On Cognitive Enhancement (tips, tricks, suggestions)

A Coder’s greatest asset is his/her brainpower. I’m really interested in ways to enhance cognition. This thread will (hopefully) be a place where people can share their methods or cognitive enhancement, ask questions about what other people do, etc.

For example, I

  • Am on a Ketogenic Diet
  • Get daily exercise
  • Get sound sleep
  • Practice TM / Mindfulness meditation
  • Listen to Focus@Will
  • Use a pomodoro timer
  • Use GTD (getting things done) to organize workflow
  • Microdose on the Fadiman protocol

I’m really looking at taking the Learn How to Learn course on edX; I just ordered some adrafinil online, and am looking at other nootropics like Noopept. I’ve also heard about DIY neurostimulation, which is super cool, and to me would be worth the risks.

If this topic is not appropriate, delete it! But I think this could be a really useful thread. Does anyone else have suggestions, or curiosities, or other comments on the topic of cognitive enhancement?


I just run on caffeine and anxiety.


It’s a good topic @samsavage, and seldom discussed. Your list mentions many no-brainers (no pun intended) such as sleep, exercise, diet, meditation. I have no idea what Microdose on the Fadiman protocol is but it’s a great name for a sci-fi book or an art-rock band; guess I’ll have to look that up.
We have to tread lightly here and be very careful not to influence anyone on taking questionable supplements so full disclaimer here I am not necessarily recommending this, but for me personally Alpha Brain has helped me focus from time to time (it’s a nootropic). Nothing beats the good eat/good sleep/exercise trifecta though.
And yeah, caffeine fuels my day for sure @ArielLeslie.


My assumption is that we’re all adulting here and that #freespeech applies, but I get your point. Cognitive enhancement is one of those subjects where… Everyone should know as much about it as possible (at least in my autist mind), but it does potentially run into some grey areas. I’ll avoid those now.

I’m looking at the rundown of Alphabrain vs Optimind vs Qualia right now. I’ve never tried one of these proprietary stacks before, but I’d be interested in trying.

Do you take every day, or cycle every other day, etc.? Notice any real benefits?

It’s definitely a topic I’m interested in, though I can’t say I practice anything regularly. Eating some kind of baked fish (not just canned tuna) definitely enhances my cognitive ability. That was something I’d noticed before I ever read that it’s a known thing.

Coursera has a course called Learning How to Learn, which is more than just study techniques. They include brain research findings.

One takeaway is that the more you think about something or do it, the more connections for it grow in your brain, the larger an area your brain devotes to it. So if there is a specific ability or topic you want to improve, just practicing it, just doing it (for 10,000 hours or more, is the rule of thumb) will get you there.

Norman Doidge’s tales of people who have overcome brain damage (e.g. The Brain that Changes Itself) are fascinating and may give you some ideas of ways you might want to work with your own brain.

Edit: Meant to add, lucid dreaming is another good technique.

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“Learning How to Learn” makes me think of one of my favorite quotes from Dune:

“Muad’Dib learned rapidly because his first training was in how to learn. And the first lesson of all was the basic trust that he could learn. It’s shocking to find how many people do not believe they can learn, and how many more believe learning to be difficult.”

When talking about barriers to STEM education (which I do a lot, partly because my partner is a math teacher), this idea that people are actually held back from learning certain subjects because they are convinced that learning them is hard is something that comes up a lot. It also comes up in discussions about early childhood development when we look at how gender gaps are connected to different treatments of failure and success in early education.


Hey Lisa,

I’ll check out the Brain that Changes Itself. I have some form of brain damage from my college days… LOL…


I’ve done Lucid Dreaming, and I think it’s an amazing tool. My favorite thing is to confront my nightmares and try to integrate them – but I also had significant side effects. I would mis-remember dream-happenings as having actually happened.

Napping really helps me to learn quicker. Anything that gets my mind in a totally diffuse state for a period of time will help me.

And Ariel, thanks – that helps me get motivated about LHTL course. I’ve been mulling over whether or not to do it for a few days now.

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Ariel, great quote. The thing is, learning some subjects is hard for some people - most people. It was incredibly hard for me to learn physics, and I was interested and motivated enough to give it maximum focus and effort. In contrast, learning reading and grammar were almost effortless. Also, teachers can affect students’ perceptions of their ability to learn in a big way. Think of dyslexic kids who are otherwise quite bright but thinking they’re not because teachers center so much of learning around reading. (Not that I’m knocking that - it’s my preferred mode of learning.)

Sam (and others), I just want to clarify that you don’t have to be brain damaged to be wowed by The Brain that Changes Itself. It’s not a help manual, it’s a collection of case histories about people who had brain damage finding ways to recover. The stories are amazing because they show what incredible things our brains can do. Some of what those people did could be applied in some ways for our use.

Sam, interesting that you had some dreams you thought were real. I guess the answer would be to become more aware of whether you’re in a lucid dream state or a waking state.

Memory retention is a subject worth researching.
Some tips here

And memory has a rhythm:
let’s say you learn something on day D,
review it on the evening of day D,
then on D1, D2, D3, D7…

@samsavage - To be clear, I was only talking about the name of the course. I don’t have any idea how good the LHTL course is.

@LisaWillCode - I was raised by and with people with learning disabilities (my love of the book Dune actually came from my dyslexic father), which is part of why I get so passionate about the way we set people up to think “I just can’t learn that”. I used to work as a tutor and what I saw over and over were students who had just accepted that certain subjects or concepts were “too hard” for them. You take students who struggle for some reason (learning disability, background, environment, etc), add a subject stigma like “math is hard and only some people are good at it” and then put them in a situation where they don’t understand something the way it is first presented to them (as in your example) and they are primed to believe that they just can’t learn it. We take “I didn’t understand the same example other people did” as “this is too hard to learn”.

One thing that a lot of exposure to people with conditions like dyslexia has shown me is that there is a world of difference between those who consider themselves “disabled” versus those who were raised to believe that they are just as capable of learning and understanding and just need to use different tools or techniques to do it. The thing I love about the Dune quote is the second sentence: “And the first lesson of all was the basic trust that he could learn.”

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The Learning How to Learn course consistently gets 5-star reviews. When I took it a few years ago, it was touted as Coursera’s most popular course. Not pushing it, just following from Ariel’s comment. More info here:

Ariel, I can only say that I agree with everything you wrote. (I could also go on to talk more about Dune, but that would be getting off track, so I’ll rein myself in.)

Friendly reminder for everyone that this forum has a Reviews section where you can add a star rating. If you’ve tried courses or books as part of your journey learning to code (whether it’s programming specific, or more generally about learning like this thread), writing a review of it would be super helpful. Then you can link those reviews into forum threads like this. :slight_smile:

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Checking those links Alphabetacoder thankkssss!

Glad I posted this thread. How constructive! I was secretly trying to create a bro-do-you-even-nootropic thread. But you guys have turned it into more of a strategy thing. I like this.


So this idea of learning faster by ‘expanded repetition patterns’, or however you want to say that.

Wouldn’t it be best to literally study every day? Or does this research demonstrate that possibly, taking a few days off studying could be a more effective method?

I have definitley noticed that if I take a break for a few days, I come back and things are more ‘settled’ in my mind. But, I’d prefer not to take a break for a few days.

Here’s my style right now:

  • Wake up, code until mental fatigue
  • Go on a run / meditate / nap / eat(diffuse mode)
  • Code more, until mental fatigue
  • Have social time / emotional catharsis in evening (diffuse, alternate network activated)
  • Code before bed
  • Repeat

In your opinion, alphabeta, could this routine be improved upon by taking multi-day breaks occaisionally?

I took a lot of longer breaks in the beginning, but now I just code as much as possible. I have a burning f**ing hunger to learn more.

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I’ve been dabbling in this sort of stuff since I was 17, so I’ll throw some possibilities in.

When I started learning to code I would take piracetam, oxiracetam, and choline with coffee. Hard to say if it had any effect for sure, it could have equally been the ritual of it every day. Taking my expensive supplements was a commitment to learn for the next several hours. the period of time I was doing this regimen coincided with the bulk of my learning to code, although I can’t say conclusively the supplements played any real role.

This one might be a bit impractical, but I’ve read that learning a second spoken language increases cognitive performance. It’s a bit of a tall order to suggest anyone take up a second language while already studying coding. I myself occasionally pull up the memrise app on my tablet and try to learn some Japanese from time to time.

There are some studies on art and neuroplasticity, suggesting taking up art strengthens connections between parts of the brain. Whether this particularly helps any cognitive process involved with coding, I don’t know. But if you’re interested in this type of thing, an hour of lessons from the book “Drawing on the right side of the brain” or some figure drawing practice once in a while probably wont hurt.

if theres any supplement you want some quick info on, I’d recommend searching for it on examine.com . You can quickly get an idea of the weight of evidence and magnitude of effect on various parameters that have been studied.

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(Note: I was trying to post this yesterday, but the system said I exceeded the new member limit.)

LOL, sorry, the closest I’ve come to a nootropic is trying ginkgo biloba for a few months once. It did absolutely nothing for me. But “nootropic” is my vocabulary word of the day today. :star_struck:

(Can’t print what yesterday’s vocabulary word was!)

Jashu’s comment about art and neuroplasticity reminded me of a book I read long ago, called Superlearning. If you can dig this one up, you might find some interesting things to try (not drugs/supplements, though). If I remember this right, studies done in Bucharest found that babies and children learned amazingly well when music was played that had a certain rhythm - Mozart is the example I remember.

I took a nootropic stack when I was taking a pretty heavy duty semester in college. I took DMAE, real Wisconsin ginseng, and a good quality multi-vitamin with chelated minerals. DMAE is a natural chemical occuring in some foods. I did enough research before buying it at a health food store to convince myself it is useful :sunglasses: It really did make a difference but I am less intense these days. I think I would take that same stack if I were about to do some serious exercise or a race or something.

I also took LHTL on Coursera. Great course, I learned a lot. I am also trying to ride that edge of pushing myself hard enough but not overdoing it. Down time is important but I do not want to get lazy. The algorithms aren’t going to solve themselves after all…

This may be a little out there but I also have done a lot of research into MBTI types and personality. If you accurately get your MBTI type you can learn a lot about your learning style. MBTI is just a good thing to know because it aids a lot in self-understanding.

Other things I’ve found useful: Bach. Yes Bach. He is like Mozart’s Mozart. Healthy diet, time for friends and family, and whatever else works for you. I do not really know anything but I burnt myself out in college a couple times trying too hard so I almost have to restrain myself from going too hard.

Hmmm what other tricks…I tend to take side-jouneys when I’m stuck so I don’t get discouraged. FCC is like my home base right now but I am taking udacity and udemy courses when I am stuck on FCC stuff.

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I got so pumped reading this thread. It really made me want to step my game up.

Apart from trying to eat healthy/exercise regularly, I also do a few things when I’m really committed to being in the zone to learn/accomplish something:

Really cold shower for like a minute (totally puts you in a different state and feels awesome)
Jump on a mini trampoline for 10 minutes
Some caffeine
Take a short, 3-minute break every 25 minutes.

I picked this last one up from some article, but it really helps me because I tend to get mental fatigue after about 1.5-2 hours then don’t want to do anything anymore. This approach uses 4, 25-minute blocks with a 3-5 minute break in between WHERE YOU DON’T DO ANYTHING. So I don’t check Facebook for my break or look at a screen at all. I use the bathroom, take a short walk around my living room, look out the window, drink water or something, then come and sit back down. After 4, 25-minute breaks, you take a 30-minute break, then repeat. For me at least, this has been the most helpful way to keep from getting mental fatigue and helps me to concentrate on tasks far longer than I could before.

I’ve also never tried nootropics but I’ve definitely interested. I only started drinking coffee like 2 months ago so that itself has been a game changer for me lol.


Check out David Allens Getting things Done System, the new Google Inbox was made for his program i swear

  • I take cold showers sometimes! They are epic.
  • I practice GTD with the app Todoist.
  • Use a leuchterm1917 journal for handwritten support material, and weekly reviews.
  • Trello kanban for managing cognitive - computer workflow
  • For the hearing-stimulus stuff I use www.focusatwill.com , it has 20 different stations of brain-enhancing streamed music… It’s $10/mo. and I have that instead of pandora lol. Built in pomodoro timer.
  • Definitely a fan of pomodoro method. I recently found out about Agile ‘sprints’ and integrated that into my timebox philosophy.
  • Just got adrafanil in mail today, seems legit? Anything for the cause!
  • Also checking out nootropic stack Qualia by Nuerohacker Collective. Craaaazy looking stack. http://neurohacker.com/formulation/

Also a huge proponent of Ketogenic Diet. Anyone else keto for code?