8 Mind and Body Hacks You Can Implement Right Now

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Pearls of wisdom from diverse fields

I could’ve never reached the level of productivity I have without learning from others.

Learning from experts from all fields has been one of the greatest investments. When you pick nuances from different areas and apply them to your life, you can get the edge that you’re so desperately looking for.

Don’t restrict yourself to only one field of thought. I roam through different philosophies, concepts, and authors, to form my own life’s philosophy.

Whether it’s stoicism, Hinduism, yoga, meditation, deep work, or biohacking, I judge each technique with healthy skepticism and try it out.

Only with this attitude of experimentation, you can see what others miss. Here are eight new things I’ve learned in the last month to improve my productivity and happiness.

1. No Caffeine 10 Hours Before Sleep

Though it’s prevalent wisdom, it’s been one of the best things I’ve done in the past month.

The adenosine receptors n your brain are responsible for making you feel tired. Caffeine blocks these to give you the energy boost you’re looking for. But in reality, it’s not giving you an energy boost, rather hiding the fact that you’re tired.

Astrid Nehlig and Stephen Alexander, in their review article *“Interindividual Differences in Caffeine Metabolism and Factors Driving Caffeine Consumption”, *point out,

The plasma concentration of caffeine decreases more rapidly than that of paraxanthine, its main metabolite. The concentrations of paraxanthine become even higher than those of caffeine at about 8–10 hours after caffeine ingestion and this occurs in all species. This is critical given that paraxanthine is as potent as caffeine for the blockade of adenosine receptors.

The metabolite called paraxanthine may be the reason why people who consume coffee in the afternoon are not able to sleep well at night. Your body may flush out caffeine completely, but paraxanthine still keeps blocking the adenosine receptors.

Research has shown clearly that different people behave differently to caffeine. I’ve seen people drink cold coffee in the evening every day and fall asleep cozily.

I mentioned in another post how it doesn’t work for me. But I was wrong. Earlier, I consumed a cup of coffee around 4 pm every day. When I read the research, I decided to have my last cup at 11 am (I sleep around 9 pm).

Even though I did this, I still couldn’t see the benefits. Disappointed, I resumed my afternoon cup of joe.

Why? Because I thought caffeine only comes from coffee. Stupid, I know.

I was habitual of eating a small piece of dark chocolate after lunch and dinner. Which is why quitting my afternoon cup didn’t matter anymore. I was anyway getting the caffeine that I so eagerly wanted to cut out.

Since I’ve eliminated both of them, I sleep much better. Here’s the data to back it up:

Before After

As you can see, my awake time and light sleep reduced and REM sleep has gone up.

Note: Although the data shows improvement, most benefits are psychological. There are a lot of different factors that go into this and it’s not possible to isolate one factor and test it in normal life (at least for me).

2. The Expanding Sun Breath

I’ve been a fan of breathing techniques for a long time. I love trying out new ones.

The breath is directly related to our state of mind and body. Whenever you’re stressed, notice your breath — you’re likely having frequent, short, and shallow breaths. On the other hand, when you’re calm and concentrated, you take deep and long breaths, less frequently.

This works the other way around as well. Your state of being affects your breath and your breath affects your state of being.

By changing your breathing patterns at the moment, you can induce the desired state of mind in seconds.

While there are tons of breathing techniques that work for me, I specifically like to choose one for concentration. It’s called the *Surya Bedha Pranayama *meaning the “Expanding Sun Breath.”

It’s a simple technique. If you’re familiar with yoga, you’ll likely know much of the pieces mentioned above and you can blend them to practice this powerful exercise.

As the world adjusts to the work-from-home culture, the distractions have been ever-increasing.

While people cannot be physically disturbed as before, ad-hoc zoom calls and long working hours are becoming a norm.

To get work done in such environments, you need to develop your concentration. And if it only takes 10 minutes of breathing twice a day, you’ve no excuse.

3. Cultivate Stillness and Silence

Seclusion is the price of greatness — Paramahansa Yogananda

John Cage graduated from Los Angeles High School as a valedictorian. During the same year, he gave an award-winning speech at the Holywood Bowl proposing a national day of quiet for all Americans.

Think about it. A national day of quiet. What would that look like?

Pretty still, I guess. More still than people are comfortable with. John, on the other hand, was more comfortable with silence than the average person. He wrote the famous three-movement composition called 4’33. And why is it so famous?

Because nobody played during that time. Instead, the listeners heard the sounds of their environment. Of what’s going on around them — the chirping of the birds, the traffic outside the hall, and blowing air conditioner in the room.

By being “hushed and silent”, he said in his Hollywood Bowl speech, “we should have the opportunity to hear what other people think.”

Most high-performing individuals have hobbies like walking, running, swimming, journaling, meditation, etc. And all they have in common is the absence of voices.

It’s one of the toughest tips to practice in reality from all the others. When you reflect on your life, it’s fascinating how we speak so much for no reason and stimulate ourselves all the time with distractions.

It helps you see what’s going on inside you. For the first time, you turn the searchlight within. In the absence of outside voices, you can finally hear your own.

Start by blocking off an hour a day. An hour where you don’t speak and don’t hear others speak. You’ll be astonished by your experience.

Silence has the power to change your life if you let it.

4. A New Wind-Down Routine

One of the most famous examples of wind-down routines comes from the Father of the United States and the polymath Benjamin Franklin. The list of his skills is long enough to me yawn.

Franklin used four hours in the evening to “Put things in their places”, eat supper, indulge in “music or diversion, or conversation” and do an “examination of the day.”

Alex Pang, the author of Rest, elaborates on this in his talk,

“When you look at the lives of incredibly creative and prolific people — noble prize winners, famous authors, composers, and folks at that level…they organize their whole lives around their work, but they don’t spend their whole day working. In fact, a lot of them would work very intensively for about four or five hours and that’s it.”

This layering of “periods of intensive work and periods of rest” Pang says, allows them to get a lot of stuff done and also recover from that work in a way that helps them be more creative.

The mind is a good slave but a bad master. If left to its own will, it will never stop bothering you. And this is what happens. You think you can work till 10 pm shut your laptop, and go to sleep pronto.

It doesn’t work that way. Often your mind and body need to go through a proper ritual to signal them to shut off for the day.

The success of tomorrow starts the night before. Whether it’s planning, journalling, reading, yoga, or walking, find your thing. If you don’t have a lot of control over your schedule, it can be difficult — still, find out small ways to rest actively.

It can be the single biggest change you make this year.

5. Cover Blue Light Buttons and Small Emissions

Blue light is great. It mimics the sun and gives you the energy to start the day. Everyone loves the sunlight coming through the window when they wake up — it’s the perfect waking-up shot.

But you don’t need the sun at night. You need to wind-down and the blue light emissions around you gravely delay it.

While you may have reduced your screen time or have installed apps like f.lux to help out, there are still annoying lights coming out of appliances.

I’m talking about things like a small dot on your PC, your digital alarm clock, your air conditioner, mosquito repellant, etc.

For someone who likes sleeping in a pitch dark room, it’s a pain in the rear. I had to always turn the other side to avoid looking at those tiny red and green lights.

I tried buying a sleep mask but wasn’t sure of how comfortable it would be. So I just took pieces of cardboard and stuck them over the lights. Finally, I sleep sound in a room as dark as John Wick’s.

You can do the same with minimal effort. We’re all aware of the damage done by screens. It’s time to take these small lights and shove them out too.

6. Limiting inputs

An increasing number of inputs make us anything but calm and productive. They forge a reactive response, prevent us from thinking clearly, and making sound decisions.

The CNN Effect” popularized in the 90s, is a perfect example from politics and media studies. It states how the sensational and exaggerated nature of news delivered by the media has been one of the main determinants of U.S foreign policy.

While the news has been affecting our decisions since long ago, the CNN effect takes it to a whole new level.

Similarly, with the advent of social media and smartphones, the problem descends to an individual level as well. We’re all bombarded with inputs throughout the day which makes it difficult to stay focused at whatever we’re doing at the moment.

We need to learn to fight back. This means:

  • Blocking notifications on your phone

  • Uninstalling news apps and social media

  • Scheduling your usage to avoid overwhelm

  • Being highly selective on what percolates through your psyche and affects your actions

  • Filtering the important from the extraneous matters

7. Tensing and Relaxing

It’s a simple technique for moments when you feel tired, stressed, or distracted given by Paramahansa Yogananda.

Wherever you are, take a double-breath — a small, short breath followed by a short, sharp exhalation from the nose and the mouth. It oxygenates the blood which inevitably calms the nervous system.

8. Mind Dumps

Like your computer, the mind becomes cluttered when too many ‘applications’ and ‘documents’ are open at once.

Believe it or not, the brain is good for processing issues but not for storing things.

Scott Shafer, associate dean, and professor of management at Wake Forest University School of Business says, “Many if not most people carry around a lot of stuff in their heads that they are trying to keep track of and remember, including appointments, meetings, project deadlines, and to-dos.”

It is impossible to prioritize and think through items that are floating around in your head. Writing things down takes the pressure off of your mind to remember the complex streams of information.

It frees up space to focus on the current task.

Another way to perform this is to keep an empty sheet of paper beside you where you write down all the distractions that come to you when you work.

Need to message a friend? Want to check the latest episode of the Tim Ferris show? A quick Google search? Write everything so you can get back to it later. And chances are when the moment has passed, you don’t want to do them at all.

References: Cheers to Ryan Holiday for a lot of inspiring ideas in his book Stillness is The Key (like silence), which I humbly apply in different areas of my life as they suit me.

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Written on August 6, 2020