*Throughout law school, I experimented with different methods for improving performance on exams. I used standard memory hacks like mnemonics. But, I also recorded outlines for courses, then played them back while isolated in a tanning booth (exposure to high levels of light during the winter months is a mood enhancer). Immediately before an exam, I would do handstand pushups to get blood flowing to my brain. When studying for the Texas bar, I took 500 mg of Niacin before each morning study session. Before each afternoon study session, I drank a cup of brain tea (a blend of tea with ginkgo biloba).
*Did these efforts to hack my mental performance work…was I overclocking my brain…maybe. My study partner Jay and I worked for hours before exams and the Texas bar. We did not just review the material, we studied actively by taking practice exams under exam conditions, using a timer and when available, the classroom the exam would be given in. Niacin and gingko biloba were not substitutes for hard work.
*Nootropics are substances which enhance memory and cognition. Improvements in brain performance are derived from increased availability of neurochemicals, improved flow of oxygen to the brain, or by stimulating nerve growth. In the example above, gingko biloba and niacin are both vasodilators, which increase oxygen flow to the brain (500 mg of niacin has my face tingling and flushed as the blood vessels in my head open up). The most famous nootropics are the racetam family of drugs, which improve the function of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Piracetam is the best known and most tested of these. It is available for purchase as a supplement.
*The nervous system is a key component in physical performance. Improved concentration helps you focus on the skill portion of your workout. Elevated mood means greater effort. A healthy nervous system strengthens the connection between nerves and muscles and improves the flow of information necessary for muscle growth.
*Meditating before a race or getting fired up with your team before heading onto the field are designed to improve physical performance by focusing concentration or elevating mood. Nootropics can have similar effects. Of course, the benefits gained must be measured against the side effects. Thus, where some people swear by a jolt of caffeine before a workout, too much caffeine leaves me a jangly mess and would ruin my exercise session.
*Recently, prior to workouts, I have been experimenting with the following stack: B-6 (neurotransmitter synthesis), B-12 (energy production), soy lecithin (choline source – precursor to acetylcholine), and gingko biloba (vasodilator). I had also included ginseng, but like caffeine, it had a strong impact on my nervous system and I have discontinued its use.
*My anecdotal results have been positive. I have noticed greater concentration during exercise and improved anticipation, and planning during sparring. Could this be my imagination…of course. As with exam performance, hard work is the key…but little tweaks can make a difference.
*What are your best mind hacks for improved mental performance?
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