StudySkills Articles

How to Maximize Brain Energy

I recently received an email from our electric company offering an “Energy Efficiency Kit.” Obviously, everyone is concerned about saving energy! However, we rarely think about conserving *brain* energy.

Just like every appliance in your home, however, your brain is an electrical organ. So, let’s talk about some ways you can give your brain –and your students’ brains- a “five star” energy rating.

Dr. Russell Barkley, a Research Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the State University of New York Upstate Medical University (SUNY Upstate) shared what he calls “7 Keys to Executive Function.” In other words…

7 Keys to Maximize Brain Power

Conserve brain energy! Follow these guidelines to get your own Five-Star rating for Brain Energy Efficiency.

1. Externalize important information at key points of performance. In other words, “Get it out of your head!” For example, take notes. Make lists. Record tasks in a planner or calendar. Write reminders on post-it notes. For students, we first need to teach them the importance of writing things down so they don’t waste valuable brain energy holding information in memory. Then, we need to teach them efficient systems for writing these things down. (See #7.)

maximize brain power

Conserve brain energy! Follow these guidelines to get your own Five-Star rating for Brain Energy Efficiency.

2. Externalize time periods related to tasks and deadlines. Conserve valuable brain energy by NOT letting your brain manage time. Instead, write down deadlines. Use electronic reminders. Set a timer while working on a project, doing homework, or trying to get your family out of the house. (The #1 reason for crazy mornings is that only one person is managing the time…you! Let a timer assume that responsibility! It will make you less of a nag, too!)

3. Break up lengthy tasks into many small steps. As adults, we know the benefits of breaking large tasks into small steps. Students, however, need support with this. Teachers can break large projects into smaller sections, each with individual due dates. Parents can facilitate this process with nightly homework, challenging students to finish small chunks of work at a time. Then, take a Brain Break (see #6).

4. Externalize sources of motivation. Some people believe all motivation should come “from within.” I agree with that notion…in an ideal world. In the real world, however, we all appreciate some outside motivation. Perhaps it’s extra media time, an extra Brain Break, a special sticker, or points towards a fun outing with mom or dad. Two weeks ago, I trudged through a major project only by promising myself a trip to my local creperie. (Shh! Don’t tell anyone. You’re not supposed to bribe yourself with food!)

5. Externalize mental problem-solving. Get it out of your head! (Oh wait, I said that already.) For adults, this means…make “pro and con” lists. Draw maps and diagrams of information you know. I created a chart for parents called “How to Make Decisions for Your Child” that is designed for this sole purpose…getting important facts and feelings on paper and OUT OF YOUR HEAD. 🙂

For students, this means they should write down facts. Draw diagrams. Put information on index cards and rearrange them into a logical order.

For students with ADHD, dyslexia, or any working memory challenges, this may also mean that math fact fluency may never happen. Dr. Barkley said, “Fluency is impossible.” Instead, use marbles, number lines, or (gasp!)…calculators. “Fluency” is a biological impossibility for students with these challenges. Dr. Barkley made the point that if a child was missing a leg, we would encourage him to use a prosthetic leg. Calculators, marbles, and number lines are “prostheses” for an ADHD and/or dyslexic brain.

6. Replenish the “brain’s” fuel tank. When your computer gets sluggish, what do you do? You shut it down…then immediately restart it. Under normal circumstances, it doesn’t take long for your computer to return to normal. The same is true for your brain! Here is a list of some quick tips for replenishing the brain’s power supply:

– Encourage positive emotions and rewards.

– Use positive self-talk.

– Take frequent breaks. Elementary students need a three-minute break every ten minutes! Easier said than done, but this is the optimal ratio for maximizing brain power. Some great three-minute breaks include: movement, deep breathing, visualization…or simply pausing from a high-concentration task (unless the child is in “flow” and high concentration is comfortable at that specific time).

– Exercise. Aerobic activity, of any duration, not only replenishes the fuel tank, it expands its capacity!

– Visualize goals. Use imagery, or real pictures, as a source of relaxation and motivation.

– Sip on lemonade. The brain needs glucose to operate at full capacity. Sipping (not gulping) on lemonade or a sports drink is a great source of glucose. (This recommendation comes directly from Dr. Barkley. If you are not a fan of sugar, don’t yell at me! “Everything in moderation.”)

– Use music. Baroque music is great to promote concentration. Hip-hop music can be used to inspire energy at transition points. Likewise, “spa music” can be used to inspire calm reflection and relaxation…depending on specific times and transitions.

7. Repeat to the point of “automaticity.” Turning tasks into efficient systems allows them to become “second nature.” When something becomes “second nature,” brain scans show that the entire frontal lobe of the brain goes dark!

In other words, as soon as something becomes automatic, it requires less than 50% of the brain power that it did before!

Can you guess what helps students reach automaticity? Yes, that’s right…study skills! Not just *any* set of study skills. Most strategies that typically fall under the umbrella of “study skills” are extremely complicated and time-consuming. SOAR® Study Skills, however, is a system specifically developed to maximize efficiency.

Our strategies have always been built on our three criteria for “student-friendlines;” they are effective, efficient, and apply across content areas so students know when to use them. If SOAR® was an appliance, it would definitely receive a 5-Star Energy Efficient Rating!

Start conserving brain energy today with our tools for developing automaticity in school:

Click here for the  Soar Learning & Soft Skills App

Click here for the SOAR® Study Skills Classroom Curriculum


-Susan Kruger


EB 080117

Six Steps to
Conquer the Chaos

Get Our Free Guide & Information on... notebook24 How to Organize & Motivate Students for Success

SOAR® in the News
The SOAR® Curriculum

The most critical learning, organizing, and communication skills needed for school. Learn more here.

Who’s Using SOAR®?

Click here to learn more.