“Today, the greatest single source of wealth is between your ears. Today, wealth is contained in brainpower, not brutepower.” -Brian Tracy
Reading time: 10-15 minutes
Me too. In fact, it happens often.
Why? Because even though I’ve always been fairly smart, I didn’t hit the intellectual genetic jackpot.
Getting good grades and holding my own in intellectual conversations was never particularly hard, but there’s always been a few people a step ahead of me.
And to be honest, I was a bit jealous. I wish I was born with their mental superpowers. Deep down, I thought if I could somehow increase my brainpower, then I could really achieve anything I want.
But I’ve always figured there wasn’t too much I could do about it. Some people are super smart, some people aren’t quite so lucky… that’s just the way it is.
Today, I’m going to share with you something extremely powerful, something I’ve discovered recently and haven’t shared with anyone yet:
Intelligence is not a set thing. The level of intelligence we are born with is only a starting point, and regardless of our genetic make-up, it is absolutely possible to get smarter, increase our IQ, and maybe even become… Limitless.
How It All Started: Watching Limitless
This whole adventure started a few months ago, when I decided to watch the movie Limitless. I very rarely watch movies, but this one intrigued me. I popped it on, laid on the couch and… I was soon captivated by Bradley Cooper’s character rise from Average Joe to Intellectual Jedi, thanks to a “magic” pill he started taking.
These new-found cognitive powers opened up a whole new world of possibilities for him: his unremarkable existence transformed into a life in the fast-lane, as he started achieving exceptional results in everything, and surpassed his wildest dreams along the way.
“You know they say we can only access 20% of our brain? This lets you access all of it.” ~Limitless
As I watched that movie, something switched on inside me.
I couldn’t stop thinking “Is it somehow possible to supercharge our mental powers, become smarter, and start achieving more than we’ve ever dreamed?”
I decided right there & then that I had to find a way to make this happen in real-life.
So I got busy. Over the ensuing months, I spent countless hours researching, learning, and experimenting, with the goal of making myself smarter & putting my own life in the fast-lane.
“There’s a revolution going on. There used to be two systems of knowledge: hard science- chemistry, physics, biophysics- on the hand, and, on the other, a system of knowledge that included ethology, psychology, and psychiatry. And now it’s as if a lightning bolt had connected the two. It’s all one system: neuroscience.” ~Candace Pert, Neurochemist at the American National Institute of Mental Health
4 months ago, I had never studied, or even thought about, the field of neuroscience. But as soon I started learning about neuroplasticity, neurotransmitters & synaptic connection, binaural beats & brainwave frequencies, and brain-derived neurotrophic factors, I was absolutely enthralled. I knew I had stumbled into something that would forever change my life.
I knew things were about to get real interesting.
The Future Has Arrived
25 years ago, David Krech, Ph.D, Psychologist at the University of California-Berkeley, said: “I foresee the day when we shall have the means, and therefore, inevitably, the temptation, to manipulate the behaviour and intellectual functioning of all people through environmental and biochemical manipulation of the brain.”
This day has arrived my friends.
4 months into this journey, I haven’t fully cracked the code yet, but I can tell you with 100% certainty that I’m smarter than I’ve ever been (as you will see below). I’m sharper, my thoughts are clearer, I can get anything done quicker, and a lot of cool things are starting to happen in my life.
There are times when I really do feel like Bradley Cooper. One move ahead. Or 50.
This is no joke, and I’m not here to brag. My goal is to share my discoveries with you, so you too can start unlocking your brain’s full power, and live life in the fast-lane.
Now I’m about to take you on a journey through the 10 best strategies I’ve discovered so far to enhance mental performance (in no particular order).
You’re about to enter a whole new world of possibilities.
Enjoy the ride.
1- Brain Training with Lumosity
One of the first thing I discovered was that the human brain is in many ways similar to a muscle. It’s highly trainable, and it adapts & evolves based on the stimuli we give it. This is basically what neuroplasticity is all about.
And just like anyone has the power to reshape his/her body and increase their athletic performance through physical training, cognitive training allows anyone to significantly increase mental performance over time by forming new neurons & creating new neural pathways.
I started training with Lumosity 5 months ago (before this blog was even born), but I didn’t really take it seriously at first. But when I saw Limitless, I got pumped & motivated so I stared training everyday, for 15 minutes (it’s all it takes).
Lumosity is a series of games was designed by leading neuroscientists to challenge certain parts of the brain, and it’s backed by science from Stanford, Cal-Berkeley, and the University of Michigan. But the best part? The games are enjoyable, and it’s super motivating to beat our best scores as our brain gets more “in shape”.
After training for a couple months, I listened to audio version of the book The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge MD, and I was astonished by his description of near-miracles achieved through brain training, mostly amongst people who had had cerebral accidents, or suffered from certain cognitive disabilities.
That’s when I realized just how powerful brain training could be. And it got me thinking… “if people with cognitive impairments can get these kinds of results, what would happen a “healthy” person brain-trained properly”?
So I amped up my training, to 30-60 minutes 4-5x a week. I got serious about it. And then things really picked up.
Lumosity’s website is well-designed and lets us compare our performance with the other members our age group within the 14 million users. It uses a measure called Brain Performance Index (BPI) which is Lumosity’s equivalent of the Intelligence Quotient (IQ). A BPI of 1000 represents the average of all Lumosity “brain athletes” amongst our age group.
When I first started training, I set myself the ambitious goal of reaching the 99th percentile (“shoot for the stars, and even if you miss you’ll land on the moon”). I’m not there yet, but lo & behold, I’m getting close!!!
Lumosity also tracks our progress over time, which helps show to show how trainable the brain is over time. (Each dot represents 1 week)
These results are a testament to my training, but also to the effectiveness of the following 9 strategies, which I’ve been implementing along the way.
By now, most of you probably have probably read my article on the mind-blowing benefits of Intermittent Fasting (IF), and are aware that I recently went 25 days in a row of IF, fasting for 16 hours daily and eating generously during the other 8 hours.
I did it with the goal of achieving fast weight loss, better health, and supreme fitness, and I believe those have all been accomplished (sorry I haven’t been able to write the follow-up article yet). But something even crazier happened. Something I did not anticipate at all.
Intermittent Fasting made me smarter.
At first, I wasn’t too sure. I could feel exceptional levels of mental clarity during my fasts, and then when I started smashing my best scores on Lumosity I knew something was happening.
So I decided to look into it more deeply. And I found the answer.
Fasting has been shown scientifically to increase production of something called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), a protein in the brain that is instrumental to neurogenesis (development of new neurons) and the creation of synapses (connections between neurons).
According to Micheal Eades, MD, BDNF is also “neuroprotective against stress and toxic insults to the brain” and, as bonus, “humans with greater levels of BDNF have lower levels of depression.” You can check out the full article Dr. Eades wrote for Tim Ferriss’ blog here.
Basically what happens is that Intermittent Fasting creates a mild stress to the brain, which overcompensates by releasing more BDNF. As I said earlier, the human brain is highly reactive to the kind of stimuli we give it.
What this translates in… is that as soon as I started fasting, my mental performance really jumped up. Shit got real.
To increase your production of BDNF through IF, I believe that even once a week would be beneficial. As leading neuroscientist Mark P. Mattson tells, ”in normal health subjects, moderate fasting — maybe one day a week or cutting back on calories a couple of days a week — will have health benefits for most anybody.”
If you were tempted to give IF a shot after reading my first article but weren’t so sure, maybe now is a good time to start? Believe me, it’s not nearly as challenging as you think.
3- Exercise To Be Smarter
“I want to cement the idea that exercise has a profound impact on cognitive abilities and mental health.”
John Ratey MD, Harvard Psychiastrist
Now that you’re familiar with BDNF, here’s another way to increase your brain’s production of this awesome protein: good ol’ exercise!
And it gets even better. As you know, exercise increases the secretions of feel-good hormone endorphins (which literally means “endogenous morphin”- morphin produced from within), and an increase in endorphins has been shown by Nobel Prize winner Dr. Andrew Schally to improve rats’ ability to take on challenging tasks such as maze-running.
In his book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, John Ratey MD tells the fascinating story Naperville Central High School in Chicago, where everyday, the first class of the day is Physical Education. This was started as an experiment in the 1990′s, and the results have been nothing short of spectacular.
In 1999, the 8th grade-students were not only among the healthiest in the nation (3% obesity rate vs 30% national average), but they are also some of the smartest in the world. These students were among 230,000 world-wide to take the TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematic and Science Study) test, and the Napierville ranked #6 in the world in math and #1 in Science, in front of a hoist of top schools from China, Japan, and Singapore, and far ahead of any other US school.
In 2010, Naperville Central’s junior class had a record 14 perfect ACT scores.
Now why more schools don’t implement daily Physical Education is beyond me, but that’s another discussion for another day.
But what this means for us is simple: we already know exercise is beneficial in countless ways, and now we know it makes us smarter. So time to get off our ass and start exercising everdyday.
Generally, I do a 10 minute “wake-up run” & 10 minutes of yoga in morning to get a sweat going and myself in optimal state for the day ahead, and then I do another more intense 1 hour workout in the afternoon.
At the very least, you should follow the advice Matthew McCaughney offered shortly after being named World’s Sexiest Man in 2005: “Whether it’s going for a run, dancing or loving, my rule is break one sweat a day.”
Make it fun. Explore nature. Break a sweat. Feel good, get fit, and get smart.
This awesome photo was shot by Chase Jarvis
4- Challenging Skills-Acquisition
Whenever we learn a new challenging skill, we force our brain to evolve and create new neural pathways.
There are 2 main-types of Challenging skills that help make us smarter:
At Napierville Central High School, their Physical Education classes don’t simply consist of going jogging. They purposely take on challenging activities such as line dancing, to stimulate the student’s brain while giving their body a workout.
Tim Ferriss is a notorious adept of learning new motor skills, like tango dancing, surfing, and Yabasume, a crazy Japanese sport consisting of horseback archery.
I train in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, a highly technical martial art that uses leverage to allow weaker individual to defeat strongers foes. It’s a ton of fun and an amazing workout, but there’s honestly times when my brain hurts from trying to grasp the complex techniques. I still forget the steps to new moves all the time, but I try to console myself thinking that at least I’m getting good brain workout.
I’ve been using some of Ferriss’ techniques from the above video to improve my learning & retention rate (such as mental rehearsal/visualization right before bed) but it is one the most challenging activities I do on a regular basis.
2) Language Acquisition
In a recent blog post, Ferriss wrote “language learning deserves special mention here. It is, bar none, the best thing you can do to hone clear thinking.” While I disagree with his assertion that it’s the best thing for clear thinking (see strategy #5), there is no doubt that it’s highly beneficial.
While I’ve only acquired 1 new language so far, English (French is my mother tongue), this is something I can’t wait to get more into now that I’m finally done with my Master’s Degree & formal education. Spanish & Portuguese are the first 2 on my list.
Languages acquisition offers a two-fold advantage- the increase in brainpower from learning, and the opportunity to travel and discover the world in whole new way.
See you soon, South America! :)
5- Meditation with the Brain Evolution System
Meditation is a very ancient self-development method, and has been shown to provide wonderful cognitive benefits.
Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, has led experiments in cooperation with the Dalai Lama on effects of meditation on the brain. His results suggest that long-term, or short-term practice of meditation results in different levels of activity in brain regions associated with such qualities as attention, anxiety, depression, fear, anger, the ability of the body to heal itself, and so on.
In recent times, Meditation has taken a quantum leap forward, with the introduction of a technology called binaural beats. This is a total game-changer, as these controlled auditory tones & soundwaves create brain entrainment, which results in the creation of specific brainwave frequencies in the brain.
Dr. Margaret Patterson, in collaboration with biochemist Dr. Ifor Capel, have shown that inducing appropriate frequencies in the brain dramatically speeds up the production of a variety of neurotransmitters including serotonin, acethylcoline, and endorphins.
Not only are these neurotransmitters absolutely fantastic in terms of improving mood and helping us feeling good, they are also instrumental in increasing mental performance:
In this study, Mark P Mattson demonstrated that “5-HT (serotonin) stimulates the expression of BDNF, and BDNF enhances the growth and survival of 5-HT neurons.” Basically Serotonin & BDNF act in synergy and help each other perform their tasks better. Sweet deal.
While reading the book Thresholds of the Mind, I learned that “a research team in Palo Alto found that a group of normal human subjects, given substances that increased acetylcholine production in the brain, showed great improvement in long-term memory.”
This finding was confirmed by a study at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where a group of students taking acetylcholine experienced both enhanced memory and an increased ability to learn.
Not only has an increase in endorphins been shown to increase mice’s performance in maze-running, but in the book Megabrain, author Michael Hutchison explain that scientists now believe that the moment learning takes place- the “aha” moment- is when a particular reality has been selected and filtered by our endorphins and is suddenly apprehended by our brain.
Finally here’s the kicker: binaural beats create brain synchronicity, described by Leester Fehri from Princeton University as “the maximum efficiency of information through the whole brain”. As the soundwaves force both hemispheres to operate on the same frequency, the brain needs to build new pathways to bridge the 2.
Over time, this allows for “whole-brain thinking”, which Michael Gelb describes as a common trait of geniuses in his great book How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci.
That technology is seriously amazing. All you have to do is sit there (or even lay down), relax, and it does the rest for you as you become zen and develop mental superpowers.
So how do you get started with binaural beat meditation?
I’ve done a lot of research and tried several different programs, and I believe that most effective one (by a significant margin) is the Brain Evolution System. It is very powerful and has greatly helped me become more focused, more creative and less stressed. You can pick up a free demo or the full program right here.
6- Using Your Smart Phone Smartly
Most people use their smart phone in quite a dumb way. Incessant emails, mindless games, and too much time checking Facebook or Twitter.
But if used properly, SmartPhones can actually contribute to making us smarter. Here’s how:
a) Reading interesting stuff through Google Reader.
Blog posts are such a powerful way to learn and challenge our brain with new ideas. The good bloggers put in a lot of work in creating impactful content that is concise, entertaining, and applicable. If you read 3 insightful blog posts everyday (10-15 minutes), that’s at least 3 good ideas into your head. It challenges you to think on a higher level and see things in a different light.
Every time you’ve got a few minutes off in your day, instead of doing mindless stuff on your phone, use that time to feed your mind amazing information. It’ll pay off big time down the road.
Audiobooks, Podcasts, Ted Talks… they’re all wonderful ways to learn effortlessly. Believe me, cleaning the kitchen goes by way quicker when you’re learning something interesting about a topic you’re passionate about. But also, by listening to stimulating content, it constantly challenges the brain to form new neurons & synaptic connections, making full use of the high BDNF count developed with the other strategies.
My favourite current resources are the amazing Philosopher’s Notes, Audiobooks from Audibles.com, and these podcasts: Stanford Entrepreneurial Thoughts Leaders, The Rise to the Top, TED Talks , and of course The Feel Good Podcast :)
c) Setting up Reminders & Alarms
If you’re like me, you struggle with keeping track of future commitments. I’ve always hated agendas, and relied mainly on memory. For me, this works about 99% of the time, which is really good… except for 1% of the time. So lately I’ve started using my iPhone’s calendar app, which allow me to quickly set up reminder 24 hours before something, and once again 30 minutes before it.
Not only does it prevent me from forgetting stuff and possibly upsetting people, but it also frees up a lot of my mental RAM which I can use for other things.
7- Sleep Optimization
“Sleep is the great force multiplier” ~Tim Ferriss
We all know it, we’re a lot smarter when we’re well rested than when we’re tired. But the “hidden third of life” is something most people don’t pay enough attention to.
While Ferriss has his own ideas on the matter, I believe it comes down to 3 main things:
1) Figuring out our best periods of mental performance, and building our sleep cycle around it.
I’ve always been in Superman mode from 11pm to 3am, so I make sure to be awake and do some challenging activities at that time. Most of the content you find on this website was created during epic late-night writing sessions.
2) Experimenting with polyphasic sleep
I can’t find a reference to it, but I read somewhere that in studies where they put people in a room with no idea of the time of the day, and no outside stimuli, subjects gravitated towards sleeping twice every 24 hours, one 6 hour period and one 2 hour period.
I personally sleep about 6 hours at night, and take a 1 hour nap-atation (meditation with Holosync & nap) everyday.
Many great thinkers in history were avid nappers, including Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, and Napoleon Bonaparte, and one day when I run a company with many employees, they will not only be allowed, but encouraged, to take a nap at work in the afternoon.
3) Eating before bed
This is something I got from The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman. The idea is quite simple: if we don’t eat before bed, by the time we are in the last few hours of our night, our blood sugar level drops and our sleep because less restful.
Each night before bed, I have a 3 chocolate chips cookies with a a glass of milk (because it’s delicious and because the milk provides slow-digested protein called casein) and 5 brazil nuts (because they are highest source of selenium, which helps increase testosterone production overnight).
8- Omega 3 Intake
Did you know that a large part of our brain is made up of fat? I learned that recently, and it sounds crazy but it’s true.
The neuron membrane (or wall) is made up of “good” fat and in order for the neurons to communicate properly, these membranes need to be flexible to allow vital molecules to pass through.
Studies have shown that diets rich in Omega-3 can result in increased learning ability, problem-solving skills, focus, memory, and communication between cells. Omega-3 has also been shown to help promote a positive mood and emotional balance, and can help people maintain healthy mental ability as they age.
I generally aim for about 10g of fish oil per day (1800mg EPA / 1200mg DHA).
To mitigate the risk of heavy metals (ie, mercury) contamination, I take it in conjunction with Chlorella, a marine superfood & chemical relative of Spirulina known for its exceptional detoxifying properties.
9- Brain Boosting Beverages
Energy drinks are massively overrated in my opinion. Full of sugar and weird chemicals, there are undoubtedly better alternatives out there. Coffee certainly does boost mental performance but it is also highly acidic which is not ideal from a biochemistry standpoint (the body operates better in a slightly alkaline state).
The following 3 Brain Boosting Beverages not only provide a temporary mental boost, they also contribute to increasing our health & vitality levels over time.
1) Raw Cacao Hot Chocolate
According to Ian A. Macdonald from the University of Nottingham’s Medical school, “certain food components like cacao flavonols may be beneficial in increasing brain blood flow and enhancing brain function.”
I know this to be true from experience. I basically went through my whole Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) by drinking Cacao during every study session, assignment, and exam. I’ve also used it extensively to increase my inspiration & energy when writing.
Cacao is sensational from a nutritional standpoint. It’s the highest food in the world in anti-oxydants( 2x higher than Acai berries, 8x higher than Goji berries, and about 15x higher than red wine & green tea), it has the highest levels of muscle relaxing magnesium, and it’s super high in iron, chromium, manganese and zinc.
But Cacao’s most extraordinary aspect is its unique neuro-enhancing properties. It contains PEA (same feel-good compound our body produces when we fall in love), Anadamide (also known as the “bliss” chemical), tryptophan (pre-cursor to serotonin) and serotonin itself. It also contains Theobromine, a chemical relative of caffeine.
No wonder “Cacao” literally means “Food of Gods” in the Aztec dialect!
I make a hot drink of Raw Cacao Powder (2 large spoonfuls), hot (but not boiling) water, coconut cream, agave syrup, and cinnamon. It’s divine, and it makes me feel goooood.
Earlier this year, I got 13kg of some of the finest Raw Cacao powder in the world from Roar Superfoods. I had originally planned on repacking it and selling it for a profit, but I gave up on the idea and just started plowing through the bag myself. 12 months later, I’ve almost had the full 13kg bag!
2) My Brainpower Tea Creation
I discovered Yerba Mate through Tim Ferriss, who’s an avid proponent of this Argentinian herbal drink containing 3 different of neuro-stimulants.
But I’ve taken ita step further. I now regularly drink 1L of a drink made of Yerba Mata, Gingko Biloba (reported to increase blood flow to the brain), green tea, and gingseng. I simply buy them individualy and mix them all together and add hot (but not boiling) water.
3) Matcha Green Tea
By now, I’m sure you’ve heard that green tea offers fantastic health benefits. Well, Matcha is like green tea on steroids.
First used in Japan over 800 years ago, the Zen monks who drank it noticed they had better concentration and help keep them feel alert. It’s made from high-quality Gyokuro green tea leaves that are crushed and pulverized, and result in fine bright green powder. Nowadays, it is used in traditional tea ceremonies and special occasions in Japan, but I just drink it every morning. One cup of Matcha is roughly equivalent to 10 cups of normal green tea in terms of phytonutrients & flavanoids.
10- Alpha Brain
Remember how this all started with Limitless? Well, my newest discovery is as close as it gets to the pill found in the movie. It’s called Alpha Brain.
It’s a supplement that contains a mix of natural plant extracts full of neuro-nutrients and is designed to improve brain cognition, bloodflow to the brain, synaptic connections, neurotransmitter production, memory, and more.
It looks like it’s not only beneficial in the short-run, but also excellent to decrease mental decline. In his book Force of Nature: Mind, Body, Soul (And, of Course, Surfing), Big Wave surfer extraordinaire Laird Hamilton ranks nootropics (neural supplements) as his #1 supplement, to minimize mental decline as he gets older.
I have been experimenting with Alpha Brain for over a month now and I am very happy with the results. I take 1 pill first thing in the morning, and 30 minutes later I feel my mental powers rising. The effects generally last 6 hours, after which point I have my nap-itation, and then I sometimes have a another pill upon waking up depending on my plans for the evening.
So far, I have not experienced any adverse effects and the reviews from other users are also very positive.
If you’re interested in trying Alpha Brain, you can use the coupon code FEELGOOD and get a 10% discount.
You can read all about the different components and the scientific backing behind Alpha Brain right here.
Final Thought: The Future Is Bright
“It’s difficult to try to responsibility convey some sense of excitement about who’s going on. You try to be more conservative and not say such wild and intriguing things, but damn! The field is wild and intriguing. It’s hard to avoid talking that way… we are at a frontier, and it’s a terribly exciting time to be in this line of work.” John Kiebeskind, UCLA Neurophysiologist
This is only the beginning my friends. It’s obvious, from the literature & research that’s out there, and from my personal experience, that we’re just scratching the surface.
I get excited simply thinking about the possibilities.We now have the tools & technologies to speed our own evolution. Within our lifetime, we can catapult ourselves into a whole new sphere of human performance.
Now more than ever, I believe that it’s within anyone’s reach to rise & shine, create a dream life, and “make a dent in the Universe”.
As Henry David Thoreau once said, “I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavour.”
But no pill is enough to harness the full power of your brain: the true extraordinary benefits come from integrating all these strategies into your own Feel Good Lifestyle.
Trust me though, once you start, you won’t want to stop. Feeling limitless just feels too damn good.
See you in the fast-lane!
Update March 5, 2013: If you really enjoyed this article and you’re committed to taking your brain performance to the next level… In the coming month I will be launching a special course to help you increase your IQ and achieve limitless performance in your life.
If you’d like to hear more about the course, simply enter your email below and I’ll send you some updates on this exciting new project project.
And please share this post, because that’s how more people can unlock their full mental potential