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2 Ways to Learn Faster

October 1, 2020

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The Short Story

Here are two vastly unknown ways to learn faster. The first one consists of taking a supplement containing an effective dose of alpha-GPC. Alpha GPC has been shown to increase acetylcholine, which translates into higher learning capacity. It’s as effective as it is safe. The second involves exposing yourself to cold temperatures to trigger the release of a neurotransmitter that increases learning capacity.

The Long Story

“Ordinarily he was insane, but he had lucid moments when he was merely stupid.”
―Heinrich Heine
We all have exams to pass, processes to learn, concepts to understand. Learning capacity is probably one of the most significant predictors of human quality of life throughout our lifespans. Warren Buffet used to say, “The more you learn, the more you earn.” It goes to show how he believes in the direct translation of learning capacity into currency. Also, learning doesn’t stop after school, contrary to some popular opinions. Learning is a continual process and has not necessarily to do with passing exams.
 
To give you my perspective, skills are the closest thing we humans have to superpowers. To acquire a great many skills is akin to building your own Jason Bourne. There’s a game-like quality to life.
One of humans’ signature characteristics is the ability to outrun any mammal under the sun—not run faster but longer. Humans have a one of a kind cooling that enables us to run after prey until they collapse or overheat. It’s known as persistence hunting and used to be one practical hunting strategy among early humans.
 
Another one of human’s evolutionary aces that enabled us to exert total dominion over the planet is our brain’s limitless neuroplasticity. As a refresher, neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to rewire itself and thus to adapt to the environment and learn. Neuroplasticity, as you know, is higher the younger you are. We seem to be hardwired to learn useful things while growing up, reproduce, and make room—without wanting to sound too brutal. At some level, our lives are not about us. Much more, they are about our offspring and its offspring in an endless genetic arms race.
 
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There are, however, ways to maintain high neuroplasticity throughout your life. In my Wrap-Up from July 2020 (subscriber exclusive emails, subscribe here if the spirit moves you), I explained that brushing your teeth with the other hand will dramatically increase neural density in the opposite brain area. Hear me out, first. I realize this might just sound like voodoo witchcraft. It’s more straightforward than it seems. Your brain’s primary function is not to solve differential equations or compose poetry. Those are excellent features, but not the firmware. The main objective of your brain is to keep itself alive. In a world where you could be eaten, that translates into a fair amount of neural real estate being occupied with motion. Let’s-get-out-of-here-before-we-get-eaten is an excellent rule to live by.
 
On the example of brushing your teeth with the other hand, when you do it for the first time, you will feel remarkably uncomfortable. There aren’t enough neuromuscular connections linked with your other hand to make movement smooth and precise. That’s where the unpleasantness comes from. Your brain doesn’t want to make new connections. Much like the rest of the body, it obeys to principles of abundant laziness—the law of the least effort. You must leave it no choice. Training the brain to make new connections (neuroplasticity) or increase neural density (neurogenesis) is conceptually like increasing muscle mass: your body doesn’t want to. Muscle is biologically expensive to create and maintain—neural tissue is even more expensive—so there needs to be a good reason to. In physiology, that reason is called a stress factor. Lift heavy stuff, and your body will adapt. Do new things with your brain, and it will adapt too—simple concepts. There’s no pleasant learning. There’s no pleasant improvement. The only solace I can give you is that the more often you get uncomfortable, the more comfortable you are at being uncomfortable. Embrace the struggle.
 
Now that we covered the underlying grounds of learning and its necessary unpleasantness, here are two ground-breaking ways to dramatically increase your brain’s learning capacity and help you toward knowledge domination.

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The Magic Pill

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
―George Bernard Shaw

The pill is not that magic. It’s simple biochemistry. It consists of taking a supplement containing an effective dose of alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine (alpha GPC) such as MAXIMUM MIND. Alpha GPC is considered a cognitive enhancer. Cognitive enhancers (or nootropics or smart drugs) are niche prescription or off-the-counter medicines or supplements that enhance cognition; e.g., memory, learning, alertness, etc. They are very well known in the world of athletes, entrepreneurs, surgeons, astronauts, businesspeople, or overwhelmed students. They are less known among the general population. Cognitive enhancer come in a vast array of shapes and forms. Some are dangerous, have quite arguable effectiveness, and require expert handling like methylphenidate, sold under the brand name Ritalin. Some are quite harmless and powerfully effective; e.g., caffeine. I would argue that caffeine has somewhat of a strong addictive potential. However, being deeply addicted to caffeine doesn’t have life-wrecking characteristics. It might surprise you that I call caffeine a cognitive enhancer. To be fair, the cognitive effect of caffeine is quite well documented in the literature [1]. Further, everything that you ingest that is not a whole food and has an effect is a drug. There are no two ways about it.
 
For what cognitive enhancers with a fantastic effectiveness-to-safety ratio go (also see Marco’s Grounds Dosing Philosophy), alpha-GPC has to be close to the top of the list—in good company with other natural compounds like bacosides, huperzine A, etc. It’s a naturally occurring compound that doesn’t touch any dopamine receptors—unlike caffeine. Hence, there’s no possibility of addiction. It’s extremely well researched, safe and beautifully effective at increasing brain energy and memory.
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Alpha GPC supplementation has been shown to improve both mental and physical performance. Proper alpha GPC administration increases the release of a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine that facilitates learning and memory, among others [2]. Feel free to consult the extensive literature published under alpha GPC on Marco’s Grounds. In athletes, alpha GPC supplementation also prevents exercise-induced reductions in choline levels, increases endurance performance and growth hormone secretion—although quite mildly for the latter [2].
 
It might come at a surprise that something that increases brain output also increases physical strength and endurance. We rarely mention the positive things MAXIMUM MIND does to the body. It’s a simple concept, really: a highly effective brain is a healthy brain. A strong brain is a healthy brain as much as a strong muscle is a healthy muscle. Have a look at Dr. Sekulic recently published Ketones as Nootropics for her views on ketones and their incredible effect on both mind and body, for instance.
 
For its capacity to increase acetylcholine, alpha GPC is one of the two ways to learn faster.
 
Note: there’s an effective dose of alpha GPC at 99% purity in each dose of MAXIMUM MIND.
Read more about alpha GPC on the Marco’s Grounds Deep Dive or have a look here for the benefits of alpha GPC.

 

Brain Freeze

“Go to bed smarter than when you wake up.”
―Charlie Munger

The second way consists of increasing norepinephrine release. Without getting into the super practical details, norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter that increases neuroplasticity and thus learning capacity [3]. This one requires a bit more grit than the last one, as there is no direct way to take norepinephrine, yet. It’s possible to increase plasma concentration of this neurotransmitter with a supplement containing an effective dose of L-tyrosine (in it’s acetylated form), like MAXIMUM MIND [4]. Also, feel free to consult the extensive literature published under tyrosine on Marco’s Grounds.
 
In addition to tyrosine supplementation, cold exposure seems to dramatically trigger norepinephrine release [5]. As a refresher on the lost arts of cold exposure, brown adipose tissue (BAT) is the leading player here. BAT is a bunch of essential yet underrated fat cells mostly present in your lower neck and upper back area. They react to extreme temperatures and trigger a series of highly beneficial hormones, from fat loss to increased brain output, increased testosterone, decreased cortisol, etc. By extreme temperatures, I mean anything uncomfortable, be it heat or cold.
 
Anything cold helps in triggering norepinephrine release through BAT stimulation; e.g., cold water drinking, cold showers, cold baths, cryotherapy, cold patches, etc. For maximum effect at minimum time cost, cold should be applied to the lower neck and upper back, as this is where most of the BAT is present [5, 6].
 
I used to take cold showers (10°C for three minutes on the upper back) and cold baths (18°C for 20 minutes). Both are cheap; however, the latter is quite hard on the willpower bank. Most people would have trouble here. Also, where I currently live, cold water comes out as lukewarm as cat urine at 20° C or higher, all year, so that’s not an option anymore.
 
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One comfortable way to get a lot of the benefits with only a bit of the required grit is drinking a significant amount of cold water (I drink 1.5 litres of water at 4°C) upon waking up on an empty stomach, similar to the technique I mention in Marco’s Kettlebell Minimalism or What’s Measured Is Managed. If the water is cold enough on a fasted stomach, mild muscle shivering will occur for a couple of minutes—shivering triggers the BAT and hence the norepinephrine response. Another easy way is to have an ice pack on your lower neck and upper back as you read your favourite book in bed at night. As a side note, reading before bedtime is a good way to turn off the monkey mind, just be wary of reading how-to’s or non-fiction. Best results are achieved with paper and fiction.
 
This being said, to trigger 60% of the BAT in the lower neck region, a simple ice pack is enough. It’s not as effective as taking a cold bath, but it’s a million times easier. I would expect that most people can stick to this method more often and longer than the cold bath. I do both the patch and bath. But you don’t have to—the ice patch will trigger good results.
 
A last, yet a bit more expensive way, is to do cryotherapy sessions. A couple of edgy spas have cryotherapy chambers in most cities. I generally do one to two sessions a week. It’s also much easier to do than the cold baths, just more expensive. Cryotherapy occurs typically in a vertical cryo-capsule in which you’re exposed to extremely low temperatures, from negative 120°C to negative 190°C for three minutes to receive a hard physiological stress stimulus from the cold. The procedure is quite uncomfortable; yet a million times more comfortable than sitting in a bath so cold you must use rubber boots to prevent your toes from saying hasta la vista. You don’t really feel the deep cold because it’s dry air—think the difference between sauna and Hamam. Also, the whole thing takes less than ten minutes, which might be interesting for busy people.
 
As such L-tyrosine coupled with cold exposure are one of the ways to increase learning capacity through the release of norepinephrine. 
 
Note: there’s an effective dose of L-tyrosine as NALT at 99% purity in each dose of MAXIMUM MIND.
Read more about L-tyrosine on the Marco’s Grounds Deep Dive
 
That’s it for now. These are my two hidden ways to increase learning capacity: cold exposure with or without tyrosine intake and alpha GPC intake. I hope they help you with your learning goals.
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Literature

  1. Jarvis, M. J. (1993). Does caffeine intake enhance absolute levels of cognitive performance?. Psychopharmacology, 110(1-2), 45-52.
  2. Parker, A. G., Byars, A., Purpura, M., & Jäger, R. (2015). The effects of alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine, caffeine, or placebo on markers of mood, cognitive function, power, speed, and agility. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 12(S1), P41.
  3. Tully, K., & Bolshakov, V. Y. (2010). Emotional enhancement of memory: how norepinephrine enables synaptic plasticity. Molecular brain, 3(1), 15.
  4. Nagatsu, T., Levitt, M., & Udenfriend, S. (1964). Tyrosine hydroxylase the initial step in norepinephrine biosynthesis. Journal of Biological Chemistry, 239(9), 2910-2917.
  5. Lasse Pakanen, Tiina Pääkkönen, Tiina M Ikäheimo, Hannu Rintamäki, Juhani Leppäluoto, Helena Kaija, Marja-Leena Kortelainen, Arja Rautio, Katja Porvari. (2016) Urinary thrombomodulin and catecholamine levels are interrelated in healthy volunteers immersed in cold and warm water. Temperature 3:1, pages 161-166.
  6. Young, J. B., Saville, E., Rothwell, N. J., Stock, M. J., & Landsberg, L. (1982). Effect of diet and cold exposure on norepinephrine turnover in brown adipose tissue. The Journal of clinical investigation, 69(5), 1061-1071.

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