1. Accept things with love and understanding
No matter where you are, or what you’re doing, always believe that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Never expect, assume, or demand. Do the best you can to control your circumstances, and learn to accept that you can’t always control everything. Once you’ve done all that is in your power, if it’s meant to happen – it will.
2. Life CAN be simple
Even though you often feel like life is too complicated, it can always be simple. All you need to do is focus on one thing at a time. You don’t have to do it all, and you don’t have to do it right now. Be present, be active, do the best that you can. Whatever you put into life – life will hand you back, with interest.
3. Don’t change for other people
Make people accept you the way you are, or don't accept you at all. Always say what you really think, even if it’s not the popular opinion. When you’re true to yourself, you add beauty to the world – beauty that was missing. You should stay in line, just make sure it’s YOUR line.
4. You’re not who you were – and that’s okay
You’ve been through a lot in life. You’ve studied, been hurt, and changed. Every day we learn something new which changes us in some way or another. Sometimes we realize we’re not who we used to be, but that’s perfectly normal. Everybody changes. In your life, people will point out the changes, and all you need to do is tell them “Of course I’ve changed, and so have you. Everybody changes.”
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Our brains can do a huge number of truly incredible things and we have it to thank for pretty much everything we’ve ever achieved in our lives. If you didn’t have such an amazing brain then you wouldn’t be able to hold down a job, perform well in your studies or solve any problems that life throws at you. More fundamentally, you also wouldn’t be able to move… or breathe.
But while our brains are responsible for a lot of good, sometimes they can still seem determined to cause us grief. Such is the case when we find ourselves in a stressful social situation and our brain starts going into overdrive thinking of all the ways we could embarrass ourselves and making us feel wholly unconfident. The result? We choke and end up stammering nonsense…
So what can you do to fix it?
CBT stands for ‘cognitive behavioral therapy’ and this is a psychotherapeutic approach that teaches people how to better manage their brains. This often revolves around something called ‘cognitive restructuring’, which in turn focusses on changing the way we think in order to impact on our feelings and our emotions.
This starts with something called ‘mindfulness’, which challenges you to identify the negative thoughts that are impacting on your performance. For instance, if you are someone who experiences social anxiety, then you might find yourself worrying that you’re going to stutter or say something stupid. You might imagine everyone laughing at you. As you can imagine, this isn’t helpful and only makes those things more likely to happen.
So what you need to do is to assess the beliefs you hold and change them…
One way you will do this is with something called ‘thought challenging’. This simply means that you’re assessing how realistic your beliefs are. Does it really matter if you stutter? Is your audience really cruel enough to laugh at you? If they did, would you even ever need to see them again?
When you do this, you can often realize that your fears are unfounded and that in reality, you’re unlikely to see any negative consequences.
But the really smart bit is the part called ‘hypothesis testing’. This means that you’re now going to actually test that theory that you have in order to see if it is justified.
So if you’re worried people are going to laugh at you when you stutter, hypothesis testing would involve testing the theory. How? By stuttering on purpose.
You can do this in a setting where it really doesn’t matter – such as in a shop that you’ll never need to visit again. Over time though, you’ll realize that there really is nothing to fear because you’ll have proven it to yourself. What’s more, your body will have become desensitized to the physiological stress associated with those situations – meaning that you can keep your heart rate calm any time you have to speak in public or meet new people!
Nootropics are supplements and drugs that can help to give you a cognitive ‘edge’ over the competition. These work in a manner of different ways but are reportedly being used by more and more of the world’s biggest movers and shakers in order to make them more productive, more focussed and more intelligent.
The question is: Should you join them?
How Nootropics Work
Different nootropics work in different ways but the ones that will provide a real ‘boost’ in cognition are generally those that act upon the neurotransmitters. They do this by stimulating the brain to produce more chemicals like dopamine (which increases focus, memory and motivation) and norepinephrine. Popular examples include modafinil, Piracetam, armodafinil, l-tyrosine, 5-HTP etc.
This can cause a sudden increase in your wakefulness, your alertness and your concentration. However, what is important to recognize is that these most power nootropics are also the ones that are most likely to have unwanted side effects.
One problem that can be caused when you mess with your brain’s neurotransmitters, is that it can actually have a detrimental effect on some aspects of your brain function. For example, seeing as we are most creative when we are relaxed and allowing our minds to wander, this means that any nootropic that increases attention and focus is also likely to dampen our creativity! Likewise, this can also have other effects throughout the body. Modafinil impacts on orexin for instance and this means that it can also cause changes to your bowel movements. Many people find themselves going to the toilet a LOT when they use modafinil and it can also suppress appetite and prevent you from wanting to eat.
Other Types of Nootropics
But not every nootropic works like this. The more desirable type of nootropic in the long term is always going to be the one that encourages general brain health and supports the natural function of the brain. Very often, these are the natural ingredients that you can find in your diet anyway.
For example, if you consume more omega 3 fatty acid, then this can improve something called ‘cell membrane permeability’. This effectively makes it much easier for nutrients, neurotransmitters and electrical impulses to pass through the wall of the brain cell, thereby speeding up communication across the brain!
Another type of nootropic to look out for is the type that can help to prevent conditions associated with brain aging. For example, any antioxidant can protect the brain from damage from free radicals and thereby prevent the formation of tumors.
Other types of nootropics will even be able to encourage increased brain plasticity. These work by stimulating production of something called BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor). This in turn means that new connections are more likely to form in the brain. While it won’t change the way you feel, it can change the way that your brain learns and adapts and this can have amazing positive effects on your cognition and brain power!
Nootropics are supplements and drugs that can be used to give your brain a boost in performance. The best of these can make us more alert, more awake, more focused and even increase our memory.
This can all sound rather science-fiction-esque and you might be tempted to think that it wouldn’t be something you or many people you know would likely partake in…
But the reality? We are already using multiple substances that work very much like nootropics – and you’ve probably been doing it yourself for decades!
Because this is exactly what caffeine is – a nootropic that we consciously take with the purpose of increasing our memory, our focus and our wakefulness.
So the question is: how does it work? And perhaps more importantly, is this something we should be doing so regularly?
How Caffeine Works
Caffeine works because it is molecularly very similar to adenosine. Adenosine meanwhile is a neurochemical that is produced in the brain as a by-product of the energy system. In other words, when your brain cell produces energy (which uses ATP), it also releases the waste product adenosine.
Except it’s not really a waste product because this is what the brain uses to monitor how long your brain has been active for. To this end, adenosine will attach to receptors in the brain cells and serve as a neuroinhibitor. In other words, it will reduce brain activity and make your neurons less likely to fire. Over time, this build up gets greater and greater and we become tired and ready for bed.
But caffeine binds to those adenosine receptors too and this prevents adenosine from taking its normal action. In short, this means that adenosine can no longer make us feel tired and groggy and as a result, we feel more awake and more focused for much longer.
In turn, this will then stimulate the brain to release numerous other neurotransmitters associated with wakefulness and focus – such as dopamine and norepinephrine.
Is Caffeine Good For You?
But is all this good for you?
Yes and no…
On the one hand, caffeine does make us more awake, it does help us to remember things better and it does increase focus. In the short term, it provides a cognitive boost that helps us to get ahead and to overcome serious tiredness.
Better yet, caffeine has been shown to be neuroprotective and to reduce the likelihood of Alzheimer’s or dementia as we age.
On the other hand though, caffeine also has numerous less desirable side effects. It makes us anxious and jittery for example and if you’re someone who already struggles with stress then it can make this worse. This is a problem seeing as stress is very bad for our brain power and can even inhibit problem solving.
Finally, caffeine is also actually addictive. It causes changes in the brain which is responding to the increase in fake adenosine by altering the number of receptors. This means you can need an increasingly large amount of caffeine over time just to function normally.
But you probably knew that bit already!
When many of us think about improving brain health, what we are really interested in is boosting our intelligence. If we become more intelligent, then we can solve problems, work more efficiently and generally become more adept at pretty much any kind of challenge.
But increasing intelligence is no simple feat. And this is particularly true when you consider that intelligence is actually a very abstract concept. What even is intelligence? Is intelligence actually just ‘one thing’ or is it multiple ‘things’? Let’s take a closer look…
A Modular Approach to Intelligence
If you take the stance that intelligence is in fact ‘lots of things’, then that would mean you took a ‘modular’ approach to it.
In other words, this means that you view intelligence not as a single thing but rather as many separate things, independent of one another. This seems to make sense when you consider that someone can be fantastic verbally but not so good at math. Or when you think that some people have a lot of knowledge (called ‘crystalized intelligence’) whereas others are better at abstract puzzles (‘fluid intelligence’).
Psychologist Howard Gardner subscribed to this view and described us as having ‘multiple intelligences’. It may even be that there are some negative correlations between types of intelligence – in other words, being smarter in one domain might actually make you less smart in another!
But this is a somewhat frustrating answer because it suggests that there may be no singular way to become more intelligent. One approach then might be to prize one form of intelligence over the others – what cognitive ability will bring you the best results across the board? If you were to try and mimic the brain of Einstein, then you might focus on your special reasoning. Einstein actually had particularly large inferior parietal lobes, which could have meant he had better spatial intelligence – which is reinforced with his explanations of how he came up with ideas.
But Einstein also had another interesting feature in his brain. He had a particularly thick ‘corpus callosum’, which would have meant that his left and right hemispheres were better at communicating with one another. Many psychologists have theorized that the best way to see overall global intelligence is to increase connectivity between different brain regions – that this allows you to come up with more novel ideas and to manipulate information in different ways.
Now the question becomes: how do you get a big parietal lobe? How do you increase your connectivity?
And the answer is probably a combination of the correct training and learning (particularly in younger age), along with a more plastic brain. Brain plasticity is the ability we have to adapt our brains to any given situation like a muscle and this could be what allows us to quickly learn a new task and to grow the specific brain regions and connections that we need at any given time! The good news? It is possible to train brain plasticity!
A smart drug, also known as a ‘nootropic’, is a substance that can help you to improve some aspect of your brain power. This might mean that you get a boost to your memory, to your ability to focus, or to your creativity. Either way, the promise is that popping a pill can give you a slight cognitive edge over the competition and potentially help you to excel in your chosen career or your studies.
And more and more people around the world are admitting to using these as a way to get ahead – from athletes, to CEOs, to college students. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular and whether they’re a useful aid for you…
When you think of smart drugs, you probably think of the film Limitless, in which Bradley Cooper’s character uses a pill in order to become much smarter and conquer the stock market while also writing a novel, learning several languages and fixing his relationships.
The closest thing we have to this in real life is ‘modafinil’ (although it’s still a long way off!). Modafinil was designed as a treatment for narcolepsy and to that end, it works by impacting on orexin in order to regulate the wake/sleep cycle. This alone can be useful for a CEO, as it allows them to be productive for much longer and to overcome fatigue.
Further research though was also able to show that modafinil could also boost attention, memory and reflexes – which even earned it interest from DARPA.
Modafinil isn’t known to have any side effects, although it also hasn’t been tested in the long term and its mechanisms of action aren’t fully known. What’s more, is that this one is only available on prescription – so it might be a bit risky for most people.
Piracetam is a nootropic that works by affecting acetylcholine in the brain. This can make you more awake and alert, improve your memory and even enhance your senses. Piracetam takes a while to take effect though and some people claim it gives them brain fog. It also causes nasty headaches unless stacked with choline. So probably best to avoid this one too!
L-Theanine + Caffeine
Something that is completely safe to use though, is a combination of l-theanine and caffeine. L-theanine is a xanthene (just like caffeine) and certain green teas contain this combination naturally (such as Darwin’s favorite stimulant, yerba mate). L-theanine has perfect synergy with caffeine because it is able to remove the jitters, the nerves and the ‘wired’ feeling that it can sometimes be associated with. The result is that you’ll feel more awake and alert from the caffeine but without feeling groggy and tired.
MCT oil is ‘medium chain triglyceride’ and it is often sold under brand names like ‘Brain Octane’. The main benefit of this oil, is that it stimulates the liver to produce ketones – a useable form of energy that the brain actually prefers for certain tasks.
This is a great way to give yourself some more mental vigilance, though you may find that the original coconut oil that it comes from does the same thing better while providing more micronutrients!
Looking for a boost in performance and brain power?
Then the answer might just lie in your diet. By getting the right nutrients in your diet, it’s possible to greatly enhance your brain health in the short term, as well as to reinforce it for the long term – ensuring that you can still perform well as you get older.
So what are the best nutrients for enhancing brain power? Let’s take a look at some of the most important additions to your diet, if you want to bring your ‘A Game’ every single time.
Omega 3 Fatty Acid
Omega 3 fatty acid has tons of amazing health benefits that impact on pretty much every aspect of your health. In the brain, the big advantage of omega 3 is that it can improve something called ‘cell membrane permeability’. This is because the brain will use omega 3 in order to formulate cell walls – and your cell walls are what neurotransmitters, nutrients and currents need to pass through. In other words, when you consume omega 3 fatty acid, you can improve communication across the brain to get a little more speed from your thoughts.
Amino acids are the constituent parts that make up proteins. When you consume protein in the form of meat, eggs or anything else, your brain will break it down into the raw amino acids that can then be recombined.
This is important for general health because amino acids are what the body uses to rebuild tissue – like muscle. They’re also important for your brain in particular though because they’re what are used to make many of the all-important neurotransmitters that are used to help you remember things, to improve your mood and generally to change your cognitive ‘state’ at any given time.
Some of the most useful include l-tyrosine, which increases dopamine and tryptophan which is used to synthesis serotonin.
Eggs are an incredibly important thing to get in your diet for your brain because they’re rich in amino acids. In fact, eggs are the only ‘complete protein’, meaning that they contain 100% of the essential amino acids that the body needs to perform every function.
What’s more though, is that eggs are also high in something called choline. Choline is mega important because it is what the brain uses to make ‘acetylcholine’ – one of the key excitatory neurotransmitters in the brain.
Beetroot juice can give you an instant upgrade in mental performance by acting as a vasodilator. This means that it will increase the diameter of your blood vessels (veins and arteries), thereby enabling more blood to flow around your body. Perhaps the best example is vinpocetine, which is a vasodilator that acts primarily on the brain, helping to bring more oxygen and blood there to improve your performance.
Cognitive Metabolic Enhancers
Finally, a cognitive metabolic enhancer is something that increases the energy efficiency of your brain cells. A great example of this is lutein, which has been shown to increase the performance of your mitochondria, thereby giving your cells just a little more energy to keep going throughout the day.
Have you ever wondered what’s actually going on when you find yourself thinking about something? You hear a voice inside your head often, or picture something happening, but how precisely is your brain generating that voice? And how is it understanding what the voice is saying?
A lot of people take for granted the fact that they can understand their native language but of course this is a much more impressive and complicated feat that’s going on inside the brain than it might appear. You were not born being able to understand English and as such, your brain must be ‘translating’ the words into some purer form of meaning. This is how a computer works – interpreting inputs and programming language into machine code.
What is the machine code of the brain?
The old explanation was that the brain would understand words literally by going through a translation process. Specifically, it was believed that the brain would translate words from English into a kind of ‘base language’ that was often referred to as ‘mentalese’.
More recent research has challenged this view though and put forward a much more interesting idea…
You Think With Your Body
According to a theory called ‘embodied cognition’, the brain does not inherently understand language but instead uses the body to interpret what is being said. More specifically, it uses the body’s interactions with the world and previous experience to understand the nature of language.
To better understand this, we can recall a study in which patients were subjected to brain scans while they were being spoken to. In this study, it was found that telling the patients a story would cause their brains to light up just as though they were actually living that story themselves.
In other words, if you were to tell someone about the time you walked through the snow, then their brains would light up as though they were walking through snow. This would include areas of the motor cortex associated with the actual motion of walking and areas that are regulated by temperature and skin sensations.
In other words, you only understand the content of what you’re being told because you’re using your body to visualize that thing happening!
This can then explain a lot about the way our body responds during a given activity. For instance, it explains why we might suddenly feel scared when reading a scary story, or why we might feel hungry when being told about a delicious meal – our physiological response is the same as though it were happening to us!
There are many implications for this but perhaps one of the areas where it has the most impact is in regards to AI. AI is a kind of ‘disembodied cognition’ and if this theory is to be believed, then there is at least a chance that this kind of thought is a contradiction. Perhaps an AI would need a body in order to be able to think!
And of course this also shows us the importance of engaging with infants and helping them to explore their environments.
You might remember being told to stop playing video games when you were younger. Perhaps your parents were worried that they were going to make you into a violent thug (which has largely been disproven by the research), or perhaps they were concerned they would ruin your eyes and melt your brain.
Well, as it happens, you were right to ignore them. Not only are computer games not bad for you – they’re actually incredibly good for you and can improve all manner of cognitive abilities making you objectively smarter across the board. Let’s take a look at how and why that’s the case.
A recent study looked at the effect that playing action games had on the brains of young adults and teens. What was found, was that far from reducing brain power, computer games were actually able to increase it and make the children smarter in all manner of ways.
The key thing that came from the study, was that these children were now able to make better decisions in shorter amounts of time. In other words, they would make decisions in less time than non-gamers while showing no impairment in judgement.
This effect is very likely due to the many scenarios that most action games present that require this kind of thinking. In a lot of computer games, the player will need to decide which target to prioritize or how to evade enemy fire when their health is low. This kind of concentration and quick decision making is a valuable life skill!
More surprisingly, it was found that these participants actually also exhibited greater ‘visual acuity’. This refers to their ability to make out small details from a distance and it was even found that the players had an improved ability to differentiate between subtle shades of grey. This ability will be the result of gamers having to look out for enemies on the horizon and in the distance while playing.
What’s more though, is that computer games actually speak to our primal desire for learning and for challenging ourselves.
Most of us will do the same thing day in and day out – which is something that the brain finds very boring. Eventually, the brain will become ‘set’ in its ways and stop learning and adapting.
But every time you pick up a new computer game, you are forced to learn new controls and to navigate a new environment. In short, it’s like learning a whole set of new motor skills while simultaneously exploring a new world – which is excellent for your brain.
This is the equivalent of learning chess, then another new game, then performing math puzzles… it keeps the brain constantly guessing and flexible and it creates all kinds of new neural connections. Combine this with the competitive element and the release of dopamine that comes from solving a problem and you have a formula that will keep the brain nimble and fluid even as you get older!
If you want to see an immediate upgrade to your physical and mental performance, then there is an incredibly simple and easy way to do so – improve your sleep.
A lot of people don’t recognize just how important sleep is for their brain function, their mood or even their physical strength. Sleep is when the body repairs from the damage caused during the day though and it is when your brain rejuvenates neurotransmitters and strengthens new connections. If you sleep well, then you will be more focussed, more alert, happier and more creative all at once.
So how can you go about enhancing your sleep for better cognitive performance?
Have a Set Bedtime
This isn’t easy to enforce but if you can try to get to bed at least roughly the same time every day, then you’ll find that it has profound benefits for your brain function, mood and more. This is because the brain and body are designed to work in rhythms. We are beholden to our ‘circadian rhythm’ for example, which helps us to feel tired at the right time (before bed) and to wake up at the right time (when the sun rises). This is based not only on external cues (technically called ‘external zeitgebers’) but also on our internal biology (called ‘internal pacemakers’) such as the build up of adenosine in the brain.
If you can get into a rhythm then, your brain will be ready for bed when you hit the sack, resulting in a better night’s sleep and less ‘sleep inertia’ the next day.
Getting your temperature right when you sleep is very important and can have a big impact on your quality of sleep. One thing that helps a great deal for example, is to take a warm bath just before bed. This will help to relax the muscles and the brain due to the warmth but it also encourages the body to better regulate its temperature as you sleep, preventing you from getting too hot or too cold.
To get the best night’s sleep, it is recommended that the environment around you be slightly cool. Open a window a jar and this will help to ensure that this is the case!
Have Some Downtime
Most important of all is to allow yourself to ‘wind down’ at the end of the day before you get to sleep. This means that you should try to spend at least about half an hour without using your smartphone for example and that you should avoid television and computer games as well. These things all produce light of a certain spectrum that will make the brain more alert and awake, while also triggering a stress response.
Instead, try reading for half an hour with a dim light. This will help you to start calming down and will encourage the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Meanwhile, the reading will cause your eyes to get tired making it hard to keep them open!