A pill that can supersize human intelligence? It sounds like futuristic science fiction, right? It reminds me of the Bradley Cooper movie from the early aughts, Limitless. He pops a pill to access 100% of his brain's abilities and suddenly transforms from a struggling writer into an ultra-successful financial wizard. But real-world researchers and brands are making nootropics— supplements designed to boost our brain power—a part of our daily life today.
And it couldn’t be happening at a better time. The truth is that many of us are mentally exhausted. According to Big Think, it's a natural side effect to long-term stress. It can affect your physical and emotional well-being too, causing you to feel physically exhausted and mentally cloudy. Which makes it increasingly hard to focus—especially on your work when there are distractions just a tap away.
Laura Stack, an in-demand productivity expert who works with Fortune 500 companies, says that setting regular work hours is one of the most important ways to make sure you're staying productive when working from home. She suggests setting hard boundaries for work tasks, just as you would in a traditional work environment. That means being showered and dressed at a start time. And while breaks are good, don't let them get out of hand by going over 30 minutes. These simple deadlines will not only help you stay on task, but they'll prevent your work day from encroaching into your personal time.
Uncertainty can be the enemy of productivity as well. When you feel unfocused, getting started can be overwhelming. If you're struggling, it might be that you're unsure about what needs to be done to complete your work. When you're working at home, it can be harder to get quick answers to reduce this uncertainty. When people aren't sure about the next steps, it's easy for them to procrastinate. A University of Sheffield study found that people “experience unpleasant feelings related to a task that they can't tolerate or manage.” Make sure you've got all the necessary information gathered before starting and to manage eventual roadblocks, put together a list of reliable people you can contact to get clarity.
Finally, you want to make sure you're mentally in the best shape to focus. Which is why nootropics are such an exceedingly growing category. A rough translation for the word “nootropic” comes from the Greek for “to bend or shape the mind.” And already, there are dozens of over-the-counter products that claim to supercharge your creativity, memory, decision-making or other high-level brain functions. But do they work?
Well, like with anything you put into your body, the ingredients matter—a lot. Many of the food-derived ingredients that are often included in nootropics—omega-3s in particular, but also antioxidant-rich flavonoids—do seem to improve brain health and function. And biohacker and Bulletproof founder Dave Asprey swears by them.
I got a chance to try Brain Drive by Momentous, a brand known for their transparency and high-potency hand-sourced ingredients. The first thing we could tell after consistently taking Brain Drive for two weeks? That we actually felt something. When you swallow a supplement, you do so in good faith hoping it'll do its job, right? But an hour after taking Brain Drive you'll notice a slight boost in optimism and energy, combined with a more intense focus—without the jitters and sugar crashes often associated with coffee and energy drinks. It's more measured. You'll feel “in the zone.”
I got a similar calm concentration experimenting with Bulletproof’s Zen Mode supplement, which promises stress release and tranquility. Its hero ingredient is L-Theanine, which is a naturally occurring amino acid found in green tea, but it can also be taken as a supplement. With regular use, you get a steady alertness, which not only sharpens your reaction time, but improves your mental endurance. Meaning no sluggish afternoon crash.
One that I didn’t try personally but found thousands of good reviews for was Vyvamind. This has been dubbed a natural adderall alternative. The over-the-counter neurostimulator has been extremely popular thanks to its risk-free yet highly-effective list of ingredients. Caffeine is mixed with L-theanine, along with a suite of B vitamins and citicoline, which has proven benefits for memory, focus and concentration building.
An interesting point Asprey makes about starting nootropics is that you might feel like nothing is happening at first. And that’s what I experienced. But when I quit taking them, I noticed their absence immediately. “This is because when your brain works better, it feels so natural that it’s hard to notice unless you have a great degree of self-awareness,” he says.
Obviously, there’s plenty more research coming down the line to help us make sense of this. But two things are very clear: Nootropics have become so popular because they really do yield results and our lives are only going to get more busy and inundated with information that we could probably all use as much help as we can get.
* Reminder: There’s strong evidence that regular exercise improves memory and fends off age-related cognitive decline.