Optimizing Body and Mind for Study

I’d like to sketch my personal routine for being in the best shape I can for effective study. I won’t got into practices and perspectives concerned with the process of study itself, but rather into what I find most useful for attaining and maintaining the ability to give my all to intense mental work.

First, let’s talk about the daily rhythm. I am not by nature a morning person. Or at least I don’t feel like it. I just happen to function better mentally before lunch. For this reason, I get up at 4:30 am and finish all important mental work before 12:30. That’s an 8-hour day.

My morning routine is as follows: get up out of bed and turn off my alarm, which is on my cell phone in the hall. If I don’t do this, it will wake up other people (my wife and children) as it gradually increases in volume. Were it not for this fact, I would easily sleep through it. Next, I take 45 minutes to do two things: study/do works of spiritual importance to me and take set of nootropics. The latter are a topic until themselves; many are wonderful, and many aren’t. (My current nootropic stack — organic where possible — is chaga, lion’s mane, guarana, L-theanine, bacopa monnieri, and a vitamin B complex. Altogether about the cost of coffee.) In regards to the former, studying (and/or practicing) something of intense intrinsic value is a great way to wake up. You know that you have touched base with your core values and can attend to everyday matters without regret.

At 5:15 am another alarm goes off (if it’s not an alarm on my phone, it doesn’t exist). At this point, I take a cold shower, ala Wim Hof Method. To prepare, I do a few calisthenics to warm up, and then hold a single stretch for over 40 seconds, breathing deeply and more rapidly as the stretch intensifies. This way, by the time I have to face the water I am already warm and slightly buzzing from my breathing. I put the shower valve all the way to the cold side, step in, turn it on.

The key to the WHM cold shower for beginners is to take a part of your body at a time and rub that part as the water pours directly on it. You can go over your whole body, bottom to top, without significant shock in about 15 seconds this way, though longer is preferable. I find that affirming to myself before I start that I only need 15 seconds helps me go through with it, but then I end up staying for at least twice that long.

At 5:30 am, I put on my blue-light-blocking glasses, and I am ready to study. I set my intention for the day before I open any apps. The only screen I look at is my calendar to check if there is anything out of the ordinary for the day. Then I use my Time Block Planner and craft my plan for my study hours (only).

At this point, I am in my study space. I have two sit/stand desk converters, one next to the other, both resting on table. They are able to collapse for sitting level or extend to standing level. The one with my laptop stays extended, while the one with my keyboard, mouse, and main screen goes up and down based on my preference at the moment. I use a saddle stool to sit on and, because it has no back or armrest, it keeps me motivated to alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day.

At my next mini-break I grab a green drink. I found this one to be exceptionally good. I make sure I finish drinking it at least a half hour before breakfast. The way I mix it, I have 3 cups of water in my system (not counting what I drank with the nootropics). Now I have a good basis of hydration going for the day.

(Speaking of mini-breaks, stretching my eyes on occasion is something I’ve been trying to integrate into my rhythm. “Every 20 minutes, look at something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds.”)

In my studies, I make sure that I start with the most psychologically challenging thing, to “swallow the frog” first, if possible. For me, that is usually reviewing all of the flashcards due on Anki. Whatever it is for you, getting in the habit of doing that first gives you momentum and confidence for the rest of the day.

After completing that task, I take a 5-minute exercise break. The exercise needs to be intense enough to completely occupy my mental energies for a bit, so that I can mentally rest from my studies. I use the Maxwell 300 Kettlebell Challenge. This video is a good follow-along version. I broke it up into 5 parts, which I do in my before-breakfast study session on successive days. To break up my late-morning studies I use the rings (slow L-sit pull-ups) and a ladder (a back bend-ish exercise). I do three sets of that combo across my study session (e.g. 9:30, 10:30, 11:30).

Strength training of some kind is the best way to freshen up (without getting in cold water) that I’ve found. Also worth noting, I choose the exercises I do in large measure based on what I need to keep optimal posture. Intense effort of short duration every day can really help set the shape you hold throughout the day, which then plays into mindset for study.

Having study buddies is an important way to both break up the study day, and to cultivate psychological resilience. I am convinced of the notion that we outsource sanity to our social environment to a great extent.

If I am distracted by noise while studying (something that can happen with kids in the house!), I put on my 3M Peltor X5As. If I put in some earbuds underneath them with some white noise, I can ignore almost anything.

Outside of study hours, going for long walks in nature with my boys is important to me. I balance my more intense physical training out this way, connect with my little guys, and also refresh my senses from my day at the computer.

Lastly, something I find it important not to do: stimulants after lunch. This is another reason for my early study day.

Thanks for reading!