Who among us wouldn’t want to know how to focus better?
Brain supplements are big right now, and for good reason. While distraction isn’t new to our species, the rapid and widespread adoption of Internet, email, cell phones, and social media have created a perfect storm of attention disruption that often outstrips our brain’s capacity to cope. The search for focus has become its own industry: Everywhere you look, there are books, courses, office plans, brain supplements, and software designed to improve your concentration and productivity. But which of these tools will actually show you how to focus better?
The short answer: It depends. Every person and every brain is different. Research demonstrates that chronic distraction can emanate from numerous sources, so it’s important to address the struggle to focus holistically. Obviously, we are believers in the power of brain supplements, and have seen firsthand in our own lives what the best nootropics can do for energy, focus, and productivity. But if you’re trying to figure out how to focus better, it’s wise to take a step back and get more perspective on why you battle distraction before you decide on solutions.
Fighting for Focus: For Your Brain, The Struggle Is Real
People who struggle to focus often see themselves as undisciplined, lazy, or weak. But as Caroline Beaton at Psychology Today points out, “We evolved to pay attention to new information and motion. Our ancestors evolved over millions of years to pay attention to what mattered in pre-civilization savannahs: namely, new information about safety, weather, food, and what was moving (and therefore edible or dangerous).” Social media applications are literally designed to play into our brain’s instinctive reflex towards novelty and motion, whether that’s through notifications, likes, new texts and emails, or infinite scroll. Even those three little gray dots that flash on your phone when someone is texting you back were added to keep your eyes on the screen in anticipation.
Unless you are planning to abandon life on the grid completely, phones and apps will be part of the world we live in for the time being. Before you beat yourself up for lacking discipline or being “bad” at concentrating or focusing, it’s helpful to realize most of us live in a system that is designed to distract. As a software engineer told the BBC, “Behind every screen on your phone, there are generally like literally a thousand engineers that have worked on this thing to try to make it maximally addicting.” Your brain isn’t flawed: it’s just overwhelmed. With that knowledge, you can create systems and habits that can reduce the TMI overload on your brain.
Mental and Physical Health Have Huge Impact on Focus
Lack of sleep, poor diet, stress, anxiety, and even dehydration all sap our brain’s energy and stamina. Around one in three adults are chronically sleep deprived, and as one UCLA study pointed out, fatigue “disrupts brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other, leading to mental lapses that affect memory and visual perception.”
Again, before you label yourself undisciplined or unable to focus, ask yourself: are you getting sufficient sleep and decent nutrition? Are you drinking plenty of water and getting adequate exercise (even just taking walks)? Do you have go-to practices for relaxation and methods of coping with stress? Physical and mental health are interconnected, and if you’ve been wrestling with chronic stress, fatigue, or sleeplessness, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor to talk about the state of your health and make sure there aren’t any other underlying issues behind your distraction.
Finding Brain Supplements That Actually Work
Let’s say you stopped checking email after 5 pm, and you’ve committed to a weekly yoga class as well as getting an extra hour of sleep every night—but you’re still having trouble focusing. There are natural, evidence-based brain supplements that have been shown to improve focus and reduce brain fog while actually supporting long-term brain health:
- CBD. Cannabidiol, a non-intoxicating compound found in the hemp plant, may seem like a trend, but there is hard science behind its effect on the brain. Studies indicate that CBD has anxiety-reducing properties—and anxiety has been shown to impair cognitive function, affecting executive function, attention, and memory.
- B vitamins. Vitamin B12, Vitamin B1 (a.k.a thiamine) and Vitamin B3 (a.k.a niacin) play key roles in numerous processes of healthy brain function. The older we get, the more difficulty our bodies have absorbing B12, which can result in fuzzy thinking or memory loss; niacin deficits can also have deleterious effects on brain function. Thiamine deficiency can result in confusion, reduced memory, and sleep disturbances. According to the Cleveland Clinic, B vitamins “play an important role in brain health. They may help prevent dementia and boost the production of neurotransmitters….Without a steady supply of this nutrient, which the body doesn’t store, we are at higher risk for cognitive decline.” Remember: B is for brain health.
- Eucalyptol. Eucalyptol is a terpene (plant compound) found in sweet basil, rosemary, sage, bay leaves, and eucalyptus. Like many other terpenes, eucalyptol has been shown to have positive effects the brain; animal studies indicate it improves memory, circulation, and reaction time. One study of nursing home residents found that just diffusing eucalyptol in the facility had “a measurable impact on the cognitive and behavioral status of elderly persons who were cognitively impaired.” While essential oils and aromatherapy may sound like hippie nonsense, researchers say plant compounds like eucalyptol have an important role to play in health—including the healthy function of our brains.
Technology challenges our brains’ ability to focus, but fresh perspective, healthier living habits, and natural brain supplements may offer some of the safest solutions to the distraction dilemma.