Is Brain Hacking Worth the Trouble?
Calibrating Brain Hacks and the Lessons of Self Experimentation
Learning is a good thing, right? Expanding our knowledge and scope of understanding in the world is advantageous. It gives us a new perspective. It enhances our experience in the world and grants us the ability to make more conscious and informed decisions in our lives.
But what do we do when what we are learning goes against conventional wisdom? What happens when the information we are getting suggests we should make decisions that are difficult, expensive or against the norm of society?
Recently I have been struggling with these questions as I read Dave Asprey’s book Head Strong. If you aren’t familiar with Dave Asprey, he is the original biohacker and founder of Bulletproof Coffee, which has expanded to become an empire of biohacking for optimum human performance. His latest book is the culmination of his years of research and personal experimentation to hack the human brain, specifically your mitochondria.
He covers the obvious hacks such as nutrition, sleep, and exercise, but in newer, and more unconventional ways. And he goes deeper into less obvious and far more uncommon topics discussing the different types of light that adversely affect us, toxins we are exposed to every day, and how we can hack these detriments to our advantage. Nearly everything he recommends costs money. Almost all of it requires varying degrees of stepping outside of the box and going against the grain.
Junk Light and Toxic Mold
One of the things he writes about is the detrimental affects of the latest environmentally friendly LED lighting. This type of light wreaks havoc on our mitochondria. They “emit at least five times more blue light than you would find in nature and they do it completely free of the infrared and red spectrums always found in natural sunlight”, writes Asprey.
What does that mean?
According to Headstrong, it means that our mitochondria have to produce a lot of extra energy to process the blue light found in LED’s. This in turn stresses our mitochondria in our eyes and subsequently stresses the mitochondria in our brains causing macular degeneration and cellular aging.
But LED lighting is everywhere. Our streetlights are now LED lights. Computer screens and cell phones are LED. Lightbulbs for our homes are sold as LED. It’s difficult to find incandescent or halogen lighting. It’s also looked upon as being harmful to the environment. So do you want to slow down your brain function or kill the planet? Is that a fair choice? How do we reconcile these contradictions?
Asprey also writes extensively about the damaging effects of mold and how easily mold can grow and form in our environment without us even realizing it. Symptoms of mold toxicity include brain fog, fatigue, memory problems, morning stiffness, joint pain, mood swings, red eyes, congestion, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and the list goes on.
All of those things sound pretty awful.
All of those things also sound pretty common for a lot of people at various times in life. There aren’t many people who haven’t had at least one and more likely even a few of those symptoms at some point in life.
Does that mean we all have mold toxicity?
Maybe. Or maybe not.
But one thing this book has convinced me of is that experiencing any of the above symptoms is not normal. These symptoms are not normal signs of aging. They are signs of toxins in the brain and can be treated once the cause is uncovered.
The challenge lies in uncovering the cause.
Facts Vs. Experience
How do we discern the facts with our own experience? We don’t all have the means to biohack like Dave Asprey. We can’t all afford the lab tests, special doctors, and state of the art technology to test the results of our self experimentation.
So where do we draw the line?
The line is drawn at our limit for any given day.
Some days my threshold for experimentation is really high and I feel inspired and excited to see how much I can improve my body and the way I feel. Other days, I feel overwhelmed really quickly and I’m discouraged at the prospect of trying to distill which factor or combination of factors is dragging me down.
On a day that I was feeling inspired, I scheduled a mold inspection and bought some new amber colored light bulbs.
On another day, I got the inspection report back and found out I had mold in my bathroom and garage. So after the $450 inspection, I am now facing an additional cost of mold remediation and contractor work to fix the problem causing the mold. That was an overwhelm day.
On yet another day, I went to a special doctor to test for Irlen Syndrome, which is a problem with the way the brain processes light. It can make reading and writing difficult and can cause fatigue, eye strain, headaches, and other symptoms.
Guess what? I have it.
And I was thrilled to find out that after a lifetime of barely being able to read a few pages before falling asleep, there is actually a cause and a solution for this problem. All I have to do is spend $750 on a special pair of glasses that will correct the way my brain processes light.
Sigh. Here comes the overwhelm again.
I’m actually happy to spend the money if it corrects the problem. But what if I get the glasses and I still get tired when I read? Does that mean there is another issue going on in my brain? Or does it just mean that I’m tired? Or maybe it means I ate some nuts with mycotoxins and they are causing me to have brain fog.
You can see how this game can go on and on.
Biohacking is Complex
The human brain is an infinitely complicated organ. Doctors and scientists are making new discoveries about it every day. The information that Asprey shares is remarkable and compelling. His research and extent of self experimentation is impressive. Even more impressive is his self awareness and keen understanding of his own cognitive function, moods, and energy levels.
This breadth of knowledge he demonstrates is one of the reasons I find the information overwhelming at times. I fully trust the recommendations he’s making will benefit my life and make me feel better. If I didn’t believe it, I could easily dismiss it as garbage and move on with my life.
But once you know there is a better way, it’s hard to ignore it.
So each day my line gets drawn in the sand with how much I feel inspired to action or how much I implode with overwhelm.
Yet there’s another lesson I am learning in all of this biohacking. And to my mind, it’s the most important lesson to learn.
That lesson is self awareness.
Asprey doesn’t spend much time talking about this topic, though he’s definitely an expert on it. He claims he can actually feel when his mitochondria are optimized or compromised.
I have not developed that particular ‘spidey sense’. Without a team of doctors or state of the art equipment to test my brain on each new recommendation, I have to rely on good old fashioned intuition and gut feeling.
This is challenging.
I’m not particularly science minded, so keeping track of variables and meticulously tracking my brain power and energy levels does not come naturally to me.
So my way is to develop self awareness through mindfulness and track my results that way. Simply paying attention to how my body feels and how my mind feels throughout the day can produce a surprising amount of useful feedback. It takes diligence and it lacks the precision of science, but it has value all the same.
To return to the earlier question of what to do when our new knowledge goes against the norms of society, my response is simple.
We only grow when we are forced out of our comfort zone.
If we believe something will improve our lives but may result in disapproval or conflict with others, we have to weigh the consequences.
My boyfriend thinks I’m going overboard with all the mold inspecting, brain testing, and light hacking. So I’ve learned to step back from the experimenting when his tolerance levels are maxed out. After all, my mitochondria can’t perform well if I’m fighting with my boyfriend.
Ultimately, balance is the key to anything in life. We learn in order to expand our minds and improve our life experience. But when learning threatens the balance of life, we have to adjust to the growing pains. There will be some pushback and some turmoil in the early stages but eventually we’ll find the balance and hopefully, a more improved life.
Call to Action
Read Headstrong. Do your own experimentations. See where your thresholds lie and push the boundaries. Then find your new balance.
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