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Creating Peak Mental Clarity

November 18th, 2011 by Steve Pavlina

Do you ever find yourself plagued by foggy thinking? Do you find it difficult to make important decisions? Does your mind race from time to time?

Or does your mind feel clear and focused? Are you thoughts calm and smooth? Do you find it easy to make intelligent decisions and follow through on them?

If you catch yourself with a foggy or racing mind from time to time, fortunately you can do something about it. Here are several tips for creating a calm, clear mind.

1. Eat fresh fruit.

Your brain is definitely affected by what you put in your mouth each day. If you eat a lot of processed junk, don't expect your brain to function well. A crappy diet creates a foggy mind.

The #1 most important food for mental clarity is fresh fruit.

Every cell in your body runs on sugar, including your brain cells. Regardless of what you eat, your body must ultimately convert much of it to sugar; otherwise you'd have no energy and wouldn't be able to function.

Since most fruit is rich in sugar (namely fructose and glucose), your body can easily convert fruit sugar into usable energy. High in water and vitamins, fruit digests more efficiently and produces less metabolic waste than other foods. It gives you the best bang per buck in terms of energy returned for the energy required to digest it. Foods that are high in protein and fats, by contrast, require more energy to digest, and they produce a lot more metabolic waste, which takes even more energy to clean up. This means less energy available for your brain and more waste products flowing through your bloodstream, which flows through your brain.

I recently did a 7-day cleanse where I ate nothing but raw fruits and veggies with no overt fats (i.e. no avocados, coconut, nuts, or seeds), and I was amazed at the mental clarity I experienced during that time and well afterwards. Making tricky decisions became so much simpler.

The next time you wander the aisles of a grocery store, notice how many items include corn, wheat, and soy. These are so common not for health reasons but because they're cheap and shelf stable, so they can be used to create high-profit consumer products. If you want mental clarity, however, head for the produce section.

2. Exercise.

Regular exercise that gets your heart rate up will help to boost your metabolism, and a higher metabolism will help deliver greater mental clarity. I love to exercise first thing in the morning — it feels good physically, but the main reason I do it is for the mental and emotional boost that stays with me well into the afternoon.

On days when I don't exercise, I don't feel as mentally sharp. If I go several days in a row without doing any exercise, I feel mentally sluggish. It's crazy that so many people would accept such sluggishness as normal. Just 20 minutes of vigorous exercise each morning is enough to boost mental performance throughout the day.

Exercising is easy. Don't make excuses or overcomplicate it. If you can't think of anything you'd rather do, just put on some music and dance around for 20 minutes. You'll feel great afterwards, and your mind will grow sharper.

3. Stretch.

Stretching helps relax the body, and physical relaxation promotes mental clarity. A relaxed body induces a relaxed mind.

I'm not a huge fan of yoga, but earlier this year I found a simple 45-minute yoga workout I actually enjoy. It's called Candlelight Yoga, and its focus is on relaxing the body and the mind. You can watch it on Netflix for free if you have their streaming service. I like how clear and relaxed my mind feels when I do these exercises.

4. Avoid stimulants.

I enjoy a soy latte now and then, but I feel most mentally sharp when I go for long stretches without any caffeine. I notice that when I have caffeine too often, my mind becomes increasingly foggy, and I begin feeling less focused. It becomes difficult to make clear, long-term decisions that I'll still be committed to a week later.

Caffeine puts the body into a state of stress. What makes you feel stimulated is the release of adrenaline. It may feel good for a while, but that short-term mental boost comes at a price. Within a week or two, the body adapts to the caffeine intake, and soon you have to consume caffeine just to feel normal, or you have to deal with recurring crashes. This stressed situation isn't your optimal state physically or mentally. By consuming caffeine regularly, you sentence your mind to suboptimal performance.

I don't think it's a big deal to have some caffeine now and then, but if you're consuming it every day, you've become an addict. Read How to Give Up Coffee to break the cycle and enjoy mental clarity through relaxation instead of addiction.

5. Challenge Your Mind.

Use it or lose it holds true with the mind as well as the muscles. When I was designing puzzle games more than a decade ago, I came across some research reporting that Alzheimer's Disease could be staved off indefinitely in many cases by giving seniors mentally challenging puzzles to tackle each day. Even something as mundane as crossword puzzles is enough to fire up the mind and put it to work.

A simple method you can use to exercise your mind each day is the 20 Ways to Improve practice. This method has other benefits too, but it's a great way to begin each day with a mental challenge.

6. Read.

Reading feeds your mind with fresh input. It introduces new patterns of thinking and prevents your mind from getting stuck in repetitive loops.

This year I've really gotten into audiobooks, especially biographies. By playing them at double speed and listening while doing other activities (making food, shaving, driving, exercising, shopping, etc.), I can go through a couple of audiobooks each week without investing any extra time in them. I went through Steve Jobs' new biography, which was 25+ hours of audio, in less than a week with this method. I love this approach because it's very efficient; it transforms mental downtime into education time. Even if you only invest 10 minutes a day in audio learning, that works out to 61 hours per year, which is enough to digest 5-6 audiobooks. And 10 minutes per day is nothing.

A foggy mind can become a vicious cycle if left unchecked. Poor decisions lead you to the foggy state in the first place, and then that fogginess causes you to keep making poor decisions that keep you stuck. I find that the best way to break free of this cycle is to recognize when my thinking feels foggier than I'd like and to remember what high mental clarity feels like. If I observe that I'm not in that high clarity state, I know it's important to make course corrections to get back there. Otherwise I know my results are going to suffer.

One strategy I recommend is to create a simple reboot process for yourself. This is a set of actions you'll perform when you notice that your mind isn't as sharp as it could be. You can base that process on the items above, or create your own. A good timeframe is to transition over the course of a week. Actions steps could include: replace coffee with herbal tea, drink 2 green smoothies per day, run 20 minutes every morning while listening to audiobooks, do yoga in the evenings, and read some intelligent nonfiction for 30 minutes before bed. Within a week you'll notice that your mind is becoming noticeably sharper.

A dull mind is like a dull knife. You can still use it, but it isn't as effective, and you're more likely to slip and get hurt. You notice that the knife is dull when it starts creating problems for you. A sharp knife, by contrast, just works.

If your life is starting to fill up with problems, check the status of your primary tool. Is your mind serving you as a sharp and effective tool? Or has it gotten so dull that it's actually creating more problems than it's solving?

By conscious choice you can do what it takes to develop and enjoy a clear, focused, relaxed mind. Will you commit to that option? Or would you rather deal with the consequences of a dull, cluttered, unfocused mind?