If you need to get back into a focused routine, follow these simple steps.
The secret to staying focused
We all love that feeling of being “in the flow.” The days when you wake up without a cloudy mind or groggy attitude. When your morning flows just right. When you gear up or sit down for whatever the day has in store. Then boom, focus pulses through you. You’re in the zone, neurons firing, checking off your to-do list, productivity is pulsing. If this sounds foreign to you, I am here to tell you this is entirely possible. And not just once in a blue moon, but (almost) every day. The biggest secret to staying focused is understanding that focus does not exist in a vacuum. What I mean by this is that you can’t pop a pill or drink just the right amount of caffeine to find true focus. Sure, this could help temporarily, but it’s not a sustainable focus.
Focus special sauce: The most overlooked factor when discussing focus is sleep. The quality of our sleep has everything to do with how our brain is able to function when we wake up. The next link is fuel or nourishment. Literally, we are made from the foods we eat. We can either build a brain from chemicals, stimulants, and processed food or real foods packed with vitamins and minerals that your brain actually needs to do its job. Imagine a car engine running on the wrong type of fuel. It may be able to run poorly for a short amount of time but eventually, it will stop working. Our bodies work in a similar way. It’s crucial to feed our bodies the right fuel so they can work well. And finally, beyond sleep and food, are some amazing functional mushrooms and adaptogens that can help you achieve your desired state of focus. We’ll talk about how Lion’s Mane, Rhodiola and Bacopa can be the extra oomph you need to really focus.
In this article, we’ll go over my top tips and tricks for how to wake up rested, fuel up properly, and find your focus flow—while always keeping in mind the full picture. Focusing in the moment must not take a toll on your body later on. Because with quick focus fixes comes an afternoon crash, followed by poor quality sleep, waking up groggy, and the spiral repeats. Instead, let’s focus (pun intended) on sustainable ways to keep you feeling good in times of focus, and later.
The quick and dirty: Focus can be achieved everyday with proper sleep, eating with your brain in mind, and some powerful Four Sigma foods to power you on naturally on even your busiest days.
Photo credit: @jcraigey
Focus starts with a proper foundation. This isn’t novel information, it's actually totally basic. But sometimes basic is the most important reminder we need. The foundation for focus? Sleep and nutrition.
Let’s talk about sleep. If we want to get up and focus in the morning, our brain (and body) needs a proper night of quality rest. This is non-negotiable. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders (NIH) says that sleep is “as essential for survival as food and water. Without sleep you can’t form or maintain the pathways in your brain that let you learn and create new memories, and it’s harder to concentrate and respond quickly.” (*) Sleep is not just a time for your brain to rest. It’s actually quite active during those hours where your body is snoozing. One of the things it does is housekeeping. Research shows that sleep removes toxins that build up in your brain while you’re awake. Sleep also plays a role in storing memory. Much of what you learn during the day gets processed while asleep. It’s probably no surprise then that when sleep deprived, it’s almost impossible to fully pay attention, learn, or retain information.
We are big on sleep here at Four Sigmatic. We understand that holistic wellness comes from taking care of our bodies on all the basic levels. Sleep is foundational to a healthy life. We collaborated with functional medicine doctor, Dr. Mark Hyman, to give you high level tips on how to get to sleep and how to stay asleep.
After you watch those, check out this chat with sleep expert and best-selling author of Sleep Smarter, Shawn Stevenson, all about the importance of a good night’s rest for full body well being.
How to properly feed your brain
Once you’ve used all the tools to get to sleep and stay asleep, you’re ready for the next phase which is feeding your brain the right nutrients it needs to focus. Rather than just thinking of these as “brain foods”, I want you to understand that what we feed our bodies is literally the compounds we have to work with to maintain a healthy brain. We need antioxidant properties to protect the brain from free radicals, compounds that support inflammation, nutrients that signal chemicals in our brain to fire, and more.
But, before we get into specific foods, let’s go back to basic macronutrients: fats, carbohydrates and proteins. Too many of us fuel up on carbohydrates first thing in the morning eating things like cereal, granola, pastries, or high-sugar breakfasts (remember sugars are carbohydrates). Sugar is the first form of fuel our body uses so if there is sugar available in the system, it will use it quickly, giving you an instant jolt of energy followed by an equally quick come down and crash. Starting the day with carbohydrates (sugar) sets you up for a day at the amusement park: a blood sugar rollercoaster. No one wants this. Instead, add protein and fat into your breakfast. Plant-based protein, nut butters, coconut, and veggies with a high quality oil are great options. The body burns fats and proteins at a much slower rate than carbohydrates, so by starting the day with these forms of fuel, we experience a slower and more sustainable peak of energy, with a gentle let down when the body has burned through its nutrients and needs the next meal of the day.
Beyond macronutrients, there are some key nutrients that the brain loves. Here is my quick list of top brain supporting foods to consider adding into your morning routine (or throughout the day to stay focused and give your brain the tools it needs so that when you are needing it to power on, it’s fueled and prepared).
Medium roast, ready for French Press or drip to Defend
Let’s talk about caffeine
We all know that just the right amount of caffeine can offer benefits to focus, memory, retention and creativity. Yet too much caffeine can lead to jitters, anxiety, sweating, and more. So how do you find the sweet spot?
Let’s start with coffee. If you’re a coffee drinker, quality and quantity is everything. Always look for organic Arabica beans. As Tero (Four Sigmatic’s founder) loves to say, “one cup of coffee is always a good idea. Two cups of coffee is sometimes a good idea. And three cups of coffee is never a good idea.” Understanding caffeine in coffee can help you find the right amount for your needs. A typical cup of coffee has ~100 mg of caffeine. Four Sigmatic instant coffee has half the caffeine as a normal cup, at ~50 mg of caffeine. When it comes to ground coffee, the method of brewing, temperature of water, brew time, and grind size can all affect the amount of caffeine in the final cup. For most people, the 200 mg/day range offers the focus benefits without pushing you over the edge. And to get the most out of your coffee, we are all about combining coffee with functional mushrooms and adaptogens. We wrote a whole article about the benefits of mushroom coffee which you can check out here.
Caffeine on its own is different from caffeine naturally found in plants. Coffee is the most obvious caffeine-containing bean but there are others. At Four Sigmatic, we use 3 naturally caffeinated plants: coffee, matcha (ceremonial green tea), and guayusa. All have different amounts of caffeine as well as other phytochemicals (plant compounds) that work with the caffeine synergistically. This means you will feel a different type of energy from each of these three plants. Coffee is fermented (so many benefits!) plus its deep black color means it is rich in antioxidant properties. Matcha is like a superfood version of green tea (both are from the same plant, Camellia sinensis). It has caffeine plus a powerful compound called L-Theanine that has been studied for its calming and brain supporting benefits. Guayusa is a South American leaf that gives more of a smooth caffeine onset, similar to Yerba Mate.
So how do you choose? I always recommend doing what is most relevant to your lifestyle. Your body will tell you when you feel the best and most focused. If you want to try all 3 types of naturally caffeinated plants to see how your body reacts to each, by all means go head! But remember that building healthy habits are key to sustainable success and in this case, focus. So don’t force yourself to stick to a totally new routine if you know it is not going to be easy to do everyday. Remember, the medicine doesn’t work if you don’t take it. That means it must be easy for you to incorporate and make it a habit.
Functional mushrooms & adaptogens for focus
Now that we have laid the foundation of proper sleep, nutrition, and the right source and amount of caffeine for your body’s needs, it's time to dive into the fun stuff: functional mushrooms and adaptogens for focus. These are my top 3 functional foods (herbs/mushrooms) for focus:
Try adding these into your morning cup of magic (whether there is caffeine in there or not), to get your focus flowing. Our Focus Blend has all 3 of these brain supporting ingredients in it (plus 4 more!) so is a great first step if you need a simple way to add these into your daily routine now. Our Lion’s Mane Elixir has both Lion’s Mane mushroom extract and Rhodiola so there is always more than meets the eye. Whichever way you choose to bring these brain-supportive foods into your routine, have fun with it. Remember to lay the foundation for sustainable focus that lasts more than just an hour or two but that can be achieved daily, without consequences. Focus on!
Author: Danielle Ryan Broida, RH (AHG)
As a Registered Herbalist (AHG), Holistic Nutritionist, and Instructor of Mycology, my passions all blossom from the natural world. I believe fungi are the most important teachers on our planet, silently guiding us towards a world of more connection with each other, the earth, and the answers we need to solve many of Earth’s problems. As the current Instructor of Mycology at CSCH and National Educator at Four Sigmatic, I’m so excited to bring you more education on functional mushrooms, adaptogens, and wellness, totally free.