If you’ve never taken nootropics, it’s a good thing you came upon this article. If you have, which is more likely, how have they worked? For most, answering this question takes some thinking, and the answers are rarely impressive, generally faltering somewhere between “I feel smarter and more productive” and “nothing happened at all.”
This response is fine if you want to blindly ingest supplements and hope for the best but not if you want to get the most out of your experience. To get the most out of your experience, you need to look at your progress the same way athletes look at their training — by collecting data and tracking it to provide yourself with concrete benchmarks to improve upon.
What is Tracking?
When I’m not writing, I’m usually out training someone. Beyond the yelling (I like to call it motivation) and knowledge I provide, a lot of my job comes down to documenting what my clients are doing when they’re with me. And their job (it’s a team effort) is tracking what they’re doing when they’re not with me, specifically by keeping note of what they eat daily.
If I go into a session with no idea of what we did at the prior workout, there’s nothing to build upon. Each workout may as well be the first as we awkwardly try to remember how many repetitions were performed, for how many sets, and with how much weight. The same thing applies to a client keeping track of their diet — sure they ate well yesterday, but how did they gain weight if they only had salad and water this week? Probably because they forgot to keep note of the extra-fat, extra-everything meals they had on those other days.
You are, or will be, on a diet of a different kind, made up of compounds meant to improve the powerhouse that is your brain.
Why Should you Track Mental Performance?
Benefits and Effects – Being familiar with the way a compound affects you allows you to make better decisions about when to supplement with it. I know to take aniracetam when I need inspiration because it gives me a flood of ideas, but not to take it when I’m trying to settle down mentally.
Money – Nootropics aren’t expensive when you compare their cost to their benefits, but if you continue using a compound that doesn’t work with your biology, you’re throwing money away.
Stacks – Because it’s your biology, only you can find out what mix of supplements works best for you. There are some combinations I’ve discovered that put me in the most perfect state of mind, but I only realized that by documenting my results.
How do you Track your Results?
You’ll need to document your cognitive ability as it stands without nootropics, so taking baseline assessments is necessary. I recommend pulling up a spreadsheet and creating a row entitled “Baseline.” If you don’t have spreadsheet software Google Drive let’s you make spreadsheets for free.
Skip the first row, and name the columns:
Alertness, mental clarity, and mood are subjective and I suggest marking them 1-10, 10 being best and 1 being nonexistent/bad mood. Memory, concentration and reasoning can be tested subjectively at Cambridge Brain Sciences.
To measure working memory try “paired associates,” “digit span,” or the “monkey ladder” tests. For long-term memory, you can complete the above tests as well as “spatial span.” Reasoning is best tested with “odd one out,” and “double trouble” is good to measure concentration.
After you run through each of these tests, record your results in the appropriate column.
Now that you have your baseline, you’ll have an idea of what kind of improvements you’re making with each compound. To track each compound properly, write the name of the substance in its own row, and only test one at a time until you know for sure what it is doing and how it affects you. I suggest revisiting the spreadsheet at least once a week and noting any changes. Remember to track the dose as well to know how more or less affects you, and consider a “tolerance” column for appropriate compounds like phenibut.
This breakdown is by no means a comprehensive guide to tracking your performance, but it’s an easy place to start. For results that are a bit more thorough (and for a good mental workout), try out Dual-N-Back, a free game that shows you where you are mentally while being enjoyable. I’d try to explain it, but it’s better if you try it out. If you decide to add this to your data-collection, add a column labeled “Dual-N-Back,” and mark your results there.
These simple steps can have an enormous impact on the quality of your results while keeping you optimistic about the benefits you’re seeing. The little bit of effort that goes into tracking can save you a lot of headache in the long run and cut down on trial and error. Optimizing your cognition requires you to be proactive, but so does anything worth achieving.