Avoiding Brain Drain.

Do you ever find yourself just completely exhausted after a long day of work, or perhaps a long day out taking care of your kids or dealing with family? Heck, ever get that feeling where your entire body and mind feel drained even though you’ve been sitting down in front of a desk all day staring at a computer? You shouldn’t feel drained, you didn’t even do anything physically taxing!

Ah, but the mind, it uses energy too. And just like physical energy, there is a finite amount of mental energy available to you. The more you use, the more you lose. Every time you make a decision, a little bit of mental energy depletes. Ever use the term “Long day at work” even though it might have been 8 hours just the same? I call it the end of day mush. Focusing on hard problems. mush. Hard, hard concentration. Lots of mush. The brain gets fatigued much like the body does. During undergrad, my brain was in a permanent state of mush. It was a disaster.

The brain also needs sustenance much like the body does. The brain’s endurance can be strengthened much like the body. If you’re out of shape, you might be able to take a few steps of stairs, but might be unable to walk 10 flights of stairs – at least not without breaks and recovery and sustenance. Think of a video game – hold down the turbo button for a burst of energy, but eventually you’ll blow your wad if you don’t recharge. NBA Jam, anyone? However, if you train the brain, eventually 10 flights of “brain” stairs is nothing.

Focused concentration takes a lot of energy. So does willpower. It depletes. Some studies suggest that low levels of blood glucose lowers performance on “willpower” tasks like self control and motivation. But then restoring glucose also helped in restoring performance. So there you go, just have some fruit or gatorade! That’s perhaps one simple and useful trick. And a good trick to have in your tool belt. And another idea that I like a lot is to minimize your decision making. Ever wonder why Steve Jobs always wore a turtle neck? Or why Mark Zuckberberg sticks to a hoody? Perhaps, and this is just a theory, they intuitively understood the idea of minimizing decisions so they could have the energy to focus on the important stuff like their work and their legacy.

Sleep is also one of those things that seems to recharge the brain and body. Napping is a key method that can be used throughout the day to help restore some brain juice. History is filled with superstar nappers. Churchill, Napolean, Leonardo da Vinci, Edison, etc… A daily nap(s) is huge.

Other forms of relaxation that I find are useful include things like meditation, listening to calming music, doing some form of physical activity like going for a walk, lifting weights, or playing a sport. Anything that you enjoy is fair game including playing a game, painting, reading a good book, etc. – as long as it isn’t in excess and helps the mind stay away from the thing that was draining it is good in my books.

Full confession. I get brain drain every single day to varying degrees. If I don’t have my nap, and I didn’t get a good nights sleep, and I don’t get in any form of exercise. Forget it, I’m done for the day. Mush brain. However, if I’m on point, and I’m able to fit in some light reading or some meditation, I can keep on going like the Energizer bunny. In my experience, a focused 3-4 hours of hard, concentrated work produces much better results then 10 hrs of unfocused, mush brain work. So I always like to take breaks when I can. Work. Nap. Work. Read. Work. Exercise. Work. Coffee. Work. Eat. Work. Play. Work. Sleep. Turtlenecks and Hoodies. Ah, the good life.


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