Author – Josh O’Leary
Here’s a pretty basic concept that, for some reason, people struggle to wrap their heads around:
Your brain is NOT separate from your body!
This is a point that I keep trying reinforce to everyone I speak to at every opportunity I get.
Your brain is an organ.
It is an organic component of your physical body, which means that it is as susceptible to health or harm as any other part of your body. You (hopefully) take steps to ensure the proper functioning of other parts of your body – maybe you go on the occasional run because you think it’s good for your heart, you most likely brush your teeth twice a day so that they don’t fall out, you do Pilates because….actually I’m not sure why you do Pilates?
What do you do to ensure that your brain is healthy and functioning optimally?
Your relationship with your brain should be no different. But most people have no idea what it takes to have an optimally functioning brain.
We live in a highly competitive world where any extra edge you can get over your competition is crucial. I keep hearing stories of Silicon Valley coders taking nootropics (“brain-boosting” drugs) like Modafinil, Piracetam and even Adderall (an amphetamine we give to children to treat ADHD) so that they can increase their focus and concentrate for longer. It’s amazing the lengths that certain individuals will go to in order to maximise their odds of succeeding.
Other people are having to play tricks on themselves just to achieve the minimum necessary level of focus to not get fired from work. These include downgrading their phones to versions that can’t carry Instagram, installing programs on their computers that block their use of Facebook outside of certain hours and even using noise-cancelling headphones to “get in the zone”.
Always focus on the basics first
The mathematical law of distribution first theorised by Vilfredo Pareto keeps coming up in material that I’m reading at the moment and the importance and ubiquity of this law in real life is starting to hit home. The simplified version goes something like this:
“In a cause and effect relationship, 80% of effects come from 20% of causes”
(At least – in many cases it’s more like the 90/10 rule, the 95/5 rule or even the 99.9/0.1 rule)
This law applies to a whole host of scenarios including wealth distribution (the richest 85 people in the world have the same wealth as the bottom 3 billion), business management (80% of sales will often come from the 20% of your best clients) and even in classical music where the top four composers (Beethoven, Mozart, Bach and Tchaikovsky) are responsible for the vast majority of regularly listened to compositions.
The point is that for most of your endeavours, there will be an uneven distribution of useful effort, so you had better make sure that you have figured out what the effective 20% is and work towards maximising it.
In terms of maximising your productivity – the 20% of effort you need to be putting in should be towards making your physical brain as highly functioning as possible. A properly functioning brain has more energy, sharper focus and a much longer attention span than an unhealthy brain. Once you have your brain as healthy as it can be through natural means (and have reaped those 80% benefits), if you still want to push it even further…then you can start employing extra productivity “hacks” and maybe even explore some pharmaceutical options.
But you must get those big-impact basics locked down first.
Energy and The Brain
There are many tactics that we can employ to optimise the functioning of our brains, but I want to give you the simplest change that you can make easily and quickly that will have the biggest impact on your cognitive performance. This is Pareto’s Law at work again, before we look into “superfoods” and mushroom coffees, we must focus on getting the foundation in place.
The biggest tactic you can employ to keep your brain focused on your task of choice is to make sure it has a steady supply of energy. As soon as your brain starts to run out of energy, it will freak out and drag your attention away from the task at hand and towards the biscuit tin, thus negatively impacting your productivity.
Again, there are a few steps you can take towards securing a steady supply of brain focusing energy, but obviously we want to focus on the biggest impact tactic (Pareto within Pareto within Pareto). So, what’s the ONE change you can make to your diet right now (or maybe tomorrow depending on the time of day that you’re reading this) that will keep your brain fed, happy and focused, allowing you to concentrate for much longer periods?
DON’T EAT CARBS AT BREAKFAST
This one change, more than any other, has had the biggest impact on how well my brain can function during the day (not to mention helped keep me lean year-round with relatively minimal exertion).
Every morning when you wake up, your adrenal glands secrete a hormone called cortisol. The purpose of this secretion is to liberate fatty acids from your adipose tissue (your fat stores) to provide you with the energy you need to wake up, get out of bed and tackle the day.
This is good and exactly what you want to happen.
If you decide to eat a “heart healthy” breakfast of Special K cereal with semi-skimmed milk and a glass of orange juice, your pancreas will secrete a large amount of another hormone – Insulin. Insulin has many, complicated effects on your body but its main job is to signal your body to store nutrients. So, when your insulin levels are high, your adipose tissue is unable to liberate fat from its stores to be burned as fuel.
This is bad.
So instead of a consistent and steady release of energy from your (no offence) large fat stores, you get a short and intense injection of energy from your sugar filled breakfast, followed by a blood-sugar crash and subsequently no access to energy to feed your hungry brain because that pesky insulin is guarding the gates to your adipose.
What usually happens to most people is that they get hungry again, really hungry, distractingly so. They may even get cranky, irritable and a bit dizzy until they make it to the nearest café for a skinny latte and a muffin which simply exacerbates the cycle, leaving them on this rollercoaster blood-sugar ride until they go to bed.
The first step in gaining improved cognitive performance and productivity is freeing yourself from the tyranny of blood-sugar swings so that you can concentrate for longer without succumbing to that loud and impulsive part or your brain screaming “FEED ME” as soon as you go more than a couple of hours without a snack.
And the first step to liberation from this tyranny is taking the rebellious stance of avoiding carbohydrates at breakfast.
The full expression of the state we are aiming to achieve is called “fat-adaptation”, a process we cover in great detail in the Be Your Best In Life online course.
Becoming fat-adapted is a game changer. When your entire body is running on the fatty acids being slowly and consistently released from your fat stores, you free up your relatively tiny carbohydrate stores allowing them to focus on feeding your brain. Once you are fully fat-adapted meals become a choice rather than an obligation. Fat-adaptation puts YOU back in control of your mind.
Once you have fat-adaptation in place and have felt the amazing cognitive benefits of avoid carbohydrates at breakfast, what comes next?
The answer to that is a process that is receiving more and more attention in the media in recent times as a weight loss diet but in reality is being used by elite performers in business and sports as a mode of performance enhancement. This brain boosting way of eating kept us alive and functional during times of scarcity in our evolutionary past and may even be responsible for the growth of our rather large brains.
Of course, I’m talking about the ketogenic diet.
If that intrigues you, click here for free access to a guide I wrote for anyone interested in knowing more about the ketogenic diet – Should You Go Keto?
Otherwise, you have my blessing to start eating bacon and eggs for breakfast everyday (just hold the toast).
You’re welcome 😉