What do you do when you’re born completely color blind, but are desperate to enjoy a full range of color vision? If you’re Neil Harbissoh, you implant an antenna into your head.
The device translates colors to sounds that he hears via bone conduction. It not only partially restored his color vision, but also allowed him to “hear” colors like infrared and ultraviolet light which are outside of the visible spectrum to humans. Harbissoh implanted his cyborg antenna in 2004 but since then, the concept of biohacking to transcend the limitations of the human body has grown exponentially.
In fact, people can’t seem to get enough biohacking tips. Recently, Tik Tok has exploded with #vagusnerve videos showing you how to tone or reset your vagus nerve fibers, which run from the brain to the abdomen, and which have been claimed by influencers as the key to reducing anxiety, regulating the nervous system and helping the body to relax.
Some of the most popular ones feature people plunging their faces into ice water baths or lying on their backs with ice packs on their chests. Neck and ear massages, eye exercises and deep-breathing techniques also feature prominently.
If you’re not keen on using surgery or extreme cold to enhance your body, don't fret. Biohacking doesn’t always have to involve dramatic measures. There are also a number of small tricks and tips to hack your brain to help boost concentration and focus.
Use a Neurofeedback Device
Neurofeedback therapy can improve focus by measuring brain activity and showing it to us in real time. Electrodes on the head detect (but do not stimulate) brain patterns. The patterns are then analyzed by a computer that delivers feedback to the user as images or sounds.
People suffering from mental distraction, may lessen their symptoms by repeatedly being guided to generate brain patterns correlated with a focused, calmer state of mind. Just as we learn to ride a bike by doing it repeatedly, science has demonstrated, our brains can learn to be more focused.
Narbis neurofeedback smart glasses [affiliate link] for example, use sensors and a NASA patented algorithm to track how focused you are. When you are distracted, the glasses change tint. When you are concentrating, the glasses instantly clear to reward and reinforce practicing attention. As you go through routine tasks like reading or responding to emails, the algorithm encourages healthy patterns of brain activity.
Drinking water is a proven factor in helping keep our focus, with dehydration a known trigger for migraines and general uncomfortableness and irritability.
“It is surprising how often this simple trick is not considered by people, but it is vitally important in order to give your brain the best chance to focus,” says Renee Rosales M.Ed, founder and CEO of Theara, a program that provides tools and strategies for people living with neurodiversity.
Begin the Day with Exercise
Starting your day with movement can also be extremely important, and works especially well for those struggling to focus in the morning. You don't have to run a half marathon, but some simple stretching or a walk up and down your street can be enough to wake up your brain properly and let it know that it is time to engage.
Listen to Your Brain
If your brain is struggling to focus, it can simply be signifying you that you need a break from what you are doing. Giving your brain a quick 5 minute getaway from the task, getting some fresh air, or meditating with an app like Headspace can all be beneficial and provide your brain with the break it needs to recharge.
“We listen to our legs when they are tired, so why would we ignore the brain?” asks Rosales.
Researchers at the Columbia University Medical Center claim meditating can change the structure and function of the brain through relaxation, which can increase focus and learning concentration.
“Meditating doesn’t require reserving a large chunk of your time. Simply saving a few minutes per day has been proven to reduce distractions and increase focus,” notes the related Columbia University blog post.
The Mindfulness meditation technique specifically focuses on your breath and observes thoughts as they drift through your mind. The purpose is to simply be aware of how you are feeling, not to become absorbed.
Concentrative fixates on a particular point, whether it is a word, breath, or object. The goal is to release your thoughts and maintain or refocus your attention on that point, preventing your mind from wandering.
Slow, repetitive movements, such as through yoga and tai chi, that focus on your breath can be equally effective in relaxing your mind and body.
Plan Your Day with Intent
Before starting your day, take a moment to plan how you'll tackle it, picking which tasks you will execute and how.
“You can use any productivity method, like timeboxing or a simple to-do list. The idea is that you set time apart to get in control of what's ahead,” says C.T Price, CEO of Life Grows Green, a lifestyle brand that creates natural products to help foster health, happiness, and longevity.
Play Games that Challenge Your Brain
To improve concentration, play mind games like puzzles, crossword, chess, or sudoku as these help to activate the neural pathways and bolster the ability to concentrate. One common exercise is the ‘e’ exercise, where in a chosen paragraph, you cancel out all the ‘e’ letters within a stipulated time. This helps to regain focus and attention.
“Improving your focus is possible with consistency and effort,” says George Yang, a registered dietitian nutritionist RDN, health enthusiast, and the founder and chief designer at YanreFitness.
Bad Habits that Hurt the Brain's Ability to Function
Our modern lifestyle is designed such that it is full of habits that are detrimental to brain function and development. Too much eating, lack of sleep or proper sleep schedule, chronic stress, and sitting for too long, all impact brain development negatively. However, the biggest culprit, hands down, that impacts brain power the most is excessive screen time.
“The worst part is that all of us, men, women, and children, are doing this without thinking about the harmful consequences of this habit,” says Alice Li, owner and CEO of First Day, a multivitamin company.
Rahul Kumar, owner & co-founder at RankSoldier, who has also studied neuroscience and cognitive science deeply, agrees, noting that increased screen time harms the brain since it leaves your eyes open for so long that the natural hormonal dark-light balance of the brain gets out of track.
We are living in the age of hacks. The internet is replete with hacks for cooking great food, hacks for being physically healthy, hacks for dressing like a model, and the list goes on. So, it shouldn't be surprising that the internet is also abuzz with brain hacks to help you concentrate, whether they involve using new technology or drinking more water.
The underlying message is that mental concentration is a teachable state. We can train our brain to focus and learn to shrug off distractions. The current trend might be to call these lessons ‘hacks’ but ultimately, sharpening your mental concentration may entail adopting a few new simple, but highly effective habits into your life.