What is mind or brain hacking? Simply put, it is the application of specific techniques (or even technologies such as brainwave entertainment audios with monaural, binaural, or isochronic beats) that will affect the hacker’s state of mind, cognitive processes, the level at which they function, or his/her behavior. We often need a little help to get us in the right frame of mind for the task at hand. Students need to switch from the thinking and attention needed for Literature class to the mathematical thinking needed for math or science class. Executives need to switch between problem solving skills, strategic planning, and conducting a meeting that won’t bore participants into a mind-numbing stupor! So, here are a few hacks to help you get into the right state for the task at hand.
The human body has the ability to regenerate itself from the cellular level up, and the respiratory system has vast healing power. Studies show that by changing breathing patterns, it is in fact possible to restore balance to stress response systems, to calm an agitated mind, reduce anxiety and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), improve health and endurance, and elevate performance. Basic breathing is an automatic process regulated by the brainstem, such as heartbeat, blood pressure, and sleeping.
However, unlike most animals, humans are able to consciously control their respiration (rate and depth) which yields access and synchrony between brain areas involved in automatic breathing and intentional breathing. Intentional breathing leads to more emotional control, calmness, focus, and overall control than automatic breathing, which means that different brain areas have been directly affected. This is why intentional, volitional, focused, deep breathing is so effective during times of stress, fear, or when heightened concentration is needed.
The Quadratic Breath
The quadratic breath (4x4x4x4) is also called co-alpha breathing because it induces an alpha brainwave state, which is a state of relaxed focus. Breathe in for a count of 4; hold for a count of 4; breathe out for a count of 4; hold for a count of 4. Repeat until the nervous system feels calm. Closing the eyes while doing this breath may facilitate slipping into the alpha brainwave state faster.
Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana)
The nose knows! Our sense of smell bypasses the hypothalamic switching station in the brain that all our other senses go through, and goes directly to the amygdala for danger scanning and then on to the olfactory bulb for smell identification. The bipedal position in humans raised the level of the nose and olfactory system away from ground level where odours are mixed together and more contaminated. Add to this the purification function of the nose, and smells become easier to perceive.
Therefore, the olfactory system grew smaller, the visual orbits came closer together to provide stereoscopic view, and the leftover olfactory tracts were converted to emotional tracts in the limbic system. That is why odours can provoke such emotional reactions and memories in humans. Research has shown that odour-cued memories are more emotional than memories triggered by visual or verbal cues.
Know what else the nose knows? The nose knows which hemisphere of the brain is dominant at any given time. Close your left nostril and breathe through the right nostril. Then close the right nostril and breathe through only the left nostril. Which of the nostrils is slightly less congested (more open) than the other? If your right nostril is less congested than the left, that means that your left hemisphere is the dominant hemisphere at that moment in time.
Remember that the brain is wired contra laterally to the body: the left hemisphere controls the right side of the body and the right hemisphere the left side of the body. Unlike the 10% brain usage myth, the hemispheres go through 90 minute + 20 minute cycles where one hemisphere is dominant for about 90 minutes followed by about 20 minutes where the previously dominant hemisphere reduces its activity, and the newly dominant hemisphere starts revving up its activity. This is the golden period between cycles where both hemispheres are activated and learning, creativity, and problem-solving flows with ease. Alternate nostril breathing is how the yogis impose this brainstate and prolong this sweet spot.
According to data analysis done by A. Price and R. Eccles from the Common Cold Centre, Cardiff School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, Wales, UK, “… Via the brainstem reticular formation, a nasal airflow stimulus could lead to enhanced arousal and brain activity in both cerebral cortices. Studies have intimated that the greatest stimulating effect occurs in the hemisphere contralateral to the nasal airflow stimulus.”
Nadi Shodhana is a Sanskrit word. “Nadi” means “channel” or “flow” and “shodhana” means “purification.” Therefore, nadi shodhana is a clearing and purifying practice of the subtle channels between the mind and body.
- Close the right nostril with the thumb of the right hand while inhaling through the left nostril.
- Close the left nostril with the ring finger and exhale through the right nostril. Remain in this position, and inhale through the right nostril.
- Close the right nostril with the thumb while exhaling through the left nostril. Remain in this position, and inhale through the left nostril.
- Switch back and forth while repeating the process for between 5 to 10 minutes or until both nostrils are evenly open when breathing through them (one is not more congested than the other). Nadi shodhana will either calm or energize the body depending on how you regulate the depth, length and energy of each breath.
- To balance the masculine and feminine aspects between the mind and body, the left nostril is considered more feminine, calm, cooling, and nurturing, while the right nostril is considered more masculine, forceful, heated, and competitive. If you need to be calm or want to cool off your body temperature, breathe only through the left nostril. If you need a competitive, masculine edge or want to heat your body temperature, breathe through the right nostril.
Jugglers have bigger brains, because juggling creates more white matter in the brain. Juggling is a great activity to get your left and right brains to work together. Juggling is a great activity to help you read better and faster. When juggling, the juggler is not able to focus on each ball independently. He has to soften his focus in order to take in more information with his peripheral vision. This aids reading. If you can expand your vision, you can take in more information at any given time.
- Begin by just tossing 1 ball with your dominant hand and catching it with the other hand. It’s okay to drop the ball.
- Toss the ball just up above your head to start. Smile while you do it. Add more balls as you become more proficient.
- YouTube is a great source to find videos that will teach you to juggle multiple balls.
Tangerine Focus for Improved Peripheral Vision
This technique I found in Dr. Paul Scheele from Learning Strategies’s Photoreading book and course, and it works like a charm to open up/widen your peripheral vision by putting you in a state of relaxed alertness. This is a good hack to do before reading and also before driving. This hack also helps dyslexics to gain a fixed point of attention. According to Ron Davis who wrote The Gift of Dyslexia, dyslexics have a roving point of attention, and the tangerine hack helps them to focus their attention. By fixing the point of attention, the scattered focal points gather and focus all the units of attention (between 5-9 units) to the task of reading.
When you drive on a highway, your best focal point is down the road, not on the ornament on your hood/bonnet or the bumper of the car ahead of you. When you read, the best focal point is just behind and above your head. Think of a Chinese dunce cap or the magician’s hat Mickey Mouse wore in “Fantasia”. It is a conical shaped hat that is placed on the top back part of the head, where the parietal lobe is located. The tip of the hat reaches about an arm’s length above your head.
First of all, fix your eyes on a spot directly in front of you. Now, open your arms to the side (crucifix position) and using your peripheral vision, find the point just before your arms disappear from your peripheral vision (while remaining focused on the point in front of you). This will be your point of reference to see whether your peripheral vision actually opens up or not after you have done the tangerine exercise.
- Close your eyes and imagine a tangerine in your dominant hand.
- Hold the imaginary tangerine (or apple, or grapefruit – a round fruit with weight) in your dominant hand. Feel the weight, texture, size, and smell of the tangerine (or fruit of choice). Toss the imaginary fruit from your dominant hand into your non-dominant hand and back again.
- When you are ready, catch the fruit in your dominant hand and bring it to the top back of your head. Touch that area gently with your hand. Imagine feeling the tangerine resting there while you bring your arm down and relax your shoulders.
- Let the tangerine balance on the top back part of your head while imagining that your peripheral vision is expanding and expanding as if you have 360 degrees surround vision.
- While maintaining this physically relaxed and mentally alert state, open your eyes and focus them on the same spot in front of you. Raise your arms to your sides again (crucifixion style) and see how far you can open your arms before they disappear from your peripheral vision.
Claiming that you have senior moments when you cannot find your keys is in most cases merely a lack of attention. If you just mindlessly dump the keys on the counter instead of mindfully hanging them on the hook at the door, guess who will be looking for their keys the next time they need to leave the house. Our unconscious mind reigns over 95% of our day because these are the habits that we have formed, the meta programs that we run automatically, and the thought patterns that we repeat on a daily basis. Only 5% of our thoughts and actions are new, different, or mindful and that is our conscious mind.
The Tip-of-the-Tongue Phenomenon
Don’t you just hate it when you know that you know something, but you just cannot spit it out? The harder you try to remember, the less you’re able to recall the information because you are focused on “not knowing” instead of on dislodging the information that you know you know! In his book “Mind Performance Hacks: Tips & Tools for Overcoming Your Brain”, Ron Hale-Evans says that memory relies on networks of related mental concepts. So instead of being focused on what you cannot remember, prime your memory with related mental concepts, such as
- Where were you when you acquired the information?
- What was your body position?
- Which emotions were you feeling at the time?
- What were the smells around you?
- If it is someone’s name or a place, how did it sound like?
- If it is a person, what do they do for a living; do they have siblings; what other associations do you have with this person.
- How many syllables or sounds can you remember from the name? What are similar sounding syllables?
- It helps to have others around to bounce ideas off of.
- If all else fails, it usually comes to you at the most inopportune time, doesn’t it?
Successful recall relies on the overlap between what you’re trying to remember, the situation you were in when you experienced the situation, and the cues or prompts that are available during the recall process. Psychologist Endel Tulvig used this description when he proposed his theory called the encoding specificity principle. Also, the research shows that models of language and memory suggest that meaning and word structure are stored separately, which leads to associated words helping to coax out the actual word that you are looking for. Sometimes word structure is only partially recalled and priming will help to stimulate fuller recall by repeating similar sounding words.
You Cannot Hate Yourself to Success
Why do some people stick to their New Year’s resolutions for the entire year, while 80% of us give up by February 1st? Brandon Hakim did a mini video that he posted on Instagram entitled Don’t Hate Yourself to Success! Brandon says that rewards are the secret to getting past the first step of your journey and on to the second, third, twentieth, one hundredth steps of your voyage to success. Do you want to get your child to sit and do 2 hours of homework, praise them when they just sit for 10 minutes.
Going to the gym for the first time in years, praise yourself for just showing up. Beating yourself up for your failures will not lead to success. Celebrate your small wins and set yourself up for the small wins, because it is the small wins that lead to big wins down the road. Love yourself to success by celebrating each and every small win, because it is easier to accomplish your goals when you are your own best friend.
The Rules of the Mind
Different people have different rules that they consider the mind abides by. These two sets of rules by G. Valmas and Marisa Peer are what I consider to be the better sets of rules regarding the mind out there. Consider them both when trying to understand your own mind.
8 Rules of the Mind by G. Valmas
- Every thought or idea causes a physical reaction.
- What is expected tends to be realized.
- Imagination is more powerful than reason when dealing with the brain.
- Opposing ideas cannot be held at the same time without creating stress (cognitive dissonance).
- An emotionally induced symptom tends to cause organic change if persisted in too long.
- Once an idea has been accepted by the subconscious mind, it remains until it is replaced by another idea. Corollary to this rule is the longer the idea remains, the more opposition there is to replace it with a new idea.
- Each suggestion acted upon creates less opposition to successive suggestions.
- When dealing with the subconscious mind and its functions, the greater the conscious effort, the less the subconscious response.
How the Mind Works by Marisa Peer
- The words that you say to yourself and the pictures that you make in your head create your reality. The words are more important than the pictures, because the words create the pictures. Your words are powerful and your mind is listening.
- The mind is literal, and it wants what you tell it. (I will die if that happens; This is driving me insane; I’m sick and tired of this; etc.). Your mind does what it thinks you want it to do. Expectations will be realized – what is expected becomes our reality.
- Emotion wins over logic therefore you cannot defeat an emotion with logic. Only a better or stronger emotion can defeat an emotion.
- The mind cannot hold conflicting beliefs and thoughts (cognitive dissonance). If you don’t run your subconscious mind, it will run you.
- You make your beliefs/habits, and then your beliefs/habits make you. Change your self-talk to uplifting, positive words. (I have chosen to do this and I choose to feel good about it.)
- We are hardwired to fear rejection. No one can reject you unless you allow yourself to feel rejected.
- The mind loves what is familiar and hates what is unfamiliar, even if what is familiar is bad for you. E.g. staying in a bad relationship because that is how you have been treated by the ones you love for most of your life.
- Every thought has a physical reaction in the body, because the mind communicates that thought to the body. You are responsible for your thoughts, so keep them positive. When you compliment/praise yourself, the mind and body accept that praise more readily than when someone else compliments/praises you. However, do not let criticism in. Only let praise in. (I matter; I have phenomenal coping skills; I’m enough; I’m smart; I’m talented; etc.). This exercise will also raise your self-esteem.
Your words Shape your Reality
Your words shape your reality. Change your words and you change your reality. Your mind talks to your body all the time and your job is to tell your mind what you want it to do. I want perfect health; I don’t do illness, I do wellness; I had 8 hours of sleep (even although you only had 4 hours); I’m not aging, I’m sageing; I have perfect balance. The mind also interrupts the signals that it receives back from the body. The moment you identify with a health issue and call it “my”, such as my headache, my sore back, my gimp knee, etc. the body embodies that problem and will not let it go because you own it. It is better to disassociate and refer to your malady with the prefix “the” – there is no ownership in “the” (the sore back, the gimp knee, etc.). You mind is designed to respond to two things: the pictures you make in your head and words you say to yourself. So, monitor your self-talk and guard your mind-movies!
These are just a few hacks to get you started in understanding and managing your mind and body better. Breathe deep, be mindful, be kind and accepting of yourself, and don’t focus on lack or what you cannot remember. Be your own best friend, your own cheerleader, and if you love yourself first, others will feel that love and return it to you with glee. You cannot be a positive force in this world unless you are a positive force unto yourself first.
PhotoReading by Paul R. Scheele, M.A., Pages 27-31.
The Gift of Dyslexia by Ron Davis.
Mind Performance Hacks: Tips & Tools for Overclocking Your Brain by Ron Hale-Evans, Hack #12, Pages 39-41.
Don’t Hate Yourself to Success! By Brandon Hakin on Instagram.
8 RULES OF THE MIND. Mind blowing facts!!! Explore Your Brain & Mind
Neuroscientists have identified how exactly a deep breath changes your mind By Moran Cerf
Nasal airflow and brain activity: is there a link? By A PRICE, R ECCLES from the Common Cold Centre, Cardiff School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, Wales, UK