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How to Avoid Brain Drain


As if modern life weren’t distracting enough, a recent study that found that simply having your smartphone nearby can reduce cognitive capacity. Research published in the Journal for the Association of Consumer Research discovered that even when study participants successfully avoided checking their phones, their brains weren’t able to fully focus on or engage with the task at hand. In fact, standard mindfulness tricks like putting the phone facedown on a table or even turning it off completely did nothing to prevent the distraction.

Brain drain is real, and it happens to even the most conscientious of us. But there are some simple, everyday ways to keep your cognitive abilities strong and stay mindfully present with the people, events, and tasks that matter most to you.

women exercising

Get moving. Physical activity isn’t just good for your body—it’s good for your brain, too. Exercise releases chemicals that strengthen the brain, so you stay at your best as you think, learn, and use your judgment. A brisk walk around the neighborhood counts as aerobic exercise, as does your favorite studio class, so get out there and whip that brain into shape.

woman sleeping in bed

Hit the sheets. Sleep helps you not only form memories but remember them when you’re awake. When you don’t get enough sleep, your mind just doesn’t work at its best. It can hinder your learning, your problem-solving skills, and your ability to pay attention or make decisions. Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night; if you’re not hitting that goal, then it’s time to make over your sleep routine. Take another look at how you’re setting up your bedroom at bedtime—and as you might have guessed, it’s a good idea to leave your phone charging in another room. (If you use your phone as an alarm, it’s harder to hit snooze this way, too!)

woman meditating

Meditate. You might have heard that meditation can help you feel calmer and more centered, but it may also actually be physically affecting your brain. According to research, meditation may help you better process information. New to meditation? There are apps for that, as well as video how-tos, books, and even classes. Start exploring and watch your mindfulness rise.

person reading a book

Pick up a good book. You don’t need science to tell you that getting lost in an amazing story is an excellent exercise in focused attention. But researchers at Emory University observed a small group of people as they read a novel over the course of nine days and noticed that in the days after reading, there was increased connectivity in the brain. The increases were seen in parts of the brain associated with perspective-taking and story comprehension, so if that report you’re reading isn’t making a sense no matter how many times you look it over, try penciling in a reading break for a refresh.

woman holding hand

Leave the phone in your handbag. Or in another room altogether. The brain drain study suggests that the simplest way to take full advantage of your cognitive resources and focus your attention on the task or people in front of you is to simply separate yourself from your phone. As they say, out of sight, out of mind.

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