The human body and mind are fluid systems. In fact, they are hardly ever static. They change over time, for better or worse, due to factors like stress, aging, diet and social circumstances. While there are some influences we can’t yet change - such as our genetics - we actually have a surprising amount of control of both our body and minds due to modern science and groundbreaking discoveries. This is where biohacking comes in.
The practice of biohacking may sound intimidating, but it actually boils down to some basic concepts such as optimal nutrition, maximal oxygenation, good posture and exercise, and meditation. While some of these goals can be achieved with the help of contemporary technology, the basic ideas are often thousands of years old. After all, herbal use, deep breathing, meditation, and heart rate control have been practiced by Buddhist monks and yogis for centuries. Entrepreneur and one of the foremost biohackers, Dave Asprey, sums up biohacking as “the desire to be the absolute best version of ourselves.”
Brain hacking is simply a specialized version of biohacking which focuses on cognitive abilities like memory, focus, mood and alertness. Unsurprisingly, there is a lot of crossover between brain hacking and biohacking techniques. Nutrition, physical activity, and meditation are all important to both disciplines. Additionally, brain hacking places a special emphasis on nootropics, which are supplements designed to boost your brain power and give you an extra edge.
There are a number of commonly practiced methods of brain hacking. Just a few of these include:
Avoiding Certain Foods
By now, we should all know that raw vegetables are generally healthy. But why is this? For one, they provide the vitamins and minerals our brains and bodies need without extra simple carbohydrates. Just as important as what you put in your body is what you DON’T eat. This includes any foods that you’re intolerant of. Common examples are dairy and gluten. Food intolerances cause inflammation which can slow you down - both mentally and physically. In fact, inflammation can lead to many degenerative diseases such as heart disease, stroke, migraines, thyroid disorders, and more.
Additionally, unhealthy foods, such as candy and other high-sugar foods, can harm the brain. A 2012 UCLA study found that a diet high in sugar slows the brain and hampers memory and learning.
Enhancing your Brain with Music
Dave Aspey points out in his Beginner’s Guide to Biohacking that music affects our mood. This can easily be demonstrated the next time you listen to a song with emotional significance for you. You may get goose bumps or feel the hairs on your neck rise. You can use this emotional impact from music to help enhance your mood. Feeling stressed? Put on something mellow and calming, maybe a classical string piece or smooth R&B. For an intense workout or motivation, play a song with a fast tempo.
Using Nootropic Stacks
Nootropics are supplements that help improve and/or protect your cognitive functions. They often work by providing a precursor substance that your body utilizes to produce neurotransmitters, the messenger molecules that carry nerve signals. Examples of neurotransmitters include dopamine, serotonin and acetylcholine.
“Stacks” are combinations of nootropics taken to enhance or complement the effects of individual nootropics. Many brain hackers take the “stacking” approach by using either prepackaged stacks or creating their own.
Additionally, a nootropic can help with energy and alertness. This is the case with caffeine and certain herbal nootropics. Other nootropic compounds, like omega 3 fatty acids, also have neuroprotective benefits. In other words, they help to prevent damage from diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Who’s Brain Hacking?
There are some big names hacking their brains with exercise, meditation, nootropics and other methods. These include entrepreneurs like Dave Asprey, mentioned above, and business guru Tim Ferriss. Along with other top businesspeople, these individuals often experiment with new nootropics and other techniques to get more of an edge without the use of prescription drugs.
But you don’t need to be a Silicon Valley startup founder to benefit from hacking your gray matter. In fact, the techniques used by Fortune 500 executives can be useful to people from a large range of backgrounds in a variety of situations, such as:
The Busy Mom
Just think about the life of a mother who takes care of her family’s needs, while often having her own career. It’s easily the equivalent to two full time jobs. There are so many moving parts and demands, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, to experience brain fog, and to get fatigued. This can lead to serious burnout. Fortunately, there is a way to minimize it. Multiple studies between 2000-2010 have shown that the nootropic L-carnitine has decreased mental fatigue in many individuals. In one particular 2004 study, acetyl-L-carnitine was administered for 24 weeks, and the study found that 59% of the participants in the acetyl-L-carnitine treatment group saw considerable improvement with mental fatigue.
It can be hard to focus and maintain a decent homework-life balance when you are knee deep in research papers, studying for exams, and pulling all-nighters for major school projects. Again, the techniques outlined above can help de-stress, give a mental energy boost, and refocus your attention on your studies.
As Tim Ferriss, author of 4-Hour Workweek says, “By working only when you are most effective, life is both more productive and more enjoyable. It’s the perfect example of having your cake and eating it too.” However, creating that environment and mindset of effectiveness can be a challenge. Nootropics are one method for boosting productivity and creating the mental focus business leaders need to be effective and successful.
Nootropic compounds such as DLPA, L-Theanine, Uridine, and I-Tyrosine help with cognitive function, ranging from increased mental alertness to improved memory to increased focus. This boost in cognitive function and effectiveness from a nootropic stack can give the ambitious individual the edge needed to make the next major jump in business career or to finish a major project. And as more and more executives take advantage of these supplements, it'll simply become something every businessperson needs just to keep up.
Attaining optimal physical performance is very demanding. For the serious athlete or even the weekend warrior, there are many elements needed for peak physical performance – sustained energy, alertness, focus, motivation, increased blood flow, stamina and others. Practice, the correct nutrition and supplementation, proper coaching, and the right amount of rest / active recovery can all help. Additionally, there’s emerging thought about the role nootropics can play in helping an athlete perform at a very high level every time he takes the field of play, whether it’s professionally or recreationally.
The right nootropic nutrients or “stack” can increase brain health and function in a number of ways, leading to an increase in the density of neuroreceptors, which in turns leads to the optimization of neurotransmitters, including acetylcholine and dopamine. This increase can lead to quantifiable physical benefits required for optimal physical performance, as well enhance overall brain health and even reduce performance anxiety and/or stress — all safely and without the negative side effects often associated with performance enhancing supplements. As Apolo Ohno, former Olympic Skater and now co-founder of Allysian Sciences (a neuro-focused health and supplement company), says with regard to mind-body nourishment, “Nutrition is everything.”
Regardless of where you are in life and what your goals are, brain hacking techniques are useful for everyone. Whether you want to get ahead in your career or achieve a good work-life balance, it all starts with a healthy and optimized mind.