The word conjures syringes, lab coats, and mad scientists doing sinister experiments on private islands beyond the reach of international law.
Not that those things aren’t awesome, but this week on the Crossroads podcast, Alaric talked about a simpler yet very powerful way to hack into your biology. You can alter your body chemistry with diet, sleep, and exercise.
That sounds like a cop-out. Aren’t we just wrapping canned health advice in a fancy label? We aren’t just being cute, though. Changing the way your body works by adopting certain habits is very much the same as hacking your body manually, and is usually more effective. For example, you can inject a compound into your body to produce a desired effect, such as heightened energy and wakefulness. The compound will decay and your body will go back to normal, or often suffer a withdrawal, causing you to suffer opposite effects before returning to normal.
On the other hand, you can train your body to create that compound naturally. To be fair, our bodies can’t create every compound, but you would be surprised at how many it can. For example, our bodies create cannabinoids when we eat certain foods, generating a buzz similar to when you smoke marijuana.
I’m not trying to dissuade you from looking into more advanced forms of biohacking. I for one am fascinated by the subject. The point is that there are very simple things you can do to achieve huge results, so it would be silly to jump to complicated methods for achieving very little before taking advantage of the low-hanging fruit.
With that, I present my three rules for life. I’m obsessed with self-improvement, but of everything I have learned, there are three decisions I believe will improve your life more than anything else. They are simple things anyone can do, but don’t mistake simple for easy.
Wake Up At 4:30 A.M. Each Morning
The actual time isn’t set in stone, but the majority of people will benefit by going to bed earlier and getting up earlier each day. The more time you move your sleep schedule back by, the greater the benefit. I settled on 4:30 as my goal time when I found out my two personal heroes, Amelia Boone and Jocko Willink, both set their alarms for that exact time. Maybe it’s arbitrary, but if two of the most productive people in the world do it, I’m not going to argue with it.
People talk about being morning people or night owls, and there’s probably something to that in terms of nurture. If you have already created a habit of doing productive stuff at night, that will overwrite your biology. That is, you definitely can be productive at night, but you’ve created a situation where your psychology and your body are working against each other.
Your physiological state changes throughout the day, so that no matter what habits you’ve set, your mind is primed to be most alert and analytical in the morning. The earlier you wake up, the more of the morning you are conscious for, so you spend more of your waking hours in a heightened mental state. At night, your physiology is trying to put you to sleep, even if you aren’t consciously aware of it–if you’ve already set the habit of working at night, you probably aren’t. You don’t feel sleepy, but that’s only because your brain is fighting to stay awake while your body fights to shut it down. This makes nighttime hours inherently inefficient, so you might as well sleep through them and get the benefit of a good night’s rest.
On that note, people need anywhere from six and a half to eight hours of sleep each night, depending on their physiology. If you are trying to get up at 4:30, like world-class performers do, you should be in bed by 10:00 by the latest, and the majority of people should be going to bed closer to 9:00.
Don’t Eat Carbs
I’ve been talking about the keto diet a lot lately, so I won’t rehash this one too much. The point is it’s more than just a diet choice. A lot of people use it to lose weight, and it can be effective for that, but the benefits of having a clear mind and consistent energy levels throughout the day are at least a powerful.
The keto diet is all-or-nothing, and is really more a lifestyle change than a diet. When you’re under your carb threshold, your body enters ketosis and you reap the benefits. If you eat more than 20 grams of carbs a day, more or less, you get none of the benefits. Eating 10 grams of carbs instead of 30 makes all the difference, but eating 30 grams instead of 200 makes no difference at all, at least in the context of entering ketosis.
That’s why I consider keto a form of biohacking, much like waking up earlier. When you maintain a no carb lifestyle, your body chemistry changes in a powerful way and functions at a different level all the time. With a more traditional diet, your body is still operating on the normal principle of storing fat and being lethargic, it’s just storing more or less fat depending on how much you eat.
Sleep is the same way. Waking up at 4:30 once in a while won’t change much. When you go to bed and wake up at consistent, early times each day, your circadian rhythms line up, and your brain starts to secrete chemicals that put you in an ideal productive state.
Exercise Every Day
I mentioned on the podcast once that I used to think I lived a sedentary lifestyle, because I didn’t realize most people consider walking an hour and a half carrying a heavy backpack each day to be exercise. Top performing athletes do preach the importance of rest days, but I think this gets misinterpreted. Having a rest day, for them, means making sure they don’t run five miles at least one or two days out of the week. It doesn’t mean you need to be a coach potato in order to recover.
Even if it’s just walking around the block, everyone should do some kind of movement every single day. If your at the point where walking around the block is heavy exercise for you, you might have to work up to this, but it should be the goal. More important than what you actually do, in my opinion, is the mental shift: exercise isn’t something you put on the to-do list and get out of the way. It’s a constant part of being alive. It’s a part that conflicts with the modern sedentary lifestyle, but a little can go a long way.
A lot of people subscribe to the mind-body-spirit concept. I certainly do. Even people who believe the mind, body, and spirit are all important, however, don’t seem to realize the parallels. The conventional wisdom is that your body is a resource that must be used sparingly. You can exercise a few times a week, but then you have to back off. To me, that’s the same as saying that because you solved a logic puzzle and meditated yesterday, you better refrain from thinking or feeling anything today. Sure, if you had a full day of difficult decision making and strenuous problem solving, the healthy thing to do would be to not exert your mind too much the next day. But do you need to refrain from talking to anybody for a day because the act of thinking up words might wreck your brain’s recovery?
If one of my rules had been to make sure you think or feel every day, you would have laughed. Why isn’t exercise every day equally obvious?