Happiness training your brain
Dopamine acts like a focus magnet. Activities that trigger dopamine release grab our attention because the brain rewards us with dopamine for engaging in them. Image Credit: Gulf News | Pexels

Dopamine, the happiness hormone and neurochemical of "more," fuels our desire for rewards.

It's why scrolling social media feels so compelling. However, constant stimulation can desensitise us to dopamine, making it harder to concentrate.

The key: Re-sensitising dopamine

Here are practical tips to rekindle your brain's love for focus:

Embrace boring breaks:

Ditch the dopamine-draining social media during breaks. Opt for a walk, light stretches, or even staring at a wall. You could even try to make a tissue paper tower over your head. These "boring" activities allow your brain to reset and make focused work feel more rewarding.

Master the in-between:

Waiting in line? Resist the urge to grab your phone. Instead, focus on your breath or observe your surroundings. This mindfulness practice trains your brain to tolerate unstimulated moments, boosting dopamine sensitivity.

Ditch multitasking:

Multitasking is a focus-killer. It rapidly switches between brain networks, disrupting concentration. Focus on one task at a time to maximise focus and flow.

Bonus: 5 habits for brainpower and bliss

Studies on "neuroplasticity" have dismantled the belief in a stagnant brain and unveils how to leverage dopamine for laser focus and enhanced happiness.

On top of the dopamine hacks, here are additional practices to optimise brain function and happiness:

#1. Exercise your brain and body:

Physical activity boosts blood flow to the brain, promoting new brain cell growth. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days.

Brain repair
A glimmer of hope for brain repair: When adult brain cells are injured, they revert to an embryonic state, according to new findings published in the April 15, 2020 issue of Nature by researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues elsewhere.

The scientists report that in their newly adopted immature state, the cells become capable of re-growing new connections that, under the right conditions, can help to restore lost function.

Repairing damage to the brain and spinal cord may be medical science’s most daunting challenge. Until relatively recently, it seemed an impossible task. The new study lays out a “transcriptional roadmap of regeneration in the adult brain.”
Brain scan generic
When damaged, the adult brain has the capacity to repair itself by "going back to the beginning", say researchers at the Translational Neuroscience Institute at UC San Diego School of Medicine. The team identified how the entire set of genes in an adult brain cell resets itself in order to "regenerate". Image for illustrative purposes only.

#2. Prioritise sleep:

Sleep is when your brain consolidates memories and detoxes. Aim for 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night. Don’t scrimp on sleep. We all know the groggy feeling of a restless night. A good sleep is crucial for overall health and well-being.

Sleep improves physical health and plays a vital role in regulating hormones that influence metabolism and cardiovascular health. A 2023 study published in Nature Communications investigated the link between sleep and cognitive performance in healthy adults. Researchers found that participants who got a good night's sleep (around 8 hours) performed significantly better on tasks requiring memory, attention, and problem-solving compared to those who slept less (around 5.5 hours).

Person relaxing
Constant stimulation creates mental clutter, making it difficult to concentrate. Stillness allows the brain to enter a state of quiet alertness. Image Credit: Shutterstock

#3. Fuel your brain:

Eat a brain-healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish and nuts, are particularly beneficial.

Despite being just 2 per cent of our body weight, the brain is an energy guzzler, consuming a whopping 20 per cent of our oxygen and energy intake. This ginormous consumption of oxygen and energy fuels the constant barrage of chemical reactions happening within it every second.

Vocabulary: Brain grain
Neuroplasticity: the lifelong capacity of the brain to change and rewire itself in response to the stimulation of learning and experience.

Neurogenesis: the ability to create new neurons and connections between neurons throughout a lifetime.

#4. Practice mindfulness:

Meditation helps improve focus, reduce stress, and enhance emotional well-being. Even a few minutes daily can make a difference.

#5. Connect and build relationships:

Social connection is vital for brain health and happiness. Spend time with loved ones, engage in social activities, and build strong relationships.

happy woman
Happiness comes from turning dopamine into a friend, instead of foe, building the right habits by starting small and doing it consistently.
What chronic sleep loss does to your body
In a study published in January (Vol 47 Issue 1, 2024) in the journal Diabetes Care (published by the American Diabetes Association) highlighted the connection between insufficient sleep – or chronic sleep loss – and increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

Specifically, the research investigated the effects of short sleep on glucose metabolism in women. They found that reducing sleep by 1.5 hours per night for 6 weeks led to:

• Increased fasting insulin levels
• Increased insulin resistance (HOMA-IR)
• These effects were more pronounced in postmenopausal women.

[Source: National Institutes of Health, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK19961/]

Upgrade your brain, upgrade your life

By incorporating these tips, you can transform your brain into a focus machine and cultivate a happier, more fulfilling life. Remember, it's a journey, not a destination. Start small, be consistent, and watch your brainpower and happiness soar.