6 Ways to Train Your Brain

Feed Your Needs For Maximum Productivity

6 Ways to Train Your Brain
[Illustration by Kyle Bean]

Give it oxygen:

Meditative breathing actually alters your gene expression: inflammation- oriented ones turn off, metabolism-oriented ones turn on. All of which helps focus.


Let it wander:

Our minds are often drifting during our waking hours, but that doesn’t have to be a productivity loss, says Arizona State research psychologist Peter Killeen. When you’ve exhausted your neurons on a single task, take a break and see what your brain comes up with–free association and analogizing are keys to creativity.

Shut it down:

Daily sleep requirements vary–just make sure you get enough. Chronically sleep-deprived people think they’re doing fine, but their performance drops off without their noticing.

Nourish it:

Your neurons are made up of many things, including omega-3 fatty acids, so reach for nuts, flaxseeds, and, most of all, fatty fish such as salmon, which contain more omega-3s than any other food. And since, like the fender of a car, your brain can get oxidized (it’s called oxidative stress), seek out antioxidants, found in dark fruits and veggies.

Lug it around, fast:

Our brain is connected to our muscles, as UCLA neuroscientist Fernando Gomez-Pinilla reminds us. Aerobic exercise–five times a week for 30 minutes–increases electrical activity in the brain and helps it process infor-mation faster. . . .


Yes, to some degree. Nearly 90% of Americans consume caffeine on a daily basis, mostly via coffee and soda–but increasingly from unlikely sources, such as Vitaminwater’s Attention, Perky Jerky beef jerky, and AeroLife, a gadget that lets you breathe it in. Caffeine does increase attention and decrease fatigue by binding the receptors for adenosine, a neuro­modulator that acts as a sedative in your nervous system. But the effect doesn’t replace the need for rest. “It’s not caffeine that you need when you’re sleepy, it’s sleep,” says Sara C. Mednick, a sleep researcher at the University of California, Riverside. “Caffeine cannot do what sleep can do. Caffeine is not restorative. It doesn’t help with memory consolidation, insulin regulation, glucose metabolism, or muscle or bone repair. It just keeps you awake.” If only sleep came in jerky form.

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.