Just as automobiles require fuel in order to move down the road, people need fuel (or energy) to pay attention to information, tasks, and people in any learning situation. Your body is equipped with controls that regulate the flow of mental energy to the brain. They make sure that the active part of your brain is receiving the energy it needs to get its job done.

Mental energy controls are especially important when you are facing tasks and situations requiring sustained effort (for example, reading for comprehension, writing lengthy reports, solving long math problems, or studying for a test or presentation).

People with strengths in mental energy are good at staying alert. They usually sleep well at night and feel fully awake during the day (or the reverse, if their schedules require it). They are able to concentrate even when they don’t feel like working on a task.

People with challenges in mental energy may feel very tired or burned out when they try to concentrate. They may have trouble feeling fully awake during the day, or they may do work of inconsistent quality because their mental alertness comes and goes.

Strategies for managing challenges in mental energy

  • Take periodic breaks when working on a mentally demanding task. When it’s time to focus again, prepare yourself by thinking about how long you will need to stay focused until the next break.
  • Instead of using breaks from work to run errands or do other tasks, use physical activity or quiet time to help you recharge your mental energy.
  • Pay attention to how your mental energy levels change throughout the day. Keep a log of when you feel most focused and when you find yourself running out of steam. Use this insight to help you tackle more demanding tasks during times when your alertness is sharper.
  • When possible, stand or use a “fidget object” (such as a bean bag) while you work. Physical movement can help sharpen mental energy and focus.
  • Break up tasks into small pieces and focus on completing them one at a time.
  • Try to stick with a regular sleep schedule. Getting adequate periods of sleep is important to mental energy.
  • It’s often easier to work on something you find interesting. Try alternating the tasks you find less interesting with things you enjoy doing.

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So what? Why understanding your learning strengths and challenges matters