Get Your Head in the Game Self Designed exhibit #2

I have ADHD. I've always had trouble focusing and concentrating, and I've also dealt with "brain fog", where mentally I'm kind of in a daze. It makes it tough to do schoolwork, especially challenging schoolwork like calculus that requires me to engage my brain. That's pretty much my biggest struggle with school is how to "engage" my brain. How to have a clear head, be thinking clearly and be fully engaged with the present task. I call it the "thinking outside of the box" mentality. You have to be in a specific state of mind to do that. I've experienced it before, where suddenly everything is clear and my brain is firing on all 8 cylinders, and you feel productive, energized, focused, and engaged. My goal is to be able to do that at will. Find ways to make myself productive like that. The only thing I've found so far that I know will put me there is procrastination, or any sense of urgency. I may have blown something off until the last minute, or I begin a task that has a time limit, or something comes up that is very important and urgent, a Quadrant 1 situation. Whenever I'm faced with a situation like that, something great happens. My eyes open, my head clears itself, my brain instantly kicks on and goes into turbo mode, and I'm focused, alert, and ready to go. Some people crack under pressure, I thrive under pressure. It's probably why I've always procrastinated; it's the only way I can get things done because I need to be in that state of mind. Throughout middle and high school and the first part of college, I've procrastinated on a lot. Until now. I've learned how it feels to do work before it's due, and be calm and relaxed while I'm working.

Now, it does feel a lot better to be relaxed while I'm doing work that's not due for a while. The only trouble is, sometimes I'm working and I don't want to be relaxed and laid back. I want to be engaged and alert just like when I'm under pressure, without actually being under pressure. So, I decided to research ways to improve my focus, concentration, and alertness. By themselves, each tip may help a little, but probably not by a noticeable amount. So, what I'm going to do is try them all at the same time, over the same 3 days. Each one may help a tiny bit, but I'm hoping all of them combined will result in a noticeable difference. And they're all supposed to be easy to follow. I'm not going to be working out for 3 hours a day or following some extreme diet, this is supposed to be something easy to stick with. I'll be performing my experiment over March 29-31, Wednesday through Friday.

What I'll be testing

When I searched "Ways to Improve Focus", the first thing that came up was sleep. The amount of people who are behind on sleep is surprising. So, this experiment will actually begin Tuesday night when I go to bed. I don't have class until 12:20 on Wednesday, but I've noticed if I wake up past 11, I'm actually more tired throughout the day than if I wake up earlier. So, I set my alarm for 8:30 Wednesday morning.

I'm also going to be testing my diet. I already know protein is a significant source of energy, so I'm going to make sure I get plenty of that. I've also found that carbohydrates are good for this as well, so I stocked up. Now, I've always been one of those people who doesn't care how good something is for you, if it doesn't taste good, I won't eat it. So I went to the store and stocked up. I've already locked into a few types of granola bars that I like that contain 20 grams of protein each. They're good, they can be eaten quickly, and you can shove them in your backpack and grab one anytime during the day. I bought some bananas for fast-acting carbohydrates and apples for more slow-releasing ones. This isn't all I'm going to be eating, these are just snacks.

Just a few of the things I changed up

I'm not only going to test what I'm eating, I'm going to test what I'm drinking. Specifically, what I'm probably not drinking enough of: water. Each day in this experiment, I'm going to bring a bottle of water with me and fill it up at least three times. I like my Diet Mountain Dew, and that's not going to change, since that's my caffeine source of choice. 

I'm also going to change what I'm doing while I'm working. Every 45 minutes, I'm going to take a 15-minute break. 

The Test

Like I said, the test actually began Tuesday night. I ate dinner a little earlier and I ate more than usual. I still had my nightly bowl of ice cream, although an hour earlier than usual. I usually have trouble getting to sleep, so this wasn't part of the experiment so much as it was just trying to get myself to sleep. I fell asleep at about 12, which is good for me.

Wednesday

I ended up waking up around 8, before my alarm, which was a very welcome kick start to my experiment. I got up, showered and got ready, and made breakfast. Along with bacon, I had one of my granola bars, an apple, and a banana, along with a glass of milk. I'd read in numerous places that a good breakfast helps you be more energized. I had protein, fast acting carbs, and slow acting carbs. I made it to campus by 9:15, already feeling ready to go. I went into the library and worked a little, still enjoying my morning boost. I had my Diet Dews with me (they don't sell Pepsi products on campus, so I bring my own Dew), but I wanted to see how long I could go without cracking one. I had a few other granola bars in my backpack, one of which I had during that time. I worked until about 11:30, taking breaks of course. I wasn't on my ADD medication, either. I take a very low dose, about half of what I'm prescribed. I enjoyed a solid 2 hours of work, just off a good breakfast. After this, I went outside and walked around a little, for some "diffused mode" thinking. I ate a few granola bars, popped my meds, cracked my first Dew of the day, and went to class. I also finished a bottle of water while in the library. I have three classes, and they're all back to back. I finished my Dew in my first class, drank a whole bottle of water in my second, and had my next Dew afterward. Once class was done, I went home for a late lunch, which consisted of PB and J, since peanut butter is high in protein. Drank another bottle of water and returned to the library for another hour and a half of working, returned home, and made dinner. I cooked spaghetti to "carbo-load", just to see what happens. I ate dinner and was in bed by 11, to stick to my goal of getting enough sleep

Thursday, I had to be up by 6:30 to make it to my 8AM class, but I managed to get in my breakfast. All throughout the day, I followed much the same routine I did Wednesday, including remembering to drink three bottles of water, eating protein and carbs throughout the day, and taking breaks when I studied. I also made grilled chicken, to get a little extra protein.

Friday, it didn't matter much what happened after 2:00, because that's when I packed up and drove back to Greenville for the weekend. But, up until then, I still followed much the same habits.

Conclusion

I believe getting the proper amount of sleep contributed to being more focused the next day. The proper amount means not too little or too much. Some people may focus well if they get up at about 11, I like to be up by 8 or 9. But I definitely believe that being well rested contributed to my being able to focus better the next day.

I know I said I was only going to mess with my diet a little bit, but I changed it up a little more once I saw the kind of effects it was having. I don't even know enough about nutrition to count calories or follow some crazy diet, I just tried to eat more of what I knew was good. That meant more protein and more carbohydrates. I also discovered that "carbo loading" the day before can help a good bit. So if you have a lot of studying or work to do the next day, eat a big plate of spaghetti the night before. It does make a difference. Also, I think the water helped too, since it flushes stuff out of your body, and just makes you feel refreshed in general. 

So, I did notice an improvement in my ability to focus, concentrate, and being clearheaded by making sure I got enough sleep, eating protein and carbs, and drinking enough water.

Credits:

Created with images by chase_elliott - "Focus"

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