Huberman Lab - Focus Toolkit Tools to Improve Your Focus & Concentration

Welcome to the Huberman Lab Podcast,

where we discuss science

and science-based tools for everyday life.

I’m Andrew Huberman,

and I’m a professor of neurobiology and ophthalmology

at Stanford School of Medicine.

Today, we are discussing focus and concentration

and tools for improving your focus and concentration.

This is a topic that I’ve covered previously

on the Huberman Lab Podcast, but in different contexts.

For instance, we had a very popular episode on ADHD,

attention deficit hyperactivity disorder,

which of course relates to the topic of focus

and how to improve focus.

We’ve also talked a lot about dopamine motivation and drive.

In fact, that’s the title of your previous,

also quite popular episode of this podcast.

But never before have we had a single episode

solely devoted to the tools

to improve focus and concentration.

The rationale for recording this episode

is to provide people one location where they can go

and quickly access the specific tools

for increasing focus and concentration

that are known to be the most powerful tools

and the most up-to-date tools.

In fact, today’s episode is going to include

description of several peer-reviewed studies

and the tools that emerge

from those scientific peer-reviewed studies

that point to new and fortunately even briefer protocols

than I’ve described before.

So what I’m basically describing here

is tools that in a very short amount of time

will allow you to significantly increase

your focus and concentration abilities.

Those tools will include behavioral tools,

nutrition-based tools, supplement-based tools,

brain machine interface-based tools,

and for those of you that are working with physician,

prescription drug tools.

Today’s episode ought to benefit anybody,

young or old or anything in between,

whether or not you have ADHD or not.

Today’s episode is going to give you tools

that you can apply in your daily life.

Most all of them are completely zero cost

and those tools will allow you to tap into the neurochemistry

and the neural circuits within your brain and body

that peer-reviewed science has reliably shown

can significantly improve your focus

and concentration abilities.

Just to give you a little teaser of the kinds of tools

that I’m going to provide you on today’s episode,

a previous guest on the Huberman Lab Podcast

was Dr. Wendy Suzuki.

Dr. Suzuki is a professor of psychology and neuroscience

at New York University or NYU, as it’s commonly referred to.

She’s also the Dean of Arts and Sciences at NYU.

Her laboratory made a very important discovery,

which was that a very brief, just 12, actually 13,

if you really count the intro,

but 13 minute daily meditation

performed for a period of about eight weeks

significantly increased people’s focus

and concentration abilities.

And the great news is you didn’t need all eight weeks.

It was just that’s how long that you ran the study.

So during today’s episode,

I will describe that protocol in detail.

I’ll also provide you an even briefer alternative

to that protocol that you can use if, for instance,

you find yourself with only three minutes or four minutes

or five minutes a day to meditate.

The great news is there’s quality peer-reviewed science

to support that form of meditation

for improving focus and concentration.

And that falls under the bin of these zero cost tools

that you can really use to tap into the neurochemistry

and neural circuits that really allow you to take control

of your cognitive abilities and improve them over time.

I’ll also provide you important details about that protocol

and other protocols.

For instance, contrary to popular belief, it is not,

I repeat, it is not a good idea

to do a focused based meditation

within the four hours before bedtime.

Many people, including some of the subjects in that study

performed by the Suzuki Lab,

found that when they did a focusing meditation protocol,

even if it was very calming,

it led to difficulties in falling and staying asleep.

So that runs counter to a lot of what we’ve heard

about meditation being great for sleep.

It turns out meditation might be great for sleep.

It certainly is great for improving focus capacity,

but I highly recommend that if you’re going to apply

a focus meditation tool

in order to improve your focus and concentration,

that you make sure that that’s performed

not within four hours prior to bedtime.

So that’s just a brief example

of the sorts of tools and protocols

and details about the tools and protocols

that I’ll provide on today’s episode.

I should mention that we have provided links

in the show note captions

so that you can quickly go to the studies that we describe,

as well as some of the behavioral tools

and other tools that we’ll cover.

Things like the use of binaural beats, supplements, et cetera.

Our goal here, again, is to provide you

the maximum number of tools for focus and concentration

that you can pick from and choose from

and apply in your life

and try and eliminate as much of the legwork required

to seek out and apply those tools.

Before we begin, I’d like to emphasize that this podcast

is separate from my teaching and research roles at Stanford.

It is, however, part of my desire and effort

to bring zero cost to consumer information

about science and science-related tools

to the general public.

In keeping with that theme,

I’d like to thank the sponsors of today’s podcast.

Our first sponsor is Element.

Element is an electrolyte drink

with everything you need and nothing you don’t.

That means plenty of salt, magnesium, and potassium,

the so-called electrolytes, and no sugar.

Now, salt, magnesium, and potassium are critical

to the function of all the cells in your body,

in particular, to the function of your nerve cells,

also called neurons.

In fact, in order for your neurons to function properly,

all three electrolytes need to be present

in the proper ratios.

And we now know that even slight reductions

in electrolyte concentrations or dehydration of the body

can lead to deficits in cognitive and physical performance.

Element contains a science-backed electrolyte ratio

of 1,000 milligrams, that’s one gram, of sodium,

200 milligrams of potassium,

and 60 milligrams of magnesium.

I typically drink Element first thing in the morning

when I wake up in order to hydrate my body

and make sure I have enough electrolytes.

And while I do any kind of physical training

and after physical training as well,

especially if I’ve been sweating a lot,

if you’d like to try Element,

you can go to drinkelement, that’s lmnt.com slash Huberman

to claim a free Element sample pack with your purchase.

Again, that’s drinkelement, lmnt.com slash Huberman.

Today’s episode is also brought to us by Thesis.

Thesis makes what are called nootropics,

which means smart drugs.

Now, to be honest, I am not a fan of the term nootropics.

I don’t believe in smart drugs in the sense that

I don’t believe that there’s any one substance

or collection of substances that can make us smarter.

I do believe based on science, however,

that there are particular neural circuits

and brain functions that allow us to be more focused,

more alert, access creativity, be more motivated, et cetera.

That’s just the way that the brain works,

different neural circuits for different brain states.

Thesis understands this.

And as far as I know, they’re the first nootropics company

to create targeted nootropics for specific outcomes.

I’ve been using Thesis for more than six months now,

and I can confidently say that their nootropics

have been a total game changer.

My go-to formula is the clarity formula,

or sometimes I’ll use their energy formula before training.

To get your own personalized nootropic starter kit,

go online to takethesis.com slash Huberman,

take a three-minute quiz,

and Thesis will send you four different formulas

to try in your first month.

That’s takethesis.com slash Huberman,

and use the code Huberman at checkout

for 10% off your first order.

I’m pleased to announce that the Huberman Lab podcast

is now partnered with Momentus Supplements.

We partnered with Momentus for several important reasons.

First of all, they ship internationally

because we know that many of you are located

outside of the United States.

Second of all, and perhaps most important,

the quality of their supplements is second to none,

both in terms of purity and precision

of the amounts of the ingredients.

Third, we’ve really emphasized supplements

that are single ingredient supplements

and that are supplied in dosages

that allow you to build a supplementation protocol

that’s optimized for cost,

that’s optimized for effectiveness,

and that you can add things

and remove things from your protocol

in a way that’s really systematic and scientific.

If you’d like to see the supplements

that we partner with Momentus on,

you can go to livemomentus.com slash Huberman.

There you’ll see those supplements,

and just keep in mind that we are constantly expanding

the library of supplements available through Momentus

on a regular basis.

Again, that’s livemomentus.com slash Huberman.

Okay, let’s talk about focus and concentration

and how you can improve your focus and concentration

using science-based protocols.

Now, because today’s episode is mainly focused on tools

and not so much the underlying mechanisms,

I’m mainly going to focus on what to do and when

and how to do it.

But I just want to take about three minutes

and briefly describe a model

that is a visual image that you can put in your mind

that will help you incorporate the tools that I’ll provide,

and that generally will help you understand

at a mechanistic level how focus and concentration work.

So what I want you to imagine is an arrow.

And an arrow, of course, has an arrow head,

and it has the shaft of that arrow.

And in the context of the neuroscience

of focus and concentration,

the neurochemical system that really represents

the shaft of that arrow, right, the straight line,

is epinephrine, also called adrenaline.

And today I’ll refer to adrenaline

and epinephrine interchangeably.

Turns out that epinephrine slash adrenaline

are released within your brain from a little location,

a little cluster of neurons called locus coeruleus,

but you do not need to remember that name,

and from your body from the adrenal glands.

And the release of epinephrine from those two locations

overall increases energy.

It increases alertness.

It does not alone increase focus, okay?

So the reason I’ve assigned epinephrine, adrenaline,

as the shaft of the arrow is that if focus is the arrow,

there is no focus without epinephrine.

So things, whether or not they’re behavioral

or psychological or supplements or drugs

that increase epinephrine allow focus to occur.

They are necessary for focus,

but they are not sufficient for focus.

That is, they are required,

but they are not enough to create focus.

So we’re going to need epinephrine in the equation.

Without epinephrine, there is no focus or concentration.

Now, the arrowhead on this metaphorical arrowhead

that represents focus and concentration

is going to be represented or related

to the mechanisms of acetylcholine,

a different neurochemical

that also exists in the brain and body.

In fact, in the body, it’s responsible for the contraction

and movement of your muscles.

But today we’re talking about acetylcholine

not in that context,

but rather in the context of its release within the brain.

Acetylcholine is released

from a couple of different locations in the brain.

And the best way to think about it

is it’s like a spotlight.

It highlights specific neurons, nerve cells,

that should be active or more active, I should say,

than the other neurons in the environment.

So the reason I’ve assigned the arrowhead to acetylcholine

and acetylcholine to the arrowhead

is that if you have an arrow with a very big arrowhead

that’s really broad, really blunt,

imagine a mile wide arrowhead,

that’s not very focused on any one location.

It’s not really pointing to any one location, is it?

But with a narrow, really tightly focused arrowhead,

well, that’s focused on one location.

So we have alertness, epinephrine,

and then we have the actual direction

in which our concentration and focus is placed.

And that’s, at least in this mental model,

I’m creating acetylcholine.

And then in order to have ongoing focus,

we need another neurochemical.

And it turns out that that third neurochemical is dopamine,

a molecule often associated with pleasure and reward,

but it’s really the molecule of motivation.

So here, I want you to imagine in your mind an arrow

with an arrowhead, think acetylcholine and the arrowhead,

a shaft or a line behind that arrowhead,

which is epinephrine, also called adrenaline,

and then behind it, a sort of an engine

that keeps that focus moving forward, right?

Because we don’t just want to be focused for a moment,

we want to be able to focus for 10 minutes,

or for an hour, or maybe even for two hours.

Turns out there’s an optimal duration to focus,

I’ll teach you that in just a little bit.

But these three neurochemicals together,

acetylcholine, epinephrine, and dopamine,

really allow you to get focused, to focus very precisely,

and in fact, increasingly precisely over time,

to really narrow and narrow and narrow your focus

progressively within a single bout of focus,

and to continue to do that,

and to be able to do that repeatedly whenever you want.

So here, I’m purely talking in metaphor,

and in models, and mental models of arrows,

but in a moment or two,

I’ll start transitioning to discussing tools

in which I’ll talk about increasing dopamine

and acetylcholine, or increasing epinephrine and dopamine

in various combinations with various approaches.

And what I’d like you to conceptualize

is how those are contributing

to creating a very narrowly pointed arrow

that has the capacity to continue moving forward

over and over so that you can focus as sharply

and as long as you like.

And of course, for those of you

that want to get really down in the weeds

of how dopamine works,

we have an entire episode about dopamine motivation and drive

that really gets into neurotransmitter release,

and dopamine baselines, and thresholds,

and all of that sort of thing.

We also have episodes on focus,

much longer episodes, I should say, on focus,

that incorporate a lot of the biology of acetylcholine.

Turns out acetylcholine is also involved

in neuroplasticity, et cetera.

And epinephrine, of course, relates to stress

and our capacity to deal with and buffer stress,

and on and on.

Those episodes are all available to you

in their long form at hubermanlab.com.

You can find them very easily.

They are all timestamps.

You can navigate to the particular topics

most of interest to you.

I mentioned this all not as a diversion

from what we want to cover today,

but I know that some of you are hungry

for a lot more mechanism,

but today’s episode is really mainly focused on the tools.

I will, of course, touch on mechanism,

but if you really want to do the deep dive on mechanism,

go to hubermanlab.com,

and you’ll have more than you ever could want

about those mechanisms.

Let’s jump into the tools for concentration and focus.

If you want to think about tools of any kind

to modify your biology or physiology in any way,

whether or not it’s for cognitive function,

or you want to get better at exercising,

or you want to build muscle,

or you want to improve your hormones,

you need to think and understand tools

in the context of modulation and mediation.

What do I mean by that?

Well, it’s quite simple, really.

Mediation is how specific types of chemicals,

and cells, and circuits, and organs

control very specific things in your brain and body,

whereas modulation is the ability of chemicals,

and cells, and circuits to adjust how different things

change, how different things work in your brain and body,

but to do it more broadly.

What do I mean by this?

Let me give an example.

For instance, I’m going to tell you now

that one of the most important things

to build and maintain your focus and concentration

is to optimize your sleeping behavior.

That is to get enough quality sleep,

I would say 80% of the nights of your life.

Not everyone can get optimal sleep

100% of the nights of their life.

Nobody, truly nobody achieves that.

However, sleep has been shown to relate

to cognitive performance, physical performance,

hormone output, and so many other things,

including immune system function.

What we can reliably say is that sleep modulates

just about every process in your brain and body.

So you have to get great sleep.

There’s simply no tool that’s going to allow you

to overcome chronic sleep deprivation

and allow you to remain focused.

No pill, no device, no supplement, no protocol whatsoever.

There are tools to overcome one night

or maybe two nights of sleep deprivation,

and we’ll talk about those, but at a fundamental level,

we need to do the things that modulate

our focus and attention in powerful ways,

and sleep really is that thing.

So we’ve done two episodes, one called Master Your Sleep,

and the other episode is Perfect Your Sleep.

The Perfect Your Sleep is a little bit more

like this episode, more focused on protocols.

Master Your Sleep includes protocols and mechanism.

Again, you can find those at hubermanlab.com.

We also have a sleep toolkit,

a distilled list of things to do

in order to optimize your sleep.

I highly recommend that you download that.

You can go to hubermanlab.com,

go to the Neural Network Newsletter.

It is listed there.

If you want, you can sign up for the newsletter,

but you don’t have to.

You can simply download the PDF of that toolkit

for zero cost.

Why do I say sleep modulates focus and attention?

Well, I’ll give an analogy.

If right now someone pulled a fire alarm in this building,

or if we had a fire in this building,

my attention would drift.

It would not be on recording this podcast.

It would be on something else.

But would I say that the fire alarm mediates attention?

I mean, fire alarms are not really involved in attention.

No, rather they modulate my attention.

The noise in the room modulates my attention.

That’s quite a bit different

than a tool that I’ll provide later.

And I’ll just give you a little hint of now.

In fact, I’ll give it to you now,

which is that 40 Hertz binaural beats

have been shown in a number of peer-reviewed studies

to increase focus and concentration.

And if you’d like to access 40 Hertz binaural beats

in order to improve your focus and concentration,

you can do that.

You can actually get it at zero cost.

You can go into the app store,

for instance, the Apple app store.

This is also available for Android phone.

There’s an app called Brainwave, and you can go there.

You can dial in 40 Hertz

and it’ll play these binaural beats.

It’s been shown in multiple quality peer-reviewed studies

that playing a pattern of sound waves to one ear,

do-do-do-do-do, and the other ear,

which is slightly offset in frequency,

meaning not quite the same frequency,

so more like do-do-do-do,

that that combination of frequencies

played to the different ears

actually get integrated within deep brain centers

and can increase focus and concentration

in part by increasing levels of the neurochemical dopamine

and acetylcholine, which we talked about

a little bit earlier in this arrow model of focus.

So we’ll provide a link to that app.

I don’t have any relationship to that app,

I should mention, but it’s an excellent one.

It’s one that I’ve used for many years.

There are also additional functions within the app,

such as for sleep and for other things,

but the 40 Hertz, 40HZ is the way it reads out.

40 Hertz stimulation has been shown

to improve focus and concentration.

Here is my recommendation in the way that I use it.

I would not use 40 Hertz binaural beats

every time I’m doing a bout of work.

What I tend to do is use it for about five minutes

prior to that work, and then turn it off

and then do the work,

and I’ll talk about other tools to use during that work,

whether or not it’s reading or math,

or even just emailing or something

where I require a bunch of focus for a while.

However, there are times in which I’m in an area

or I’m in a state of mind

where I’m feeling very distractible,

and then I’ll keep the 40 Hertz binaural beats

on the entire time I’m doing that bout of cognitive work.

I’ll also sometimes use the 40 Hertz binaural beats

prior to a workout, in particular weight workouts,

where I really want to be able to focus on

and contract specific muscles.

So it’s a very useful tool,

again, supported by quality peer-reviewed science,

zero cost available out there,

not just in the Brainwave app, but in multiple apps.

I think many of you will benefit from it.

Some of you might not experience it immediately

as a total dropping into a tunnel of focus

in the same way that you might with, say,

the sorts of neurochemicals that we’ll talk about later,

like alpha-GPC and some of these other things

that change neurochemicals directly.

But nonetheless, 40 Hertz binaural beats

are a very powerful tool.

Again, zero cost, non-pharmacologic tool

that tap into your own endogenous, meaning within you,

or exists within you physiology

in order to increase acetylcholine

and some other neurochemicals.

And they have been shown to work quite well.

Okay, so assuming that you are sleeping well

80% of the nights of your life,

or at least working on the various protocols and tools

to sleep well and sufficiently long,

80% of the nights of your life,

and you are interested in additional tools

that are sound-based in order to improve

your ability to concentrate and focus,

there are quality peer-reviewed studies

supporting the idea that white noise or pink noise,

and believe it or not, there is something called pink noise.

It has to do with the specific frequencies of sound

that are in the noise.

Well, white noise and pink noise

have been shown to not improve concentration per se,

but to improve people’s ability to transition

into concentrated states.

So I don’t tend to use white noise and pink noise

while I work, but I know a number of people that do.

I know people that also use what’s called brown noise.

The folks I know from the engineering

and computer science side get really into these details

of white noise, pink noise, brown noise.

You can find white noise, pink noise, or brown noise

and listen to it through headphones or in the room.

There is indeed some data to support the fact

that white noise, and to some extent,

pink noise and brown noise can support the release

of particular neurochemicals, but more data showing

that they can amplify the activity of neurons

in the so-called prefrontal cortex,

this front area, sort of the bumper behind your forehead

that is directly related to your ability

to direct your own focus and remain focused

on certain things.

So you have the option of either using binaural beats before

but not during your work, that is 40 Hertz binaural beats

or 40 Hertz binaural beats throughout your attempt to focus.

You also have the option of not using binaural beats

but using white noise, pink noise, or brown noise.

Again, there are a lot of zero cost apps.

You can find also white noise, pink noise,

and brown noise on YouTube.

Again, these are tools that really have been shown

over and over in humans to allow people to focus

with more depth and to decrease the transition time

into focus.

This is a really key point.

A lot of people are challenged

with getting into a mode of focus.

None of us, however, should be expected to just sit down

and drop directly into a state of focus.

I think that’s completely an unfair request of ourselves.

I mean, for instance, you wouldn’t expect yourself

to go out on the track or go out for a run and not warm up.

You might jog for a few minutes or even walk

before you would jog and then jog before you would run,

right, I would hope you would do that.

And if you’re doing resistance training,

I doubt that you go over and load up the bar

or the machine with the maximum amount of weight

that you can move and then just drop right into that.

You always do a warmup.

And I think it’s very important to understand mental work,

focus, and concentration as requiring that warmup.

What is that warmup?

Well, you know what that warmup is.

That warmup is the ramping up or the increase

of epinephrine, adrenaline, acetylcholine, and dopamine,

right, the way that neurochemicals work

is we don’t just get to flip switches in our brain

because we decide to, that’s a fantasy.

That’s sort of the limitless movie

or, you know, movies and ideas that suddenly, you know,

you’re going to flip a switch on your arm

and all of a sudden you’re going to be in a laser focus.

That is just not the way that your nervous system works.

There’s a gradual dropping into any state,

whether or not that state is sleep, right?

You go from shallow sleep to deep sleep

and then out eventually.

Focus too, you go from shallow focus

to increasingly deep focus.

That is in our metaphor of the arrow, it’s very broad.

It’s pointed at a lot of things.

And over time, as we drop into focus,

that arrow is narrowing and narrowing and narrowing.

In fact, probably better to think about it narrowing

and then sometimes oscillating and getting wider again.

You know, we might hear something down the hallway

or more typically our phone will buzz

or we’ll think, oh, I wonder what so-and-so is doing

or I hadn’t contacted them about something.

Your focus is dynamic.

It is not what we call a step function.

It’s not like you go from unfocused to focused

and then you drop into your maximum focus.

By understanding that it’s dynamic,

by understanding that you are going to be continually

going in and out of progressively

but varying levels of focus,

you will greatly release the pressure on yourself

to feel focused all the time when you want to be.

This is very key.

People who are very good at focusing understand this

and understand that they can’t expect themselves

to just immediately focus

and then snap into or out of focus, okay?

So be patient with yourself

and also understand that focus is an ability

that you can improve your ability to focus

by engaging the neural circuits responsible for focus

repeatedly over time through so-called neuroplasticity,

the ability of your nervous system to change

in response to experience.

And that has a couple of different components

but put very simply, what we repeat

gets etched into our nervous system

and becomes easier over time.

And the more emotionally important

or vital something feels to us,

the more likely it is to trigger neuroplasticity.

We’re going to talk a little bit more

about how to increase neural circuits for focus later

but right now what you have in hand

is the key importance of sleep.

And I, again, will direct you to hubermanlab.com

and the Neural Network Newsletter

to really work on optimizing your sleep.

We’ve also got two auditory sound-based tools

for improving focus.

There’s 40 Hertz binaural beats used before

or during bouts of focusing concentration.

And if you don’t like those, or even if you do,

you might alternate them with

or occasionally use white noise, pink noise, or brown noise,

also readily available at zero cost.

A question I often get is how long should I try to focus?

Well, the research literature point to the key importance

of so-called ultradian cycles.

You’ve all probably heard of circadian cycles

or circadian biology, circa the day, circadian,

is about 24-hour cycle.

Well, our brain and body operate within that day

or within each and every day, I should say,

with 90-minute ultradian cycles.

So my suggestion would be

anytime you’re going to sit down and try and focus,

you’re going to try and do a focused bout

of physical exercise or skill learning or musical learning,

or maybe you’re even just having a conversation.

Maybe you’re a therapist or you’re attending therapy

or a class, how long should it be?

And the ideal duration is about 90 minutes,

not exactly 90 minutes,

but we can reliably say 90 minutes or less, okay?

It doesn’t have to be the full 90 minutes,

but trying to push yourself to be able to drop

into two hours of focus or three hours of focus

while possible is not really in line

with what we know about the underlying biology.

Everything from our sleep states

or the different stages of sleep and our waking states

is divided into these 90-minute cycles

or so-called ultradian cycles.

So what I like to do is set a timer for 90 minutes.

I acknowledge and accept the fact that under most conditions,

unless I’m really pressed for a deadline

and I’m optimally caffeinated, et cetera,

the first five to 10 minutes of that 90 minutes

are a transition time.

It’s like the warmup for focus,

but I do include it in that 90 minutes.

And then I really try and drop into

doing focused mental work or learning of some sort.

Again, this could be physical as well,

motor skill learning,

or I think we’re running or lifting weights, et cetera,

and really try and drop into that

across the full 90 minutes.

Again, accepting the fact, okay?

It’s not just an idea,

the fact that occasionally our focus will flicker.

It will jump out of focus.

And then a big part of being able to focus

is to go back to focusing.

The way I’d like you to conceptualize this perhaps

is that arrowhead suddenly getting very, very broad,

that you’re focusing on many things,

or that arrow shifts to a different location in the room.

The key is to be able to shift it back

and to narrow it once again.

And that’s an active process,

so much so that it requires a lot of metabolic energy.

Your brain is the chief consumer of metabolic energy.

The calories that you consume

is so-called basal metabolic rate.

Most of that isn’t related to movement

or heartbeat or breathing.

It’s related to brain function.

Your brain is a glutton with respect to caloric need.

So understand that at the end of 90 minutes,

or maybe even after 45 minutes,

you might feel rather tired or even exhausted.

And it’s very important that after about a focus

that you take at least 10 minutes,

and ideally as long as 30 minutes,

and go through what I call deliberate defocus.

You really want to focus on somewhat menial tasks

or things that really don’t require

a ton of your concentration.

This is starting to become a little bit

of a movement out there in the kind of pop psychology

and optimization world.

This idea of not looking at your phone

as you walk down the hall to the bathroom.

Certainly not looking at your phone in the bathroom.

And I should mention, by the way,

this is a particular annoyance of mine.

Have you noticed that wait times for restrooms

and public places has increased substantially

in the last 10 years?

The reason for that is not digestive, okay?

It’s not the gut microbiome.

I mean, it might be the gut microbiome,

but chances are it’s because people are on their phones

in the bathroom.

So you’re doing yourself and everybody else a favor

by staying off your phone in the restroom,

staying off your phone while walking down the hall.

Try and give yourself some time to deliberately decompress,

to let your mental states idle,

to not be focused on any one thing.

That period of idling is essential

for your ability to focus,

much in the same way that rest between sets

of resistance training or rest between exercise

is vital to being able to focus and perform

during the actual sets or during the actual bouts

of running or cycling or whatever

your particular form of exercise might be.

So deliberate decompression is key.

And I know this is hard because we’re all being drawn in

by the incredible rich array of sensory information

available on our phones and other devices,

but I can’t emphasize this enough.

Our ability to focus is not just related

to what happens during the entry

and movement through those focus bouts,

but after those focus bouts,

we really need to deliberately decompress.

And of course, the ultimate decompress,

the time in which we are not directing

our thinking and our action is during sleep.

And so it’s no wonder,

or I should say it holds together logically

that that deep long-lasting duration

of not controlling where our mind is at

is in fact the ultimate form of restoration,

even if we have very intense dreams.

So take that period after each 90 minute

or less focus bout, right?

Remember those focus bouts don’t have to be full 90 minutes.

Let’s say you do 45 minutes of work.

You’re just done with it.

Set it down and go do something for maybe five, 10,

maybe even 30 minutes that is functional for your day,

right?

Just not just walking around in circles

or staring up at the sky,

although if you can do that, do that.

Most of us have other things to do,

but do things that are rather automatic

or reflexive for you,

and try not to do any focused reading,

try not to bring your vision into a tight location,

such as your phone,

and try and deliberately decompress

because that will allow you to drop

into intense bouts of focus again,

repeatedly and repeatedly throughout the day.

I’m often asked how many ultradian cycles

one can perform throughout the day.

That depends on how well you’ve slept,

how well you are nourished,

which we’ll talk about in a moment,

and how well trained up your focus capacity is.

And here’s the paradox.

If you are very trained at focusing,

if you’re very good at dropping into focus,

you’re actually going to need

more deliberate decompression and defocus.

And I recommend only doing about two,

maybe three deep work sessions per day.

So not one 90-minute session

then expecting yourself to do another one,

another one, another one,

but rather one deep work 90-minute session

and maybe another in the afternoon.

A lot of people get surprised by this and say,

wait, how many people can afford

to just work three hours a day?

I’m not saying just work three hours a day.

I’m really talking about the hard mental work.

And again, somewhat paradoxically,

the more you can concentrate,

the more deeply you can concentrate,

the fewer deep work concentration bouts

you can actually perform each day.

It makes sense, however,

if you think about it in the context

of say resistance training.

If you are stronger and stronger in the gym

or you’re an endurance athlete

and you can run ultra marathons 100 miles or so,

you are essentially cutting a deeper cut

into your recovery capacity

than somebody who’s not very skilled at those things

or can’t perform as much intense work.

So the intensity of the work scales directly

with how long you need to rest after that work.

I, at this stage of my life,

am pretty good at dropping into

and maintaining focused bouts of concentration,

provided the landscape of my life is right.

I don’t have some burning, stressful thing

that’s essential or an emergency that I’m tending to

and that I put my phone away or turn it off.

I can do three 90-minute focus bouts per day,

but that’s about it.

And then in between those focus bouts,

I’m doing other things that require less focus.

Some of you may be able to perform four.

What I highly recommend is that you try doing at least one,

that is one 90-minute or less

bout of focused, concentrated work per day.

And yes, that means the weekends too.

And on the weekends, I like to read a book

with my phone nowhere in sight, not on a device.

That’s what I do.

Or I’ll listen to an audio book sometimes

while taking a walk,

but really concentrating on what I’m trying to learn,

what I’m hearing and what I’m seeing.

So again, a daily 90-minute bout is one to start with.

And I would say after about four weeks of that,

if you’re able to stay concentrated,

work through the agitation,

then I would consider increasing the number of focus bouts.

Again, this is not to say that you should go to your teacher

or your PhD advisor or your parent or your friends

and say, listen, I can’t really concentrate

or think about anything for more than 90 minutes per day.

That’s not what I’m saying.

These are deep focus bouts.

These are bouts of work,

or I should say mental work or physical work

where you’re really forcing yourself to focus and refocus,

to sharpen the head of that arrowhead,

to redirect it to what you’re trying to concentrate on.

And it is indeed hard work.

I would even think about it more or less

like a workout of any kind.

I’d like to take a quick break

and acknowledge one of our sponsors, Athletic Greens.

Athletic Greens, now called AG1,

is a vitamin mineral probiotic drink

that covers all of your foundational nutritional needs.

I’ve been taking Athletic Greens since 2012,

so I’m delighted that they’re sponsoring the podcast.

The reason I started taking Athletic Greens

and the reason I still take Athletic Greens

once or usually twice a day

is that it gets me the probiotics that I need for gut health.

Our gut is very important.

It’s populated by gut microbiota

that communicate with the brain, the immune system,

and basically all the biological systems of our body

to strongly impact our immediate and long-term health.

And those probiotics in Athletic Greens

are optimal and vital for microbiotic health.

In addition, Athletic Greens contains a number of adaptogens,

vitamins, and minerals that make sure

that all of my foundational nutritional needs are met,

and it tastes great.

If you’d like to try Athletic Greens,

you can go to athleticgreens.com slash Huberman,

and they’ll give you five free travel packs

that make it really easy to mix up Athletic Greens

while you’re on the road, in the car, on the plane, et cetera.

And they’ll give you a year’s supply of vitamin D3K2.

Again, that’s athleticgreens.com slash Huberman

to get the five free travel packs

and the year’s supply of vitamin D3K2.

I mentioned the topic of nutrition a little bit ago.

And of course, nutrition is a complicated topic.

In fact, one of the quickest ways to get yourself

into a battle online

is to say something definitive about nutrition.

I just want to clearly state my stance about nutrition.

I fully support and applaud those of you

that are vegans for whatever reason,

those of you that are pure carnivore for whatever reason,

and those of you that are omnivores for whatever reason.

I happen to be an omnivore.

My goal is always to eat high quality,

minimally or non-processed foods,

and to eat things in moderation.

So I do eat some meat from sustainable sources

or from organic sources.

I eat some starches and I eat vegetables and I eat fruits.

I try not to eat sugars,

and I don’t really like highly processed foods

at this point in my life.

That’s me, that’s what I do,

but I’m certainly not dictating what people should eat.

I know certain people are ketogenic,

and I can say that for people who achieve ketosis

and can get into ketosis, yes, indeed,

there is a mental state associated with ketosis

that will allow your brain to function

and to think really clearly

that many people find very attractive

and keep them going back over and over again

to a ketogenic diet.

I’m somebody who, for instance,

has not been in ketosis many times in my life,

at least not deliberately so,

but I actually will ingest liquid ketones

from time to time because of the further

cognitive enhancement or physical enhancement

that I experience on top of nutrition

that does include some carbohydrates.

So there are a lot of different ways to approach all this.

Whether or not you’re a vegan, omnivore,

vegetarian, carnivore, et cetera, the point is this.

Your ability to focus, and in fact,

your ability of neurons to encode

specific information in your environment,

that is to represent what’s out there in the world,

is actually related to your blood glucose level.

Now, here I’m setting aside the discussion

of ketosis and ketogenic diets for the moment,

but there’s a beautiful study

that was published in Neuron not long ago

that showed that the tuning,

that is the precision with which neurons in the brain

represent things in our environment,

is actually much greater

when there is sufficient glucose in the brain.

Translated into English, this means that when we are fasted

or when our blood glucose is very low,

we aren’t able to perceive and think about things as clearly.

Now, there’s a twist to this, however.

Many people who practice intermittent fasting,

and I should say I practice

a sort of pseudo-intermittent fasting.

I generally eat my meals between the hours

of 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.,

although sometimes there’s some wiggle around that.

Occasionally I have an early breakfast.

I’m not super rigid about it,

but I know there are a number of people

who are doing longer fasts

or they’re eating in a six-hour window.

We did an entire episode about fasting.

You can, again, find that at hubermanlab.com.

We’ll likely have Sachin Panda,

who’s an expert in intermittent fasting, on the podcast.

Intermittent fasting

has a lot of different potential benefits.

For some people, it’s a convenient way

to restrict their calories.

For other people, it’s a convenient way to avoid eating.

That is, it’s easier to not eat

than to eat a small portion,

so they opt for intermittent fasting,

and so on and so forth.

But one of the things that you hear very often

is that some people like being fasted

because they like the clarity of mind that it provides.

Here’s the situation.

Neurons, unless you’re in a ketogenic diet,

really thrive on glucose.

They love glucose.

And as I mentioned before,

your ability to think and perceive things

is actually enhanced

by having sufficient glucose in your bloodstream.

So why would it be that some people experience

a heightened state of mental clarity when they are fasted?

I’ve certainly experienced that before.

Well, I should say that provided you’re well-hydrated enough

and you have enough electrolytes in your system,

what tends to happen is that when you ingest food,

there’s a shift in your nervous system

towards so-called parasympathetic mode.

That is, the more relaxed,

you probably heard it as rest and digest,

although it does other things,

a more relaxed mode that can indeed make us very sleepy.

If we have too many carbohydrates,

it actually can make us quite sleepy.

However, if we have any food,

if we have enough of it,

that is, if our gut is full,

it diverts blood to our gut,

and we become sleepy and we can’t focus as well.

So a lot of people really like fasting

in the state of being fasted for focus and concentration

because they don’t have

as much of that parasympathetic activation,

they’re just not as sleepy.

And in fact, under those conditions,

half as much caffeine will give you just as much lift

as twice as much caffeine

will give you on a full belly of pasta.

And that’s just the way that caffeine interacts

with blood glucose.

So what I’d like you to imagine

is if you had a measure of focus from zero to 10,

these are arbitrary units,

10 being maximally focused

and zero being not focused at all.

Imagine a U-shaped function, right?

Where if you’re very fasted,

you’re going to have a high degree

of focus and concentration.

But then if you ingest some food and your belly is full,

your focus and concentration is reduced.

But having enough blood glucose

and maybe even elevated blood glucose

will increase cognitive function.

So there are two ends of the spectrum.

On one end of the spectrum,

blood glucose is relatively low and you’re fasted

and you can think and behave in a very concentrated way.

And on the other end of the spectrum,

you have a lot of blood glucose,

or I should say sufficient blood glucose.

You never want your blood glucose to be too high.

And that allows your neurons to encode and perceive

and basically allow you to think really clearly.

So you sort of have to pick your condition.

What do you want for your balance of focus and concentration?

I actually do both.

So what I do is, as I mentioned before,

I eat my meal sometime around 11 a.m.,

my first meal typically,

unless I’m very hungry when I wake up.

And so I will do my workout and one bout of focused work.

I always think of this as my hard work early in the day.

And I do that fasted.

I’ll be consuming water with electrolytes,

maybe Element or other electrolytes,

maybe some caffeine as well

in the form of Yerba Mate or coffee.

That’s my first focus bout of 90 minutes or less.

That is essentially done fasted.

And then I’ll eat.

And then I do notice after I eat,

I actually have a diminished capacity to focus.

But then again, in the afternoon,

I will do another 90 minute bout of focus

and I’ll talk about some of the tools I use

to make sure that that bout of focus is optimal

for getting the most amount of focused work done,

whether or not it’s mental work or physical work,

although I tend to do my physical work early in the day

and my mental work both early and late in the day.

So to make this very simple,

or as simple as I can for you,

being fasted is great for focus and concentration,

provided you’re not thinking about food the entire time.

And being fed is terrific for focus and concentration,

because it actually can improve neuronal function

provided that you didn’t eat too much food.

So one way to manage this is if you’re going to have a lunch

to make sure that you don’t stuff yourself at lunch,

that you’re not overeating and to not get quite so full

that you push your nervous system

into this parasympathetic mode

and make it hard to focus in the afternoon.

I know a lot of people experience a dip

or even a crash in energy in the afternoon

that make it really hard to focus.

For that reason, I’ll just remind people of a tool

I’ve talked about many times before,

which is based on the biology of adenosine

and caffeine, et cetera,

which is to delay your first caffeine intake

to 90 to 120 minutes after waking up.

I know that can be painful for certain people.

I violate that rule when I’m working out

very early in the morning.

I’ll drink my caffeine before my workout,

which often occurs within 30 to 60 minutes of waking.

But in general, unless I’m working out very early,

I will ingest my caffeine 90 to 120 minutes

after I wake up.

So again, I want to emphasize

that if you hear somebody out there say

being fasted is optimal for focus and concentration,

well, that is true in one context

and perhaps ideal for a certain part of the day.

And other people will say,

no, you know, neurons run on glucose.

You need glucose in your bloodstream

in order to get those neurons to be tuned.

That is to respond with electrical activity

in the optimal way when you’re reading something

or when you’re trying to perform exercise.

Well, that’s also true.

And of course you can incorporate both.

I, in fact, as I just described,

incorporate both fasted states and fed states

in order to optimize my concentration and focus.

And as a brief note about ketosis,

for those of you that actually managed

to transition into ketosis

and are maintaining a ketogenic state,

that, as I mentioned earlier,

can enhance brain function, concentration, and focus

because of the way in which ketones can be used

as a so-called optimal fuel for neurons.

The ketogenic diet was originally designed, if you will,

for epilepsy.

It has a whole relationship to epilepsy

and controlling epileptic seizures.

And it can, in fact, allow people

to achieve focus-concentrated brain states.

So in the future, I’ll do an episode about ketosis

and be sure to circle back on how to optimize ketosis

for focus and concentration.

Although I have to believe

that most of the people listening to this

are probably not in ketosis or following a ketogenic diet.

So that’s why I mainly focused on fasted states

and fed states.

And just to make sure that I’m thorough,

a fasted state, to me, would be a state

in which you haven’t ingested any calories,

but may have ingested caffeine

or maybe even a small amount of artificial sweetener

or something like that,

but really haven’t ingested

any significant number of calories

in the previous four to eight or maybe even 12 hours.

And again, there’s tremendous variation here

depending on how long people have fasted,

whether or not we’re talking about the state

right after people wake up, et cetera.

Again, if you’re interested in intermittent fasting,

both for sake of mental and physical health and performance,

check out our episode on fasting at hubermanlab.com.

I also want to touch back on this idea

of which foods can increase focus.

You know, in the episode on ADHD that I did,

I touched on this quite a bit

as it relates to elimination diets.

You know, there’s a whole industry

and a ton of interest, for obvious reasons,

into what sorts of things kids and adults

should and shouldn’t eat

in order to reduce symptoms of ADHD.

I think that the sum total of those data

point to the fact that reducing simple sugar intake

and certainly highly processed foods,

so ice cream, candy, chips, et cetera,

those sorts of things really does seem to improve symptoms

of ADHD in both children and adults.

But once you move past that and you start to say,

well, which foods can improve concentration and focus?

Well, foods that, for instance, include a lot of tyrosine,

which is a precursor to dopamine,

and now you know why dopamine is important in this context,

are certainly going to increase concentration and focus.

So things like Parmesan cheese, certain meats, certain nuts,

you can look up which foods

contain high amounts of tyrosine.

There are also some fruits and vegetables

that include higher amounts of tyrosine.

But to be quite direct,

it doesn’t matter whether or not you’re ingesting foods

that are rich in the precursor amino acids to dopamine,

acetylcholine, et cetera,

if you are consuming large amounts of those foods.

That is, one can look and see, for instance,

that a steak includes a lot of the precursors

to acetylcholine.

It has amino acid precursors to dopamine as well,

and there are other foods that will do that as well.

But if I were to ingest, say, two ribeye steaks,

that’s a lot of meat,

and it will direct a lot of blood to my gut,

and it will cause me to be sleepy,

and that will create challenges in me

being able to achieve states of focus and concentration.

So the simple way to put this is,

if you eat too much or you eat a very large volume of food,

you are going to diminish your focus and concentration.

The key is to eat enough that you’re nourished

for the certain activities, mental and physical,

that you need to perform.

But if you’re eating large meals,

you are going to diminish your concentration and focus.

Period.

I know many people are curious as to whether or not caffeine

can improve focus and concentration, and indeed it can.

There is an immense amount of data supporting the idea

that caffeine, provided it’s consumed

in the appropriate dosages,

can improve mental performance and physical performance,

and it largely does that through improvements

in focus and concentration.

The dosage of caffeine, of course,

is going to depend on how caffeine adapted you are,

how much caffeine tolerance you have.

And that is going to vary tremendously

depending on whether or not you ingest that caffeine

with or without food, as I mentioned earlier.

But there is a kind of general range

in which we can talk about caffeine

as being useful for focus and concentration.

And the range is basically from 100 milligrams

to 400 milligrams.

I want to caution everybody out there.

If you’re somebody who suffers from anxiety

or panic attacks, and you’re not used to ingesting caffeine,

and you run out and ingest 400 milligrams of caffeine

in the form of espresso, or yerba mate,

or an energy drink, or in pill form,

that is going to be very uncomfortable for you.

You’re going to be sweating profusely.

Your heart rate is going to increase.

You’re going to be quite panicked, in fact,

or at least anxious.

So be cautious with your use and adopting of caffeine

if you’re not already caffeine adapted.

But most people do quite well

to ingest 100 to 200 milligrams of caffeine

prior to doing some focused work.

And again, I recommend delaying your caffeine intake

to 90 to 120 minutes after waking,

unless you are using that caffeine

to really jolt your system before a workout.

Caffeine can, of course, be ingested in various forms,

even pill form.

But most people ingest it in the form of coffee,

or my particular favorite way to ingest caffeine

is yerba mate.

It is important, and I should note,

that you should actively avoid

the smoked versions of yerba mate

as they contain a lot of carcinogenic

cancer-promoting compounds.

There’s some great yerba mate brands out there.

The most cost-effective way to consume it

would be to use the loose leaf tea

and to pour water over that.

There’s one particular brand that I like.

I don’t have any affiliation to them whatsoever,

but I’ve been using it for years.

It’s Anna Park.

It’s an organic brand that is sold.

I buy mine on Amazon,

but you can find it elsewhere on the internet as well.

Again, I don’t have any affiliation to them.

It’s just very cost-effective, very clean.

It doesn’t have the smoked flavor,

at least the one that I buy is not the smoked variety,

so none of the carcinogenic compounds are in there,

at least that I’m aware of.

And I like the way it tastes,

and it provides a very even lift and stimulant

that I think certainly works for me

and that a number of people I know

that have suggested to also enjoy.

Yerba mate or caffeine also have other additional benefits.

In particular, the caffeine in yerba mate and coffee

and other sources of caffeine

are known to increase the density and efficacy,

that is the number and the function of dopamine receptors.

And this has been shown in humans several times.

So by ingesting caffeine pretty regularly,

you’re actually increasing the ability of dopamine

to have this effect of increasing motivation and drive.

I tend to ingest caffeine only early in the day.

I tend to cut off my caffeine intake

somewhere around one or 2 p.m.

to ensure that I can get into a good night’s sleep.

But I realize that there are people out there

that ingest caffeine as late as two or three

in the afternoon and can still sleep fine.

I will caution those of you that think

that you can drink caffeine in the evening or nighttime

and still fall asleep.

All of the research points to the fact

that the architecture of your sleep

and the depth of your sleep is disrupted.

Even if you’re able to fall and stay asleep,

the sleep you’re getting is simply not as good

as the sleep you would get

if you were to shut off your caffeine intake

at least eight hours before bedtime,

and ideally more like 10 or even 12 hours

before bedtime.

But of course, there are practical constraints as well.

Okay, so caffeine is increasing dopamine’s function

by changing the number and efficacy of dopamine receptors.

But of course, it also increases our wakefulness,

our alertness, and that is largely

through the neurochemical systems related to adenosine,

which is a molecule that builds up in our brain and body

the longer we are awake.

It’s part of the sleepiness system, if you will.

Makes us feel fatigued or tired.

And caffeine also operates on the epinephrine,

the adrenaline system.

In fact, if we ingest too much caffeine,

we’ll sometimes get the jitters.

Those jitters are really the sympathetic,

as it’s called, nervous system’s bias toward movement.

And our pupils will dilate.

They actually get broader.

Now, somewhat paradoxically, when our pupils get bigger,

the pupils of our eyes, that is,

our visual world actually narrows.

It becomes more tunnel-like.

A lot of people don’t realize this.

When our pupils are really small,

that means we are relaxed.

So if you ever see someone with really tiny

or pin-sized pupils, they’re very relaxed.

If their pupils are very big, they’re very dilated,

well then, they are very amped up.

They are very, very alert.

Caffeine increases alertness by increasing epinephrine,

adrenaline release, both in the brain and within the body.

And so that’s another way that it facilitates

focus and concentration.

Now, there are other ways to increase epinephrine

in the brain and body besides caffeine or other stimulants.

And in fact, that has been studied.

There’s an excellent study that was carried out

not that long ago on how stress itself

can increase our ability to focus and concentrate.

That’s right, how stress itself

can increase focus and concentration.

You know, most people think of stress

as impairing our ability to focus,

but that’s actually not true.

When we are stressed, it involves the deployment,

the release of adrenaline, epinephrine,

and that adrenaline both changes our visual field,

in other words, it narrows our vision

to a more tunnel-like focus.

That is, it makes the arrow in our metaphor

of the arrow more sharp,

and it improves our concentration.

This makes sense given what we know about stress.

When we’re stressed, we tend to be stressed

about a specific thing.

We start anticipating or wondering or thinking about

what’s going to happen next, what led up to this?

How is this going to impact me?

How do I feel right now?

It really narrows the context

of our thinking and our behavior.

So one of my favorite studies that really illustrates

how stress can improve concentration and performance

is one that was published not that long ago,

and I will provide a link to this in the show notes.

It’s a paper published

in the journal Experimental Psychology in 2020.

The title of the paper is, not surprisingly,

Acute Stress Improves Concentration Performance,

first author DeGroote, D-E-G-R-O-O-T-E.

And this study involved taking a number of subjects

and stressing them out or not prior to a cognitive

or concentration task.

And there are a lot of data in this paper,

but I’m just going to home in on one specific set of data.

And I should mention as I go there that they measured things

like cortisol, a stress hormone, and they measured anxiety.

It was a quite thorough study.

And what they found was that concentration performance

improved many fold, I should say,

from there was a greater than doubling of concentration

and performance in the stress group.

And stress in this context was provided

using a standard way of inducing stress.

What they basically do is they bring subjects

into the laboratory and they have to either do something

fairly mundane in the control group,

or they have to do a simulated job interview,

an arithmetic task, and they’re being evaluated

as they’re doing this.

So this isn’t intense psychosocial stress.

They’re not watching anything disturbing.

They’re not being traumatized in any kind of way.

This is fairly low levels of stress that rates their levels

of epinephrine, and we know this from this study,

and other levels of cortisol and other stress hormone

modestly within their brain and blood.

But that even modest increase in these stress hormones

and their reported psychological levels of stress

really enhanced their focus and concentration.

This may come as surprising because you,

like many people think, gosh,

stress really diminishes cognitive performance,

but that’s absolutely wrong.

Stress improves cognitive performance.

Now, of course, there are other ways

to increase stress levels and to do that in healthy ways

to improve concentration and performance.

And one of the best ways to do that,

because it’s so sure fire and it’s generally safe,

provided you do it safely, is deliberate cold exposure.

This is something I’ve talked about on the podcast before,

but deliberate cold exposure can be achieved

by getting into a cold shower for one to five minutes.

If you’re not used to it,

you probably want to start with one minute,

or you can get into an ice bath,

or nowadays there are a number of different

commercial sources of circulating cold water,

or if you have access to a body of cold water,

like a lake or a pool or an ocean.

We know that getting into cold water or under cold water

greatly increases epinephrine levels

and dopamine levels in the brain and blood.

There’s a beautiful study that was published

in the European Journal of Physiology

that showed that the increases in dopamine are massive,

you know, near doubling or more of dopamine levels

that are very long lasting for hours.

And epinephrine and indeed cortisol levels

are also increased, and in ways that support

not just immune system function, because they do that,

and mood, because it does that,

but they can really improve concentration and focus.

I touched on this a little bit in an episode about memory,

that there’s an age-old practice,

really dating back to medieval times,

of putting people into cold water

right after they learn something

in order to spike, to increase their epinephrine

as a way to consolidate those memories.

For sake of today’s discussion,

if you’re interested in ways

to improve focus and concentration,

you need to increase your epinephrine,

your adrenaline levels.

Cold water exposure

is one of the most efficient ways to do that.

This is not a biohack.

I don’t like the word hack.

I know it’s commonly used,

but a hack is something where you’re using one thing

for a different purpose

than it was originally intended for.

And here, I’m not referring to the shower or the cold bath,

I’m referring to epinephrine.

Epinephrine is a neurochemical

that will place your vision into more of a tunnel mode,

which will allow you to focus on cognitive work

or physical work in a more specific way.

You’re not going to be as distractible.

And it’s very easy to achieve

by getting into a cold shower

or a cold body of water for a brief period of time.

People always ask how long to get under or into cold water

and how cold to make it.

Here’s the thing, it should be uncomfortably cold,

but safe to stay in for one to five minutes.

Okay, so uncomfortably cold that you really want to get out,

but safe to stay in.

Not so cold that it’s going to give you a heart attack

and not so warm that it’s comfortable

that it doesn’t create that adrenaline release.

Cold water exposure, I should say deliberate cold water

or non-deliberate cold water exposure,

reliably increases epinephrine levels.

It is incredibly useful as a tool for this.

And it is in fact zero cost or even negative zero cost.

How could it be negative zero cost?

Well, you can certainly save on your heating bill

by taking a cold shower, so that’s one way.

And for those of you that have access to devices

or locations where you can get into cold water,

you can submerge, well, then that can work.

For those of you that don’t, maybe you take a cold bath,

you get in up to your neck,

that’s going to be most efficient.

For those of you that can’t do that,

you’ll get under a cold shower.

Again, it should be uncomfortably cold

to the point where you want to get out,

but that you can safely stay in for one to five minutes.

How long should you do it before a work bout?

Well, if you get into really cold water,

it’s uncomfortably cold and get out

after about three minutes, you’re probably good to go.

Dry off and get to work.

Some of you might think this is a little bit silly

as a tool for focus and concentration,

but if you look at the data on epinephrine

and how powerfully it can increase focus,

I think you’d be very impressed.

I mean, it certainly can increase one’s ability

to attend to specific visual stimuli.

So for reading or math work, et cetera,

it’s going to be very useful.

And of course, you don’t want to make it so cold

that you’re shivering and chattering the whole time.

And of course you could, if you like,

combine this with 40 Hertz binaural beats.

There’s no reason why you couldn’t combine

the two protocols.

But the point here is that a lot of people would love to,

and I think ought to, leverage the health-promoting

and powerful effects of increasing epinephrine

on focus and concentration.

And running out and getting stressed by a life event

or getting into an argument or something like that

simply as a way to increase focus and concentration

doesn’t seem that adaptive to me.

So deliberate cold exposure is a straightforward way

to do that.

It doesn’t involve anyone else.

I suppose you could do it with somebody else,

but it doesn’t require anyone else.

And again, there are zero, low,

and even negative cost ways to approach that.

If you’d like to know how long the positive effects

of epinephrine last toward improving focus

and concentration, well, if we look to that study

from DeGroote et al.,

the Acute Stress Improves Cognitive Performance Study,

they measured concentration before and 30 minutes

after the stress was induced.

And there does appear to be a quite long-lasting,

really up to an hour or more,

effect of increasing epinephrine.

So how might you apply these sorts of protocols

early in the day or later in the day?

Well, one suggestion or one potential protocol would be

if you’re going to sit down and do some work,

if you’re already feeling alert and focused,

no need to reach to this tool.

But if you’re feeling like your focus and alertness

isn’t quite where you’d like it to be,

you could take a three-minute very cold shower

or submerge yourself in cold water for three minutes.

You might have a cup of coffee as well,

and then sit down and do that work.

Maybe even throw in the 40 Hertz binaural beats.

All of that would be layering in the different systems,

the different neurochemicals,

such as acetylcholine, epinephrine, and dopamine

that are going to lend themselves

to a really terrific 90-minute or less workabout.

Now I’d like to discuss some of the purely behavioral tools

that quality peer-reviewed science say

can improve focus and concentration significantly.

At the beginning of today’s episode,

I talked about the study from Dr. Wendy Suzuki’s lab,

where they explored a 13-minute meditation

done every day for a period of eight weeks.

That meditation led to significant improvements

in focus and concentration ability,

as well as other aspects of cognitive performance.

It also improved mood and reduced stress.

So you might be wondering what exactly is this meditation?

The meditation is very simple,

and it’s one that anyone can perform.

What you would want to do is set a timer

for about 13 minutes.

I don’t think it has to be exactly 13 minutes,

but since that’s what they included in the study,

you would set a timer for 13 minutes.

You would sit or lie down, close your eyes,

and you would simply focus on your breathing.

Most people are going to benefit

from only doing that breathing through their nose,

but if you have some sort of obstruction

or inability to breathe just through your nose,

you could probably also do it by breathing

through your nose and mouth or just your mouth.

But ideally, you would do just nasal breathing

for a period of 13 minutes,

concentrating on that breathing,

and concentrating, meaning bringing your awareness,

your so-called interoceptive awareness,

if you wanted to get really technical about it,

your interoceptive awareness to a point

just about an inch inside of your forehead.

Now, of course, that might sound kind of gory

to some of you who’ve never actually

been inside your forehead,

but just about an inch behind your forehead

is where you would want to place your concentration

while also concentrating on your breathing.

Now, here’s the thing about meditation

that all studies of meditation show,

which is that unless you are a very experienced meditator,

your concentration, your focus will drift

away from your breathing and away from that location

about an inch inside your head, inside your brain,

about just behind your forehead.

That will happen maybe every 10 seconds,

every 20 seconds, maybe even every five seconds.

But an important part of such a meditation practice

to improve concentration and focus

is that you are continually refocusing

back to that specific location

and refocusing back on your breath.

This is something that, again, is not often discussed.

People think that if you do a meditation

and you’re supposed to concentrate on your breath,

that if your mind drifts,

that somehow you failed in that meditation,

but actually that’s not the case.

A huge component of improving your ability

to focus and concentrate by way of neural plasticity,

rewiring of the circuits for focus and concentration

is the repeated return to a state of focus

from a state of non-focus or diminished focus, okay?

So think about it like trying to drive down the freeway

and staying between the lane lines, excuse me,

and every once in a while,

because there’s a bit of drift on the vehicle,

maybe the wheels aren’t aligned correctly

or there’s something else wrong with the chassis

or the steering device,

it starts to drift right a little bit.

Then you hit the rumble strip to go,

and then you pull back to the center.

That’s really what a focused meditation practice is about,

as opposed to expecting yourself

to stay between the mental lane lines, so to speak.

So if you’re somebody who’s going to do a practice

of the sort that I described,

13-minute meditation practice every day,

you’d want to sit or lie down, close your eyes,

start to concentrate on your breath,

focus your attention on a location

about an inch behind your forehead,

and then fully expect that at some point

you’ll be thinking about something else,

and that’s a cue to focus back to that location,

just about an inch behind your forehead

and back to your breath.

By doing that repeatedly over and over,

what you’re really training up

is the network within your brain

that indeed includes that prefrontal cortex

that you’re focusing on,

as well as some other structures,

the inferotemporal cortex, indeed the hippocampus,

a structure associated with memory,

and other components of the neural circuit

that are involved in directing

our mental focus and concentration.

Again, I can’t emphasize the importance

of this practice being one of focusing and refocusing.

In fact, I would prefer to call such a practice

a refocus-focused meditation,

or a constantly refocusing,

or maybe you all can come up with a better name for it.

I’m certainly not that good at naming things.

But this sort of meditation practice

has been shown in the study by the Suzuki Lab

and other studies to really improve people’s ability

to focus and remain focused,

so much so that in the beautiful book,

Altered States,

they describe a number of different meditation practices,

some a little bit longer than the one that I described,

one that’s 17 minutes, another one that’s 30 minutes.

Some people will meditate as long as 60 minutes a day,

although that’s quite a long time, in my opinion.

The point here isn’t how long you focus,

or somehow trying to achieve total focus

for the entire 13-minute, or 17-minute,

or 60-minute bout of meditation.

While that would be wonderful,

and I think many people aspire to do that,

that’s a lot of hard mental work.

I think for most people out there, including myself,

a relatively short meditation practice of about 13 minutes,

in which you fully expect your focus

and concentration to drift,

but that you are continually refocusing

is going to be the most effective.

Yes, indeed, the most effective at teaching yourself

to focus and stay concentrated.

In fact, I invite you to interpret every time

that you focus off that location

about one inch behind your forehead

as an opportunity to refocus

and think about the refocusing as the trigger

for teaching your neural circuits

how to focus for extended periods of time.

And as a bonus to that sort of meditation practice,

the study from Wendy Suzuki’s lab also showed

that people experience improvements in sleep

and improvements in memory.

So not just improvements in mood and reduction in stress

and improvements in focus and concentration,

but all these other positive benefits

from just doing that 13-minute-a-day meditation practice.

It’s one that I’ve started to adopt

and have felt tremendous benefit from,

and that I encourage many of you to try as well.

The one cautionary note is the one that I mentioned

at the beginning of the episode,

which is because the refocus, as I’ll call it,

meditation does involve a significant amount of effort

and engagement of these prefrontal cortical circuits,

it is disruptive to sleep

if performed too closely to sleep.

So if you are going to do that practice,

I recommend that you not do it

within the four hours prior to your bedtime.

Earlier, I mentioned that I would talk about ways

to improve focus if you are sleep-deprived.

This is something that I’m all too familiar with.

I put a lot of effort into optimizing my sleep.

That’s something that with each passing year,

I put more and more effort into, again,

because sleep is so vital for mental health,

physical health, and performance of all kinds.

But certainly in my role as a student,

in my role as a professor, and in my role in life,

I’ve had numerous times

in which I simply did not get enough sleep

or my sleep was terrible for whatever reason,

and yet I still had work demands and social demands,

et cetera.

One practice that is very effective

at allowing you to focus better than you would otherwise

under conditions of sleep deprivation

is so-called non-sleep deep rest, or NSDR.

This is also referred to sometimes as yoga nidra.

Yoga nidra actually means yoga sleep.

Yoga nidra is a practice of lying down

for about 10 to 30, sometimes even as long as 60 minutes.

You listen to a script, it’s an audio script,

that takes you through a progressive deep relaxation.

It involves a body scan, some long exhale breathing.

It is very restorative in the sense

that one tends to emerge from yoga nidra or NSDR

feeling greatly refreshed

compared to how you felt prior to it.

There is also terrific neuroimaging data

from laboratories in Denmark

showing that there’s a restoration of dopamine levels

in the so-called basal ganglia after NSDR, aka yoga nidra.

Whether or not you call it yoga nidra or NSDR,

which is what I refer to it as, non-sleep deep rest,

you can find these scripts at zero cost, multiple places.

You can find there are certain apps

that are NSDR or yoga nidra apps.

There is a NSDR protocol that was put out there by Madefor,

which is on YouTube that you can access for free.

There is a NSDR, or I should say a number of NSDR protocols

through the Virtusan app.

There are, again, number of different places

that one can access NSDR protocols.

I do NSDR for 10 to 30 minutes per day, every single day,

not just on days where I’m sleep-deprived.

If I happen to be sleep-deprived,

I would extend that NSDR to 30 or 60 minutes.

And when you do that NSDR

will depend on when you have time for that NSDR.

When I haven’t slept well,

what I’ll try and do is find a quiet place

where I can do NSDR for 30 or ideally 60 minutes.

Sometimes I will fall back asleep during that NSDR.

That’s fine if you do that,

but most people will stay awake during the NSDR.

And then I’ll emerge from that and go about my day.

If in the afternoon I’m very fatigued

because of lack of sleep,

I might do another NSDR of 10 to 30 or 60 minutes,

and then another work bout.

Again, NSDR is something I do every day.

I talk a lot about this in the episodes related to sleep

because it can help you get better at falling

and staying asleep at night,

in addition to feeling restorative

in that immediate timeframe of the day

in which you do NSDR.

So it’s immensely beneficial at various times

and for various purposes.

But here within the context of trying to concentrate

and focus when you’re sleep deprived,

NSDR, aka yoga nidra, is an immensely beneficial practice.

There’s growing amounts of quality science

pointing to the neurochemical replenishing effects,

as I mentioned before, dopamine,

but also the potential for NSDR

to replace sleep that you’ve lost.

I would never want anyone to try and use NSDR

as a total replacement for sleep,

but under conditions in which you cannot control your sleep,

NSDR is going to be the best way

that I am aware of to restore your ability

to focus and concentrate for whatever purpose.

And if you emerge from your NSDR

and then drink some caffeine,

you’ll notice an even greater capacity

for focus and concentration

for all the reasons directly related to caffeine.

So again, NSDR is a general tool

for enhancing your ability to sleep.

And it’s a tool that you can use

in order to compensate for,

at least to some degree,

compensate for lost sleep

when you need to focus and concentrate.

One thing that really contrasts NSDR and yoga nidra

with the sort of focus meditation

that I talked about a few minutes ago,

the 13-minute meditation,

is that during the 13-minute meditation,

you’re actively trying to refocus and focus,

whereas during NSDR and yoga nidra,

you’re actually trying to defocus.

So you can think of the 13-minute meditation

for refocusing and focusing

as directly tapping into and mediating improvements

in the circuitry for focus and concentration,

whereas you can think of NSDR and yoga nidra

as modulating your brain and body state

to allow you to focus and concentrate better.

Now, another tool that you can use

to directly tap into the circuits

for focus and concentration

and to greatly accelerate neuroplasticity,

the improvements, or I should say,

the changes in those circuits

that will allow you to focus and concentrate better,

is hypnosis.

A lot of people hear hypnosis

and they think stage hypnosis,

you know, people squawking like chickens

and doing things against their will.

But actually hypnosis is a atypical

but highly accessible brain state

that’s been studied with a lot of rigor

at Stanford University School of Medicine

by my colleague, Dr. David Spiegel.

He’s been a guest on this podcast previously.

Hypnosis is a unique brain state

because it’s one in which you are deeply focused

and yet deeply relaxed.

So to just sort of set up the array of practices here

so you can think about them logically,

the focus-refocus meditation is based on

and focused on focus, no pun intended.

NSDR and yoga nidra are aimed at deep relaxation.

Hypnosis is this atypical, very powerful brain state

in which you combine high levels of focus

and deep relaxation.

Now it’s a little bit of a tough one

to just take oneself into,

but fortunately there’s a tool

based on a lot of quality peer-reviewed research

from the Spiegel Lab and other labs,

and that is the Reveri app, R-E-V-E-R-I.

The Reveri app is available for no cost,

at least for a period of time,

and then I think they place certain elements

of it behind a paywall,

but you can try it zero cost.

It’s available for Apple soon,

I think also to be available for Android,

and they have specific hypnosis protocols

that you listen to, and these are very brief protocols.

Follow the instructions.

You’re listening to a particular audio script

of David Spiegel himself,

and some progressive breathing

and actually some eye movements

that are directly linked to the neural circuits

that allow for these highly focused, deeply relaxed states.

And there are components within the Reveri app

specifically geared towards

improving focus and concentration.

So again, there’s meditation for focus,

there’s deliberate decompression, NSDR, yoga nidra,

which take you into deep relaxation,

and then hypnosis is this very special,

very directed state of highly focused

and highly relaxed, or I should say deeply relaxed,

that allow access to the neural circuits

for focusing concentration

and allow you to tune those up

and to improve those very significantly

in a very brief amount of time.

And again, some of those hypnosis scripts

are as short as eight minutes,

some are as long as 13 minutes.

So what we’re really talking about here

are zero cost tools that directly tap

into the neural circuits,

the components within your brain

that allow for deep relaxation,

allow for deep focus,

and improve your ability to focus and concentrate over time

simply by repeating these.

How often do you need to repeat the Reveri hypnosis

for focus and concentration before you see benefits?

Well, that will vary from person to person.

I tend to use it once every third or fourth day

and have experienced tremendous benefits from it.

I don’t think I’m unique in that sense.

They have a lot of data to support this Reveri app

and the protocols within it.

How long do you have to do NSDR

before you experience those benefits?

There, I would say the first time and every time

because it’s so deeply relaxing

that you emerge from it feeling quite restored

relative to how you went into it.

And as I mentioned earlier in the study on meditation,

it took about eight weeks to see the effects

that they observed in that study,

but they didn’t observe shorter time points.

So I highly encourage people to explore meditation

geared towards focus and refocus,

also NSDR, non-sleep deep rest, aka Yoga Nidra,

and the Reveri app,

specifically the hypnosis within the Reveri app

that’s geared towards improving focus and concentration.

All of these have terrific science to support them.

This is not woo science or hacks

or just something that people came up with.

This is all grounded in work

from some of the best universities in the world,

from excellent groups

who’ve looked at underlying neural mechanisms

and measured things with a lot of rigor, et cetera, et cetera.

These tools are available to you.

I highly recommend that you use them.

And if you’re interested

in the optimal time of day to do these,

we already mentioned that the focus refocus meditation

shouldn’t be done too close to sleep.

The Reveri hypnosis app can be done at any time.

Really, in fact,

there’s a component of falling back asleep in there.

In other words, a hypnosis

specifically geared toward helping people

teach themselves to fall back asleep

when they wake up in the middle of the night.

NSDR, I always say, can be done first thing in the morning,

in the afternoon, or any time of day.

And in fact, I’ll sometimes do that

in the middle of the night

if I happen to wake up and need to get back to sleep.

So really these tools can be applied most any time of day,

except for that one caveat

about the focus refocus meditation

not being done too close to sleep.

Now there’s another set of behavioral tools

that can really help enhance one’s ability to focus.

And those are visual-based tools.

In fact, the tools I’m about to describe

are actually being employed in a number of schools

in China and elsewhere in order to teach children

to focus better and for longer periods of time.

The key principle here is that

much of our cognitive focus,

our ability to think about something in a very specific way

and stay focused on it to read

or to follow a line of conversation

or math or music, et cetera,

is going to be directed by our visual system.

Our visual system has two forms of attention and focus.

One is overt focus, which is very straightforward.

If I’m looking at the tip of my pen,

for those of you listening right now,

I’m looking at the tip of my pen, that’s overt focus.

I’m focusing on it with my eyes.

And of course the rest of my brain then will follow

and start to analyze the details of what I’m seeing,

the contours of the pen, et cetera.

It seems sort of obvious when you first hear it,

but our cognitive focus tends to follow

our overt visual focus.

That’s also why they put blinders on horses.

That’s also why sometimes wearing a hoodie or a hat

or limiting your visual field in some way

can help you enhance your cognitive focus.

It can help limit distraction.

You’re just not seeing as much.

It’s also why when we ingest caffeine

or any kind of stimulant or we are stressed

and our pupils dilate and our vision becomes

more tunnel-like, less panoramic, but more tunnel-like,

you know, they say a soda straw view of the world

where you’re looking through a tunnel,

your focus, your visual focus is actually driving

your cognitive focus.

Your cognitive focus is narrower than it would be

if you were seeing the whole scene that you’re in.

So when you hear this, it sounds obvious,

but for many people, including many scientists,

it’s just not obvious that this would be the case.

However, that is the case.

Your visual focus drives your cognitive focus.

So what is a practice that has been studied

in various laboratories and that’s being employed

in various schools is to have children or adults

visually focus on one location for a given period of time.

How long?

Anywhere from 30 seconds to three minutes.

And believe it or not, three minutes is a long time

to maintain visual focus at one location.

If you were to try that right now,

you’d probably find it to be a bit of a strain,

but if you want to try it, you can.

Keep in mind, you, yes, are allowed to blink,

but also keep in mind that meditation refocusing practice

that we talked about earlier,

that the refocusing is the key component

of teaching yourself or your brain,

you are your brain, your brain is you,

but to teach yourself how to focus better.

So if you’re going to incorporate this practice,

what you would want to do is pick a location.

It could be on a wall,

it could be on your computer in front of you,

although I would encourage it to not be the contents

of your computer screen.

You might just want to blank your screen.

You might want to put a piece of paper

with a crosshatch there, any sort of visual target,

or you can imagine a visual target,

and then focus your visual attention on that target

and try to breathe normally, try and stay relaxed,

and certainly allow yourself to blink

so that your eyes don’t dry out.

This is not a test of how long you can go without blinking.

By focusing on that particular location

and by forcing yourself to refocus on that location,

anytime your gaze, your vision drifts from that location,

you are encouraging the circuits for focus

to get better at focusing for longer and longer

and at refocusing when your focus drifts off

of that location.

This is incorporating neural circuits,

including the prefrontal cortex,

things like the frontal eye fields.

For those of you curious about the underlying biology,

this practice is recruiting certain elements

of your so-called prefrontal cortex,

also the frontal eye fields,

which are locations not far from the prefrontal cortex

that are involved in deliberately directing your gaze

to particular locations in space, not outer space,

although you could do this by focusing on stars, I suppose,

but in visual space.

Now, I mentioned before

that this is overt visual focus and attention.

You are overtly looking at that location,

but one also very powerful practice

for improving focus and concentration

is to use covert focus.

Covert focus is where my gaze,

my eyes are focused on one location, such as my pen,

but my focus is actually directed elsewhere

in the room or location that I’m in.

My mind and, to some extent, my peripheral vision

is focused, in this case, on the door just to my left

in the room that I’m in.

That takes a little bit more effort.

This is something that all old world primates,

of which we are old world primates, are able to do,

and it probably evolved as part of the mechanism

by which animals could evaluate their scene,

evaluate predators, evaluate other primates

while not necessarily staring at them directly

so they can obtain information.

We can obtain information

without having to direct our gaze

specifically to one location.

Maybe we can obtain information from multiple locations.

Indeed, we can.

Without getting too far down the rabbit hole

of how vision and cognition relate,

because we’ve done episodes on that previously,

and simply focusing on the tools

that can be incorporated to improve focus and concentration,

here’s what I recommend.

Set yourself a low bar at first and set a timer

and try to focus on one location for 30 seconds,

and that’s it for that day.

The next day, you might add five seconds,

and then the next day, five seconds after that.

If you miss a day, no big deal.

Simply do the practice for the same amount of time

that you did the last time that you did the practice,

and then gradually try and increase the amount of time

that you can focus on one visual location overtly

by looking directly at that location.

If you like, and if you feel you have the ability,

you can try and do this through covert attention and focus

by looking straightforward, for instance,

and attending to something in the corner of the room

and trying to do that for 30 seconds.

You’ll find that that’s quite a bit harder,

and then extending that by five seconds

every time you do the practice.

This is something that I don’t think

you necessarily have to build up to being able to do

for a full hour in order to extract the benefits.

In fact, the best way to think about this practice

is as a means to get into a focused state.

If you remember back about an hour or so ago,

I was talking about how focused states

are not a drop all the way in and then exit type phenomenon.

We don’t just drop into a focused state

the same way we don’t drop into the peak performance

of a workout, we warm up.

So what I recommend is having a 30 second

to three minute period at the beginning of about a focus

where you’re going to do work or physical work,

and anchoring your vision to one location

somewhere in the room, or if you want to do it covertly,

setting a timer and trying to do that

for anywhere from 30 seconds to three minutes.

What you’re doing when you exercise that practice

is you are ramping up neural activity

within the neural circuits

that create focus and concentration.

Then I would stop looking at that location

or that covert location,

and then I would move to the work that you’re trying to do,

either mental work or physical work.

And if about halfway through your 90 minute bout,

or at some point in your 90 minute bout of work or exercise,

you feel that your concentration is drifting,

rather than look at your phone

and scroll through the thousands of contexts

that exist within social media or your phone,

try just picking a location again on the wall,

focusing back on that location,

using that as a ramp up to then direct your focus

back towards if your weight training sets and reps

that you might be performing.

If you’re running, you might do this,

or cycling, you might do this

by focusing on a particular location

and really homing in on that location physically.

And this is a practice that a lot of athletes use, in fact.

And if you’re say doing musical practice or math,

well, then you’d want to focus on something

other than the task that you’re trying to perform.

But again, using visual focus as a way to ramp up

and increase your overall ability to focus and concentrate,

and then applying that to whatever it is

that you’re trying to learn or perform.

Next, I’d like to talk about compounds

that can improve concentration and focus.

And these are most often consumed as supplements,

although some of them I should mention

can also be derived from food.

Again, I just want to remind you that there are things,

in this case compounds,

that can modulate a biological mechanism.

That is, can modulate focus and concentration.

And there are compounds that can mediate,

can directly contribute to concentration and focus.

One of the key compounds

that supports concentration and focus,

because it generally supports mood,

concentration, and focus, and brain function in general,

are the omega-3 essential fatty acids.

I’ve talked about the omega-3 essential fatty acids

in a variety of contexts, in particular depression,

but also ADHD.

There are interesting data on that.

And it’s really clear that getting somewhere

between one and three grams of EPA,

that is one to three grams of EPA,

essential fatty acid per day, can improve outcomes.

That is, can improve mood

and can improve cognitive function.

And while there’s some debate

about whether or not it can improve cardiac function,

it’s very clear, at least to me,

that ingesting one to three grams

of EPA essential fatty acids per day is beneficial.

But again, in the context of focus and concentration,

it’s in modulating the neural circuits and brain function

that are going to support focus and concentration.

It’s not as if taking one to three grams

of EPA essential fatty acids per day

is going to tap directly into only the circuits

for focus and concentration.

That said, and as discussed on the episode

of the Huberman Lab podcast with Dr. Rhonda Patrick

and on the episode on ADHD that I did

and on the episode on depression that I did,

I make it a point to ingest one to three grams

of EPAs per day.

You can get those EPAs from other sources

besides supplements, of course,

but supplements are going to be the easiest way to do that.

You could do that through liquid form, fish oil,

cod liver oil, some people who are vegan

opt for other sources of EPAs.

You can find those out there, certainly.

Some people even use prescription EPAs

to get the dosage really high.

Dr. Rhonda Patrick talked about this in the episode with me.

That’s actually something that she does.

I don’t take the prescription form.

I get them through pill form

through our supplement affiliate, which is Momentous.

But there are a number of different quality sources

of EPAs out there.

And some of those quality sources also include things

like fatty fish, algae, and things of that sort.

So I’ll leave it to you as to whether or not

you supplement with omega-3 fatty acids

in order to get that one to three grams per day

or whether or not you do it through food.

But I would encourage you to try and reach that threshold

because there are a number of known positive effects

for mood and brain function generally.

The other thing that can positively modulate brain function

and that actually works as a fuel for neurons to function

and can improve cognitive performance

in particular within the brain circuits

such as the prefrontal cortex that are involved

in concentration and focus is creatine.

I know many people are familiar with creatine monohydrate

for its effects on muscle growth

and strength and performance.

But it’s quite clear that the bulk of scientific studies

have examined the role of creatine in the clinical context

and as its role in improving cognitive performance.

So my read of the literature has led to a practice

in which I ingest five grams per day

of creatine monohydrate,

the sort of standard form that’s available in.

This is generally available as a powder.

That’s certainly how I take it.

I take the creatine powder.

I’ll mix it with water or with my athletic greens

or some sort of electrolyte drink,

whatever liquid happens to be convenient to ingest that in.

The time of day doesn’t really seem to be important.

Some people are strong believers

in consuming creatine post-workout.

While that might be beneficial,

I simply take it in the morning or post-workout.

It sort of depends on when I remember to take it.

But that five grams of creatine per day,

in my case, really isn’t geared towards muscle growth

or strength or performance

as much as geared toward tapping

into the creatine phosphate system within the brain

and specifically the benefits of creatine

for prefrontal cortical networks.

Again, modulating, not directly mediating,

but modulating and generally supporting

the brain networks that are going to allow me

to generate focus and concentration.

So much like sleep, much like omega-3 fatty acids,

creatine monohydrate five grams a day

seems to generally support brain function,

which will generally support concentration and focus.

Now, in terms of compounds

that more specifically mediate concentration and focus,

we have to go back to that arrow metaphor model

that we talked about at the beginning of the episode

that included epinephrine, adrenaline, acetylcholine,

which acts as this attentional spotlight.

In fact, acetylcholine and elevated levels of acetylcholine

have been shown over and over again

through beautiful work from Mike Merzenich’s lab at UCSF

and the Kilgard lab down in Houston

and a number of other labs,

including Norm Weinberger’s lab at UC Irvine again,

to improve or even directly gate neuroplasticity

by increasing focus directly.

That’s a lot of word soup,

but basically what happens is

if acetylcholine transmission is increased

even transiently within the brain,

there’s a greater opportunity

for neuroplasticity to take place.

And the reason there’s a greater opportunity

for neuroplasticity, aka learning, to take place

is by way of the increased focus

that spiking acetylcholine can provide.

As I mentioned earlier,

there are a number of different foods which contain choline.

You can look those up online.

Choline acting as an amino acid precursor to acetylcholine,

but of course there are compounds,

there are supplements that can further

and more acutely increase acetylcholine,

and indeed I use these myself.

The most effective one I’ve found is alpha-GPC.

Alpha-GPC consumed at dosages of 300 milligrams

to 600 milligrams prior to a workout

greatly increase one’s ability to focus and concentrate.

At least that’s been my experience.

And there are some good data in humans.

So how would I use alpha-GPC?

I would use alpha-GPC by taking it about 10 to 20 minutes

prior to any time I want to focus

or concentrate very deeply.

I’ve taken as much as 600 milligrams at one time,

although I find that 300 milligrams is enough for me

and I tend to be quite sensitive to supplements

and caffeine in general,

so I’ll sometimes take it alongside Yerba Mate

or with Yerba Mate or with coffee prior to a workout

or prior to a bout of work

in which I’m focusing on mental work.

So it could be reading, writing,

could be math, could be data analysis,

could be anything where I need

a lot of focus and concentration.

Now, a number of people have contacted me

about a recent study suggesting that alpha-GPC,

when taken chronically over many years,

could increase one’s vulnerability to stroke.

I’ve looked at those data and my read of the data

is that they’re not very conclusive,

although anytime you see something like that,

you know, a study that’s pointing to the fact

that a given compound might increase

the propensity for stroke,

you obviously want to be concerned.

So we have to ask ourselves how,

by what mechanism that is,

could alpha-GPC be increasing the susceptibility to stroke?

And it seems to be related to increases in TMAO,

which is a marker related to the cardiovascular system.

One known way to offset increases in TMAO

that are associated either with alpha-GPC

or increases due to other things,

so ingestion of particular food compounds

actually can increase TMAO,

is to offset that by taking 600 milligrams of garlic.

Now, I’ve been taking alpha-GPC pretty consistently

for a number of years.

I do not take it every day.

I would say I take it about four days per week,

again, prior to workouts or bouts of cognitive work.

I have not seen my TMAO spike,

and I’ve evaluated that by way of blood tests,

but nonetheless, I take 600 milligrams of garlic

in capsule form anytime I eat anyway,

and I do that for general cardiovascular function,

and there’s some interesting data

on immune system function, et cetera, for garlic.

So I’ve been consuming 600 milligram capsules of garlic

for some period of time.

Some days I’ll ingest just one 600 milligram capsule,

other times I’ll take two,

but based on this recent study

and the concerns about TMAO,

I make it a point to always ingest

a 600 milligram capsule of garlic

anytime I take alpha-GPC,

which again, for me, is about four days per week.

So in our model of attention and focus,

you can now clearly see why taking alpha-GPC,

which increases acetylcholine transmission,

would be beneficial for concentration and focus,

and why taking it with a double espresso

or why taking it with yerba mate

would further increase concentration and focus

because as I mentioned earlier,

caffeine is going to increase epinephrine.

It’s also going to increase the density

of dopamine receptors,

and the alpha-GPC is going to increase acetylcholine,

this spotlighting for cognition,

this ability to really amplify the activity

of specific neural networks,

which is largely what’s happening

when you’re trying to focus

and pay attention to something specifically.

So if one wants to increase

the amount of dopamine transmission in the brain and body

for sake of increasing concentration and focus,

one of the most efficient ways to do that

is by ingestion of the amino acid L-tyrosine.

Again, L-tyrosine can be derived from food sources.

I invite you to look up those various food sources

on the web, simply go to a web browser

and put in foods that contain a lot of L-tyrosine,

and you’ll get a rich array of choices to select from.

But in my case, I use L-tyrosine in capsule form.

I will take 500 milligrams of L-tyrosine,

300 milligrams of alpha-GPC, and a cup of coffee.

I’m careful to do this early in the day,

certainly not after two or 3 p.m.,

because I don’t want to diminish my ability

to fall and stay asleep that night.

Do this early in the day before a workout

or before a bout of concentrated mental work.

Again, I tend to do this about four days per week,

so certainly not every time I sit down to do work.

And I should also mention

that I still tend to do the behavioral tools.

I’ll tend to use five minutes of binaural beats

or binaural beats throughout the work session,

sometimes do an ice bath or a cold shower before.

I don’t want to give the impression

that I combine every tool that I’ve talked about today

for a given work bout.

I mean, that would be pretty wild too.

Take a cold shower, pop an L-tyrosine,

take an alpha-GPC, drink two espresso,

listen to binaural beats.

That, to me, seems like a very inefficient way

to go about life.

In fact, I make it a point to try and use tools

to increase my ability to concentrate and focus,

but not to combine more than two or three of them

at any one time.

And when I say two or three,

what I mean is I will use supplements like alpha-GPC,

L-tyrosine, and caffeine together before certain work bouts.

I might use the visual practice

of focusing on a given location for a minute

before I begin that work bout.

I might combine those.

Then another time,

I might take a cold shower prior to doing some work.

Other days, I confess, I’ve slept very well,

or my enthusiasm about what I’m about to work on

is such that I don’t require any of these tools.

Again, there’s no requirement.

There’s no pressure to use any of these tools,

behavioral, supplement-based, or otherwise.

It’s simply a matter of using the tools

that are going to allow you to achieve the states

you want to achieve and to improve your ability

to go into those states without any help at all.

And this is what I find

particularly attractive about supplements.

It’s not so much that they put you

into the ideal state for that work,

and then you accomplish that work,

and then you always rely on those supplements.

I prefer to look at supplements of the sort

that I just described as a route

into a deeper trench of focus and concentration

that I use as a tool to teach myself

to focus and concentrate more deeply,

such that I don’t need those tools every single time

I try and focus and concentrate.

I think this is an important point

because I think that many people think of supplements

as a crutch or a way of simply getting into a state

for which no other tool will suffice or replace.

But in that context,

I want to remind you of the larger context of pharmacology,

which is the vast landscape of prescription pharmacology

for ADHD, for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Now, I covered that landscape in intense detail

on the episode on ADHD and focus.

And just to summarize, there is, of course,

Adderall, Ritalin, Vyvanse, Modafinil, R-Modafinil,

a number of different compounds,

all of which generally increase

dopamine transmission in the brain, so increasing dopamine,

and all of which generally increase epinephrine,

adrenaline transmission in the brain and body.

And many of those compounds have been of tremendous benefit

to children and even some adults who suffer from ADHD.

So properly prescribed at the appropriate dosage,

those compounds can really help people

with clinically diagnosed ADHD.

The way they help those people is a bit surprising,

however.

You might think, well, they turn on the brain chemicals

that allow those people to concentrate and focus.

That’s true, but they also have the benefit

of teaching those brain circuits how to engage.

And that’s one of the reasons why somewhat paradoxically

giving a stimulant like Ritalin or Adderall

to a kid that legitimately needs it.

Obviously, you don’t want to do this without the oversight

and careful evaluation of a psychiatrist,

but giving that to a kid who has severe ADHD,

you would think would make them more rambunctious,

less able to focus, and more distractible overall.

After all, Ritalin, modafinil, armodafinil,

all these things are stimulants.

So you take a kid who has attention deficit

hyperactivity disorder and give them these drugs

that increase transmission of dopamine and epinephrine,

you’d think, wow, it’s going to make them

even more distractible and hyperactive.

And indeed, it has the opposite effect.

It doesn’t necessarily make them feel calm,

but it makes them feel that they can focus.

They really can anchor their attention.

And the idea is that it’s teaching those neural circuits,

or those neural circuits rather are teaching themselves

to engage and to focus and concentrate.

And the ideal situation is one in which the total dosage

of those compounds, those drugs can be reduced over time

as those circuits learn to come online

through purely behavioral tools.

Now, oftentimes there’s a maintenance of those drugs

over long periods of time,

although there is a common practice nowadays

of trying to diminish the dosage overall.

That’s in the context of ADHD and prescription medication.

And I acknowledge that a lot, indeed,

80% or more of college students, say the statistics,

are using prescription drugs when they are not in fact

prescribed those prescription drugs.

So basically what I’m saying is there are a lot of people

using drugs designed for ADHD and narcolepsy

because those drugs will effectively increase focus

and concentration, but I strongly discourage the use

of powerful prescription drugs

that have not been prescribed to you.

First of all, it’s illegal.

Second of all, it’s quite dangerous to hit the accelerator

of those neural circuits with such vigor

because it can increase dependency

and they can have a number of other side effects

outside the context of clinically diagnosed

and prescribed ADHD medication.

But in the context of supplementation,

the increase in dopamine, acetylcholine, and epinephrine

that one can achieve from say 500 milligrams of L-tyrosine,

300 milligrams of alpha-GPC, and a cup of coffee

is going to be substantially less

than one would see for a prescription drug.

So you’re getting a modest effect

that can similarly teach those brain circuits

for focus and concentration how to engage better.

But as a general backdrop to all of this,

I always say, and I’ll say it again and again,

probably until the day I die,

which hopefully is a long time from now,

but regardless, it’ll be the same message.

I always believe that behavioral tools should come first.

Behavioral tools should come first.

Then focus on nutrition.

In fact, I would say behavioral and nutrition tools,

and of course, get excellent sleep.

Then focus on supplementation.

And then, and only if those are failing

to bring your brain and body to the state you need to be in

to perform well in school and work and life, et cetera,

do I recommend that people lean on prescription drugs?

Now, there’s a caveat to that,

which is under conditions like severe eating disorders,

obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, depression,

where people are truly at risk of suicide

or severe mental health effects or behavioral health effects

and they’re really at, their lives are at risk

and their overall mood and wellbeing is at risk,

it’s often the case that people cannot access

the brain states required to shift themselves

purely with behavioral tools, nutrition, et cetera.

So again, for the typical person who’s not suffering

from one of the psychiatric disorders

that I mentioned before or other psychiatric disorders,

schizophrenia, et cetera,

I strongly encourage you to look to behavioral tools first,

nutrition, then supplementation,

then and only if there’s a remaining need

to prescription drugs.

This contrasts very much with the typical scenario

I hear about these days where college students

or other people will say,

oh yeah, I hear that there’s this drug,

Ritalin or Vyvanse that can immediately put me

into a state of heightened focus and concentration.

Now, listen, if you have ADHD, by all means,

talk to a physician, talk to a great psychiatrist

and figure out whether or not that’s right for you.

But if you don’t, again, behavioral tools,

nutrition, supplementation,

and in particular, those behavioral tools

are going to be the ones that are going to allow you

to teach your neural circuits

how to focus and concentrate better.

And I cannot overstate the importance of that,

that the behavioral tools, and to some extent,

the supplementation combined with behavioral tools

really allow you to train up your neural circuits

so that you can focus and concentrate to the depth

and the degree and the duration

that’s going to best serve your mental and physical goals.

Now, there’s one other compound

that I’ve used from time to time

and that I continue to use

in order to increase focus and concentration.

And I will use this in combination

with the other supplements I talked about before,

and that’s phenylethylamine.

Phenylethylamine is in the dopamine synthesis pathway,

so it increases dopamine transmission

and tends to function a little bit differently

than L-tyrosine.

So every once in a while, I’ll swap out L-tyrosine

and put in 500 milligrams of phenylethylamine,

or sometimes if I really want to push a little bit harder

on the dopamine system,

and I’m going to be doing a long bout of intense work,

I will take the 300 milligrams of alpha-GPC,

the 500 milligrams of L-tyrosine.

I’ll generally take that with some caffeine.

And I should mention, I don’t go past

about 100 or 200 milligrams of caffeine

because I don’t really like feeling too jittery.

That’s not really my goal.

It’s the goal to be alert, but not so alert

that I really can’t focus on anything.

I’m not interested in having an anxiety attack after all.

But I’ll sometimes either swap in

or I will add that 500 milligrams of phenylethylamine.

Phenylethylamine is in the PEA pathway.

I’ve talked about this in a previous podcast

on dopamine motivation and drive.

And it’s a very short-lived compound,

so what I’ll tend to do is take it once

at the beginning of the work bout,

and sometimes in the middle of the work bout,

I’ll take another 500 milligram capsule.

But what I just described of combining

all of those compounds, alpha-GPC, L-tyrosine,

phenylethylamine, and caffeine,

that’s a fairly rare occurrence that I’ll combine all four,

and really only under conditions in which I have to do

an intensely challenging bout of mental or physical work.

I would say the frequency at which I combine

all four of those things is probably about

once every two weeks, and typically more like once a month.

Again, being careful to do that

in the early part of the day,

certainly before the noon hour,

so that I am in no way going to disrupt my sleep.

I realize that many of you are probably wondering about

or hoping that I’ll discuss things like lion’s mane

or the racetams or some of the other compounds

that are known to powerfully modulate

the dopamine, epinephrine, and acetylcholine systems.

To be quite direct, there are far too many

of these compounds to review in a single episode,

and they all generally tap into the same set of processes.

Again, epinephrine, that shaft of the arrowhead

that we’re thinking of as focus,

acetylcholine, which is the arrowhead itself,

and then dopamine, which is the sort of propeller

behind the arrow that allows it to continually drive forward

through a bout of mental or physical work.

There is a wonderful site.

I’ve mentioned it several times before on this podcast.

That is examine.com.

That wonderful site that is examine.com

has recently been updated.

They’ve changed their format.

It was terrific before.

It provided links to relevant studies.

It talked about specific compounds.

It talked about the magnitude of effect.

It talked about the human effect matrix.

It really focused on human studies

with links to those studies and on and on.

The new revamped version of examine.com is even better.

It’s really next, next level.

I really applaud them for doing such a terrific job

in organizing the information.

There are a lot of interesting pages

that you can read there about different compounds.

So you can put in any compound, ginkgo biloba,

phosphatidylserine, alpha-GPC,

and you’re going to get a rich array of information

about those compounds.

And if you were to put in a specific goal state,

that is focus or concentration or sleep

or hormones like testosterone, et cetera,

you’re going to get a rich array of compounds, supplements,

as well as links to the studies on those compounds

and some details about those particular studies.

It’s an absolutely phenomenal site.

It’s one that I rely on and that I know thousands,

if not millions of other people rely on.

And I encourage you to check it out.

Again, the URL is examine.com.

So today we’ve talked about a number of different tools

and to some extent,

some mechanisms involved in concentration and focus.

And really the goal has been to provide you

an understanding of the neurochemical systems

and a little bit about the neural circuits

that can allow you to achieve states of attention and focus.

In contrast to previous episodes of the Huberman Lab podcast

where I’ve covered these topics in tremendous depth

as it relates to mechanism and also focused on tools.

Today, I largely focused on tools.

We talked about behavioral tools like a meditation

that’s 13 minutes long,

done daily specifically to improve your ability to focus.

And in fact, there are data to support that it will.

Talked about hypnosis.

We talked about visual focus, overt and covert.

We talked about various supplements,

such as alpha-GPC, phenolethylamine, L-tyrosine,

supplements that I use to directly modulate

the neural circuits for concentration and focus.

Also talked about creatine, the omega-3s.

Talked about the importance of sleep,

which modulates our ability to function mentally

and physically overall.

So optimize that sleep.

And we talked about a number of other protocols

that you can incorporate.

My hope in giving you all this information

in one single location is that you will be able to pick

and choose which of these protocols

you would like to incorporate into your attempts

to improve your focus and concentration.

Again, I don’t recommend doing all of these protocols

all at once.

What I recommend is picking a handful of them,

maybe one or two, maybe three or four,

and trying them in different combinations

at different times of day and for different purposes,

for mental work, for physical work, et cetera.

Find what is best for you.

Once again, the goal is to teach your brain,

that is to increase neuroplasticity in the neural circuits

that allow you not just to focus,

but to refocus your attention.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention

that it’s also critical to be able to defocus.

I highly encourage people to take a period of time each day

to daydream, to walk down the hall

without looking at your phone,

to not have to incorporate more sensory information,

to not place increasing demands on yourself to focus,

and see and realize how having a period

of deliberate decompression and defocusing

can allow your brain to focus so much better

when you do decide to return to about

a focus-concentrated work or physical work.

So I want to thank you for joining me for this discussion

about tools for focus and concentration.

If you’re learning from and are enjoying this podcast,

please subscribe to our YouTube channel.

That’s a terrific zero-cost way to support us.

In addition, please subscribe to the podcast

on Spotify and Apple.

That’s also a zero-cost way to support us.

And on both Spotify and Apple,

you can leave us up to a five-star review.

If you have questions for us or comments or suggestions

or guests that you’d like us to consider

bringing on the Huberman Lab Podcast,

please put all that in the comment section on YouTube.

We do read all those comments.

Please also check out the sponsors mentioned

at the beginning of today’s episode.

That’s the best way to support this podcast.

During today’s episode and on many previous episodes

of the Huberman Lab Podcast, we discuss supplements.

While supplements aren’t necessary for everybody,

many people derive tremendous benefit from them

for things like sleep and enhancing focus

and hormone augmentation and so forth.

As mentioned at the beginning of today’s episode,

the Huberman Lab Podcast is now partnered

with Momentus Supplements

because they are of the very highest quality,

they ship internationally,

and they have single ingredient formulations

in dosages that will allow you to construct the best,

most biologically and cost-effective

supplementation protocol for your needs.

If you’re interested in the supplements

covered on the Huberman Lab Podcast,

you can go to livemomentus, spelled O-U-S,

so livemomentus.com slash Huberman.

If you’re not already following us on social media,

we are Huberman Lab on Twitter,

and we are also Huberman Lab on Instagram.

Both places, I talk about science and science-related tools,

some of which overlap with the contents

and topics of the Huberman Lab Podcast,

much of which is unique from the contents,

and it’s certainly the format covered

on the Huberman Lab Podcast.

Again, that’s Huberman Lab on Instagram

and Huberman Lab on Twitter.

The Huberman Lab Podcast has a newsletter

in which we provide summaries and essential protocols

from the Huberman Lab Podcast episodes.

You can access it totally free of charge

by going to HubermanLab.com,

go to the menu and click on Newsletter,

provide your email.

We do not share your email with anybody,

and you’ll receive our monthly newsletter.

There are also examples of previous newsletters there

that you can download as PDFs right away

without even having to sign up.

So thank you once again for joining me

for today’s discussion all about the mechanisms

and especially the tools

for enhancing concentration and focus.

And last but certainly not least,

thank you for your interest in science.

Thank you.

Thank you.

comments powered by Disqus