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
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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
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And we now know that even slight reductions
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I typically drink Element first thing in the morning
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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,
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you can go to drinkelement, that’s lmnt.com slash Huberman
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Again, that’s drinkelement, lmnt.com slash Huberman.
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Thesis makes what are called nootropics,
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I’m pleased to announce that the Huberman Lab podcast
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We partnered with Momentus for several important reasons.
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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
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,
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,
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I’ve been taking Athletic Greens since 2012,
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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
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And those probiotics in Athletic Greens
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In addition, Athletic Greens contains a number of adaptogens,
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If you’d like to try Athletic Greens,
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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.
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,
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
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.
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
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
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,
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,
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,
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.
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,
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,
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
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,
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.
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