Ever since the movie Limitless came out, creative types have been scrambling for supplements to help them crank creative output through the roof and give them the focus of a Navy SEAL sniper.
These sorts of supplements exist — they’re called “nootropics”. But there hasn’t been much research conducted on them, so all you have to go on before you buy them are testimonials and first-hand accounts.
I’ve done a lot of research on nootropics, and let me tell you — they’re the real deal! Sort of. What follows is my list of the 5 best nootropics available to you right now.
I’d estimate that 95–99% of the population is chronically dehydrated.
Being just 1% dehydrated negatively impacts your cognitive performance. Since the average person’s daily consumption is much less than half of what they need to be fully hydrated, there are a lot of people going through life with sub-optimal cognition.
Chances are, you’re losing a ton of cognitive ability because you’re not drinking enough of life’s most essential ingredient… which is free and basically everywhere.
If I’m ever tired during the day, I slam a pint of water and within 20 minutes I feel great again. I drink a minimum of 3L of water each day, and ideally, 4–5L. That used to sound like a lot, but it’s really not.
Drinking three litres of water each day sounds tough, but it’s actually super easy. At the beginning of each hour, drink a measly cup of water. You only have to do that for the first 12 hours of the day. It takes about 3 seconds, and afterwards you don’t have to drink anything for an entire hour.
One cup is a quarter of a litre, so doing this 12 times a day will get your daily 3L of water.
Alternatively, you could just drink a half litre of water (a standard pint glass) every couple hours, and only need to do that 6 times. (That’s what I do.)
If you drink a full litre in the morning after you wake up, you’ll kickstart your brain and only need to maintain that hydration slowly throughout the day with two litres of water. Split up over a 12-hour period, that’s only half a water bottle every 90 minutes.
The brain-enhancing effects of full hydration are real — don’t underestimate that. It costs you absolutely nothing to drink more water, so do it for a month and figure out for yourself if it’s “worth it” or not.
BONUS TIP: If you’re going to be doing a night of heavy drinking, drink an extra 1.5L of water before you start, then slam a cup of water with every alcoholic drink you consume. You’ll still get hammered, and won’t have a hangover the next day.
Exercise is a great nootropic because it boosts cognitive ability both in the long-term and in the short-term.
Starting my day with a good sweat gives me a boost of energy that I can direct toward the day’s work. Or, I’ll workout after lunch — instead of the food coma and post-lunch lull that others get, I’m re-energized and the last half of the day actually becomes the most productive.
Don’t think too much about what sort of exercise to do. Any activity is better than no activity. I’m leaving this section short on purpose. Even something as simple as a brisk 30-minute walk (which you should be able to do every day) is a good way to get the creative juices flowing. In fact, many of history’s greatest thinkers swore by walking daily in order to help them write humanity’s greatest novels, compose the greatest concertos and solve our greatest problems.
Get 30–60 minutes of physical activity each day in order to create better content.
Once you’re consistent (you’re active every day for at least two months), then you can begin to optimize your activity with specific programs.
This one’s a lot like water — not enough people are getting as much as they need.
So I’ll keep this one short: we both know you’re not eating enough veggies. You know they’re amazing for you. You know they have a ton of nutrients which help your brain work efficiently.
Green smoothies are the best way to get your daily veggie servings. I drink a green smoothie every day I’m home, and when I skip them for a few days because of travel, I feel sluggish, lazy and incompetent until I get my hands on another one.
Here’s my favourite green smoothie recipe, which costs about $2 in groceries:
- 2 hulk-sized fistfuls of spinach
- a banana
- cup of unsweetened coconut milk
- handful of frozen pineapple
- handful of frozen mango
Blend the spinach, banana and coconut milk first to get a smooth consistency, then add the frozen fruit and blend until smooth.
The other ingredients overwhelm spinach’s mild flavour, so you can’t taste it at all.
I pack in a metric shit-ton of spinach and only add enough of the other ingredients to mask the flavour. Play around with the ratios until you get it to a point to where you like it, but don’t overthink it.
You might need a more powerful blender than you already have in order to get a smooth, palatable consistency. I use the Nutri Ninja Bullet and it works great, but any blender that’s 900 watts or more will work well.
Worst case scenario: the taste sucks, and you just slam it. It’s 15 seconds of unpleasantness for the benefit of being a cognitive powerhouse. Totally worth it.
It’s worth noting that green juices are great for you too, but they’re messy and the juicers that are worth buying are pretty expensive (masticating juicers, which are good for leafy greens). They’re also less filling, but that means you can pack more vegetables into the same serving size.
As always, overthinking it is more of a problem than just choosing one thing and rolling with it.
With these last two, I’m going to get a bit abstract.
Think about how frustrating being stuck in traffic is. Or being stuck behind someone who’s walking slowly. Or waiting for something unnecessarily.
Or waiting for an author to make his point.
Whenever you’re moving, ideas come to you.
Do you get great ideas when you’re in the car, or when you’re out for a walk?
It’s because you’re moving. Did you hear about that guy who always gets creative block whenever he’s in a jet moving 800 km/h? Yeah, me neither.
Movement is like a laxative for your brain. It removes creative blocks quickly and effectively.
Break up bouts of creative work with walks or highway drives. It gives you time to reflect on what you’re doing and see the bigger picture, instead of just the individual parts you’re working on.
Don’t believe me? It costs you nothing to try this one out the next time you’re suffering from creator’s block.
I have a fairly regimented planning system (I use my own variation of the Bullet Journal method). Before I go to bed each night, I write down the things I need to do the next day. Then first thing in the morning, I read all of those tasks and get to work accomplishing them.
But sometimes I get a little lazy and fall out of the habit. Whenever this happens, I feel adrift from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed. Then, laying in bed, I realize I didn’t really do anything at all over the course of the day.
I’m most productive when I have another task to complete next. If I don’t have a plan for the day, I can’t take a glance at the queue of tasks I need to get done, so I’ll either put off what I need to do or get stuck in analysis paralysis.
Another benefit of planning is eliminating useless tasks from your life.
An employee asked Warren Buffet how to succeed in his career. Buffet told him to write down 25 career goals he wished to achieve. Without reading anything, Buffet circled the top 5, then crossed out the rest.
“These are what you need to focus on. Everything else is a distraction,” he said. Probably. I’m paraphrasing.
When I start planning my day, I’ll write down 8–10 things I need to get done. When I wake up, I figure out which of those are the most important and work on them first. Later in the day, I’ll realize that the other smaller tasks aren’t essential and would just be a waste of my time (law of diminishing returns / Pareto’s principle / the 80–20 rule).
Get a square-ruled notebook (Moleskine and Leuchtturm1917 are the most popular versions and they’re both found at every office supply store), and follow the Bullet Journal method for a month. The beauty of this method is that it’s highly customizable — in fact, you’re encouraged to add and drop features as you like.
But don’t overdo it — there are plenty of YouTube videos of people who fill their Bullet Journals with absolutely useless features that seem very useful. Remember that the whole point of a planner is to get stuff done… if you’re spending more time planning than you are actually doing, you’ve failed.
Um… These Aren’t Nootropics, Tess. They’re Basic Life Steps.
I know. But how many of these “basic” steps do you fail to achieve each day?
The point of this article is twofold: there is no such thing as a magic pill to make you smarter or more efficient; and even if there was, you should be following the steps I’ve outlined here before trying anything else.
Too often we search for a magic, quick fix to become better. The pill from Limitless is just as much of a fantasy as the magic lamp in Aladdin.
Achieving excellence in the three major goals common to everyone — health, sex and money — are really simple. But they aren’t super easy, and it takes a while to see results, so most people never achieve these goals.
If you’re disciplined enough to put in the work, and patient enough to wait for the results, you’ll be miles ahead of everyone else in these categories.
(Actually, because these are three things everybody wants, you can make a ton of money selling products that help people in these areas. This is also why every “quick-fix” product around purports to solve problems in these areas.)
The five steps outlined here are basic. Trying to optimize your life with a pill before optimizing the most basic functions of your existence is putting the cart before the horse. Implement the steps outlined here and let them function as a foundation for everything else you do.
Run through all of these for a month and see what you think of them.
Still here? ….okay, I couldn’t finish this article in good conscience without recommending a couple actual nootropics.
Caffeine is the most powerful nootropic of all. For most nootropics, you can’t really “feel” their effects… the effects are more of a subtle change in your behaviour.
Not the case with caffeine. I’ve had too much caffeine a few times in my life, and it’s pretty uncomfortable. But there’s a fine line where you have just enough that you get a caffeine high, and everything is amazing. Put on some killer tunes and you’ll feel like you can take over the world.
Tolerance for caffeine is well-researched, and it’s no surprise to anyone that the more you drink, the more you’ll need to get the same effect next time… and you build this tolerance quickly.
Some people cycle caffeine — that is, they’ll consume it regularly for two weeks, and take an entire week off. When they come back to it, it works like new again, with a small dose providing a large effect.
If you’re already addicted to caffeine, this can be difficult to do. You might have to wean yourself down before you stop consuming it all together. If you suffer from headaches when you don’t consume caffeine, then you’re addicted to it. Try cutting out a cup of coffee each day (or a serving each day, if you don’t drink coffee) until you’re down to just one per day.
Finally, a legitimate nootropic! I take noopept every day, and I do notice a subtle difference in focus when I do. It’s cheap, and you only need to take it once per day.
Again, this isn’t like the stuff from Limitless. I’ve found that the effects are:
- prolonged focus on the activity at hand
- fewer random, distracting thoughts enter my mind
- less time spent trying to “find” a thought. For example, if someone asks me a question, I don’t feel like I need to “search” my mind for the answer as much — the answer is “readily available”
Once more, these effects are real, but they’re not life-changing. You won’t “feel” these effects, you’ll merely notice them after you’re done working. Like, “Yeah, I guess I was more focused than usual. Cool.” That’s it.
I read a recommendation to take noopept with CDP choline, which “helps noopept cross the blood-brain barrier”. I’m not an expert in this stuff, so I’m not going to try and explain that — research it if you’re interested. I’ve always taken noopept with choline, so I’m not sure if this is BS or not.
If you’re interested in some further research, the nootropics subreddit is a good place to start. But don’t get caught in a downward spiral — limit yourself to 60 minutes of research, maximum.