Stimulants 101: How to wake yourself up and get shit done (without destroying your long-term health)
If you're reading this, I'm assuming you take a shit load of stimulants to stay awake and get work done.
It's the only option on those days where you've been grinding through mind-numbing Excel for 8 hours and your brain is turning to mush. When you've been getting crushed for weeks and barely sleeping 4-hours a night, and can feel your eyelids drooping.
All you can think about is going home and crawling into your warm, comfortable bed to sleep, but if you don't get this work done tonight then your boss will scream at you.
You'll definitely get a crap performance rating.
You might even get fired.
So what do you do?
If you're like most people, the answer is obvious: you grab a XXL coffee and get to work.
Ahhh, good ol' caffeine. It's the tried and tested performance enhancer of bankers, consultants, and lawyers all over the world.
Today, I'm going to dig into the topic of stimulants. I'll look at why the "common sense" approach to stimulants is wrong (and downright dangerous), and I'll give you a better and healthier alternative for waking yourself up when you need to get shit done at work.
Let's dive in.
Stimulants 101: The corporate PEDs (performance enhancing drugs)
There's a simple reason for why people take so many stimulants: they work.
They wake you up when you're feeling tired. They help you focus when you're distracted. They make you work faster when you're feeling sluggish.
Case in point: caffeine is one of the most effective and widely used legal performance enhancers in the world of sports.
When I played rugby for Canada, I was given caffeine pills before every game. In my locker next to my jersey would be a small zip-lock bag with seven 50mg pharmaceutical-grade caffeine pills. 60-minutes later, I'd be sprinting around the field like a maniac tackling anybody I could get my hands on.
Caffeine also has significant cognitive benefits, as you probably know through your own self experimentation. Multiple scientific studies have shown that caffeine can increase alertness and concentration during periods of sleep deprivation.
Caffeine is the secret weapon of your best late-night work marathons. Until one day it's not. Until one day, it just stops working.
You down your usual Venti-quad-shot-Americano-with-4-sugars, and sit back while you wait for the lightning bolt of energy... but it never comes. 10-minutes later, you're even more tired and unproductive than before you drank the coffee.
It's common to get habituated to the effects of caffeine, especially if you drink it every single day.
When faced with this challenge, a lot of people reach for something stronger. Nicotine. 5-Hour Energy. Red Bull. Maybe even a prescription drug like Adderall or Modafinil.
After all, these are all proven to be powerful stimulants and have been used by ambitious financiers the world-over to get an edge at work.
But just because stimulants work, that doesn't mean they are good for you.
There are side effects to every drug and supplement (even if they aren't immediately obvious), and hardcore stimulants can mess up your health for years if you're not careful.
So before you go out and start popping pills like candy, consider this cautionary tale.
A story about the long-term effects of stimulants
As part of my business, I do 1-on-1 coaching with a select few clients.
These are ambitious individuals that aren't satisfied with being average - they want to be the best. They are willing to invest in themselves and do whatever it takes to succeed. I help them build a competitive advantage at work using proven productivity, lifestyle, and fitness systems.
Two recent clients - a PE associate and an investment banker - came to me with a similar challenge. They were both feeling low on energy.
I was surprised, because these two clients were truly impressive individuals.
They had gone to fantastic schools and landed prestigious jobs at top firms. They had been on the grind for 3+ years, slowly working their way up the ladder with sheer hard work. By every definition, they were successful.
But beneath the surface, cracks were starting to appear. The years of late nights and sleep deprivation had taken it's toll. All those stimulant fuelled work marathons had done permanent damage to their health.
They were both suffering from adrenal fatigue. Now, I'm not a doctor, but I'm familiar with adrenal fatigue and know how serious of a problem it can be.
According to WebMD, "Adrenal fatigue is a term that's used by some to say that fatigue and other symptoms are caused by a poorly working adrenal gland in people who are under mental, emotional, or physical stress... Symptoms include:
- Trouble getting out of bed
- Chronic tiredness, even after you wake up in the morning
- Trouble thinking clearly or finishing your tasks"
While there is still some debate in the medical community about the role the adrenal glans plays in this fatigue, the causes seem to be clear:
- Poor sleep habits
- Poor diet
- Stress at work or home
- Using caffeine and other stimulants
Any of those sound familiar to your lifestyle?
Again, I'm not a doctor and don't play one on the internet, but there seems to be a pretty obvious correlation (maybe even causation) between the finance lifestyle and chronic fatigue.
Chronic fatigue is one of the biggest risks for people in demanding careers, but no one ever talks about it! Instead, everyone keeps downing coffee's and popping pills while pretending that the immediate benefits come with no long-term side effects.
Well, today I've got a way you can create a competitive advantage at work by boosting your energy without using hardcore stimulants that might destroy your long-term health.
How to wake yourself up and get shit done (without destroying your health)
At the beginning of this article I promised you an alternative to hardcore stimulants. Here it is.
Over the past few years, I've turned myself into a guinea pig and tested countless strategies, hacks, and tools for surviving long hours with little sleep. I've done this for one simple reason: to help you create a competitive advantage and become a top-performer at work.
(You can also check out my another of my WSO posts: The All-Nighter Experiment: What Worked and What Didn't).
Today I'm going to talk about my two favourite strategies for instantly increasing your energy without hardcore stimulants: breathing and movement.
I learned about the importance of breathing from performance guru, Tony Robbins. Here's what he has to say:
"Did you know that 70% of the toxins inside of your body are removed through the lungs? Breath is an essential element to life, and yet today we're using less and less of our lung capacity. Think about it. When you're stressed is your breath deep or shallow? You'd be surprised how often we hold our breath!
Breath is the key to physical and mental well-being, and if done properly, it can boost energy, relieve pain, and transform our lives.
To maintain your body's optimal health, your cells must be oxygenated through proper breathing. Learn how to breathe properly by using this exercise."
He goes on to recommend a simple technique for energizing yourself with breathing.
Whenever you need a pick-me-up, simply take 10 "power breaths" using a 1:4:2 ratio for inhale:hold:exhale. For example, INHALE for 5 seconds, HOLD for 20 seconds, EXHALE for 10 seconds, and REPEAT 10 times.
I use this routine multiple times a day, and it's a game-changer.
Action Step: Stop what you're doing right now (seriously, do this right now) and try the breathing technique. It only takes 5-minutes, and you'll feel like a different person by the end. Here's a simple video to follow along that makes it even easier:
The second strategy is movement.
I got this idea from a great book called Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, written by John Ratley. The book describes all the ways exercise can help your brain, including: stress, ADHD, anxiety, depression, addiction, aging, etc.
But the one you're most interested in is mental focus and energy. Here's what Ratley says about those:
"Studies suggest that endorphins produced directly in the brain contribute to the general feeling of well-being that usually comes along with exercise. For starters, exercise immediately elevates levels of norepinephrine in certain areas of the brain. It wakes up the brain and gets it going. Exercise also boosts dopamine, which improves mood, motivation, feelings of wellness and attention."
This physiological reaction makes sense when you think about it from an evolutionary perspective. If prehistoric humans fell asleep while running away from a saber-toothed tiger, chances are they wouldn't live very long. When your body is exerting physical energy, it signals to your brain that now is the time to be alert and focused, not to drift off to dreamland.
Action Step: The next time you feel sluggish, instead of another coffee try going for a walk. Get up from your desk and do a lap of the office, or even climb a flight of stairs. I used to print random pieces of paper during the day just so I could go for a walk to the printer.
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These are just two examples of how you can hack your bodies natural biology to replace chemical stimulants. There are plenty of other options out there, but too many to put in this post.
If you're looking for more ways to build a competitive advantage at work, I've put together a pdf download with the best strategies for instantly increasing your energy when your working long hours with little sleep. Just click hereto download the pdf I put together for you with my 5 favourite strategies for increasing my energy at work.
I want to hear from you
What do you do when you're crashing at work and need an energy boost? Are you a coffee addict (or something stronger)? Have you tried any natural stimulants?
Leave a comment on the post and let us know your secret sauce for increasing your energy at work (with or without stimulants).