It might be during the last stretch of an important project, in the middle of a team meeting about an upcoming initiative, or somewhere else--sometimes, you just burn out.

There's no shortcut or secret to snap out of burnout immediately, but it is possible to improve your cognitive potential to reduce your feeling of burnout by implementing a series of habits and exercises as part of your daily routine. Just as physical exercise can improve your strength, speed, and stamina, mental exercise can improve your brain's natural abilities.

Try one or more of these mental exercises to maximize your brain's potential:

1. Meditate. Mindfulness meditation has a number of positive health benefits not limited to the mental realm. It improves immune system function, qualitatively improves interpersonal relationships, and reduces stress and anxiety. Of course, there are strictly mental benefits as well--the vast majority of regular meditative practitioners have greater focus, concentration, and mindfulness than their counterparts. Meditating itself is relatively simple; all you have to do is find someplace quiet and relaxing, and dedicate 15 minutes or longer to freeing your mind of thoughts, deliberately letting each thought go until you achieve a state of pure mindfulness. It might take some practice to get used to the process, but once you do, you'll start noticing yourself more hyper-focused in everyday situations.

2. Memorize Things. Regularly practicing memorization exercises has several different effects on the brain; first, it trains your brain to commit things to memory. The more you memorize things as an active exercise, the more likely you'll be to remember anything that crosses your path. Second, it encourages neural plasticity, which makes your brain more capable of adapting to new challenges and tasks, which is helpful in practically any professional scenario. The great thing is, there's no single memory exercise that holds these benefits--they can be obtained in any memorization practice--for example, you could memorize a poem, a song, or even a random sequence of numbers to start seeing the benefits.

3. Read. Reading has a few obvious benefits and a few not-so-obvious benefits. First, the more often you read, the more information you'll find, and the more information you have, the smarter and better-informed you'll be. All that information will eventually come in handy as you engage in conversations, work on projects, and try to solve complex problems. Second, reading aids in your ability to retain and analyze other bits of information--so you'll have an easier time understanding the plan at your next team meeting. Any type of reading is good, but reading within your industry or at a level that challenges you is exceptionally beneficial.

4. Participate in Puzzles and Word Games. Pick up a newspaper or look online for engaging mental puzzles. These can range from simplistic and almost mindless like word searches, to almost needlessly complex, such as crossword puzzles and logic-based number puzzles. The goal here is to challenge your brain to work at something and get to a conclusive result. It helps improve your creative problem solving and logic skills, and keeps your mind healthily active. Though not all "brain training" games and puzzles will improve your IQ, they will keep your mind healthy, and could even mitigate the onset of Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

5. Get Enough Sleep. Sleep is an exercise that all of us participate in every day (hopefully), though some of us are better sleepers than others. The importance of quality sleep can't be underestimated; when you're well-rested, your memory, focus, cognition, and critical thinking skills all increase. Though some will find this step easier than others, it's highly beneficial to get at least eight hours of sleep every night, with minimal interruption and a consistent pattern of sleeping and wakefulness. It might take some time to develop a cycle that allows you a repeatable schedule and sound, peaceful sleep, but habit changes like eating healthier and avoiding digital screens before going to bed can help.

6. Socialize. You'd be amazed what you can learn from someone simply by talking to them. Get in the habit of talking to as many people as possible, about as many things as possible. You'll learn new facts, new perspectives, and new ideas, and all the while, you'll develop your abilities to focus, learn, and analyze a situation. Throughout your practice of this exercise, prioritize active listening over speaking. You'll stand to learn and be exposed to much more new information this way. Talk to everyone, coworkers, friends, and strangers alike.

7. Exercise Physically. Physical exercise is shown to also have a positive effect on your mental health. As an immediate benefit, exercise provides more oxygen-rich blood to your brain, giving you direct and temporarily greater mental stimulation. If practiced regularly, physical exercise is associated with better, more stable moods, increased focus and attention, and a host of other mental benefits. The next time you're stuck on a hard problem, take a few minutes to jog around the office, or do some stretches without even leaving your desk. The short-term and long-term benefits of physical exercise--both aerobic and anaerobic--are well worth the time investment.

The true power of these exercises is only unlocked through consistent repetition; it's not enough to try them once or twice if you want to see measurable improvement. You'll have to challenge yourself to reap the full benefits, but you'll likely see the value after only a few weeks of dedication.

Published on: Dec 18, 2015