Dave's Blogo-Musicical Hack Shack

A place to share my experiments in code, music, and digital marketing.

Enhanced Focus and Concentration Techniques to Improve Your Mind While Coding

Intro

I've been a biohacker ever since I discovered self-hypnosis in high school. I had just moved in with my Dad after my parents had a bad divorce and my self esteem was really messed up. I began reading books on self-hypnosis and making my own cassette tapes to reprogram my mind.

Self-hypnosis had worked so well I was able to transition into a new school district with ease. Where I had been struggling at my previous school due to all the conflicts at home I was able to rewrite my own code and become a new person. I was able to choose who that person was. I became a self programming machine.

Since then I've actively sought out and tested every bio hacking technique I could get my hands on. This is a compilation of almost 2 decades of my personal experiments and these are some of the techniques that I'm either working on now or that I've come back to over and over again through the years.

Breathing Exercises

Breathing is the core of our survival. Our bodies handle this for us automatically. We breathe even when we don't think about it. Just because it's on autopilot doesn't mean there's no value to consciously controlling your breathing, on the contrary, the maker of this game imbued us with sophisticated mental cheat codes using a variety of rhythmic breath patterns.

There is an ancient practice of Yogic breathing called Pranayama from which many of these breathing patterns are derived. Being a drummer the value in these rhythms made sense to me fairly quickly and inspired me to do more research.

I'll simplify it down to the component parts.

  1. Inhale - Full belly breathing, stick your gut out to help get a full inhalation
  2. Retain - Hold your lungs full of oxygen
  3. Exhale - Release the air from your lungs
  4. Sustain - Hold your lungs empty without air

A sample pattern might be 4:7:8 - 4 counts inhale, 7 counts retain, 8 counts exhale. Notice how this pattern has no sustain. That's because that produces a different effect.

More components:

  1. Full Nose Breathing
  2. Left Nostril only
  3. Right Nostril only
  4. Mouth Breathing

Roger Cole PhD
Neurophysiological Foundations of Yoga Breathing

Chant or Singing on Exhale

Various mouth positions during vowels and consonants localize the vibration of the chosen pitch. For example a H-mmmmm sound would produce a vibration in the roof of your mouth, vibrating your brain at that frequency.

Since your brain functions at a frequency applying frequencies to your brain can alter your state of consciousness. The sound OM is very resonant amplifying the vibrations across your body.

Breathing? There's an APP for that!

I recommend an Android app called Prana Breath. If you have IOS just install an Android emulator like Bluestacks or Memu on your computer and load it there. You have to go pro to get the more sophisticated exercises. I've been using it to experiment with my own custom breathing patterns specifically for coding and am interested in building my own app that provides these custom patterns specifically for coders.

As a drummer being able to do multiple things at a time or "independence" has been a feature of my life. It occurred to me that I could train myself to breathe in these patterns and my muscle memory would allow me to begin to do them unconsciously while I work as long as I have the breathing metronome to follow.

A few altered states a programmer might want to use

  1. Meditative Trance for coding (The Zone)
  2. Calm frustrated or hyperactive feelings (Fidgeting)
  3. Synchronize brain hemispheres to reduce brain fog (ADHD)
  4. Mental and Physical Energy Boost (Tired)
  5. Increase Clarity (Detoxification of Neurotoxins)

I want to note that if you try these exercises make sure that you are controlling your breath so that a 7 second inhale is 7 seconds of inhaling. The speed at which the air enters and leaves your lungs is very important in creating the mental effects.

Other altered states reachable by breathing

Then you have other possible altered states that don't really do much for coding like the ability to make your entire body feel a euphoric buzzing or even a feeling of being high. Helpful to mention because from a "Spiritual" perspective these altered states are also the key to revealing the nature of reality to yourself. Stanislav Grof a leading LSD researcher in the 70's began researching a process called holographic breathing which he claims can release natural DMT (a psychedelic) in your brain.

It’s easy to dismiss insights learned from drug induced altered states of consciousness as not real, but it’s very difficult to dismiss insights gained completely sober just by breathing air in rhythmic patterns.

Why not use it all the time?

Unless you're talking to someone while coding, there's nothing stopping you from breathing in these ways the entire time you are programming, getting the benefits the entire time. I'll bet you all $5 that once we begin to merge with computers we'll be able to load these breathing patterns to fire off unconsciously at will.

Brainwave Entrainment

Brainwave entrainment, or 'neural entrainment', refers to the capacity of the brain to naturally synchronize its brainwave frequencies with the rhythm of periodic external stimuli, most commonly auditory, visual, or tactile.

Brainwave entrainment technologies are used to induce various brain states, such as relaxation or sleep, by creating stimuli that occur at regular, periodic intervals to mimic electrical cycles of the brain during the desired states, thereby "training" the brain to consciously alter states.

Recurrent acoustic frequencies, flickering lights, or tactile vibrations are the most common examples of stimuli applied to generate different sensory responses.

Our brains function at a variety of frequencies that are too slow for the human ear to pick up. In order to effect your brain frequencies you can listen to binaural beats.

Binaural Beats

Human subjects rarely hear frequencies below 20 Hz, which is exactly the range of Delta, Theta, Alpha, and low to mid Beta brainwaves. Among the methods by which some investigations have sought to overcome this problem is to measure electroencephalogram (EEG) readings of a subject while he or she listens to binaural beats.

A binaural beat is an auditory illusion perceived when two different pure-tone sine waves, both with frequencies lower than 1500 Hz, with less than a 40 Hz difference between them, are presented to a listener dichotically, that is one through each ear.

For example, if a 530 Hz pure tone is presented to a subject's right ear, while a 520 Hz pure tone is presented to the subject's left ear, the listener will perceive the auditory illusion of a third tone, in addition to the two pure-tones presented to each ear.

The third sound is called a binaural beat, and in this example would have a perceived pitch correlating to a frequency of 10 Hz, that being the difference between the 530 Hz and 520 Hz pure tones presented to each ear.

Isochronic Tones

Isochronic tones are regular beats of a single tone that are used alongside monaural beats and binaural beats in the process called brainwave entrainment. At its simplest level, an isochronic tone is a tone that is being turned on and off rapidly. They create sharp, distinctive pulses of sound.

I run the bluestacks android emulator on my macbook to run Prana Breath breathing exercises, layering the below YouTube video and many others on top while I'm studying.

I find that the most brutal of brainwave entrainment works best for myself. This means intense levels of pink noise, binaural beats as well as isochronic pulses to help my brain lock into the meditative state of consciousness.

Other Helpful Links

Meditation Practice

My dad and cousin are studying Zen buddhism with teachers formally so I've come into contact with Zen practice frequently over the past 7 years. There's a great Zen center in Brooklyn near Atlantic Avenue and they host a meditation for beginners session every week. They also host a introduction to Zen weekend retreat at their monastery in upstate New York.

I'll simplify. Meditation is the process of studying one's own thoughts. It helps you to generate a meta-level higher than the part of your consciousness that talks and thinks. You can use this meta-level to study the way you think as if outside of yourself. Being conscious of your consciousness unlocks the ability to make changes to it and to control it.

In Zen the practice of meditation is called "Sitting." At my best I'm able to get 15-30 minutes a day in. I was taught to count my breath and focus on the the breath itself. As soon as I caught myself in mind chatter I would acknowledge that my mind is chattering bring the count back to 1 and start over again. This is why it's called practice. It's a mental skill that must be practiced in order to make it stronger. The goal is to go longer and longer without a mental interruption.

Being able to maintain a state of consciousness with no intruding thoughts is extremely difficult and frustrating, but one finds that after a certain period of time during a meditation session the mind will naturally calm and it becomes easier.

This empty minded state tends to create a mental environment where the thoughts that start to actually poke through your mind shield are the more important ones that were fighting to get through all the thoughts about who's doing what on Facebook. It takes shutting off the internal noise in your mind to be able to force the most important ideas through.

Great Apps to Help with Meditation

Other helpful links

Nootropics

I recently got into biohacking nootropics after discovering /r/nootropics on reddit. Nootropics—also called smart drugs or cognitive enhancers—are drugs, supplements, or other substances that improve cognitive function, particularly executive functions, memory, creativity, or motivation, in healthy individuals.

The use of cognition-enhancing drugs by healthy individuals in the absence of a medical indication is one of the most debated topics among neuroscientists, psychiatrists, and physicians which spans a number of issues, including the ethics and fairness of their use, concerns over adverse effects, and the diversion of prescription drugs for non-medical uses, among others.

Nonetheless, the international sales of cognition-enhancing supplements exceeded US$1 billion in 2015 and the global demand for these compounds is still growing rapidly.

These guys on /r/nootropics got super obsessed and tried everything on there (which is daunting if you click the link below) and created Nootrobox.

My wife bought me the full stack from Nootrobox for my birthday and I’m blown away by how much it has amped up my energy level, attention span, memory, and ability process new concepts. Week 1 at Flatiron my brain felt like it was on fire…until maybe Thursday where I had gotten so little sleep that no nootropic in the world could help my brain.

For those who were freaking out I know exactly how it feels to try to understand something and nothing comes out but a feeling of frustration. This will bump that up a level where the frustration subsides and you find yourself able to approach these things calmly with far less brain fog.

They have a daily supplement called Rise and a fish oil blend supplement called Kado 3 that you take daily. Then you have a bottle of Sprint which provides 4-6 hours of focus and energy that you take as needed and Yawn a sleep aid you take as needed.

Related links

Food

Week 1 at Flatiron School I found that eating was the hardest thing for me. I just didn’t care or want to eat at all. Every time we had a break I was way more interested in talking to my cohort and found myself barely eating anything. When I wasn’t chatting I was obsessively coding… How could I not? I’ve been stacking all these techniques to get in the zone?

I’d power through and find my energy level starting to fail because of it. Our brains are super complex requiring a balance of sleep, oxygen, calories, and nutrition. If any one of those starts to dip more than a few days you’re going to start getting that frustrating tired brain fog.

Epic Bars

If you’re a meat eater these grass fed beef bars feel so filling in a pinch. They have lots of protein so they were made popular by Crossfit people but they work just as well for us hackers too. They got me out of a breakfastless jam a few mornings.

Soylent

My wife just ordered a case of Soylent for me so I’ll let you guys know how it works. It’s supposed to be a 400 calorie total meal replacement using Soy so it’s totally vegetarian friendly.

Links

Power Napping

Just like the breathing exercises sometimes the most important things are staring you right in the face. I’ve been keeping records of my experiments using these techniques for a while now and one of the areas I focus on is sleep.

I can see a direct correlation between my mood and the level of brain fog I have on any given day to the amount of quality sleep I got the night before.

As I mentioned before Nootrobox provides a supplement called Yawn which helps boost sleep at night. You can also get a variety of sleep aids on Amazon which work fairly well.

If you want to use Prana Breath and Brainwave entrainment to fall asleep I recommend getting a pair of sleep headphones. I’ve tried many of them and so far these have been the best constructed.

I always get wired sleep headphones/sleep mask combo because the bluetooth ones will run out of battery overnight. Other brands of sleep headphones have had the cords break from shotty construction and have designs where the headphones fall over while you sleep. These do a great job at solving those issues.

On to the napping

Power napping is the single greatest life hack in existence. Using brainwave entrainment and hypnotic suggestion you can train your brain to get as much REM sleep in 25 minutes as you get in 2 hours of night time sleep. This means that adding just 1x 25 minute nap per day is like getting an extra 2 hours of sleep… That’s insane.

When I first discovered this in Tim Ferris' book “ The 4 Hour Body” I wanted to try every variation of sleep hacking he described. I had a girlfriend who got home from work very late, a sales job requiring boundless energy, and an early start time. I had to figure something out.

Sleep cycles last approximately 90 minutes and if you wake up before a cycle completes you will feel like crap. If your nap exceeds 25 minutes your brain will begin the rest of the cycle and you’ll feel awful if you don’t complete it so always limit the power nap to < 25 minutes.

My favorite app for this is called Pzizz and I’ve been using it for years. The power nap feature works for me every single time. I’ve been working on custom Prana Breath breathing patterns to layer on top to aid falling asleep further.

The book talks about crazy things like taking 2 naps a day and then sleeping 3 hours at night. All the way to the uberman method which consists of 6x 25 minute naps and no sleep at night.

I tried this while working a web design sales job and slept in the stairwell with Pzizz during lunch time until the CEO of our startup offered to let me sleep in the conference room instead. Energy on the phone is obviously very important in sales so I was trying everything I could.

Long story short. It totally worked. The downside is that the naps have to be spaced 3 hours apart and if you miss one you will crash really hard… so this is only really advisable if your schedule is incredibly flexible. It’s totally doable for everyone to add at least 1x nap to their day though… Since I usually get about 6 hours of sleep each night this extra for 2 hours of sleep from the 25min nap really makes up the difference.

I should also mention that reorganization of memory and detoxification of brain fog causing neurotoxins happens during REM sleep, so this instant 20 minutes of REM sleep trick is pretty ridiculous if you find your brain starting to completely fail you.

Sleep Links

Conclusion

As a composer I had to learn to be creative on command and I’ve used all of the above techniques while writing my music. Using a combination of all these techniques has enabled me to be creative instantly and reliably.

No more “Waiting for the Muse.”

I’m applying all of this to coding since there seems to be endless parallels between music and code and I encourage you guys to pick out one of these life hacks and try it on yourself today.

Let me know what you think when you do!