. If you need to concentrate though, avoid having a large meal beforehand.
Notice the patterns here. It is easier to get things right than you may realize. Oils would discourage a reasonable number of calories. A balanced, natural diet tends to limit calories further through more fiber along with some protein and fat.
- Have a well-balanced diet.
A well-balanced diet, containing a fair amount of all the macronutrients, allows you to get the variety in vitamins and minerals that you need.
Emphasize green vegetables along with some animal foods. Otherwise, focus on a diversity of whole foods. This allows you to avoid bad effects that can come with too much of any specific food.
Vitamin D, vitamin E, choline, iron, zinc, magnesium, copper, and selenium all matter for brain health. Any deficiency outside of these could harm you too though.
Before this all seems complicated, know that a simple diet works well. Some fish along with handfuls of nutrient-dense vegetables such as spinach and broccoli could form your base. Add some mixed nuts along with carbs from potatoes and fruit. This would cover everything.
Blueberries, or anything packed with flavonoids and other phytochemicals functioning as powerful antioxidants, will help too.
- Consider using herbs and supplements.
You can try herbs such as gingko biloba and various kinds of ginseng for cognition. Curcumin, a compound within the curry spice known as turmeric, seems promising and safe. Ashawangda may improve anxiety. Bacopa monnieri could boost memory.
Creatine may help with reasoning, but you can also get this from meat and fish.
These all may only give you small or negligible benefits though. They have seen inconsistent results throughout studies. You also need to be careful since herbs can act like drugs.
Stronger options through drugs called nootropics do exist. These can have serious consequences, and everything comes at a price. Explore this area if you wish but tread carefully.
- Consider including some foods with caffeine and alcohol.
You could choose coffee, black tea, green tea, yerba mate, or dark chocolate. For alcohol, the best option is red wine.
You should not isolate caffeine and alcohol. The foods mentioned contain other potent chemicals as well, such as L-theanine and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) in green tea or resveratrol in red wine.
Caffeine and alcohol cause a major response from your body, so you need to be cautious. The minor net health improvement shown in the literature comes about only through moderate amounts, such as a few servings, and not much more. Nonetheless, we cannot ignore that they can improve performance.
If restraint is hard for you, then exclude them. They are not worth the loss of sleep, anxiety, or far more negative effects. The other tips stated here do not carry these possible downsides.
Some will argue against these foods by stating that they were not a part of a Paleo diet. While this diet may be a good framework to start evaluating the right foods for you, purists would like to say this sort of diet must then be perfect.
Once again, only results matter. Science has shown benefits for foods not consumed in the distant past.
- Perform cardio daily.
You may want to avoid making these sessions too intense which could harm your recovery though.
- Get enough sleep.
Our need for sleep is unique to each of us, with an average required per night between 7-9 hours.
You also likely have a sleep debt that you need to pay off gradually, since your circadian rhythm usually prevents too much sleep all at once.
Sleep in a dark, quiet, and cool room. Try to create a schedule. Make sure to practice good wake hygiene as well.
There is nothing wrong with watching a show or playing a game at the end of your day. These are fun for their own sakes while allowing you to rest and recover, often while enjoying someone’s company.
If you are not careful though, short-term pleasure will always win out over long-term joy. You avoid the things that feel unexciting at first but that make your life better in the future.
I suggest earning your comfort. Indulge in small doses as rewards for work. In the short term though, you may need to eliminate all temptations if you lack self-control.
Try to find hobbies that you enjoy but also better you. Ask yourself, will this activity matter in my future?
- Just get started.
Many hoping to improve cognition want to think clearly so they can accomplish their most lofty goals.
Understand that no epiphany will occur that drives you to take action now and forever. The ideal time will never arrive. You have to make sacrifices every day to get where you want to be.
All kinds of people have become successful through different approaches across many fields.
Our bodies and minds adapt. Challenge them, and they grow. Ignore them, and you become less capable.
Some choose to play games or do puzzles to improve their brains. While you may just like doing them, this as a strategy for cognition has the same flaw as non-specific training, such as practicing Olympic weightlifting to become explosive. You should do the activity itself to improve best.
In a way, you are addicted to your current activities. This is why the big changes we hope for almost never happen. Self-discipline never forms overnight.
The views I present here are polarizing. Some think of me as exploitative and others find me refreshing.
My ideas are what should have merit though. Do not allow your opinion of me, good or bad, to cloud your judgment.
Study widely but confirm through personal experience. Seek only progress.
Avoid defining yourself through your beliefs. Many feel a deep satisfaction by having an elegant philosophy. They then ignore evidence to the contrary and limit their results.
Accept the way things are and not how they ought to be. This applies to training, diet, business, and all of life. Always be honest.
If something matters to you, just get started right away. Avoid dwelling on it. Enjoyment may elude you at first, but for something meaningful that you care about, it will emerge.
Writing these articles involves a lot of dedication. It always feels tough for me to start. Once I begin and sustain an effort though, my passion arrives. I love tinkering with the words, trying my best to make them compelling. Fulfillment soon follows.
I suggest you empower yourself, avoiding the mindset of a victim. Choices matter. Most endeavors have many variables that you can improve.
Sometimes circumstances are insurmountable. Sadly, for many of the least fortunate in this world, this often seems the case.
If you are reading this, you can at least try. Evaluate your talent. If you have what it takes then get started now. Adjust as you go and keep moving forward.
Exercise though will help anyone achieve any goal better.
Make a plan through small steps. It will take time, so make sure to enjoy most of the process. Life is short, so get started on what matters to you as soon as possible.
Throughout training and life, many never feel completely in the moment. They dread trying to get another rep or taking a big risk since progress feels impossible. How can you train hard or even make a good plan when you struggle to think clearly?
Improving cognition will have a great effect on your training. Once you understand and hopefully embrace the simple routine here, learning beyond just choosing a training program should take place. This includes anything on how to gain mastery over yourself or recover better.
I would like to share a perspective on life that has brought me peace of mind. We all have our own points of view, so this is just one of the many you could consider:
The evidence seems to show that no external force guides us. You possess the power to define your own goals, beholden to no one. There is no right or wrong purpose.
You are smaller than the tiniest imaginable speck compared to a near-infinite universe. You likely reside within just a single realm among countless like it. Are your decisions really so grand?
This mindset can feel overwhelming yet liberating.
You can choose your own path.
If you fail at something, who cares? Nothing has to be at stake. Perhaps you will succeed instead.
If you wish to avoid exercise or anything else that others deem significant, you can choose to do so. Be prepared to accept the consequences though. These may include a lack of purpose, the pain of regret, less power to help others, and little hope to spend most of your brief time here as you see fit.
Still, things are only as important as you want them to be. There is no such thing as wasted time. If you do attain a dream that you have, then all of your experiences will have played a part.
You may never actually do that thing that is always on your mind. That is alright, and something else out there may suit you better. If these statements are unsettling, then maybe you have already taken the first step on your journey toward success.
Use these tips to improve cognition. Otherwise, think about what you want from your life. Make a plan. Start small. You can begin whenever you are ready.