How to prevent a brain crash after working in an intense flow state

Innovation Leaders are no average people. Being driven, intense and excitable enables them to perform at high levels for hours on end, hyperfocused. To an outsider, it may seem as if these people are somehow superhuman and they expect them to be able to do their special stuff at will. But reality is often different, very different. 

Many years ago I had to perform an assessment at the Rijkspsychologische Dienst in The Hague. I loved the idea of being able to find out just how qualified I was and to show the world that I was smart. Ego can be such a big driver. I was in a flow state the whole day and the best way to describe how that feels is: hyperconscious, hyperalert and very self confident.

I devoured the various subtests and worked intensely concentrated and superfast. My concentration didn't wane for a second and I even succeeded in finishing a subtest on pattern recognition, which by design shouldn't be possible. The outcome reflected this: my score was the highest seen in some 30 years of assessing academics.

What I didn't expect was that this kind of performance comes at a price. And a big one: I crashed afterwards, I felt dull, depressed and anything but self confident. Even so much so that for several years I had the impression that I left a large part of my intelligence at the assessment. Where did that high flying superperformer go? It felt if I had used up many years of brain fuel in just one day. Which in a sense I did, as I found out at later in life.

Many Innovation Leaders confided in me that they have had similar experiences. Many of them started thinking they were bi-polar. On a high one day and totally depressed the next. Why oh why could they perform so well effortlessly but feel so drained afterwards. And more importantly, why couldn't they perform at a steady high level the whole time? Some become so embarrassed about this, that they try to hide their 'downside' from their colleagues and spouses. More than a few potential Innovation Leaders are stopped in their tracks because they can't get a handle on this 'flow > crash > flow > crash' pattern.

When I tell my clients that many great creative performers share this exact same pattern that gives some relief. But having creative game changing abilities doesn't have to end with you cutting off your ear. The real solution to this problem can be found in the first sentence of this blog: Innovation Leaders aren't average. Their brains aren't either. 

To put the brain into perspective, it weighs about 2% of your total body weight but uses up to 25% of the body's energy. Furthermore, the gifted brain is an intense metabolizer, it literally uses up a truckload of micro nutrients in the process. Working in an intense flow state leaves your brain depleted. That's why you crash afterwards, you need time to build up sufficient levels of nutrients again. After which you can reach for a high yet again.

But there's more. Brain activity causes free radicals, which your body has to get rid of. And intense brain activity causes an avalanche of them! A large amount of free radicals in your brain can give you some serious brain fog. It might even lead to inflammation of the brain. So help is needed to get rid of them.

To be absolutely clear, I'm not a doctor and not giving any medical advice, I share my experience as a self-experimenting researcher looking for natural solutions. Some references* to what I found, are at the bottom of this article. Up to you what you do with the information.

From my perspective it's clear that if you want to master your brain, you just have to look further than what works for the average people. I routinely ignore Recommended Daily Values, which are geared towards avoiding serious illnesses in the average person under normal circumstances, not to sustaining top performance in exceptional people under stress. We wouldn't dream of maintaining a modern Ferrari V12 hypercar as an 80's Mercedes 200D, yet are doing exactly that to our brains. 

So what helps in my experience? Supplementing with the right micro nutrients, specifically minerals, and detoxifying help reduce the depth of the crash and speed up recovery. Also improving gut health and reducing inflammation in the brain is a valuable strategy. Your gut really is your body's second brain. I've had really good experiences with:

  • Minerals in Orotate form, especially Lithium Orotate (not to be confused with the Lithium Carbonate prescribed by psychiatrists!), this one really can make a world of difference
  • High-quality probiotics for improving gut health  
  • N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) for aiding detoxification
  • Fish-oil for reducing inflammation

Once you've tinkered your way into a supplement regime/dosage that works for you, you'll be amazed as to the big difference it makes for your life. It has for me and it enables me to perform at a high level in a relaxed way. This way you're much more in control and do not have to fear crashing after a flow state ever again.

PS: As this is a different kind of blog than I'm used to, a question for you. Do you find the subject of supplementation, diet and lifestyle in order to improve yourself interesting and want to learn more about it? Please let me now and I will blog about these subjects in the future. 

*) Some resources:

  1. On the benefits of orotates: http://oawhealth.com/article/orotates-and-the-mineral-transporters-of-dr-hans-nieper/
  2. On priobiotics and brain health: http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/changing-gut-bacteria-through-245617
  3. On N-Acetyl Cysteine: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry/201201/problems-i-have-nac
  4. On Fish Oil and inflammation: http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/omega3-fatty-acids
  5. On gifted brains: http://education.jhu.edu/PD/newhorizons/Exceptional%20Learners/Gifted%20Learners/Articles%20-%20Gifted%20Learners/brains_on_fire.htm