Imagine, if you will, a small, clear pill. It’s sitting in the palm of your hand. This pill is a drug. This drug will enhance your focus one hundredfold so that you can work for hours without losing your intensity. It will jack up your motivation so high that you will never worry again about procrastination or apathy.
It will boost your learning capacity, creativity, and innate analytical abilities, transforming your mind into a supercomputer. In other words, it will make you superhuman. Now, still imagining this tiny pill nestled in between the creases of your palm…
Do you take it?
This is the quandary faced by Eddie Morra, the protagonist in the film Limitless. Morra’s life is a mess. He is an author but faces such severe writer’s block that he drinks rather than completes the first sentence of his book.
He lives in a grungy apartment where every surface is covered two feet deep in scummy dishes and the discarded boxes from pizza and Chinese takeout. And, despite the fact that he has a place to live, Morra looks homeless, with long, scraggly hair and the hunched walk of the defeated. When a freak series of events puts him in possession of a drug called NZT-48 (which the film thereafter refers to as NZT), he must make the choice to either throw it away or take his chances with the experimental cognitive enhancer.
What do you think he chose? Within a week Morra’s life has turned around. He finishes his novel in four days. He starts going to the gym, gets a haircut and a new suit, and transforms into the handsome, confident Bradley Cooper.
He learns how to play the piano, win at poker, and beat the stock market. All because of the extraordinary NZT pill. Anyone who watches the film will be headed directly to Google to ask the search engine “is NZT real?” and “where can I get some?”
The Real NZT-48
Andrew McMillen, an Australian freelance journalist, published in the November 2012 edition of Rolling Stone Australia that the closest real-life pill to the drug NZT is a nootropic called Modafinil.
On Modafinil, McMillen stayed awake for 79 hours in one 90-hour period, got “keyed into a writing task with laser-like focus,” and spent an absurd number of nighttime hours researching nootropics, doing the dishes, and playing video games instead of sleeping.
The question has now become, it seems, “what is Modafinil?”, “what does it do?”, and, still, “where do I get some?” Modafinil is a wakefulness-promoting agent that was originally developed to combat narcolepsy, shift work sleep disorder, and other circumstances that cause people to feel abnormally drowsy at inconvenient hours.
However, it quickly became known as a nootropic and is widely marketed as a cognitive enhancer. Unlike many other recreational drugs, Modafinil is not used to give users a “high” but rather to enhance productivity and effectiveness. Modafinil Edge, one of many sites that vends and ships the drug, wrote that,
“Compared to the likes of opium, LSD, MDMA/Ecstasy, or marihuana, there’s really not much spirituality involved when you take it. Using Modafinil doesn’t make you happier all by itself and you wouldn’t have much fun just sitting there enjoying the effect. On the other hand, it probably wouldn’t be much fun to go out dancing in a nightclub while on Modafinil either. Your mind would just be too damn crystal clear and focused.”
The drug works by increasing the availability of certain brain chemicals that promote alertness and focus. It blocks the neurotransmitters that remove dopamine from the brain, elevating mood slightly and increasing motivation. It increases hypothalamic histamine levels, which prevents drowsiness. Modafinil also stimulates the production of norepinephrine, an adrenaline-like substance that tricks the brain into believing that “something important must be going on,” and results in wakefulness and attention, as well as serotonin, a “feel good” drug that boosts mood and improves memory and plasticity.
All of these reactions act in concert to create a drug that stimulates mental alertness to a high degree and increases productivity. (A more in-depth discussion of Modafinil’s chemical properties can be found here.)
Becoming Limitless Naturally
“A tablet a day, and what I could do with my day was limitless.” ~ Eddie Morra, Limitless There are many of us who would like to see an Eddie Morra transformation in our lives. Not because we lack vision, drive, and confidence like Morra does, but simply because we want to take our lives to the next level.
Still, for those of us who don’t feel comfortable taking recreational drugs, or for those of us who live in the United States (where Modafinil is a Schedule IV controlled substance), what are we to do?
Here are five ways to replicate the effects of both NZT-48 and Modafinil without taking any drugs or doing anything that might compromise your morals.
These lifestyle hacks are not as easy as popping a little pill and letting your brain chemicals take you away on a wild ride to Dreamville, but they have other side effects. They’re cheaper than drugs, they’re 100% natural and not likely to have unknown adverse side effects, and they will not only give you better focus and motivation but also benefit all areas of your life.
Your relationships will improve, your health will not be an issue again, and you will feel better every day instead of worrying about when you’ll come off of your NZT-high. So, with no further ado, here are the hacks that you clicked on this article in the first place to discover…
1. Drink (Black) Coffee
Now, for the sake of full disclosure, I am aware that caffeine itself can be considered a drug. Some people might even consider it a nootropic, like Modafinil and NZT-48. However, I hope that you’ll hear me out because drinking coffee can have a pretty amazing positive impact on your life, especially when combined with hack number two below.
First of all, caffeine is known to boost norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin, three chemicals that are present in Modafinil. Getting these chemicals in your system without illegal or (overly) expensive drugs is already a plus. Drinking your coffee black has even more benefits.
To begin with, it makes you feel and look more masculine. You are a man. You don’t need any added sugar, whipped cream, ice, or froo-froo additions in order to down your cup of Joe. Black coffee is also free of calories, but high in nutrients, which means that it will benefit your body without your having to worry about the extra 450 calories of caramel and chocolate on your cappa-frappa-macchiato.
Add on to that the fact that caffeine is a natural appetite suppressant, which will help you to fast intermittently, as discussed next, and it seems like a no-brainer. (If you need more convincing, black coffee is also the least expensive at any of your neighborhood coffee shops, which saves you money as well as boosting your productivity, and heightening your focus.)
2. Commit to Intermittent Fasting
Back in the days of cavemen and saber-toothed cats, do you think that the men had time to eat breakfast every morning? Of course not.
They were out hunting as soon as they woke. They tracked their prey all morning, killed them by noon, then returned home to feast in the afternoon and evening.
Intermittent fasting (IF) is not a diet, per se, but rather an eating schedule that replicates the eating cycle best optimized to keep you alert, focused, and ready to hunt down and kill an antelope with just a spear and stone knife. So what is intermittent fasting?
Many of you have probably heard of it before. For those of you who haven’t, it’s an eating schedule whereby you fast for sixteen hours out of a twenty-four-hour period and eat in the remaining eight-hour window. For most people, this means skipping breakfast and eating only two meals each day, the first meal approximately six hours after waking.
What are the benefits?
For one thing, intermittent fasting allows you to burn fat and lean down without feeling as though you’re on a diet, simply because it is harder to eat your usual amount of calories when you’re restricted to such a short time frame.
However, in the context of this article, I will gloss over the many physical benefits of IF and focus on the mental. Remember, we’re trying to replicate the effects of NZT on the mind without ingesting any drugs or cognitive enhancers. Well, according to some studies, fasting has been shown to increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a chemical that helps your brain to build neurons.
More neurons mean more learning capacity and more processing power in your mind’s supercomputer. Fasting also causes the brain to enter a state of autophagy, which means that it breaks down old cells and wastes materials to be recycled into new hardware.
Not only does this remove toxins from your brain cells, but it also protects against neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. While this study is not specific to IF, it demonstrated that fasting for short periods increased the subjects’ “level of vigilance” and led to “mood improvement.”
As well, in the first week or so of fasting, subjects’ bodies adapted to their new diet by releasing massive amounts of epinephrine (adrenaline), norepinephrine, and dopamine into their systems. We’ve already seen norepinephrine and dopamine in both Modafinil and caffeine. See any link to NZT?
Finally, let’s remember that digestion is one of the most taxing functions our body performs. Digestion requires large investments of blood and energy for hours at a time, which depletes your battery and lessens the reserves you can utilize with your brain. You know that feeling of laziness and lethargy right after you eat a big meal? Yeah. With intermittent fasting, you miss out on that, too.
3. Work Out
Yet again, here’s a habit that will make you look and feel more masculine.
In Limitless, Eddie Morra is shown both running by the river and doing sit-ups at the gym in the weeks following his acquisition of the NZT drug.
In his 2013 book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, Dr. John Ratey researched the science behind the way working out impacted the critical mass between your ears.
Regular exercise, Ratey found, triggers the production of insulin receptors in your body, which leads to more efficient utilization of energy. It also boosts confidence, leading to an increased capacity to interact socially and to create interpersonal relationships.
In Limitless, Morra turns from an asocial drunk into a social butterfly, amazing everyone with his wit and broad knowledge base. While this was likely a byproduct of NZT and not of his exercise regimen, we can replicate this effect by getting out of the house to the gym as few as three times per week.
Another benefit of habitual physical conditioning is increased focus and acuity. Think about this, your brain takes up 2% of your body’s mass and utilizes 20% of your body’s oxygen. He’s a hungry little guy!
Elevating your heart rate during a run or a heavy set pumps more blood through your body, oxygenating your brain and keeping it satisfied.
In addition, a UCLA study also found that exercise makes it easier to grow new neural connectors. This might explain why when Morra listens to a French learning program while he runs he is able to pick up the language in a matter of days.
(No promises on that kind of speed, but enhanced learning abilities? Sign me up!) We all already knew that working out makes you more attractive and more confident. But now we know that it can also be used to partially recreate the effects of NZT — it makes you smarter!
4. Use the “Right” Body Language
“Our bodies change our minds, our minds change our behavior, and our behavior changes our outcomes.” ~ Amy Cuddy
In Limitless, Morra begins the film with hunched, closed body language as he trudges down the streets of New York. He looks like he’s lost in his own, isolated world or huddling in a coat against a frigid wind.
After his first dose of NZT, no one would have recognized him if they hadn’t seen the transformation with their own eyes. He strides confidently down the sidewalk with a purposive step. He’s a man on a mission and anyone with eyes can see it. Now, a lot of people realize that there is some sort of causative relationship between their mind and their body.
For example, they know that imbibing alcohol or taking recreational drugs will have mind-altering effects. But a secret that many people have simply never been told is that not only is there a two-way street between mind and matter, but the way you act and carry yourself has an impact on your brain chemistry.
In 2012, Amy Cuddy teamed up with another Harvard researcher, as well as one from the University of California Berkeley, and made some intriguing discoveries. Their research centered on what they termed “power poses,” or positive body language in human subjects.
They placed these poses into two categories, “high power poses” and “low power poses.” High power poses were open and expansive, taking up a lot of space in a room, whereas low power was closed and contractive.
Their findings indicated that how people carry themselves is reflected in the chemistry their bodies secrete. “Not only do these postures reflect power,” the team wrote, “they also produce it; in contrast to adopting low power poses, adopting high power poses increases explicit and implicit feelings of power and dominance, risk-taking behavior, action orientation, pain tolerance, and testosterone (the dominance hormone) while reducing stress, anxiety, and cortisol (the stress hormone…” You read that right.
After having test subjects hold “high power” poses for just a couple of minutes, their bodies had higher testosterone and lower cortisol. (As well as higher pain tolerance. Tell me that isn’t badass!)
To be precise, after two minutes of power posing, subjects’ testosterone rose an average of 20% and cortisol dropped 25%! Meanwhile, subjects who held themselves in “low power” poses for the same two minutes experienced a 10% decrease in testosterone and a 15% increase in cortisol.
This is pretty exhilarating stuff. Cuddy’s research found that alpha males in primate groups, as well as high-power executives, reflect this chemical balance as a result of taking on leadership roles.
Successful leaders, she said in a TED talk on the subject of her discoveries, are ones that are not only able to be dominant (have high testosterone) but also cool under pressure (low cortisol), “You want the person who’s powerful and assertive and dominant, but not very stress reactive, the person who’s laid back.”
But what does all of this mean for us? To start out with, it means that positive, expansive body language is more powerful than negative, closed-off body language. This is good because it tells us that even if we have awful body language right now — we walk hunched over, stand with our arms crossed over our chest and our chin down, or duck our heads and don’t make eye contact — the positive, confident body language of an alpha male will overwhelm the negativity with ease. Second, we’ve learned that these changes are immediate, occurring in as short a time frame as two minutes!
That makes this step extremely valuable to you because it is immediately actionable. Starting today, starting right now, you can adopt higher power body language to alter your brain’s own chemical composition. How’s that for intoxicating? Finally, we’ve discovered another key to unlocking our natural NZT potential. If you can adopt powerful body language 24/7, how powerful do you think the effects will be towards achieving powerful body chemistry and a boosted mental state?
5. Sleep Better
You all live crazy, hectic lives. I understand. In your daily struggle to survive and thrive, it can be easy to prioritize productivity oversleep.
I’ve done it myself many times in the past. Especially coming from a background in a competitive, upper-echelon university, I am all-too-aware of the mindset that screams, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”
Unfortunately, while our personal emotions and motivation may drive us to be sleep-denying robots it is not in our best interests to follow those instincts blindly. Being a man often means doing what you know you must do, whether or not you want to do it.
So how can sleeping help you achieve the sharpened mind, impeccable recall, and beyond-impressive analytic abilities of an NZT drug? First, let’s talk about the negative impact of not getting your necessary hours of rest.
The United States National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke wrote that “Too little sleep leaves us drowsy and unable to concentrate the next day.
It also leads to impaired memory and physical performance and reduced ability to carry out math calculations… If sleep deprivation continues, hallucinations and mood swings may develop.” So, without sleep, you will be experiencing the exact opposite of an NZT-high — an inability to focus, a lack of memory ability, and no analytical capacity. Not only that, but you may actually go crazy.
Now, accepting that getting enough sleep is necessary for your brain and body to function at optimal levels, let’s discuss the benefits of getting seven or eight hours per night (the average quantity required to regenerate a healthy adult body).
One study done on rats showed that nerve-signaling patterns the rats generated during the day were replayed during deep sleep. Scientists believe that this repetition encodes memories into the mind and improves learning.
Sleep also gives the brain a chance to exercise “important neuronal connections that might otherwise deteriorate from lack of activity.” This will allow you to retain skills and abilities that you have developed over time, instead of losing them into a gray fog from lack of use.
In Limitless, Eddie Morra sees the corner of a book in the bag of his landlord’s wife as they meet in the stairwell. To his NZT-enhanced mind, it is obvious that the book is an obscure text he saw once years ago pertaining to a Supreme Court Justice. He uses this memory to deduce that the young woman is in law school. She is impressed, and so is he. How would it be to encode memories into your mind like this?
No promises can be made, but getting quality sleep will definitely help you to level up your mind’s capacity to learn and remember, a crucial NZT gift.
So Let’s Recap…
NZT-48 is a fictitious drug that influences your brain’s chemistry in such a way as to induce elevated intellectual capacity.
Its closest living relative is a prescription pill called Modafinil, but actually taking this pill may be illegal (in the US) or against the morals of someone who is opposed to nootropics and cognitive enhancers.
Luckily, there are plenty of all-natural, perfectly legal activities that can achieve the effects of Modafinil (or NZT) when they are used in tandem. Drinking black coffee can simulate the chemical effects of NZT on your brain, especially when combined with Intermittent Fasting. Working out will boost your confidence and release mood-elevating hormones, allowing you to break free of self-doubt and achieve social prestige.
The right body language will enhance this confidence and aid you in being more dominant and cool under pressure. Finally, getting the right quality, and quantity, of sleep, will tie the package together, stabilize your moods and body chemistry, and improve your memory.
You don’t need NZT or Modafinil to get the effects of either. Any of these five tips, I know, will individually improve your life, but together, I think that they will create a chemical cocktail in your body that will elevate your mind is the only real sustainable way — naturally.
My name is Jack Dolinar. I am a student at Duke University, a blogger, and the author of a fantasy novel. I’ve written columns on self-improvement for several newspapers which have a combined audience of 325,000 people. I love reading about philosophy, psychology, and lifestyle design, and teasing out the links where the three intersect. I believe that I can implement this knowledge to help people to hack their own minds and bodies to develop into the perfect version of themselves