When we eat a lot of junk food or overindulge at a party, our bodies let us know right away that we need to detox by drinking lots of water, sweating it out, and eating healthy foods.
But the mind needs detoxing, too. We cram it full of disturbing media messages. We don't give it enough rest. Or we strain our brains to the max with workplace worries and deadlines.
If your mind is foggy, if you lack clarity, or if you have a difficult time coming up with quick and smart solutions to problems, this is a good indication that you need a mental detox.
Here's a 21-day mental detox program to get your brain performing at its peak.
1. Add exercise to your routine.
Four new studies presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Vancouver confirm that exercise helps to prevent low mental function that's caused by stress and aging. Schedule at least three workouts – cardio or weight lifting – every week for three weeks. The productivity and energy that exercise brings far outweighs the loss of a half hour from your day.
2. Plot out your day in advance.
For the next 21 days, organize each day before the day begins. Commit to waking up 30 minutes earlier than you're used to in order to identify your top three to-do's. Choose three daily tasks that have the greatest influence on your performance and success. The most important tasks each day are also typically the tasks we fear, dread, and avoid most – taxing our mental function with stress hormones and negative emotions.
3. Do your top three to-dos first.
Most people do this backwards – they focus first on the unimportant tasks and save the most crucial activities for last. Saving the important items for last means that you'll need the greatest courage and energy at the end of the day when you're most tired from spending countless hours completing lower-priority tasks. By getting the most important items out of the way first, you create mental energy and momentum for the rest of the day.
4. Finish what you start.
Unfinished projects leave us feeling self-critical and hassled. As you tackle a project, commit to focusing on it exclusively until it's done. If it's a large project, break it down into manageable parts that can each be completed in one sitting. Don't multitask or tolerate interruptions. Developing the self-discipline of a finisher will help you feel more satisfied and mentally relaxed at the end of your workday.
5. Seek small, continuous improvement.
A sign that you need to mentally detox is feeling hopeless, overwhelmed, or burnt out. This comes from fixating on the end result, rather than looking for any improvement along the way. For 21 days, remind yourself to discover any improvement in the current situation, small or large. When you get into the habit of seeing improvement, you become more optimistic and less discouraged.
6. Recharge your mental battery.
In addition to exercise, the overloaded brain needs rest in order to function optimally. The brain really is like a battery – it only requires one full night's sleep in order to recharge. It's okay to work hard and be mentally tired – even to do this several days in a row – as long as you get one good night's sleep every few days. Mental rest during the day is also important. Take out your calendar and schedule one day of rest for each seven-day cycle for the next three weeks. You will find yourself more productive and less mentally exhausted for the other six days.
Jason Selk trains companies and organizations, including athletes, coaches, and business leaders, in mental-performance boosting. He's the author of 10-Minute Toughness (McGraw-Hill, 2008) and Executive Toughness (McGraw-Hill, 2011). Learn more at www.enhancedperformanceinc.com.