Brain hacking for beginners 2
Before we begin
This is my second post on my experience with nootropics, if you haven’t read the first you can check it out here. What follows is a summary of any changes I noticed to my normal patterns of cognitive behaviour during what us teachers refer to as Mental May.
Nootropics (new-tro-piks) are supplements, not drugs, and I used one called Alpha Brain that was brought to my attention by repeated advertising on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast. Alpha Brain is one of the market leaders and is best known in the nootropic world for extracting rather than synthesising its ingredients.
If I refer to a day by a number, day 5 for instance, it means day 5 of taking Alpha Brain.
Method(ology) to my madness
I am a sceptic by nature, as are many of my friends and peers, and as a result I didn’t tell many people that I was experimenting with Alpha Brain. I’m also well aware of the power of the placebo and thought that by keeping my talk on the subject to a minimum I’d have as pure as possible an experience.
I followed the recommended daily dose (2 per day) at consistent times and when I noticed that I was doing something out of the ordinary I took a brief note of it on my phone. I noticed 5 main changes during the course of the month. Each of these 5 came to my attention more than once (hence their inclusion) and all are outside my normal experience. Four of these experiences are positive, one is negative.
Focused and positive
Much of the previous month has involved me correcting masses of student work, both exam and essay based. This work is repetitive and unrewarding. On day 5 I noticed that I was enjoying correcting exam papers, something I’ve never experienced before. I’d often enjoy seeing the corrected pile begin to outsize the to be corrected pile but never the actual process. The fact that this happened while I was correcting exams was even more unusual given that exam answers are by their nature more limited in scope than essays.
I enjoyed correcting exams several times while on Alpha Brain. What struck me about the experience was that it was still difficult to bring myself to sit down, I’ll do anything other than sit down to correct, once I had parked myself in the seat I was fully focused on the task at hand and felt positive about the experience.
Sleeping better, waking better
I am the Father of 4 children aged between 7 and 2. When people ask me about sleep I often joke (but kind of mean it) that I haven’t slept since 2006. There is some truth to this. Sleep, or at least 6-8 hours of undisturbed sleep, is little more than a distant memory/fantasy land to me now.
By day 7 I noticed that I was feeling better in the mornings. I was more cheery than usual when making the kids breakfast and listening to their various complaints about it being the wrong type, the milk being too warm etc. I was cheerier because I was sleeping better.
My 2 year old wakes every night between 10-12 pm, comes into our bed, kicks the covers off all of us, and spends the rest of the night kicking and elbowing myself and my wife. His more severe assaults wake me, I swear (at the situation, not him. Well, sometimes him!), my wife gives out to me, and I grouchily drift off again. This pattern didn’t change but I went to sleep faster, generally slept better, and woke more refreshed while on Alpha Brain.
The next major difference is difficult to quantify. At several stages during the month when I was feeling overwhelmed or under pressure I very deliberately decided to slow down. The results were instant and astounding, at least they were to me. I did whatever needed to be done faster when I slowed down.
There’s an old saying, ‘The more haste, the less speed.‘ While this isn’t always the truth it’s most certainly relevant, especially for non physical tasks. The first time I slowed down, while on a very tight deadline, I ended up having time for a coffee before deadline even arrived. Not only did slowing down make me perform the task faster but I definitely performed the tasks better, with fewer mistakes than usual.
Much of my evenings are dedicated to conflict resolution. When you’ve 1 child it’s usually pretty easy. When you’ve 2 children there are occasions when they both need you at once. When you’ve 3 children the number of occasions 2 or more want the same toy or a different cartoon is uncanny. When you’ve 4, you get the picture.
About day 15 I noticed that I wasn’t getting as stressed out with the children, or giving out to them as much. There were several reasons for this, all of which were down to my own behaviour. Example. When I’m doing something and one of the kids calls me I’ll usually say ‘hold on a sec’.‘ This will happen several times until they cry, shout (causing me to give out) or give up on ever getting my full attention. I noticed that I was responding much more frequently to their first request. Not only this but I was fully listening to what they had to say, putting myself in their shoes, and then trying to find a fast resolution to the problem.
This behaviour is something I’d often aspire to as a parent but usually find myself failing at. This has happened multiple times since the first time I noticed it.
The only negative
If I’m giving Alpha Brain the credit where I noticed improvements I have to point out the one repetitive disimprovement. At several stages during the self experiment I felt the opposite of what nootropics claim to deliver. There were 4 or 5 times when I felt mentally exhausted and lacking in clarity and focus for no obvious reason. During these experiences I found it hard to identify what the problem was (lack of fresh air, hunger, etc.) but didn’t enjoy the sensation. These feelings lasted less than 10 minutes each and wouldn’t be enough to put me off taking the supplement again but they did occur.
Post Alpha brain
It’s 2 days since I stopped taking the supplement and I’m definitely an advocate. The positive experiences were real and beyond placebo as far as I can tell. I can now tell my friends about my experience and will definitely be recommending to them when they enter periods of high pressure. As of now there are zero side effects from stopping taking Alpha Brain and I won’t be taking it again I suspect until next Manic May.
There’s a tonne of reading to be found online about nootropics. The best and most balanced I found was this from the Atlantic
I’d like to thank the good folks at powerful.ie for giving me the Alpha Brain for free. They did this prior to knowing I was going to conduct the self experiment so props to them for that.