How to get the most out of your writer’s brain

Has it been difficult lately for you to get your creative juices flowing? To concentrate to crank out craft content? Do you suffer from brain fog at times you used to be sharp as a tack? Then this article is for you.

Baring any medical issues of course, the most likely reason your brain is having performance issues is that you’ve not listened to its changing needs and rhythm. As we age get older gain decades of experience, we may notice some of the more marked changes in what makes us thrive physically, emotionally, and intellectually and we seek out ways to meet these new needs.

Our powerful brains work quietly. They adapt imperceptibly. Neuroplasticity enables the brain to keep growing and forming new neurons. Each time we learn or experience something new, the brain changes, reorganizing and creating new connections between neurons.

You also may have developed an intolerance to certain foods that’s affecting your brain’s performance. This isn’t hype. Intolerance to certain foods is becoming more common after decades of ingesting industrial (read heavily-treated) foodstuffs.

Taking care of your physical health is good. Taking care of your brain is even better.
The brain is our N° 1 work tool and we need to keep it humming smoothly.
What has yours been telling you?

My brain became a morning person

Ever so slowly. Over the course of many years. Without warning me. To the point of shocking those who’d known me most of my life.

My brain had been a resolute and proud night owl. I whizzed through night classes in grad school, brain alert and like a sponge. I couldn’t write a line worth anything before 11 PM. Left to its own devices, it would wake up happily around 10 AM. It needed a lot of sleep. Preferably 9 solid hours. My body obeyed.

When my instructor realized I wasn’t absorbing *anything* during her 7:30 AM Vietnamese language class, she rescheduled it for 8:30 AM, gave me this mug and a thermos of café sữa (strong Vietnamese coffee with sweetened condensed milk). Bless her.

I learned to schedule important things after 11 AM. I never found a happy solution to the challenge of living with a morning person whose idea of a late night out was getting home at 10:30 PM, right when a party would start swinging.

 

Science says that whether we are morning people or night owls is genetically-determined. At a moment in time, surely. Yet chronotypes can change as we age and some people end up needing less sleep. My brain became a morning person, while my body still tended to be a night owl.

From 10 AM to 6 AM

Slowly, over the course of a few years, though still getting to sleep on the other side of midnight, I started waking earlier, mentally alert and eager to get writing. By noon, I’d hit a wall. I could almost hear my brain click “off”. I’d get a second creative wind between 5 and 7 PM, before the sparks would fizzle out despite my body still raring to go.

Brain and body were no longer in sync.

I made three mistakes:

  • I failed to notice the time creep.
  • I kept trying to force my brain to stick to the efficient schedule I’d adopted way back when I set up my own business.
  • I didn’t think of adjusting my diet and eating hours to support optimal brain function.

Follow the leader

The brain rules. Body and I had stopped obeying. It was time to fix that for “us” to live in harmony and be productive.

What worked for me (your mileage may vary):

Embracing waking early

At first, waking earlier and earlier stressed me. I wanted to know why. Every night, I’d wonder if I would at last wake up at what I thought was a normal hour. Self-flagellation started the day in a bad mood — pointless!

What’s positive in this change? Reveling in the quiet stillness. Enjoying writing in flow. Catching glimpses of light changing. Before the phone starts ringing and your email software dinging. Unaware of time passing.

Leveraging brain down time

You know that moment, when you become *aware* of what you are writing, when flow becomes laborious. “Resistance is futile”, it’s time to shift to physical pursuits: chores, exercise, taking your pooch for a long walk. I no longer wait until my (uninterrupted) work day is over; I embrace them when Brain unplugs to recharge.

Food for thought

This took some experimenting. And giving myself permission. Like many professionals, lunch was usually on the late side and on the run — sandwich, pasta, pizza, whatever is quick to get or prepare, filling and yes, feeding that modern-times carb addiction, with the main meal in the evening.

Getting up so much earlier meant I was hungry long before 1 PM — breakfast or not. Who CARES if I need for lunch to be at 11:30? Why should brunch just be on weekends? When are the optimal times for my brain to get fed? What seems to keep it flowing best?

After a few months of testing menu compositions, I discovered I had become intolerant of certain food types, without becoming allergic to them. These foods triggered brain fog and subpar digestion — the two often go together. For me, it was most carbs (gluten!) and dairy (particularly cheese made with cow’s milk).

Saying no to croissants, baguette, pasta, and Beaufort was hard, but worth it: my brain fog disappeared. Once in a while, when I indulge or am invited to dinner, I pay for the pleasure in spades for several days. Doing something physical when Brain exits flow and eating quality protein (which provides the amino acids from which neurotransmitters are made) at lunch in addition to dinner all but eliminated the famous afternoon slump we all have. 

Brain and body back in sync and both larks

Working with how we change instead of against is key to getting the most out of your writer’s brain. Once I stopped resisting, accepted being a resolute night owl was no longer part of my identity, and revisited what to eat when, the mind-body connection returned to its harmonious collaboration.

How do you get the most out of your writer’s brain? What changes have you observed since you started your professional life? How have you dealt with them? Over to you!

 

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