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When was the last time you had an uber-productive day, completing every task on your to-do list without running into distractions, daydreams, diminishing focus, or draining energy?
If you’re like many of us, that day sounds like a pipe dream—but it doesn’t have to be.
Lack of mental clarity can disrupt several aspects of our lives, including how we perform at work, how we physically and mentally feel, and even how we interact with friends and loved ones.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways that we can optimize our brains to start feeling healthier, focused, and more productive, from lifestyle hacks like strategically consuming caffeine and getting sunlight first thing in the morning to the top seven mental clarity supplements.
In this article, we’ll dive deep into the leading causes of poor mental clarity, why it’s so important to maintain, and our favorite tips for sharpening mental clarity that you can start implementing today.
When you have optimal mental clarity, your mind is focused, engaged, and clear.
You are more likely to think quickly on your feet and have rapid recall, perceptive thoughts, focused energy and engagement, and clear judgment.
But it’s pretty rare for someone to have optimal mental clarity all day, every day—we all have peaks and valleys in our daily focus and cognitive performance.
However, there are many things we can do to optimize our mental clarity for more productive hours in the day to boost performance in both our work and personal lives.
First, let’s take a look at what happens when our brains aren’t working as well as they should.
Conversely, a lack of mental clarity is a collection of symptoms—sometimes referred to as “brain fog”—including:
These symptoms can lead to poor work performance, emotional distance from loved ones, dysfunctional sleep and exercise habits, and low self-esteem or confidence.
Having strong mental clarity is essential for feeling and performing at our best.
People with robust cognitive and mental health are more likely to meet personal and professional goals, make better decisions, battle stressful situations, and feel more fulfilled in life.
Mental clarity also makes it easier to stay organized and productive, which can translate to better work-life balance and getting things done more efficiently.
Many of us experience a lack of mental clarity on a somewhat regular basis.
There are several things we do—or don’t do—that can cause brain fog or lack of cognitive clarity, including:
As a lack of mental clarity can be so detrimental to physical and emotional health, it’s imperative to find ways to promote healthier cognitive function and productivity—like these eight lifestyle tips and research-backed supplements.
We all know that we move a little slower—both physically and mentally—on days we got poor sleep the night before.
However, it’s what we do on a consistent basis that matters most.
Developing a consistent sleep routine is one of the best ways to gain mental clarity; most experts recommend getting 7 to 9 hours per night.
Improve your sleep hygiene by maintaining consistent sleep-wake times, having a wind-down routine at night, shutting off electronics for 1 to 2 hours before your desired bedtime, and avoiding caffeine and alcohol in the evening.
Physical activity stimulates the release of feel-good chemicals like endorphins and serotonin, leading to immediate mood boosts.
Regular exercise also sharpens memory, cognitive function, and recall abilities.
One reason for this is because exercise prompts the growth of new brain cells—a process called neurogenesis—by boosting levels of a growth factor called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor).
More BDNF—and therefore more neuron growth—leads to a healthier brain, including reductions in anxiety, depression, and dementia risk.
Chronic stress increases cortisol levels, which is detrimental to cognitive function.
Although easier said than done, stress management is crucial for having sharp mental clarity.
Some well-known ways to relieve stress are also beneficial for mental focus, including sleeping, moving, and eating better.
Other people manage stress by practicing self-care, making sure to take time off work, or talking to a therapist.
We live in an increasingly distractable world, with thousands of websites, apps, games, and conversations readily available at our fingertips.
In a study of office workers, the average attention span was a mere 40 seconds before people got distracted online.
People with shorter attention spans were unsurprisingly less productive and more likely to have higher stress levels.
If you find your mind—or fingers on the keyboard—constantly wandering when you’re supposed to be working, try keeping your phone in another room and using a website blocker to keep you on track.
Despite being only 2 percent of our body weight, our brains consume approximately 20 percent of our energy supply, reflecting its need for optimal nutritional fuel.
Nutrition and mental clarity are closely linked, as what we eat in both the short-term and long-term can significantly impact how we feel, think, and act.
For optimal brain function, limit high-sugar and ultra-processed foods with excessive amounts of refined carbohydrates.
Instead, focus on fueling your body with brain boosters like antioxidant-rich berries, leafy green vegetables, oily fish like salmon, fermented foods like sauerkraut and yogurt, and healthy proteins like eggs or grass-fed beef.
If you’re one of the 85% of Americans who regularly consumes the world’s most popular drug—caffeine—you may want to reevaluate your relationship with it.
Caffeine can be addictive, and many people quickly build up a tolerance to it, meaning the single cup that used to energize you now takes two or three.
To strategically use caffeine, reduce or eliminate it for a few days or longer, then only drink it before your most essential tasks—you’ll notice the energizing, focusing effects will reemerge once you stop consuming caffeine habitually.
Exposing your eyes to sunlight first thing in the morning may seem like a minor action, but it can set you up for increased productivity and focus with better sleep that night.
This dose of natural light boosts serotonin levels to improve mood and resets your circadian rhythm by halting melatonin production, which increases A.M. energy and helps you fall asleep faster that night.
Although many people think multitasking is a good way to be productive, the opposite is true: monotasking, or focusing on a single task at one time, boosts productivity and mental clarity.
Research has found that when you switch between tasks, it takes an average of 23 minutes to get back on track with the original job.
For best productivity and mental clarity, stay focused on one thing at a time, only switching when you’ve completed the task at hand.
Several supplements have been studied for their role in boosting mental clarity and cognitive function.
Many of these supplements fall under the category of nootropics—compounds or substances that boost cognition or improve brain function in some way.
Sometimes referred to as “smart drugs,” nootropics are thought to provide increased focus, mental clarity, and cognitive performance.
Some nootropics combine several brain-boosting compounds, like Neurohacker’s Qualia Mind, which has 28 ingredients designed to
L-theanine is an amino acid found primarily in green tea and matcha.
This compound promotes a state of wakeful relaxation—a peaceful brain state that you experience during meditation, creative work, or anything that puts you in a flow state.
L-theanine produces this focused energy by enhancing alpha brain waves, which are associated with calmness, relaxation, and contentment without causing drowsiness or fatigue.
Consuming L-theanine in tandem with caffeine—like in the form of green tea or matcha—may further enhance the effects on focus and cognitive performance.
This is seen in a study published in Nutritional Neuroscience, where young adults who consumed 97 mg of L-theanine with 40 mg of caffeine had significantly improved accuracy during task switching and greater alertness.
Phosphatidylserine is a fatty compound known as a phospholipid—the type of fat that comprise the majority of our cell membranes.
It’s found in high concentrations in the brain, and research suggests that supplementing with it can support mental processing, attention span, and memory.
B-vitamins, especially vitamins B1, B5, B6, and B12, are highly involved with energy production, cellular metabolism, nervous system functioning, and neurotransmitter synthesis.
Although you can easily get B-vitamins in your diet, nootropic supplements tend to use much higher doses, up thousands of times more of the vitamins than you could realistically get from food.
Choline is not technically a vitamin but behaves similarly to those in the B-vitamin family.
Choline is needed to synthesize the phospholipids in our cell membranes—especially the phospholipid known as phosphatidylcholine—supporting cell signaling, fat transport, and synthesis of neurotransmitters.
In a review compiling data from 14 studies, adults with cognitive deficits who were supplementing with CDP-choline (a precursor to phosphatidylcholine) exhibited improved memory and behavior.
Bacopa monnieri—also known as brahmi or water hyssop—is an herb commonly used in traditional Ayurvedic practices for supporting memory and mood.
The primary bioactive compounds are called bacosides A and B, which support brain health by providing antioxidant activity, increasing blood flow in the brain, and regulating neurotransmitter function.
Ginkgo biloba is a native Chinese plant thought to have neuroprotective and memory-boosting effects.
Some research has shown that supplementing with ginkgo biloba extract supports memory, cognitive function, and recall—especially in people already showing signs of memory loss.
Lion’s mane (Hericium Erinaceus) is a mushroom whose name originates from its likeness to the long hair of a male lion.
This medicinal mushroom contains erinacines, which are compounds that support nerve growth factors, cognition, and neurogenesis.
A clinical study found that older adults who supplemented with lion’s mane powder for 16 weeks had significantly improved cognitive function scores.
However, research on humans taking lion’s mane—and other medicinal mushrooms—is still in its infancy, so we don’t have extensive evidence on these supplements yet.
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