Don’t strain your cerebral cortex: The importance of brain warm ups

My dad is 65 years old and he’s been running marathons for the last 4 years. Before a race he prepares himself mentally and physically by doing the following –

  • Getting a good night sleep (8 hours)
  • Having a healthy low GI breakfast
  • Stretching his muscles with a 500 metre jog
  • As a marathon runner he knows that to perform at his best he needs to prepare himself for the big event. Even with the best training, he knows that to run sleep deprived, in a low mood or without having warmed up would be a recipe for disaster.

    The importance of warming up seems obvious when we think of athletes, but what about for the rest of us? Do you mentally prepare yourself and warm up your brain before you start your work and study?

    Just as my dad and world class athletes prepare themselves for an event, if you have a project that you need to be able to really focus on then you’ll need to prepare yourself mentally and physically for it.

    How can you do this?

    Here is a list of 10 ways you can warm up your brain and mentally prepare for a big day at school or work.

    1. Get a good night sleep

    If you want to be able to concentrate on your work then you need to get a good night’s sleep (8.5 – 9.5 hours for adolescents, a little less for adults).

    If you’re averaging around 6 hours, that’s not enough. It’s highly likely that you will feel tired and sluggish and have great difficulty concentrating on your work.

    2. Drink plenty of water

    When you wake up have a glass of water. Why? Performance coach Harriet Griffey states –

    “Water makes up about 80% of the brain and is an essential element in neurological transmissions”.

    If you want to think better, then drink plenty of water. Often when you can’t concentrate or think properly it’s because you’re dehydrated. Have a bottle of water within arms reach when you work.

    3. Move your body

    Morning exercise can help clear and focus your mind. In addition, it can boost your endorphin levels which lifts your mood (thereby further enhancing your ability to concentrate on your work).

    4. Lift your mood and energy levels

    Think of a time when you felt stressed and irritable – how easy was it for you to concentrate? It’s tough work! On the other hand, when you feel calm and happy it’s significantly easier to concentrate.

    So if you find yourself in a negative mood, you need to find a way to stabilise your mood for the day ahead. Going for a quick 15 – 20 minute jog or taking 5 minutes to meditate may be all it takes.

    5. Do a brain dump

    When you wake up your mind can be full of different thoughts (e.g. “Why didn’t John respond to my text?”, “How am I going to get all my work done by Friday?” and “Must remember to buy milk”). If these thoughts just stay in your head they can often leave you feeling overwhelmed. Overwhelm = stress.

    So what’s the antidote? It’s simple – get the thoughts out of your head and onto paper. Spend 5 minutes writing down whatever thoughts come to mind. The act of writing them down will give you a greater sense of control.

    6. Sit still and focus on your breath for 5 minutes

    Find yourself a quiet place and sit upright. Close your eyes and focus on your breathe for 5 minutes. If a thought comes into your mind, acknowledge it and let it go, returning your focus to your breath.

    This simple exercise allows you to calm your mind and body for the day, helping you to focus and deal more effectively with what the day throws at you.

    7. Have a low GI healthy breakfast

    Low GI breakfasts, such as muesli with chopped fruit and wholemeal toast with baked beans, will give you the energy you need to get through the first part of the day and will allow you to concentrate better on your work.

    8. Spend 5 seconds de-cluttering

    A messy, disorganised environment can result in you being easily distracted from what you need to do. Spend 5 minutes cleaning your desk of anything that you won’t need to do the task at hand. If this means picking up all the papers and dumping them into a box behind you, then so be it. You can deal with them later.

    9. Get clear with lists

    Ask yourself the question –

    “What are the most important things I need to do today?”

    Start a list. Write down all the things, then cull that list back to 3 things to focus your mind on.

    10. Visualise yourself working with focus

    Visualisation is the act of mentally rehearsing something over and over in your minds eye. Athletes use this strategy to help them perfect executing certain moves. I have found this strategy to be particularly effective in helping me to prepare for engaging in work that I have a lot of mental resistance towards.

    An example of this was a 12,000 word essay I had to complete in my final year of studying psychology at university. Every morning I would imagine myself sitting at my laptop and my hands tapping away wildly at the keyboard. As simple as this may sound, this actually made it easier for me to get up and start writing my essay.

    In conclusion, we need to approach our work days as a marathon. In order for the day to go smoothly and effectively, it may help to do a brain warm up before you launch into your work. Without it, you’ll probably still be able to function at a reasonable level, but it may take you longer and be harder to get into the work you need to do. Try combining a few of the suggestions above and let me know how you go.

    7 thoughts on “Don’t strain your cerebral cortex: The importance of brain warm ups

    1. #8 is not good advice. If you are constantly pushing things into a pile with the notion of ‘later’ … later will never come. This is from personal experience.

      1. Good point Bryan! I just find that if my workspace is clean, I am more likely to be able to focus on my work! But I also understand that this decluttering could be procrastinating for some people 🙂


    2. There are some good tips here, it can take me half a day to get going on Mondays and I’ve been looking for tips on how to kick start my week.

    3. Great!…this article is very useful.. I discovered what I was looking for when I feel my memory is so poor. Thanks a lot for your valuable resources!

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