Mental Stimulus Sweet Spot

We’ve all been in situations where our surroundings are too chaotic or noisy to get work done. It’s why people go to libraries or coffee shops to work but not tennis matches or concerts.

You already know overstimulation can hurt your ability to focus, But is there such a thing as too little stimulation?

When learning about ADHD, I found there’s a sweet spot for mental stimulation. Too much, and your brain gets overwhelmed. Too little, your brain gets bored and seeks more stimulus.

The task - reading, writing, coding, etc. - is one stimulus when you’re working. Other stimulus includes music, physical activity, and even the room you’re working in.

Fidget toys can work well when people need a bit of extra stimulus, especially for low-intensity tasks like meetings. Working at a walking desk can provide similar physical stimuli.

A room with plants and art on the walls gives you more natural stimulus than an empty beige room. We all know the calming feeling we get by clearing a cluttered desk. Your environment affects how you feel.

Think of it like a formula. Highly stimulating things like TV get a high number, whereas quiet piano music gets a low number.

You have your own preferred score for getting into a flow state; let’s say it’s 9. You can add or remove things in your environment to reach that number and better slip into flow.

If you’re stuck on a complex coding problem that requires your full attention, we might give that 6 stimulus points. Add 1 for the room you’re in, and you’re up to 7. Now you need calm, low-intensity music to get you in your zone at 9.

It’s counterintuitive. You’d think that the fewer distractions you have, the better you’ll be able to focus on your work, but that’s not the case.

This formula might seem overly simplistic or obvious, but the next time you find it hard to focus, approach it like a math problem that needs balancing.