Cognitive Enhancement: 8 Methods To Boost Your Mental Performance
Wisdom may come with age, but our memory, focus, and processing speed tend to get worse with time. You can blame stress, an ever-growing number of responsibilities, and our school days being far behind us.
Fortunately, our brains are highly plastic and capable of making major improvements.
Before, researchers thought your brain’s abilities were pretty much set in stone by your mid-20s. But now, it’s clear that our brains are capable of change throughout our entire lives.
So, if it’s hard for you to read more than a paragraph or if you just can’t remember your new co-worker’s name, you don’t have to blame your age or your genetics. Instead, know that change is more than possible — and this guide from Earth & Star will show you how.
Keep reading this guide from us to discover eight cognitive enhancement, also called neuroenhancement, strategies, ranging from brain training to nootropic supplements to stress reduction.
1. Brain Training
As a high school or college student, you didn’t have to worry about flexing your brain muscles. Learning, which involves memorizing a bunch of information and then applying it, naturally strengthens your cognitive abilities.
But if you’ve been out of school for a while and don’t feel like you’re being challenged, your memory and focus can wane. Just like with our muscles, if you don’t use it, you might lose it!
That’s where brain training programs come in. These tend to be similar to computer games, except they’re meant to train and test certain mental skills. The brain training industry is worth millions of dollars, with some neuroscience research showing it to be moderately effective in improving cognitive performance.
But you don’t have to invest in a brain training program to practice your mental skills. There are plenty of things you can do that are both fun and useful.
For instance, you can learn a new language, take an art history course, or even study for a grad school admissions test for memory enhancement benefits. For instance, one systematic review suggests that healthy subjects preparing for law school can improve their IQ.
So, improving mental performance may be a matter of using your brain more — in whichever way is most enjoyable for you.
2. Healthy Fats
It’s no secret that what we eat impacts our mental performance. If your diet is full of sugar, refined carbs, and processed ingredients, you may feel it in the form of brain fog.
On the other hand, if your diet is full of nutritious whole foods, you’re less likely to mess with your cognitive function.
That said, for optimal mental performance, you want to up your intake of certain whole foods — while keeping others to a minimum. Healthy fats are one of the most important nutrients for a healthy brain.
Essential fatty acids, like omega-3s, are used to grow and develop the brain as early as in the womb. During adulthood, essential fatty acids are used to create myelin, the fatty layer of insulation that increases connectivity between different brain regions. It’s no wonder that supplementing with fish oil is linked to improved cognitive performance.
But not all fish oil supplements on the market are that great for you. Some are downright rancid, which can be worse for you than taking nothing at all. So, try to get your fatty acids from whole foods, like wild-caught fish, pastured eggs, and Adaptogen Chocolate.
3. High-Intensity Exercise
If you work out, you likely know how awesome exercise can make you feel. And it’s full of enhancing effects, such as glowing skin, muscle strength, and heart health.
But the benefits of physical exercise don’t stop at the body. It also happens to be one of the best things you can do for your mental performance. Exercise can boost overall cognitive function, affecting your motivation levels, working memory, and concentration ability.
There’s a specific type of exercise that’s superior for boosting cognitive performance and has gained prevalence in recent years. It’s called high-intensity interval training (HIIT), a type of workout that alternates between bursts of intense activity and rest.
HIIT has been shown to boost brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which can help you grow new brain cells.
And the best part? It takes 15 minutes tops to do a HIIT workout. You can squeeze it into your morning routine and go through your day with a major brain boost that will only accumulate over time.
4. Intermittent Fasting
You may have heard about the concept of fasting for physical health and weight loss, but one meta-analysis suggests intermittent fasting can boost focus and memory while increasing energy levels — a trifecta for optimized mental performance.
Intermittent fasting works by promoting autophagy, which is a process that clears damaged cells from the brain. This can help eliminate the “junk” that physically gets between brain cells and gets in the way of clear, fast thinking.
Going some time without food can also help you tap into your fat reserves, using fat as your main source of energy. While sugar provides quick energy, it dwindles just as fast. On the other hand, fat as a fuel source is slow-burning, steady, and optimal for mental performance.
Intermittent fasting isn’t anything complicated. For instance, to fast for 18 hours, all you have to do is skip breakfast. This should feel fine for most healthy people, but check in with a health care provider beforehand!
5. Natural Supplements
Some people swear by certain performance enhancement drugs. For instance, modafinil has been making headlines as the smart drug for busy working professionals.
Some other infamous ones include Adderall (amphetamine) and Ritalin (methylphenidate). But these pharmacological cognitive enhancement drugs can have side effects, even in healthy individuals.
Some natural supplements may help support cognition if you and your doctor determine that they are safe for you.
Here are some options to consider:
Caffeine is the O.G. of cognitive enhancers. It’s naturally found in coffee (duh) but also in tea, cacao, kola nuts, and guarana.
Caffeine can promote alertness, improve your sense of well-being, and give you tons of physical energy. It’s a great way to boost dopamine, one of the neurotransmitters responsible for motivation, reward, and happiness.
If you’re drinking coffee, you’re also consuming lots of antioxidants that can protect against free radical damage. But only if it’s organic — otherwise, you’re probably consuming more toxins than benefits.
Read your labels, and since it’s something you are likely consuming on the daily, keep in mind that it pays to spend the extra bucks on the non-toxic.
But the coffee jitters can be pretty annoying, which is why we prefer to have our caffeine with a dose of calming adaptogenic mushrooms, thank you very much. And we don’t mean to brag, but our Organic Ground Coffee tastes pretty damn good, too.
L-theanine is an amino acid that can boost mental alertness without making you feel on-edge. It’s found in green tea, black tea, and yerba mate, which are pleasantly uplifting drinks when you want a boost of energy.
While L-theanine is great on its own, we think that combining it with caffeine can supercharge its effects. And that’s exactly why our Organic Ground Coffee contains this powerful brain-enhancing ingredient.
Adaptogens are a group of plants that balance stress levels in the body. Depending on which adaptogen we’re talking about, there can be other benefits, too.
In the adaptogen category are mighty mushrooms like Chaga, Lion’s Mane, and Reishi. Together, these superfoods can increase mental calm, prevent oxidative damage, and stimulate the release of nerve growth factors.
So you actually reap the benefits of adaptogenic mushrooms, our Mushroom Tinctures contain 1,000 milligrams of extract — the highest out there. Take it with you wherever you go and drop it into your coffee, water, or mouth.
You’ve most likely been stressed out at least once.
Almost immediately, stress can make you feel like you’re in survival mode, which takes away from those “higher-order functions” like planning, organizing, and remembering.
Over time, stress can change your brain. Those who experience chronic stress show signs of impairment in those domains we consider optimal brain activity.
Meditation is an excellent way to reduce stress. It trains you to take your attention away from stressful thoughts and behaviors and to focus on something calming, like the breath. Those who practice meditation report immediate short-term benefits that only grow over time.
But besides reducing stress, meditation can improve mental performance in other ways. Because it’s primarily a practice that aims to improve your ability to stay present and pay attention, so it may help your focus and concentration abilities.
Meditation may also help with your ability to stay grounded during chaotic times. So, while others go into full-on panic mode, you’ll be able to navigate stressful situations with a clear head.
7. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
While cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) isn’t generally seen as a way to enhance mental performance, it can do so if used correctly.
For instance, if you have certain limiting thoughts, you may be less likely to engage in behaviors that help you to improve. Identifying and changing these thoughts — which is what CBT does — can help you remove a major roadblock to boosting your mental performance.
And it may sound corny, but positive thinking is super important. While negative thinking drives stress, anxiety, and poor lifestyle choices, being positive can boost your mood, make you feel calmer, and free up your mental reserves for where it matters.
Working with a good CBT therapist can help you change your limiting beliefs and adopt healthier ways of thinking and acting — all things that can boost brain function in the long run.
8. Reducing Inflammation
With increasing age, less blood flows to the brain. This makes brain cells shrink, which can lead to poor cognitive function.
But age isn’t purely chronological. It’s possible to speed up brain aging with behaviors that increase chronic inflammation — which is arguably one of the worst states for your body to be in.
Fortunately, it’s more than possible to reduce inflammation.
We all know there are things we shouldn’t be doing for our health, like smoking cigarettes, eating sugar, and skipping out on sleep. But why are they so bad for our health? Well, increased inflammation is at the top of the list.
If you lead a healthy life, abound with plenty of sleep, fresh water, healthy foods, sunlight, laughter, and Adaptogenic Mushrooms, then things will fall into place on their own.
As long as you give your body what it needs — and don’t interfere with its healing by doing harmful things to it — then your levels of inflammation should stabilize naturally. This, in turn, can lead to enhanced neurocognitive function.
Enhancing Mental Performance With Adaptogenic Mushrooms
We all want a clear memory, bulletproof focus, and quick thinking. And with our nine cognitive enhancement methods, getting there is more than possible. You can try a brain-training program, start a meditation practice, or take a natural supplement — the choice is in your hands.
With Earth & Star’s products — which contain the highest concentration of mushroom extract — you’ll be sure to start loving the world of fungi.
Try our Lattes, Chocolate, or Gummies. Or give yourself the gift of a little bit of everything.
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Long-term Effects of Cognitive Training on Everyday Functional Outcomes in Older Adults | JAMA
Jury's In: Law School Test Messes with the Mind | Live Science
Application of nutrient essentiality criteria to dietary carbohydrates | Nutrition Research Reviews | Cambridge Core
Long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids supplementation and cognitive performance throughout adulthood: A 6-month randomized controlled trial. | ScienceDirect
Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence | PMC
The Impact of High-Intensity Interval Training on Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor in Brain: A Mini-Review | Frontiers
The Benefits of Fasting | Johns Hopkins Health Review
There is one drug in the world that can make you smarter — here's why you can't take it yet | Business Insider