Doping for a Presidential Debate

Last night, Glenn Fleishman asked:

Responses were predictably all over. Some suggested Adderall, others offered ketamine. No one touched on one of the best drug categories for improving public speaking performance: propranolol.

Propranolol is a beta-blocker. Beta-blockers reduce the speed and force of your heartbeat, also lowering your blood pressure. They work by blocking the effects of norepinephrine and adrenaline receptors. Both are stress hormones involved in the flight of fight response. Blocking their effects help reduce the effects of anxiety, smoothing out your responses.

Beta-blockers are so effective at improving performance, the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) has banned beta-blockers in sports requiring fine motor skills: archery, darts, golf, shooting, among others. The PGA has also banned beta-blockers after claims pros were using them to prevent the yips while putting. (Yips are a nickname for the small, involuntary muscle movements that cause you to miss putts.) Their use isn’t limited to athletes. Musicians regularly use them to combat stage jitters, event when competing for coveted orchestral seats.

Beta-Blockers vs. Adderall

Adderall is the undisputed king of study drugs. If you have a paper you need to crank out, or some other mountain of repetitive work, Adderall’s target fixation attributes can be valuable. Get on a debate stage, however, and a stimulant may be less than ideal. And the side effects may make you look less than presidential. Some of these side effects may include:

  • Nervousness
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness

Propranolol isn’t without its own side effects, namely drowsiness. This should be manageable with the right dosing. Whether you should take prescription drugs for enhancement, however, is your decision. Drugs used for cognitive enhancement vary by their effects, side effects and interactions. If you choose to dope, ensure you’re using the right substance to enhance the appropriate characteristics.

Reclaiming Focus

After 180+ days of quarantine, several weeks of wildfires on the West Coast, the occasional heat wave, constant social justice protests and riots, and a controversial presidential election on the horizon, my ability to focus on one task for any meaningful length of time has plummeted. If I’m not doomscrolling on Twitter or monitoring headlines for my latest dose of outrage, I’m concerned I’m missing something important.

Last week I decided to take some drastic steps to detox my social media and digital channels. I already use Pomodoro and bullet journaling for productivity. My new challenge is avoiding the guise of multi-tasking and social media distraction.

I’d heard about distraction-blocking tools for applications and websites. Before the challenges of the last six months, I never thought I’d need one. Personal discipline should be enough, right? Wrong. I needed help regaining my ability to focus.

Luckily, I picked up Chris Fox’s 5,000 Words Per Hour about becoming a more productive writer (I’m focusing on fiction for the first time in years). One of his pieces of advice is to use distraction-blocking software to eliminate interruptions. Or, if you’re like me, compensate for waning self-discipline.

I downloaded Freedom, a simple application that works as a VPN (virtual private network) to block distractions on macOS and iOS. (It also works on Windows, Android and Chrome, but I don’t use those platforms.) Setup is web-based for all devices and you can sync your changes between them. Each device can have its own settings and pre-defined schedule, which I’ve found valuable for establishing a routine. You can also drop into an ad hoc focus session anytime by setting the number of minutes it should last.

The app also features a locked mode, which stops you from ending a session. I haven’t needed to use that yet, but it’s there if I do. Another interesting Freedom feature is ambient noise to aid focus. The app features background noises from cafes, libraries, offices or nature. It won’t replace my Deep Focus Spotify playlist, but it’s another thoughtful feature.

I paid around $64 for a lifetime subscription, which was apparently 50% off for September.

Using Freedom

Installed the app on my iPhone and MacBook Pro and I configured my automated sessions. Twitter, Reddit, LinkedIn, Instagram, news sites – every time-waster I could find went into the list. Pre-configured categories make setup simple.

One bad habit I’ve fallen into is checking my phone as soon as I wake up, keeping me in bed for another 30-45 minutes. That’s time I could spend writing. Waking up the first day with a Freedom session already running was disconcerting. Twitter didn’t load. Couldn’t fetch tweets. Same for IG. When you’re using applications on your phone, you only see that the apps can’t get data. You don’t get the type of message you see in the featured image above, which is browser-based. That part is less than ideal, but I can’t imagine how the developers could improve it.

Once I remembered the app was running, I got on with my day. Time saved: 45 minutes.

I have a scheduled gap between 8-9am, when I usually clear email and check everything else. Then the Freedom sessions run from 9am-12pm, then from 1-4pm. Who doesn’t like a little current events-induced misery over lunch?

The first day was great. I knew I couldn’t get to the distractions and plowed through work. The next two days were more challenging. I’d finish something and want to take mental break on social media but couldn’t. I was locked out. Instead, I’d read an Economist article, or something on MIT Tech Review, or I’d run through some yoga in my office. Then I’d get back to work.

It’s still early days for me and Freedom. So far, the results have been positive.

If you’re struggling with distractions and a raging doomscrolling addiction, check out Freedom for a month and see if it helps. And let me know if you’ve found other methods that help. I’m always interested in new tools and techniques.

Crafting Your Alter Ego

Everyone plays different roles in their lives. Over a day, you may play the role of a parent, coworker, public speaker or athlete. You could be playing the role of job seeker and interviewing for a new position. Each of those roles requires us to access different facets of ourselves, and other facets may interfere, impacting performance through self-doubt. In Todd Herman’s “The Alter Ego Effect,” he argues that creating a personal alter ego provides a vehicle to bring out the characteristics needed to perform at our best.

Alter egos aren’t a new concept. BeyoncĂ© famously adopted her Sasha Fierce alter ego on stage to deliver a confident performance. Kobe Bryant transformed into Black Mamba to gain separation between the court and struggles in his personal life. Alter egos give you distance from yourself, allowing you to focus on performing without distraction.

Research has shown the self-distancing provided by an alter ego can also improve executive function in children as young as five, indicating the benefits aren’t only for adults dealing with imposter syndrome or similar difficulties.

Creating an Alter Ego

Think about the type of persona you want to cultivate and the qualities you embody when you’re at your best and craft an alter ego around that. Give that person a name. If you’re looking for inspiration, you can pull from athletes or performers that embody the traits you’re looking to represent, fictional characters or even animals that have the strengths you want to display.

Triggering Your Alter Ego

“Putting on” your alter ego should involve some type of ceremony, ideally personal to you. It might be a pre-game warmup routine, a predefined rehearsal before getting on stage, or even as mundane as putting on your alter ego’s favorite pair of shoes. Being consistent with the ritual channels the qualities inherent in your alter ego.

Have you cultivated an alter ego to improve your performance or outlook? Or just to achieve some self-distancing? Let me know in the comments.