Unless you’ve been living in an internet-shielded cave for the last five years - which is probably a kind of biohack in itself - you’ve probably heard of biohacking.
Depending on who you listen to, it’s either a way to unlock your hidden potential or an elaborate series of scams, and can encompass everything from getting a bit more vitamin C to injecting chlorophyll into your eyeballs to see in the dark.
Some biohacks undoubtedly, work, while some are stupid and even dangerous. But which are which - and how can you tell the difference? Here’s how to take at least some of the uncertainty out of self-experimentation.
Firstly, it helps to start with some clear definitions. Biohacker Dave Asprey, who’s experimented with everything from butter-filled coffee to cryotherapy in an attempt to better his body, defines it as “[changing] the environment outside of you and inside of you so you have full control of your biology, to allow you to upgrade your body, mind, and your life.”
That’s a pretty broad spectrum: it might mean taking supplements, filling your house with plants, or taking up intermittent fasting. Meanwhile, people’s definitions of ‘upgrade’ also differ: some biohackers just want to lose a bit of weight or be a little bit more productive, while others are aiming to push the limits of what the human body can do.
What most biohackers have in common, though, is taking an at least somewhat scientific approach to their self-experimentation: picking goals, tracking results and changing one thing at a time so it’s clear what’s working and what isn’t.
That’s what elevates lifestyle changes from aimless tinkering to targeted experiments, allowing you you to pick what works best. So, whether you’re aiming to become superhuman or simply procrastinate less and sleep more, here’s how to start.
Step 1: Pick a target
Most biohackers are looking for improvement across a whole bunch of aspects of their lives: usually including sleep, nutrition, exercise, brainpower and mental health. Asprey adds categories like ‘Senses’ (for working on things like gratitude and discipline) and ‘Aging’ (some biohackers aim to increase their own longevity with everything from fasting to herbal adaptogens).
Maybe you want to do everything at once, but this makes it tougher to stick to your new plan, as you’ll be trying to keep up with a bunch of fresh habits all at once. It also makes it tricky to track what’s working. Pick one area to start with: you can add another in a week or two.
Step 2: Pick a ‘hack’
Let’s say you’re going to start with sleep: you might get things going as simply as possible, by just going to bed at a set time each night, or get a little bit more ambitious by turning all your electronics off for half an hour before bed.
You might also try a blue light filter, turning the temperature down in your bedroom, or something more complicated - Four Hour Work Week author Tim Ferris has tried everything from ice baths to apple cider vinegar shots as part of his pre-bed routine.
Again, though, the important thing is to change one or two things at once: then you can see what’s working.
Step 3: Work out what to track
In the words of productivity coach Peter Drucker, “What gets measured, gets managed” - or, to put it another way, if you aren’t keeping track of what works, you aren’t really biohacking.
What you decide to track - and how you do it - can range from simple to complex. Dave Asprey, for instance, logs his mood, energy levels and physical activity, while biohacker Ben Greenfield tracks seven different metrics just related to sleep alone - including REM sleep, sleep latency (how long it takes him to nod off) and ‘tranquility’ (how many times he wakes up in the night).
You can take your measurements with anything from a notepad to a spreadsheet to an automated fitness tracker: but watch what changes.
Step 4: Add more elements
An oft-cited benefit of biohacking is that all the elements mentioned above work together: better sleep can lead to better workouts, while improved nutrition can make you more productive and (probably) help you sleep better. The trick is to add them gradually, allowing you to build routines that you’ll be able to maintain.
One of the most rigorous studies on habits suggests that a new one takes an average of 66 days to become automatic: though a lot of that depends on the ‘difficulty’ of the habit, and how often you practice it. Your rule of thumb: spend at least a fortnight tracking any new behaviour’s effects before you add another one.
Step 5: Prioritise the stuff that we all know works
This is the real trick. It’s tempting to jump into the maddest stuff in biohacking - the UV lamps, the cryotherapy, the nootropics derived from obscure plants - but what works better is doing the simple stuff properly.
When you’re sleeping, keep your bedroom dark and don’t take your phone in there: when training, prioritise moving until you break a sweat, several times a week. For nutrition, eat your greens and try to get a hit of protein every mealtime. For mental health, aim to spend more time outdoors in nature and less on social media.
Biohacking isn’t so much a collection of techniques as it is a mindset: and whether you’re going low or high-tech, the key is to experiment, track your results, and keep moving forward.