Can’t think straight? How to achieve mental clarity

November 29, 2021 - 24 min read

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What is mental clarity?

How to know if you’re lacking mental clarity

3 causes for lack of mental clarity

What happens if your head is unclear?

How to promote mental clarity

Why is mental clarity so important?

Improve your mental clarity for personal growth

I got up from my desk a few days ago, walked all the way across the house, and stood there. I could not, for the life of me, think of what I had intended to do or what was so important that I'd broken into my work to do it.

It was disconcerting to truly have no idea. And, it didn't come to me. It was like I'd been hijacked by part of my brain that I didn't have access to. 

We all have moments when we lack mental clarity. But lack of clarity can also become a problem. 

Do you often struggle to put thoughts together? Or have trouble remembering what you were doing? 

Do you feel like your mind is in a constant state of fuzziness?

Or, perhaps, you have a team member or direct report who seems to struggle with this. 

It’s normal to experience brain fog occasionally. For example, there was some evidence that brain fog was more common during the lock-downs of the pandemic. My own lapse was probably the result of preparing for the upcoming holiday and vacation. However, for some people, a lack of mental clarity can have negative impacts on their day-to-day life.

But what is mental clarity exactly?

Mental clarity is a state of mind in which you are more focused, and your perception is clear. With mental clarity, you are able to recognize, understand, and organize your thoughts.

Let’s explore how important mental clarity is for your health and well-being and how you can become fully engaged in every moment.

What is mental clarity?

Mental clarity is a state in which your mind is fully active and engaged. We need mental clarity in order to work through problems and stay productive throughout the day.

Sharp memory recall, quick thinking, and unclouded judgment are all part of mental clarity.

focused-woman-reading-a-book-mental-clarity

Everyone goes through ups and downs that cause different states of cognitive performance throughout our lives. If we could choose to be mentally sharp every day of the week, we probably would. But it’s not that simple. Sometimes our mental fitness suffers, and we feel stuck in a slump.

Mental clarity is not necessarily our default state. Most of the time, we allow our worries and different types of stress to affect our brain function and prevent our minds from performing at an optimal level.

Learning how to improve mental clarity without burning out or becoming overwhelmed is key to maintaining a productive and engaged lifestyle.

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How to know if you’re lacking mental clarity

Lack of mental clarity isn't a medical condition but rather a symptom of other medical conditions.

Despite our best efforts, everyone has experienced a lull in cognitive function at some point in their lives. The weight of stress and anxiety can cause fogginess and lethargy in the mind.

For many, this state of mental exhaustion is a daily battle. Here are some commonly experienced indicators that you could be lacking mental clarity.

1. Inability to focus or concentrate

If you struggle to focus on a subject, you may be experiencing a lack of mental clarity. When we are mentally fit, concentration comes naturally and without strain.

Pay attention to how much effort it requires for you to focus. This can give you a clue as to how strong your state of mind currently is.

2. Physical or mental exhaustion

When our mind’s energetic resources are depleted, the rest of the body often follows suit. Physical exhaustion and mental fatigue are common side effects of low mental clarity that could mean it’s time for a behavior change.

If you are feeling tired and lethargic after even the smallest of tasks, a lack of mental clarity could be the reason.

3. Loss of interest and lack of motivation

Losing interest in subjects or tasks that used to bring fulfillment is another symptom of low mental clarity.

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When our minds are strong, enthusiasm for learning comes naturally. Your lack of motivation could mean your mind is seeking renewal.

4. Memory problems

Just as a strong ability to recall memories is a sign of high mental performance, poor memory recall is a clear sign of low mental performance.

When our minds are healthy and clear, things like memory retention should not be an issue. Checking the quality of your memory recollection is a good way to monitor mental clarity. 

3 causes for lack of mental clarity

Before we can learn how to improve mental clarity, we need to look at the potential causes or triggers that may be at play.

These three things deplete our mental resources and make mental performance much harder to upkeep. If any of them sound familiar, you may have found your culprit.

1. Lack of sleep

Having a healthy circadian rhythm is a fundamental part of human health. Without seven or more hours of sleep each night, the mind and body struggle to exhibit high-performance behavior.

Some of us struggle to sleep due to stress, while others practice poor sleep hygiene. Some people who work non-traditional hours could develop shift work sleep disorder. 

If you are not allowing your body the type of rest it requires, you may be putting your mental state at risk.  

2. Stress and anxiety

We all know that stress is bad for the body (although sometimes stress can be good). But stress can also be an enemy to the mind.

Chronic stress contributes to high cortisol levels, which means weakened circulation. Poor circulation results in the heart sending less oxygen to your brain.

This can cause a lack of mental clarity, which in turn may amplify your stress and anxiety levels. It can be a vicious cycle if left untreated.

3. Poor nutrition

There are many foods that support mental clarity and concentration. Poor nutrition often stems from not eating a diverse enough diet or consuming a high quantity of processed foods.

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Vitamin B-12, in particular, has many health benefits for the brain and immune system. This vitamin is found in fish, meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products.

Omega-3 fatty acids and other healthy fats also have a positive impact on the brain, especially regarding mild memory loss and depression.

What happens if your head is unclear?

When you lack mental clarity, even performing the simplest of tasks can feel like a challenge. There are several different ways that low mental performance can be expressed, both through the body and the mind.

1. Difficulty performing well at work

Work performance is usually one of the first things to take a hit when your head is unclear. Because work requires mental sharpness, a lack of clarity is going to make work harder than it needs to be.

If you find your work performance standards dropping, you could be dealing with an unclear mind.

2. Feeling isolated and distant from loved ones

Your emotional well-being also affects mental clarity. Many people struggling with low mental clarity may develop a sense of loneliness or isolation.

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This happens as an intuitive method of self-preservation. The fewer people around you, the less energy you expend on maintaining relationships.

3. Low self-esteem and depression

The combination of having minimal mental energy, low job performance, and isolation from friends and family can quickly result in poor mental health.

It can be difficult to see yourself in a positive light when you know you aren’t performing at your peak. That means self-doubt, low self-esteem, and even imposter syndrome are likely to develop as a result. This can further lead to depression if not addressed.

4. Sleep dysfunctions

Poor sleeping habits and mental stress have a very close-knit relationship. If you are stressed, you are likely going to have trouble sleeping properly. And if you are having trouble sleeping properly, you are likely to become stressed.

Your mental clarity can drastically affect your sleep schedule. If your mental health is struggling, you may find that you’re sleeping either too little or too much.

How to promote mental clarity

Despite all the challenges of low mental clarity, there are many ways to promote mindful engagement. You can improve it for yourself. 

These eight tips for how to improve mental clarity are all easy to incorporate into your daily life. They can help you lay down the foundation of a sharp, active, and clear mind. And, if you are leading or working with someone who seems to be lacking mental clarity, encourage them to practice self-care and point them toward resources that can support these tips

1. Get enough quality sleep

How much sleep you get is directly proportional to how much energy you will have throughout the day. This applies to both mental and physical energy.

If you cultivate a consistent and healthy sleep schedule, you can avoid developing a backlog of fatigue and make sure your mental performance stays on top all day long. Using a sleep tracker is one way to manage your sleep schedule to ensure you get enough quality sleep.

2. Manage your stress

Knowing how to effectively reduce stress levels will make a tremendous difference to your state of mental clarity.

Managing stress includes figuring out personal methods of tension release and relaxation. There are also stress tracker devices that allow you to track your stress levels throughout the day.

Being aware of your stress levels will enable you to stay mentally sharp and help you reach your full potential.

3. Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is the fine art of living presently. By slowing down and being conscious of your body, environment, and actions, you can manage your energy more effectively.

4. Find a work-life balance

Having a good work-life balance means having time for both work and play. If you spend too much time at the office, you could deplete your energy levels and trigger an onset of burnout.

happy-mother-and-daughter-laughing-at-home-mental-clarity

Similarly, if you only focus on relaxing and having fun, very few tasks would get done. Finding a healthy balance between work and life is the key to knowing how to improve mental clarity.

5. Practice self-care

Self-care practices are an extremely important aspect of life. Finding the tools, activities, spaces, and people that make you feel safe and supported will allow you to control stress levels and stay productive.

Taking some time out of your week to do something purely because it brings you pleasure is really good for your mental health. Plus, it will keep your mindset flexible and strong.

6. Move your body

Regularly moving your body is a fundamentally important aspect of good health — both mentally and physically.

You can keep your mind active by sweating out toxins and stimulating the circulatory system. Even simple movements like walking, swimming, or virtual yoga can support you in achieving mental clarity.

7. Maintain a healthy diet

Yep, that’s right — you can eat your way to a sharper mind. Nutrition and mental health are closely linked, which is why a healthy diet is so important for overall health.

There are plenty of foods for mental clarity out there that can give you all the nutrients you need for cultivating mental strength.

Some of the best brain foods include fatty fish, berries, dark leafy greens, and pumpkin seeds. Drinking plenty of water will also help your brain function at its peak.

8. Ask for help

Many people struggle to reach out when they’re going through a tough time. But asking for help is one of the most empowering things anyone can do for themselves.

The stress of experiencing mental fogginess is not uncommon. Don't be afraid to ask for help from friends, family, or a healthcare professional. They will help you to feel recognized and understood.

9. (Bonus) Create an environment of more clarity

If someone on your team (or in your family) seems to be struggling with mental clarity, there are ways to help create a more conducive environment.

  • Be more intentional about what information you share and what you ask them to do. Model organization with checklists and trackers.
  • Make priorities clear and simplify your requests. A manager who is not clear on what they need or what is most important can contribute to a feeling of anxiety, overwhelm, and mental fog in a team member. 
  • Set up a standing check-in every day or create an open channel to encourage the other person to help themselves seek clarity from you or others. 

Why is mental clarity so important?

Mental clarity is a vital element of productivity and fulfillment both in and outside the office. We need a clear mind to problem solve and stay on top of whatever challenges are thrown our way.

So, what is mental clarity going to result in when it comes to your personal and professional goals? Let’s find out.

1. Helps you make better decisions

When your mind is clear and focused, you make decisions that are more aligned with your and other people’s best interests.

A clouded mind means clouded judgment. Your judgment needs to be sound if you are to make smart choices in life.

2. Helps you avoid feeling stressed and overwhelmed

It is natural to feel overwhelmed when you are running low on energy and concentration. You can overcome stress and anxiety more easily when your mindset is at its peak.

Poor mental health is something we all battle with from time to time. But with a strong mind, managing stress levels becomes a whole lot easier.

3. Makes it easier to organize tasks and prioritize

Ever heard the saying, “a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind”?

When your mind is performing at an optimal level, organization becomes effortless.

organized-man-writing-at-desk-mental-clarity 

An organized mind is able to approach tasks with more efficiency and can execute them in order of priority.

4. Helps you enjoy life more

When your mind is functioning like a well-oiled machine, it can enable you to extract more purpose and enjoyment out of life.  

Mental clarity allows us to see life more clearly and prioritize what’s really important to us. This includes quality time with loved ones and the pursuit of personal growth.

Improve your mental clarity for personal growth

Mental clarity sits at the epicenter of wellness, performance, and productivity. No matter where you find yourself in life. And your mental clarity helps to create the conditions for clarity for the people around you, at work or in life.

Taking care of your brain health is an integral part of leading a happy and fulfilling lifestyle. As we’ve discovered, there are many simple ways to achieve mental clarity for personal growth and success of any task you set your mind to.

Request a demo with BetterUp today. Together, we can help you learn to improve mental clarity and unlock the human potential around you.

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Published November 29, 2021

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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