Personal Insights

This page I am devoting to understanding & improving myself, a type of introspection on how my body works, what benefits or harms my body, and the how the health of the body affects the mind. Feel free to take a look.

Benefits me

Exercise

Exercise is especially beneficial to the body, with virtually no downside for me. Exercise improve brain function, motivation, concentration, digestive function, increases deep sleep at night as a result of increased need for restoration, and even provides a nice stimulating buzz that is relaxing. I need to remember to perform some light running or short burst of anaerobic exercise before I begin my workday. That way I can be most productive.

Melatonin

It may just be me, but 5mg of melatonin before I sleep seems to decrease my need for sleep; probably because it should be improving the quality of my sleep. In theory. Typically, people find benefit in melatonin when they have to adjust their sleep cycle from jet lag, when they want to re-adjust the time they go to sleep, or fixing the delayed sleepiness caused by blue light exposure at night by electronics. The funny thing is that in my experience, continued chronic use of a melatonin supplement at night, especially at the high dose of 5mg (your supposed to take 1mg; and only on the occasionally) starts not to work anymore. Melatonin is a hormone after all. The brain & body responds to outside stimuli to keep homeostasis. Otherwise I end up needing like 15-20 minutes to sleep; it’s not that bad. And I end up waking up groggy from the melatonin that I took the night before. But it doesn’t seem to negatively affect my overall energy for the rest of the day. I recommend myself in the future sticking with 1mg doses of melatonin when I need to tell my body that it’s time to go to sleep. TL;DR Occasional use of melatonin helps you fall asleep faster & better. Continuous use becomes ineffective & keeps you awake.

Ginger

The Ginger root has a special place in my heart. Not literally, of course. It’ been my panacea for a whole host of ailments, from an upset stomach, to mind fog (from inflammation), to increasing my hunger & removing nausea so that I can eat, and to fighting tooth pain from a possible cavity. I mostly take Ginger in the form of a tea, with a dab of honey to make it easier on the stomach. Or I take thin slices of Ginger and mash it with my teeth near the location of tooth pain. The only warning that I have for eating Ginger is not to take it on an empty stomach. I prefer it before, during, or after a meal. Note if Ginger is not taken with a food buffer, it makes lactose intolerant people like me more sensitive to milk.

Taking care of the Stomach

If a person has stomach problems, like a stomach ache or diarrhea, they will notice a significant decline in brain function. I notice the same for myself too. So I need to stay away from foods that harm my stomach, like milk and poorly prepared coffee. And I need to stick with foods that are good for my stomach. A fine example are fruits. The fiber in fruits feeds the probiotic bacteria and slows the release of sugars in the fruit, providing a steady level of energy for the person.

Music

Barely Audible Music

Music is a double-edged sword. It gives an impressive amount of motivation for the task that you are completing while making the task itself much more fulfilling. But on the other hand, music can be distracting such that at times I find myself at a loss for what I am doing. For better or worse, music cuts out the voice in my head such that I have much less forethought but think more in the present. In other words music makes me think much more re-actively instead of planning things out. And you know what, that can be a good thing for people like me who have very little motivation when it comes to doing anything. If I had the option, my nature chooses to do the lazy thing and entertain itself. But life is not a bed of roses (..ouch?), so I plan to employ music to force myself into action instead of a wasteful slumber.

Now, to lower the forethought-nullification effect of music, I advice keeping the music barely audible. The music should be literally “background music”, not something that demands your attention. I also find that the tracks should be very long & repetitious, not the type of music that is emotional or extremely complex. We want to use music to give us motivation, so music that is too good forces us to listen to the music more than work. Something like this works well for me.

A better alternative is to do what you want/enjoy; you find your motivation all on its own. I also like to use a white noise generator, like a air purifier. I use this one in my room.

TL;DR: Use Music only as a last resort- in the condition that you can’t motivate yourself to get any work done.

Unique Music

I find that one problem that I have most of the time is that I get distracted while I work, even if I use music to help me focus. What I used to do is find a single track to play on repeat before moving to the next track. The condition for me to move to the next track would be me getting bored of the first track.

But what I discovered for myself is that playing a playlist of my favorite music what much more effective than playing a single track on repeat. The reason why this is the case could be simply that uniqueness is what makes things interesting. So always having a new track playing one after another fulfills my requirement for uniqueness.

So Tl;DR: listen to a music playlist, not a single track on repeat, to keep work more interesting, engaging, and just to have more motivation.

Harms Me

BAN List:

  • Ice Cream – A little is fine
  • Old Coffee ☠ – Rancidity is bad on the GI tract
    • Never buy pre-grounded coffee
  • Butter ☠ – gives me high blood pressure & mind fog
  • Spearmint ☠ – anxiety, pressure on chest
  • Peppermint ☠ – anxiety, pressure on chest
  • Cheap Box Cookies ☠ – cheap food aren’t made with health as a concern
  • 7-11 milk coffee ☠ – lactose intolerant, also a ton of trans fat is used in their instant drinks, since customers won’t check the ingredients.
  • Black Pepper – To harsh

Coffee

I find myself in self denial because of my love for coffee. It’s so nice & smooth on my tongue, it can literally brighten my day. But as I continue to drink this fine black brew, I find my focus fading away, pangs of stomach discomfort interfering with the flow of my thoughts. Now, I’m not saying that coffee isn’t beneficial, but the method in which I brew it needs to be perfected for my body. I need to remember that the coffee must be paper filtered; unfiltered coffee seems to be the most destructive for me. Perhaps the paper blocks out most of what causes the stomach irritation that I experience? I have to admit though, nicely filtered espresso seems to keep my stomach the most content. TL;DR Use a paper filter, freshest, highest quality coffee and equipment (espresso machine to protect your stomach, if you must drink coffee.

EDIT: Chronic Coffee Consumption puts me to sleep. Should be used as a silver bullet.

EDIT2: The way I/you prepare the coffee is EXTREMELY important. I used to think that pour overs were one of the best way to brew coffee. It still is. However, I made the mistake of highly agitating the coffee grounds by pouring the hot water from a high distance, which was an extremely poor decision on my part. That’s because the more you agitate the coffee while you brew it, the more likely the coffee will disturb your stomach. What disturbs the stomach, lowers your energy levels. Rule: If you/I drink coffee:

  • Don’t use a very high temperature for brewing
  • Don’t highly agitate the coffee. We want the caffeine, not passing out while sitting on the toilet. That means that a full immersion method of brewing or cold brew should theoretically be the best brewing methods.

In excess, coffee is very bad for stomach flora. I experienced very bad depression when my stomach becomes sick or imbalanced. Signs of an imbalanced stomach flora include bad gas (very bad smell indicates an actual problem), but more significantly little to no motivation, energy, and a bad mood. Surprisingly, Ginger tea with a lot of honey quickly fixed the problem.

Major EDIT: I find that a coarse grind does not bother me at all. But a fine grind really hurts my stomach. That means a coarse grind actually prevents the tannin & other substances that bother my stomach from entering my brew, but a long brew time ensures that I get the max caffeine from the beans. For me, a coarser grind is the way to go.

Sleeping Late

The earlier I can get to sleep & wake up, the more I can get done. At least that’s my perception. It may be that sleeping in after the early morning causes a person to experience mind fog or day time sleepiness for a while. Whereas if you wake up in the morning, the cortisol produced then will quickly clear up the mind and provide a clear mind for the rest of the day.

Green Tea

Although Green Tea is gentler on the stomach, I seem to develop some kind of rage or anger. I’m easier to irritate. I read somewhere that Green Tea contains heavy metals, and that could be what’s impairing my emotions. And I can’t seem to go to sleep easily at night. Although both Coffee & Green Tea have the same principal stimulant caffeine, the other substances that make each of them unique causes them in turn to have a unique affect on the person.

EDIT: I don’t get any kind of anger or rage if I use a small amounts of Green Tea with Ginger, Honey, Tulsi, Basil. Perhaps I was using too much green tea leaves, which resulted in stress to anger.

Milk

I have a some kind of delayed reaction when it comes to milk. Yes… I’m lactose intolerant. The problem is that after abstaining from milk, I get the idea in my head that a little won’t hurt. I can talk an ounce or two of milk, and be totally fine for a couple of hours. This misunderstanding is compounded when, after drinking a little milk, I seem to have no problem. So I drink more. And a little more. That’s when I have to run to the bathroom for emergency evacuation of my bowels. There may be a slight difference between how goat milk vs. cow milk affects me, but for the sake of self-preservation I need to stay away from both. If I take a little, I will end up taking a lot latter on. A side effect of milk is that it makes me stupid. Perhaps it affects my pre-frontal cortex, because my decision making ability is observably deteriorated after drinking milk. It’s harder to think, to plan ahead, and I feel depressed when I drink milk. I believe this is due to my stomach becoming harmed by the milk, and therefore affecting my brain function. Remember, our brains are deeply connected to our gut, as is the rest of the body.

Slothfulness

Stay away from activities that sap your time, that don’t return anything of useful value. I find that major time saps in my life are anime, manga, Reddit & Quora depending on the content. Reddit & Quora are awesome forums for to communicate through, but you should try limiting your use to only viewing valuable content, not cute but awesome cat pictures or cats doing awesome weird things. Time is a a non-renewable resource. Once it’s gone, it is not going to come back.

Perfectionism

Basically trying to make anything too “perfect”, like a blog post. The problem with this is that you’ll end up using an exponentially larger amount of time to push out and finish a blog post than if you allow yourself to make a few mistakes. I understand that perfectionism is more the larger an audience is, but starting our perfectionism slows down productivity. And most of the time, the situation may end up as tweaking a small detail that really doesn’t matter in the long run. Another way to see it is that perfectionism (for some people like me) blinds a person from weight priorities. The massive amount of time put into tweaking small details should be instead used for completing larger projects with greater returns.

Developing a Personal Nootropic

My Current Nootropic Stack

  • Ginger
  • Caffeine (ok if combined with exercise)
  • Ginger-Turmeric Tea

Both Ginger and Caffeine are powerful substances, but I would say that Ginger is the better of the two. Let me start with my anecdote. Ginger is super-highly effective. I used to chew on Ginger like an “apple”, but have stopped a while ago. I forgot why I even picked up that habit like that before, but recently I’ve been feeling a very disabling kind of fatigue- with the main symptom being a lack of motivation. I tried dosing on Caffeine, but I think I developed a high tolerance to it. I took 2 200mg caffeine pills, 2-3 cups of strong green tea and a few ounces of cold brew coffee. The result? I was still kinda of down, and I even fell asleep (X_X). I mean, caffeine is supposed to be a stimulant, right?

But as a few hours passed and the night entered, I was fed up with being so tired. So I tried what Ginger; not as tea. I took about 0.5 ounces of raw Ginger, peeled, and chewed it down like it was some kind of candy. Oh yes, it worked! I felt the mental energy that I so missed rush back to me, the motivation to be productive returned, and overall I felt happier. Note that Ginger interacts with caffeine, elongating its half-life; I don’t know if that is the cause. But for sure there is something beneficial in Ginger.

My conjecture is that there is inflammation in my body. I was working out a day before, and the inflammation interfered with my cognitive function. So by taking the Ginger, I lifted some of the inflammation from my body because Ginger is said to be an anti-inflammatory. Thus the improvement in my mood and mental processes.

All I have to say about caffeine is this: treat caffeine as a silver bullet. When you need to cram studying in a short space of time, or perform all-nighters, caffeine is your guy. But once you start taking any form of caffeine in a chronically high amount everyday, the usefulness of caffeine quickly diminishes. That’s because caffeine works on a “borrowing” system; blocking adenosine receptors to prevent you from feeling sleepy. But that means the levels of adenosine in your body also increases to compensate for the blocked adenosine receptors. So to summarize: Let caffeine be used as the occasional silver bullet; not as an everyday crutch.

For studying/high cognitive work (from most effective to least): reflex fast-paced sports > exercise > music > caffeine

Ginger-Turmeric Tea as a Nootropic

So usually I have a lot of problems with raw turmeric. Specifically chewing and swallowing raw turmeric was very harsh on my stomach. Doing this a couple of times is a mistake. No wonder the norm is to cook it & add it into food while cooking.

So instead, I now cook the turmeric as a tea. There may be some fat soluble substances in the turmeric root, so the solution to making sure that it gets into the tea is to add a bit of coconut oil, or olive oil while I boil the root in water for a short duration. I also add ginger root for additional nootropic effect. Ginger root is a great blood thinner. Turmeric is also a blood thinner, but it feels different from Ginger.

And the tea increases the vividness of colors of my vision, my willingness to work (boosts motivation), and mental clarity (easier to think, making connections is easier).

Custom Combo Tea

Don’t drink coffee, drink tea that doesn’t move the stomach.

  • Ginger
  • Honey
  • Sweet Basil
  • Tulsi
  • Green Tea
    • Needs a special preparation method so caffeine is acquired, but not stomach irritating tannins. Either:
    • short steeping time
    • Don’t move/stir the tea leaves
      • the tea leaves need to be loose to release caffeine?
      • Don’t use a tea ball, or use a tea ball if few leaves in tea ball such that the tea leaves have room to expand when in contact with hot water.
    • Biggest factor: high quality green tea like Sencha. Sencha doesn’t irritate my stomach, even steeped for a long time.

Elemi Oil

Instead of starting the day drinking coffee, I am musing to try an essential oil (EO) that I have underestimated before. The name of it is “elemi”. I’ve used to apply it topically at a limited location, but it seems that this essential oil, and most likely others essential oils are more effective when the surface area is increased for topical application. In other words, the same amount of EO is becomes more effective as you increase the skin surface area of application, for topical usage.

Anyway, Elemi oil is greatly more effective than coffee. Coffee makes me quickly short-circuit or crash, because it moves the stomach and therefore effects blood glucose levels. But an elemi oil does not effect the stomach when applied to the skin (to my knowledge). This mean I don’t have to worry about crashing if I use Elemi oil in place of Coffee.

EDIT: The body seems to build a tolerance to elemi oil very quickly. That makes its effectiveness a lot less as an immediate cognitive booster.

Amount that I should use topically: 5 drops, over the whole body

As a reminder to my self and those who read this page, remember to test an essential oil in small amounts before trying in larger amounts. And even then, you should consult a professional who knows about essential oils before trying anything (new). With different brands, you must also test them as if it is a totally different oil. In all honesty, we cannot immediately tell how consistent a brand of a type of essential oil is, especially so if the brands are different for a type. Precaution is a must when using potent substances on the body. So don’t take my prescription of use as your own; my body is not the same as yours.

Cocoa

Usually when I am low on energy, I take half a square of Dark Chocolate (I use 100%) to give me some energy. In the wrong conditions, I get an awful migraine. To prevent this migraine, I remind myself to drink tea that has Ginger in it. I’ve found that as long as I consume a little Ginger one way or another, I don’t get a migraine. I speculate that because Ginger acts as both a blood thinner and anti-inflammatory, Ginger prevents the body from rejecting or not dealing well with Cocoa.

(Cognitive) Energy Management

Recently, after reflection, I discovered a few things. How well we learn something, how much energy we have, our potential is affected by how we manage our energy.

Energy can be managed in 3 ways, but not limited to:

  1. Stimulants
  2. Adaptogens
  3. Increasing the body’s horsepower

Stimulants are like a loan that temporarily gives you energy. But after continued use, I found that I quickly burn myself out. The more I take, the quicker burnout occurs. From this observation, I will try to limit my stimulant intake (coffee, chocolate) to minimal levels; to be used as a silver bullet when I am short on time. But I would warn that being chronically stressed out from stimulants may act as an “anti-nootropic” overtime.

Adaptogens should be something that you can take a lot of, but not burn out. Adaptogens should be a substance that makes your “fuel burning engine” more efficient. Yes, I would say that vitamins count, like the proper bio-available b12 vitamin. Usually vegans have low energy because they do not get enough vitamin b12 from their diet. As a reminder to myself, I need to look into Tulsi, Maca root, low doses of Ginger, and other adaptogens that I consider “true” Nootropics that improve brain function overtime.

The third method is to increase the body’s horsepower, so to speak. What do I mean here? I mean to take measures to increase the body’s performance naturally, like exercise. You’ll find that athletes can have a lot of energy and high endurance because their body’s are trained to use a lot more fuel. This means that even in a passive state of sitting down & studying, athletes should can sustain attention for longer periods of time because of how their body is built.

A poorly built body provides an inefficient engine to run on. Attention span is less due to a lower energy “reservoir”.

A well-built body provides an extremely efficient engine to run on. Attention span is more due to a higher energy “reservoir”.

The Proper Study Methodology

Recently, I’ve learned that the rate of neurogenesis in the hippocampus of the brain is associated with how fast we are able to pick up and learn new things. So can we do to increase neurogenesis?

  • Experience new Experiences
  • Engage in our senses
  • Increase our enrichment
  • Exercise & sports
  • Video games, and perhaps music?

I mean, we all understand that exercise, and as an extension sports, are good for our health. But why is it good for our brains? Why is there evidences that video games are good for our brains too?  That’s because of something both sports & video games share in common: intense passion or level of engagement. Both sports and video games are designed such that a person must fully give attention on what they are doing. You should know some people who play hour after hour of DOTA, World of Warcraft, and other video games like an addiction. Similarly, you can find many people who are also obsessed with sports. So why is it that sports and video games are addictive? Because both sports and Video games stimulate the brain in a good way!

So my point is this: Let’s apply the same level of stimulation for studying!

Use Music to Stimulate the Brain

Usually when I try to study or do something productive, I might at first find a bit dry or boring. The result is that I am distracted doing something else in a few minutes of time! The reason this happens is because the stimulation that I derive from the task is too low to keep me engaged. That’s why I always come back to music as the solution to keep me studying for prolonged periods of time. I’ve written before about how I don’t recommend music because it interferes with my thought processes, but the irony is that I need music to stimulate my thought due to a lack of interest.

Now, a reason why didn’t recommend music from time to time may be due to mis-attribution of blame. It could be that I was experiencing low brain metabolism such that the music ended up distracting me as a result; a low brain metabolism would mean that my level of focused attention would be significantly lower and that I couldn’t tolerate the slightest of distraction.

Alternatively, I didn’t recommend music because of its type. To be brief, don’t listen to music that has distracting vocals or is dissonant such that you can’t focus. Chill, peaceful music with a fine beat works instead.

Use Various Different Mediums of Study Material

Sometimes, a textbook is too technically written to be understood at a glance. The vocabulary may make what you are studying seem alien. Alternatively, reading through seas of text may limits your experience to text; you need something a bit more tangible to understand what going on. For this reason, I recommend using different types of study materials and mediums to completely learn the subject that you are learning. For example:

  • Videos
  • Different TextBooks
  • Discuss with Teachers & Peers
  • Apply what you learn

I talk more about using different types of mediums for study in my article about Studying Smart, Not Hard.

Intense Sports & Video Games

From childhood, I used to play video games like a crack addict. Or what I imagine a crack addict to be. The point is, video games was basically the core of my childhood. What I noticed is that when I dropped off playing video games, my performance in school also dropped. My conjecture is that because the level of stimulation that my brain received decreased, my ability to learn new things also decreased. Ouch.

So what I recommend for myself and you is to employ intense sports and video games in order to overdrive the level of neurogenesis in brain. I would recommend avoiding horror games, because stress decreases neurogenesis. But employ games that deal less with negative emotions (which can be damaging), but more with skill. The challenge is the stimulation our brain needs for neurogenesis.

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