Biohacking ADHD

From my book How to Be Cross Eyed: Thriving Despite Your Physical Imperfection — a mémoire and lifehacking manifesto

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I had a classic ADHD childhood, I’d wager that most people reading this have had a similar first few decades of life. If you didn’t — well, we all kind of have ADHD now in the 4,000 ads per day, beeping, flashing, dinging, vibrating, pixel-powered cauldron of distraction that is modern life.

I had boundless energy that I channeled into serial passion projects; dinosaurs, aviation, World War 2 history, designing space ships, creating amateur action movies, writing science fiction stories, Tae Kwon Do, swordsmanship, Karate, breakdancing and even studying Islam for a little while.

Perpetually a starter, rarely a finisher. The only thing consistent was my mediocre grades. I was moved from special education program to special education program. I lacked social calibration though I constantly tried to ingratiate myself with the most elite social group I could find. I was constantly trying to upgrade my social circle, but I didn’t have what it took to be one of the cool kids, and frequently found myself an outsider and a loner.

I was diagnosed with ADHD at age 8, and given Ritalin, it helped a lot. Without it, a younger version of myself found it nearly impossible to focus for more than 5 minutes on the lessons and educational material being presented by my grade school teachers.

In an age when ADHD (back then they called it ADD) was misdiagnosed and the pharmaceutical solutions were over prescribed I think I was a legitimate case. In high school I switched to Adderall, which seemed to imbue a longer lasting focus, along with a more relaxed and tranquil mindset. I wasn’t in such a hurry to impress people, which helped me make more genuine friendships.
My medication is probably one of the main factors that allowed me to attain a Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do and actually graduate high school.

As a young adult, I was very ambitious and a voracious student of success, yet I had a nearly 5 year streak of nonstop career failures. I had been fired more times than I can count on two hands; I just couldn’t quite cut it as a waiter, a car salesman, a mortgage broker, a banker or in Yellow Pages sales. I had a lot trouble paying my bills on time, I was constantly late on rent, I even managed to get in some legal trouble over some unpaid speeding tickets. While my social life was a whole lot more lively (thanks partially to my side gig as a nightclub promoter), my dating life was inconsistent and I could not hold on to a girlfriend. I would occasionally get my hands on a bottle of Adderall, which seemed to make quite a difference in my performance at work, but crushing personal and career disappointments were always just around the corner.

I was constantly reading inspirational books and trying to apply what they said about business ethics and providing value but it never paid off. I was perpetually a minute late and a dollar short; late to work, late to meetings, late on rent or not hitting sales quotas. While I was building a large social circle and social media friend count through my nightclub promotion, the relationships were quite shallow. Also, being a nightclub promoter, I was hungover and under slept half the time which took a toll on my real career in corporate America. I was having fun and learning a lot but my prospects for the future were pretty bleak. My mediocre career and personal life was a case study of lack of focus, follow through and my equivocations of standards in every domain of life.

Fast forward to today and at 33 years old I’m really a different person; I’m one of the most disciplined and consistent people I know. I’m a long term strategist, not a short term opportunist. I’m more focused and motivated than I’ve ever been. I have developed a work ethic that’s pretty rare among my generation. My fleeting obsession with passion projects has been replaced with a long term commitment to processes. I’ve really cured my adult ADHD with Biohacking.

There’s four pillars that I have to thank for this transformation…

  1. Nootropics
  2. Brain Training
  3. Mindfulness
  4. Entrepreneurship & Travel

Nootropics

Smart drugs have replaced Adderall and Ritalin as my pharmacological enablers of normality. The popular ADHD drugs are demonized quite a bit now, and I realize that their amphetamine driven mechanisms are bad for a lot of people but I never experienced anything negative from them, all they ever did was help me. My subjective experience of Nootropics closely matches that of the popular ADHD drugs and the beneficial effects are the same…

  • Motivation
  • Focus
  • Imperviousness to distraction
  • A kick of energy
  • And a positive mood

I’ve tried over 100 different types of Nootropics over 7 years now and have figured out that what really works best is to cycle Nootropics, rarely taking the same thing more than two or three times a week to avoid building up a tolerance to a particular cognitive enhancer or burning out a neurobiological mechanism.

You may be thinking…

I’m curious about trying these Nootropics but there’s so many! Do I need to use all of them? This could get really pricey? What should I start with?

Simply, start by taking some cognitive enhancers regularly, daily if you want and some Adaptogenic herbs that will enhance your health and stress response.

The Racetams

This class of synthetic cognitive enhancers is a pretty good place to start, this is the most proven category of smart drugs:

There’s a particular self experimentation process, called the Piracetam Protocol, that I recommend highly for optimizing the dosages for your own neurobiology of five different synergistic smart drugs:

  • Piracetam
  • Choline
  • ALCAR
  • Potassium
  • Rhodiola

The Adaptogens

Are a category of Nutraceuticals that come from the natural world, which Biohack our hormones and nervous systems to help us respond more robustly to the demands of life.

  • Rhodiola — Is the king of Adaptogens, the best positive mood promoter, antidepressant and naturally energizing herb.
  • Ashwagandha — The best stress and anxiety reliever. A tranquilizing yet non-addictive natural Indian herb that dissolves stress and enables great sleep.
  • Horny Goat Weed — The best libido and testosterone promoter. This funnily named herb is a gamechanger for maximizing sexual hedonism and imbuing healthy masculine aggression and zest for life.

Nootropics Stacks?

You may have seen these very cool looking Nootropic Stack products. These are really a mixed bag — some of them are great and really will unleash your mind but a lot are really scammy internet marketing products that cost their vendors like $4 per bottle for the raw ingredients, they slap a flashy label on it, mark it up to $39.99 and just hope that the placebo effect kicks in for their customers. Review the guidelines in the chapter Biohacking Smart and Safe to avoid wasting your money or time on mediocre Nootropics.

Cost of Nootropics?

ADHD medication is pretty inexpensive, especially if your insurance helps pay for it, if you want to get your Nootropic habit down to the same cost, you’ll probably need to order powdered Nootropics in a little larger quantities. It’s doubtful that your insurance is going to cover Nootropics, so really the only disadvantage of switching to Nootropics is economic.

I really think that Nootropics are superior as a promoter of more holistic thought, you’ll hear a lot of people say things like, I did some Adderall, got super focused and then I cleaned my house for several hours, got it really immaculate!
To me this is really silly, I would never waste the enhanced cognitive horsepower on something like cleaning my house! Nootropics, make me focused on what I’m doing at the moment, impervious to distraction but at the same time allow me to focus my mental energies on solving important problems.

Perhaps you’re saying now…

Ok I get it! You really think that Nootropics are the bees knees but I’m just a bit skeptical of taking drugs or pills that might change my mind.

That’s OK there’s a lot of other biohacking options that work which we’ll explore. Nootropics are just a very direct and effective short term tool for personal transformation — and that might be just what you need.

Brain Training

I know what you are probably thinking…

My brain already gets enough training from my challenging job, intensive studies or demanding family life!

Do you get the same exercise from walking to work as you do from a crossfit class? Is a guy who works for a moving company lifting furniture every day going to be able to compete in a body building competition with a guy who spends hours a week doing sophisticated exercises with kettlebells under the watchful tutelage of a personal trainer? Doubtful! We’ve all known waiters who were totally out of shape despite spending all day on their feet running from the front of the house to the back of the house carrying armfuls of plates.

The brain is like any other part of the body in that it will adapt and grow stronger if you apply acute, exerting demands upon it and that’s exactly what brain training does.

I’ve self experimented with multiple brain training games, software and apps (including Lumosity) and there’s one that I actually think is worthwhile, it measurably (and noticeably) improves working memory capacity after about 2–3 weeks of training.

It’s called Dual N-Back, as it challenges visuospatial and auditory memory simultaneously. It essentially upgrades the RAM of your conscious mind by forcing you to be ultra focused on keeping track of visuospatial and auditory matches, it gets progressively more difficult as you improve and it really is one of the most mentally challenging things I’ve habituated.
My subjective experience of Dual N-Back has been that it really improves my ability to emotionally compartmentalize and stay focused. Before I made a habit of daily Dual N-Back, I didn’t realize how much my internal dialog of thoughts effected my quality of focus. I’m not saying that I’m Mr. Positivity all the time now but it has given me a degree of control of my negative thoughts that I didn’t know could exist.

From time to time I will cycle off Nootropics for a month or two and Dual N-Back keeps my powers of focus really sharp.

The bad news, is that it’s really boring! it’s not like a fun video game although it is the only brain training task that has been demonstrated in studies to have transfer effects to the rest of your life. It’s like any other strenuous exercise in that it’s not exactly fun when you are doing it but it makes you stronger in the long term. You can actually download an unlimited free demo for iPhone or Android here. It only takes about 15 minutes a day and it really makes you a more focused and emotionally resilient version of yourself.

Mindfulness

A daily meditation practice has made a big difference in my adult ADHD.

A lot of people confuse their preferred flowstate activities with mindfulness. They’ll say…

Going to the gym, dancing, fishing, making music, art (or love!) is my meditative activity. I don’t need meditation.

Au contraire mon ami, these are all high stimulus activities, whereas meditation is a zero stimulus activity, meditation is the art of manifesting happiness all on your own.

Meditation more than anything else teaches you to deal with emotional, mental and physical fidgetiness. Which is something that’s been a challenge for me as long as I can remember. Meditation empowers Stoicism in that it makes me comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s definitely made me less of a wimp.
I could not just dive right into meditation — thinking about not thinking —the first few times I tried it my focus muscles were so undeveloped that I just found it frustrating and boring.

So I started with brain training which itself is a high stimulus activity, the Dual N-Back task takes up 100% of your focused attention, but it teaches you to maintain persistent focus on the present moment. From there I moved on to Heart Rate Variability training with the Heartmath emWave2, which is a piece of biofeedback technology that trains coherence between the heart and the nervous system. This biofeedback device has been demonstrated in human studies with police forces to train officers to improve their decision making while under stress. I highly recommend it if you can afford it!

Finally, I found the Blue Sky Meditation Protocol (which gives your mind the foreplay it needs…) which I habituated using the Headspace and the Coach.me Android apps — in the mindfulness chapter I’ll describe this fully.

Lidia Zylowska, M.D who authored a book entitled, The Mindfulness Prescription for Adult ADHD, conducted a study with 25 adults and 8 adolescents who had ADHD. She concluded, recognizing the initial difficulty that those with ADHD face when getting started with mindfulness:

“that it is feasible to teach people with ADHD mindfulness. On the surface it looks like a contradiction, but if you look at it, if you look at the nature of self-regulation, it’s not”

In my daily brain training I tracked some different lifestyle factors to see what resulted in me performing at my cognitive best; A lot of the results were kind of what you would expect…

  • My scores were better after a meal than if I was hungry.
  • A meal of vegetables, protein and healthy fats was better than sweets, bread or carbs.
  • Nootropics make a difference for 4–6 hours.
  • The Racetams are better than caffeine.

My self tracking produced an interesting insight, 10 minutes of meditation focusing on profound breathing was a positive influence tantamount to diet and whatever Nootropics I had consumed even hardcore smart drugs like Phenylpiracetam. Meditation imbues a cognitive performance high for 20–40 minutes.

Entrepreneurship & Travel

You’ve probably heard before from Entrepreneurship gurus that Entrepreneurship is really conducive to the ADHD personality. I’m not actually sure if that’s the case; I honestly think that boring people who do as they say and say as they do generally make the best Entrepreneurs. I’ll put my money on the tortoise not the hare.

But in my case, I really think I would have led an unsatisfying and mediocre career if I had not fully embraced and doubled down on Entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship in combination with the Biohacking strategies and tools discussed above has given me an outlet for my passion and creativity.

I had to work at least part time on my online business, LimitlessMindset.com about four years before it started really paying dividends. Which is in huge contrast to the short term attention span that a younger version of myself had; every few weeks I would feel the need to start another project. My Godaddy account was a boulevard of broken dreams, full of domain names I’d registered for projects that I worked on for a few weeks and moved on to the next shiny object.

The Digital Nomad Life

I was a digital nomad for about five years, which has done quite a lot for satiating my voracious appetite for novelty. Since I was constantly changing scenery; countries, cities, neighborhoods, languages and cultures I didn’t get bored. Being a permanent traveler is not quite as glamorous as it sounds; it entails some real inconvenient sacrifices and actually more loneliness than you might think.
If I wasn’t a professional wanderer, I would have had to find an equally stimulating source of novelty and adventure; I’m not sure what that would have been.

To Summarize

  • You’re not stuck with your ADHD. You can hack it. You can get over it.
  • Nootropics are better options that the pharmaceutical ADHD medication in almost every way.
  • A mindfulness practice really helps. Mindfulness is the real unsung cure for ADHD. If mindfulness was a trillion dollar industry, your doctor, counselor or school psychologist would be encouraging you to do it but it’s not — it’s free.
  • If you don’t find meditation very appealing start with brain training. Dual N-Back will train you to focus.
  • If you’ve always sucked at the mainstream, normal person life; waking up to alarm clocks, commuting to work, going to meetings, etc — you may really thrive in the entrepreneurial digital nomad life.

Next Chapter: Biohacking Diet (with just $1)

This is a chapter from my mémoire and lifehacking manifesto.

Order it from Amazon or directly here on my own website.

Watch: Book Announcement “How to Be Cross Eyed” My mémoire and lifehacking manifesto