Oh, those warm, fuzzy feelings: You’re slightly giddy, and life seems infinitely more interesting and colorful. You may find yourself actually daydreaming, rather than tackling your jammed inbox at work. It must be love.
A new study from the University of Maryland shows that people in love are less able to focus and perform tasks that require attentiveness.
Forty-three study participants, who had all been involved in a romantic relationship for less than six months, were asked to complete a series of cognitive tests in which they had to quickly differentiate between relevant and irrelevant information.
“We found that the more infatuated people were, the less cognitive control they had,” says Sandra Langeslag, PhD, postdoctoral research associate in the department of psychology at the University of Maryland in College Park. Interestingly, the study found no difference between men and women during the love stage: Both genders were equally distracted when dating someone new.
“People who are in love tend to think about their beloved all the time,” says Langeslag. When people are in a rosy, new relationship much of their mental energy is tied up in their main squeeze, leaving fewer resources for conscious thought and cognitive reserve in order to perform well on boring lab tests or even at work, she says.
4 Ways to Train Your Brain on Valentine's Day
“Cognitive control is a learned skill,” says Roger Remington, PhD, professor and research fellow at the School of Psychology at the University of Queensland in Australia. “It’s possible for anyone to develop strategies that will improve their ability to focus in daily life,” he says, regardless of their romantic agenda.
Here are four ways to zone in and boost perceptions just in time for Valentine’s Day:
Visualize your goal. For effective mental focus, recognize that your own thoughts are a major source of distraction, says Remington. “Take time before acting to establish a clear mental picture of what you want to do, what you must attend to, and pare away everything else,” he says. Athletes do this by envisioning what they want to happen, like when a professional golfer stands behind the ball to visualize the arc before he swings the clubs.
Chew gum. Recent research from Cardiff University in the United Kingdom finds that chewing gum (during a cognitive study) might help keep you on track. Thirty-eight participants were given the task of detecting a specific pattern in a list of numbers that were read aloud. The individuals who chewed gum were significantly faster and more accurate that those who didn’t.
Grab a banana. Dehydration can lead to lack of focus. Guzzling water through the day helps, but according to Los Angeles dietitian Ashley Koff, RD, that’s not all you need. “Dehydration occurs not from insufficient water going into the body but from water not getting into the cells,” she says. “Watch your salt intake and get plenty of potassium to improve thinking skills.” Try bananas, dried apricots, fish and other lean sources.
Say “om.” A dedicated meditation practice may help clear irrelevant thoughts and enable lovers to improve their focus. “Staying calm is important to maintaining focus,” says Remington, who recommends daily meditation for keeping the peace, especially in the face of new love. “Staying calm, establishing a clear mental picture of your goals and pausing before acting are all meditation techniques,” he says.