No matter what your nootropics stack is formulated to do – and no matter what’s already in your stack – you need to make sure that you have some very essential ingredients included. Whether you want to improve memory, become more of a “quick thinker”, stay alert longer, or improve the quality of your job or learning performance…there are some things you just won’t learn from reading product data, side effects, dosage lists, or even Erowid experiences. There are some “ingredients” that none of these sources will outline, but they can make all the difference in the world when you take your stack.
So – what are these “secret stack ingredients”?
1. Nutrition. Your body needs the proper fuel in order to efficiently run. Your body – and your brain – need proper nutrition. I didn’t say “diet” so as not to bring up the image of someone dieting to lose weight, but this is an effect of your overall dietary habits. Do you eat junk – or real food? Do you abuse your body by what you give it – or do you strengthen yourself by what you eat? “Negative nutrition” can negate or lessen the effects of a supplement – no matter if its a vitamin pill or the most expensive nootropic. So good nutrition should be the foundation of your nootropic stack!
2. Exercise. I’m an advocate of doing hard things, because your body and your mind both thrive off of challenges. Don’t believe it? Do a visual comparison of someone who lives a life of ease with someone who adds endurance and exercise to their life. Whether the exerciser is a runner, a bicyclist, a martial artist, a sportsman, or just an avid walker…they’ll look different than the person who sits down most of the time. Modern Western society spends an inordinate amount of time, daily, staring at screens – iPhones, video games, computers, and televisions. The obesity epidemic is evidence of not only a problem with the food our society eats but it shows that we’ve got a lot of “strikes” against us: it’s not just that we’ve developed lazy habits, but we often have to sit down in front of a computer for hours each day as part of our job. To counteract the effects of living in a world where we don’t physically exert ourselves through work or even by walking places, exercise as absolutely essential. For a quick, simple, yet strongly insightful (and a bit fun!) book that gives great advice and perspective on this, I highly recommend The Philosopher’s Diet by Richard Watson. Aside from visible, bodily health benefits, however, it’s proven that physical exercise boosts brain function. Therefore, you need to supplement your stack with some sweat.
3. Memorization. The brain is like a muscle in that it needs to be exercised. One way to do this is by good old-fashioned rote memorization, just like schools used to liberally use in teaching (long ago). It has uses beyond just teaching lists of facts and dates, of course, and it benefits you by improving and maintaining your brain function. The learned and leaders among us have always memorized poetry and passages from scripture and literature – knowing and being able to recite such things is one mark of intelligence and learning. What dullard was ever known to recite Shakespeare, Kipling, or Paul’s writings at any length? By committing worthwhile words to memory, you bring your culture up a notch to be sure. Having poetry memorized changes you at some level. But a side benefit is that you actually improve your brain function across the board due to the numerous benefits memorization gives you.
4. Meditation. I’m going to define meditation as “contemplation” so as to include not only prayer and religious meditation but also the quiet, serene focus that one might give to something in order to understand it. Meditation is something that does have religious flavor to it – whether its Buddhist monks meditating or if it’s David meditating on the scriptures – but meditation also encompasses thinking on anything else such as a problem or a challenge or a task we might wish to tackle. I believe our modern world doesn’t sit and contemplate often enough. Yet, meditation is provably good for our brain. Scholarly, scientific research has been extensively done that shows the overwhelmingly positive effects that many sorts of meditation (whether it’s just “mindfulness”, prayer, or classic meditation) can have on us. Not only can we gain understanding of whatever it is we choose to meditate upon, but we gain immune system improvement and residual improved brain function overall. So does your stack need to include meditation? Yes it does, absolutely.
5. Reading. In a world filled with electronic media, where even the old-fashioned, lowly paper book has been turned into an electronic device, reading can fall by the wayside. And when we are forced to read something, we might be tempted to skip to the “tl;dr” summary. But the habit of reading gives you a list of undeniable advantages. Specifically, “slow” reading of actual books as opposed to the quick, ADD variety of scan-reading we are accustomed to in our fast-paced society. (When you consider that one in four people didn’t even read a book last year, you understand why this needs to be stressed.) That’s why every nootropics stack really must include the habit of slow reading – it adds the “smart” to the smart drug equation.
6. Learning. Learning new things is an effect of reading, and may even be an effect of meditation. But hopefully you can see the bigger picture here, which is that everything in our nootropics stack can and should be synergistic: these ingredients are all things that build upon each other, support each other, and amplify each other. A nootropic stack isn’t just a few smart drugs or supplements that you take periodically; a stack also includes habits and practices in order to be truly effective. And learning – as a practiced, desired choice in life – is just as much of an ingredient in your stack as a racetam or choline source. Learning involves focus, curiosity, and skill acquisition – all things that support overall brain function, and all things that can be amplified by supplements. The thing about learning however is that it often must be purposeful, and much often be sought out. Therefore, it deserves an addition to our list of nootropic stack essentials.
7. Rest. If you’ve ever stayed up all night and then tried to go to work or school the next day after getting just a couple of hours of sleep, you know from experience that rest (or lack thereof) affects brain function. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture when forced upon a prisoner, and sleep deprivation is used as a prime stressor in the “Hell Week” selection process for the U.S. Navy SEALs. The opposite of sleep deprivation – sufficient and restful sleep – benefits us greatly. Why then do we inflict torture upon ourselves by sometimes surviving on only a few hours of sleep each night, sometimes after staying up too late watching TV or some other activity that puts our brain in a stupor? Insufficient nightly rest is extremely harmful to cognition, alertness, problem-solving ability, attentiveness, and overall physical health as well. It’s interesting that some of the great minds of history – Churchill, again, and Thomas Edison as well – found time to rest on a regular schedule with sacrosanct nap times. They knew the importance of rest. We’ve mentioned the importance of rest in our article on the Top Nootropics Rules for Beginners (proper rest is a prerequisite requirement!) and it needs inclusion in our list here due to it’s necessity.
All the things we’ve listed are what I would consider essentials of a good nootropics stack. It’s counter-productive and inefficient to live any other way – for instance, living on a diet of fast-food while at the same time attempting to take smart drugs to improve cognitive function. A holistic approach to nootropics as a lifestyle is the best overall approach. When you look at it from this perspective, you see that it’s an exercise for your soul.
The exercise of the soul (or what we call the mind) has a long tradition that includes people as varied as the Greek philosophers, the American Founding Fathers, leaders such as Winston Churchill and Teddy Roosevelt, and hardy adventurers such as Ernest Shackleton. These days, you see this purposeful mindset toward self-improvement in various subcultures (such as entrepreneurs, sports enthusiasts, strength trainers, the “manosphere”, and others).
This general overall exercise of one’s mind towards being better, more resilient, and stronger overall goes hand-in-hand with nootropics usage. For these reasons, it makes sense that your stack should include not just the substances you use as supplements – but the intangible habits and mindset included in this list.