Imagine you wake up in the morning, take your nootropic stack (including 8 different ingredients), and prepare your morning routine. After some time, you are ready for the daily tasks and your brain is buzzing for action.
A few hours go by and you seem to have incredible mental endurance, your brain is clicking creatively, and it’s easy to zone out the rest of the chaos around you…
…but looking back, you have no idea which of the 8 nootropics gave you that advantage
It’s a problem I see all too often in the nootropics and brain health worlds. People understand the importance of healing their brain, but they don’t want to take the time do check what is working.
In short: you need to test.
Now, if I’m fair most people already do test… they just do so in a non-scientific way and I know what you’re thinking. “Of course I do it in a non-scientific way. I’m trying to focus on my work and success!”
Totally fair objection, but I’m going to break down how to track and test your brain when taking nootropics or making other changes so you can determine whether to keep doing it or not…
…and the tests will only take 10 – 15 minutes per day maximum.
There is no reason you have to spend countless hours. You have places to be and things to do! In the wise words of one Oklahoma City woman “ain’t nobody got time for that!”
Here is how we break it down:
- Basics – Understanding Simple Testing
- Does X Work?
- How You Feel
- Advanced – Tips, Tools, & Technology
- Subjective Tools
- Qualified Mind & Cambridge Brain Sciences
- Other (Secret) Methods
Basics – Understanding Simple Testing
1.1. Does X Work?
When I tell people that I take nootropics and help other people understand brain health better, the response I get is mixed, but usually includes a variation of the same question…
“Does it work?”
I have spent so much time in my life with PhD biochemists, food scientists, and doctors that the skepticism I see amongst my friends and acquaintances is an encouraging sign!
But often, they’re missing the bigger point…
…Modafinil might work for me, but not for them.
Exchange Modafinil with your drug of choice and the same remains true. We all have unique brain chemistry so there is no way to know for sure.
The only REAL way to test is through adding the practice or nootropic into your routine and seeing how it impacts you.
There is no need for fancy tools or technology if you don’t want to go that route. If you want to understand whether X works for improving your concentration, memory retention, or cognitive function, you have to introduce things one-by-one.
When you start a new practice to measure the effects on your brain, change that single variable for 1 – 2 weeks (and nothing else) in order to isolate any differences.
When my grandfather was ill with cancer, memory loss was a major problem as well. In his 60s the early stages of Alzheimer’s started to negatively impact his retention so I gave him nootropics.
For 2 weeks I gave him piracetam and choline and asked his wife (my grandmother) to note any changes in his memory. Nada.
Okay, round #2… for 2 weeks I gave him aniracetam and choline and asked my grandmother to note any changes in his memory… something changed!
It was purely based on her interactions with him, but it was something.
And that is really the simplest way to see if X is working to change your brain health. Introduce them slowly and one at a time.
Pro Tip: If you are taking Alpha Brain, Nootrobox or some other custom blend, it might be worth it to break up the constituent parts and test each for a week. There are people who use the same dosage of bacopa monnieri from Alpha Brain and get the same (but cheaper!) effects.
1.2. How You Feel
I remember when attending the University of Texas, I spent time with an engineering friend named Ruben who had a very scientific mindset. Imagine a guy who was raised by two scientists, loved science, and studied engineering while in university.
One day in our Spring semester we were walking to class, the flowers were blooming, the sun was out, and I was feeling great from a new practice I was doing…cold showers.
When he found out about it, he asked “does it work?”
I answered “I feel great!” to raucous laughter. His scientific brain said: prove it.
As much as I value the scientific approach and Ruben’s opinion, the fact is…
…if you know your brain and your body, checking in about how you feel might be all you need
Even though I know how to track my cognitive enhancement through tools and technology, I often prefer checking in with myself.
Once you have a level of intuition regarding your brain and your body, you can start to feel things that can’t be explained (without expensive EEG, EKG, and MRI tests).
So my suggestion is this:
If you are using a new practice or nootropic to improve your brain health, simply spend 20 – 30 seconds to close your eyes and check in with how you feel.
It is the simplest way to find out whether a practice or nootropic is improving your mind and if you do it for 1 – 2 weeks, you’ll have less chance getting your data skewed by other factors in your life!
There are scientists and right-brain thinkers who are fidgeting uncomfortably while reading this and that’s okay.
In the basic section of this guide, people can have a few tips or actionable tricks that allow them to test themselves. But I can hear the questions now…
…what about the placebo effect?
What about it? Studies have shown countless times that the placebo effect is useful in improving brain function, confidence, and therefore mental performance.
The placebo effect will almost always work in your favor so there is no reason to fear it or shun it. Just be mindful that it exists and if you want to get the true data, there are tips tools, and technology that allow you to do just that…
Advanced – Tips, Tools, & Technology
2.1. Subjective Tools
When my friend Cavin fell out of a two-story building, he ended up comatose for 12 days and had less than a 10% chance of recovery. Over time he developed all sorts of mood disorders like many with brain trauma.
He underwent numerous different types of official treatments, but once he was getting better I suggested he check out his mood through subjective testing tools.
A “subjective” test is similar to what we described in the basic section about basing cognitive effects on feeling. Instead of doing that self-check and storing the data in your head, there are apps that allow you to consistently track it elsewhere.
One of those apps is called the Mercury App, which allows you to check-in with your feelings on a scale of 1 – 5 consistently.
Mercury App is described as “micro-journaling with analytics”. All you need to do is set up trackings, choose your scale, and then you’ll get automatic email reminders to check-in and get statistics.
For me, this is a great way to track my mood as something separate from the actual efficacy of the practice or nootropic. What does this mean?
Just because something makes me smarter doesn’t mean it makes me feel better.
That’s why subjective testing can be helpful… BUT
Before we move on to anything else, you need to learn (or refresh) about a very important scientific principle. If you are going to be testing, you need to do both a “baseline” and “intervention”
- Baseline – this is your brain without any changes “as is”. You need this if you are going to compare once you start a new practice or taking some nootropic.
- Intervention – this is obviously the results after the change (i.e: variable) was made. Once you do a couple weeks of each, you’ll have some results to gauge.
Okay, let’s get to more nerdy stuff…
2.2. Qualified Mind & Cambridge Brain Sciences
When a friend named James (not his real name) started taking phenylpiracetam for a few weeks, I decided to check in with him to see how things were going.
With phenylpiracetam he was telling me that his mood was better (which I could clearly see), his ability to do work without getting exhausted was enhanced, and he felt his memory improving as well.
James is a smart guy and he was tracking tests he did every day at the same time with the Quantified Mind application. After 4 weeks he decided to look back at the data to see whether it actually improved his performance.
We found the first three weeks showed nothing. Nada. No benefit whatsoever for his performance and cognitive function…
…but week four showed a noticeable and big difference in his performance.
Quantified Mind is approximately four years old and has provided thousands of people with a testing opportunity for practices and nootropic changes.
You can choose to either find an experiment that fits your needs (such as something basic like meditation, skipping breakfast, caffeine etc) and then do the tests daily. As you’ll notice, the session duration is relatively short (4 – 10 minutes max).
Don’t find what you want specifically? Just create your own experiment based on the different options that they have.
You can “save the result” in Quantified Mind and then (I recommend) access it all at a later date once the experiment is done.
That is the action James took and it gave him useful feedback that encouraged him to continue taking phenylpiracetam and make big changes with his life:
He went from college student selling illicit substances from his house to a business owner with a legitimately successful operation in less than a year.
But if you really want to get fancy, Quantified Mind has a big brother…
I don’t know you personally, but if you have the gung-ho type-A personality type, then this is something you might enjoy…
The Cambridge Brain Sciences program is a little more comprehensive and a little more time consuming than Quantified Mind, but with the same purpose. You can get a clearer picture through these four testing areas:
The system will save your best results, but it might be worth it to create some type of chart outside of the program in order to track things.
2.3. Other (Secret) Methods
Okay, okay, okay… these aren’t really secret, but they are definitely lesser known ways of tracking and testing your brain health…
…and (more importantly) they’re a LOT of fun!
- Luminosity – Although there are plenty of skeptics (given their marketing methods), Luminosity is a great tool for tracking cognitive changes. Every day you are given a set number of tasks and then scored on various criteria. The whole process only takes a few minutes and because the games have been well-made, they’re a lot of fun.
- Fit Brains – For some people, even Luminosity feels too much like a doctor visit. The Fit Brains app helps improve mental performance through games, but it feels more like a video game than anything. There are a few subscription models that make it $6.25 – $19.95 per month.
- Dr. Nakamura Brain Trainer – Ever use a Nintendo DS? You might find it worthwhile to get one (they’re currently on sale around $35-45) as well as the $20 Brain Trainer game that is both fun and (according to some) the best way to track your mental performance.
- Elevate – This new app offers a lot of customization, which we talked about in Lesson 1. You can pick the skills you’d like to improve (goals!), then get a personalized training program for those goals, and then train at least 5 times a week to see your progress. You can use the free version, but there is also a $4.99 / mo ($44.99 / year) version as well.
Nice! You made it through another 2000 words of brain improving goodness 🙂 Congratulations to you for investing the time to better understand your brain and get a few tips to track, but I know what you are thinking…
…when do we get into the good stuff?
Wait, you’re telling me this hasn’t been good stuff?!?!
Okay, okay – I know what you mean and Lesson 3 is one of my favorites:
Stimulants: How to improve concentration without Adderall
Woo! I’m excited because there were HUNDREDS of feedback survey responses telling me how badly people wanted to know about this. Stay tuned…