Mental energy is hard to define, but you know it when you feel it. It’s the difference between dragging yourself from one item on your to do list to another, and attacking that list with confidence, motivation and focus. It’s the difference between letting your day just happen to you and really making your day work for you. It’s a mental ability to focus, maintain engagement and organize your thoughts to transform a to do list into a done list.
Now that we have covered what mental energy is and what it looks like, let’s dive into the 15 quick tips for improving your mental energy! Under each tip I have a suggested “try this” option so you can test and see if that particular tip will work for you. Some will be more intense than others. And some might just surprise you! But all of them are worth considering if your mental energy is dwindling.
There is a ton of research coming out right now about the positive benefits of gratitude on your health. While I didn’t find any directly linked to mental energy, I did find support that gratitude helps you sleep better, increases your mood, supports your psychological AND physical health. I can’t really see how a person who is well adjusted and sleeping good doesn’t increase mental stamina compared to a person who is ungrateful with poor sleep habits and a negative attitude.
Try This: Start and end each day for the next 2 weeks with a gratitude journal.
Modern society spends most of our time indoors. And we tend to cover well when we do venture outside with clothes and sunscreen. But hiding from the sun has its costs!
Our bodies make vitamin D when our skin is exposed to sunlight. Not enough time in the sun means we don’t get enough of this vitamin. There are so many benefits to vitamin D, and one of them is improved mental energy. Don’t believe me?
Try This: After lunch when you are feeling the urge to go take a nap, go outside instead for at least a few minutes. Don’t put on sunscreen or take sunglasses – the short exposure won’t be harmful.
Build in Movement
Movement isn’t just about exercise, it’s a form of sensory stimulation that supports your attention and mental focus! It is one of my favorite ways to support my mental energy throughout the day.
Try This: When you start feeling your mind wander or your energy drop, take a 3-5 minute break to do something physical. You could go for a brisk walk, add some squats, jog in place, stretch or whatever. It doesn’t need to be very intense, but it should get your heart rate up at least a little bit and get you out of the sitting position.
Bonus Tip: You can also add movement to the activity itself. So instead of taking movement breaks, moving while doing work. This is the idea behind a standing desk. But if you aren’t ready for that, the easier way to add movement would be to sit on an exercise ball instead of a chair. It will activate core muscles for stability even if you aren’t actively bouncing or rolling on it. These core muscle activations will help to maintain your mental energy and attention.
This one probably goes without saying, but sleep is important for your mental focus! You probably know that, but it’s often hard to make sleep a priority. Because of this, I recommend focusing on increasing the quality if you cannot increase the quantity of your sleep.
Shawn Stevensen wrote an awesome book to help you hack your sleep life called Sleep Smarter.
Try This: Turn off the electronics and give yourself time to wind down. If you can, try to go to sleep even half an hour earlier. Make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible while you sleep. And in the morning, try to do 5-10 minutes of physical movement to get your heart rate up. All of these tactics support a healthier circadian rhythm!
Feed Your Brain
Nutrition is important for every bodily function, including mental energy!
Your nutritional needs to support mental functioning includes healthy fat sources, complex carbs from dense plant sources and some anti-inflammatory fruits.
Try This: There are lots of great brain foods to choose from, so find a few you like and bon apetit!
Mental confusion is one of the hallmark signs of dehydration. So of course hydrating can certainly help boost your brain power! Even if you don’t think you’re dehydrated, it might be worth trying on yourself since there are many common causes of dehydration.
Try This: Limit your coffee intake to only 1-2 cups per day. After that resolve to only drink water or teas the rest of the day (being mindful of caffeine content in the teas). If you love to drink cold water, invest in a Yeti or similar product to keep it cold all day. If you prefer your water warm with lemon, prep the lemons for the day. Then chug, chug, chug!
When you allow your to do list to grow and grow without any real progress, it can get overwhelming quick! And when you tackle several tasks at once you often spend more mental energy than if you would just do one thing at a time to completion.
Try This: The Pomodoro Technique is a tool you can use to plan out a period of focused productivity. There are many tweaks you can make to the technique but generally it’s the same process. Before you start, you need to decide what you want to accomplish. It might be a single task that takes a while to complete or you might have a list and just resolve to work on only the things on the list to completion before moving on. Then you set a time limit on how long you are going to work. Commonly this is 20-40 minutes. At the end, you take a pre-determined break. Even just doing one of these sessions per day can make a huge improvement on the amount of projects you are able to move forward on.
Make a Low Energy List
This one is a bit genius if you think about it. If you have a list of productive activities that you can easily do when your mental energy is low, you can allow your mind to dip a bit and then challenge it to re-engage.
Try This: Make a list of all the productive but low energy tasks you perform regularly. The next time you just feel sluggish, look at that list and do those for a short while. This will allow your mind to take a small break. The key is that at the end of about 20-30 minutes, you need to do something else to kick your mind into gear and tackle more intense work. Otherwise you spend all day watching panda sneeze videos on YouTube… or so I hear…
Create Habits and Routines
Psychological studies have shown that you have a limited amount of energy to put towards making decisions each day. If you spend a long time on the trivial decisions, the less energy you have for important decisions. This is why Steve Jobs wore the same outfit daily- to avoid having to make a decision. In fact, many successful CEOs automate or even outsource some of these lesser important decisions.
Try This: Try to think through some of the decisions you make on a daily basis that takes more than 30 seconds but is not really important. Consider automating those decisions. For example, if you agonize over what’s for dinner, you can try meal planning. Create 4-6 one week meal plans and create a rotation. If you can find even just one or two decisions to automate or outsource, you might notice a difference!
Change Up Your Environment…
Our brains are great at recognizing patterns. We can notice something out of place before we can even put our finger on what it is exactly. That also means that when we work in the same environment day after day, it becomes less mentally engaging. Mixing it up can encourage your brain to stay awake and notice the subtle differences.
Try This: Rearrange furniture. Get a new plant. Add fresh paint to the wall, or hang a new picture. Just do something to introduce some new energy into the space. *Personally, I have found this to be particularly engaging if the environment is clean and tidy as well.
Take a Caffeine Nap
I know, a caffeine nap sounds crazy, but the science says it works! So what is it? Basically coffee, then nap. Not fancy, but I have tried it a few times and it definitely worked for me!
Try This: I recommend trying this on an “off day”. Personally, I tried it on a Sunday when the kids were both taking their naps. First, drink a cup of coffee. Then, lay down and set the alarm for 20 minutes. When the alarm goes off, the caffeine will have kicked in and your mind will have gotten just enough rest to reboot. It’s like waking up to a shot of espresso!
Meditation seems like it is getting credit for every benefit under the sun these days. But the process of focusing your attention on the present moment can certainly help boost your mental focus.
Try This: Even if you aren’t ready to add a meditation session to your routine, you can certainly experiment with apps designed to support meditation. My current favorite is the Calm app. It has several meditation soundscapes that you can run in the background to drown out other noises. It also has some guided imagery that will help you relax during your down times.
Optimize the Environment
Instead of focusing on change to experience something different, these changes are designed to increase the experience itself. Perhaps you are too comfortable in your chair and you start to fall asleep. Consider a new chair with less back support. Or maybe you waste a lot of time setting up before you can actually get stuff done. Tweaking your environment to support productivity means that you get more done without as much effort- double win!
Try This: Invest in some tools that will optimize your posture. (When your posture is good, your attention improves!) Rearrange your work area so the items you need are close by, accessible and organized. De-clutter the eyesores.
If your body is working overtime to process your food, it won’t have mental energy left over. This can be due to allergies, unstable hormones or blood sugar fluctuations. While this isn’t the easiest tip to try, it might be the missing link for you. If you try several other options on this page and don’t see results, I recommend tackling this one!
Try This: Test for food allergies or try an elimination diet. *Find a physician to help you that you trust. Their expertise might make this process much less confusing!
Plan your stresses
Stress can be a good thing, but only if it is well managed. When we are stressed, we release the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is very much linked to our circadian rhythms that support a healthy sleep pattern.
Ideally, our cortisol levels should rise immediately after waking and stay up for a while in the morning and then trend down throughout the day. This pattern helps us to shut down for a deeper sleep pattern and wake up the next day feeling refreshed.
Try This: Wake up at the same time everyday for 2 weeks (even on the weekends). Within 10 minutes of waking up you need to do at least 2 minutes of a quick physical activity. It can be squats, jumping, running in place- anything to get your blood moving. Then try to load your days with all the stressful/intense things earlier in the morning and early afternoon. Be intentional as the day progresses about building in lower stress activities so that you are relaxed by bedtime.
Do you have another quick tip to share that I didn’t cover in this post? Share it below in the comments. Also, if you try one of these quick tips, I would so enjoy reading about your experience.