What comes to mind when you think of Peak Performance? Do you think of Navy Seals or elite athletes? Or maybe you think about a super successful entrepreneur like Richard Branson or Tony Robbins.
While they all fit in the peak performance category, we think of a broader category of people who set significant goals for themselves and pursue them with relentless passion, energy, and focus. High Performers don’t quit until they’ve achieved the success they’ve been aiming for.
Masterful athletes understand how to reach peak performance through mindset and lifestyle. But for professionals like us, peak performance in goal setting comes from the mind.
What does it take to achieve peak performance and crush your biggest goals?
Listen to this new episode to find the answer to this question and much more! Our special guest, performance psychologist Dr. Chris Friesen, Ph.D. will reveal the science behind motivation, the three things successful people do differently, brain waves. Also, lifestyle and environment hacks to help you achieve peak performance in no time. Listen now!
Dr. Chris Friesen, Ph.D.
Dr. Chris Friesen, Ph.D. is a psychologist who has always been fascinated by what makes people successful. He is a licensed clinical, forensic, and neuropsychologist but now primarily helps professional, national/Olympic, and up-and-coming elite athletes, as well as other high achievers such as professionals, entrepreneurs, executives, academics, and writers, achieve their personal and professional potential.
He is currently director of Friesen Sport & Performance Psychology, a contributor for Success Magazine, and author of ACHIEVE: Find Out Who You Are, What You Really Want, And How To Make It Happen.
Follow Chris on Twitter: @Friesenperform
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/FriesenPerformance
Chris Firiesen’s Book: ACHIEVE: Find Out Who You Are, What You Really Want, And How To Make It Happen
- Why you need to get Dr. Friesen’s book
- The science behind motivation
- The 3 things successful people do differently
- Dr. Friesen’s top lifestyle and environment hacks
- Understanding brain waves
- The relationship between food and mood
- 5 Reasons why willpower fails you, and what to do about it
- Understanding panic attacks
- 5 Ways to deal with anxiety
- Signs your body needs rest
- The chemistry of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- And much more…
Podcast Transcription: How to Achieve Peak Mental Performance with Dr. Chris Friesen, Ph.D.
Ted Ryce: Welcome back to another episode of the Legendary Life podcast. I’m your host, Ted Ryce, this is the show that’s all about taking your health, body, and life to that next level. And I have a fantastic episode for you today, this is all about high performance, about the mindset behind high performance, about how to handle our anxiety, how to handle success, how to handle setting our goals, how to handle mentally, psychologically, how to achieve what we really want to achieve.
Chris Friesen back on the show. He’s a psychologist who has always been fascinated by what makes people successful? He is a neuropsychologist, and he primarily helps professional, national Olympic, and upcoming elite athletes as well as other high-achievers such as executives, and entrepreneurs, academics, writers, the list goes on.
He helps them achieve success as they define it in their lives, and he’s going to help you achieve it however you define success in your life. So, without further ado, let’s get to one of my favorite people to learn from, Dr. Chris Friesen. Dr. Chris Friesen, welcome back to the Legendary Life Podcast.
Dr. Chris Friesen: Thanks for having me back.
Ted Ryce: Absolutely, Chris, it’s such a pleasure to connect with you again, and we were catching up before we started recording, and so much has happened for you since you were on, and in case anyone who hasn’t listened to your previous episode, it’s episode 139: Dr. Chris Friesen, 7 Behaviors of High Achievers. If you haven’t heard that, please go back and listen to it, it’s all relevant information, and it’ll set the stage for what we’re going to be talking about today.
But man, I want to catch up, you’ve written a book, your businesses has just blown up over the time since I’ve known you, and you’re doing a lot of things that are kind of popular to talk about with neurofeedback, and biohacking and you’re really into supplementation, and just optimal mental health and performance, so I’m really excited to catch up with you again and do this part two.
Dr. Chris Friesen: Me too, me too.
Ted Ryce: So, let’s talk a little bit; what has happened, for the people who heard 139, you’ve come out with your book, let’s talk a little about what’s been going on with you.
Dr. Chris Friesen:That book was a pleasure to write, it’s gotten me opportunities, I’ve written for Success Magazine, also been interviewed for the New York magazine, things like that, not specific for me, but for specific topics that I seem to know about. Yeah, so that’s been going really well.
I also have been doing a bit more clinical work as well, so I work with high performers—and a lot of high performers have mental health issues, they don’t come to you for that, they come to you for the peak performance, and it turns out sort of under the surface, and they have these mental health issues, whether it’s significant anxiety, whether it’s addictions, these kinds of things. Brain injuries, because I’m a neuropsychologist, that often comes out, lots of concussions. So, that’s been keeping me very busy, yeah, I can go on for hours, but I’ll let you ask the question.
Ted Ryce: No, absolutely, it’s great hearing all that, Chris, and I just want to say for the listeners, I have your book, I’ve read through it, it’s an awesome book. And I would say it’s the best book that I’ve ever read when it comes to mixing both—well, I would say the evidence-based scientific side of personal development, and that’s what I really love about you and what you do. We talked about Tony Robbins last time in your last interview, and we talked about how you were a fan of him, and how some of the things he did was on the cutting edge.
But you’re a guy who both has that academic foundation, and you’ve experimented with all these other things, and so, you’re just the type of person I like to personally learn from. And if you’re listening, and you want some science-based information on how to get ahead, or how to achieve more, Chris Friesen’s book Achieve, Find Out Who You Are, What You Really Want, And How to Make It Happen. And it’s even in audible.
So, obviously, you’re a podcast listener, you can check that out. You can go to Friesenperformance.com, or you can get it on Amazon. And Chris, I’m happy to plug that book because, like I’ve said, I’ve gone through it, I really appreciate—it’s well-written, by the way, and fun to read, and it’s just full of actionable information and things that can help people get better results when they’re trying something that may not be working for them.
Dr. Chris Friesen: Yeah, those are some pretty awesome compliments, I appreciate that, Ted. I really tried to make that book, kind of like in my mind, the all-star team of self-help books of the things I liked and I tried to take other things I didn’t like, you know, some self-help books are written by academics, and it’s too researchy, it’s too talking about study, after study, after study.
I personally find that boring, but there’s not a lot of personal experience on behalf of the author that’s being relayed. And then you have guys and gals who have—for lack of a better way of saying it, they don’t have any training or that much experience in what they’re talking about, and so, it’s missing that scientific basis. So, I really try to make it the type of book I wanted to read, or I’d like to read, that has got that combination.
I talk a bit about my own experience, I talk about the science, I talk about my experience working with high achievers and elite athletes etc. And I tried to write it in a relatively user-friendly way, that’s not overly filled with jargon. I mean, it does have some jargon, you have to use some words to describe things, but I really tried to do that. And it’s been doing really well, and, yeah, actually, I’m happy about it, I’m happy that I can get the message out to as many people as possible, and writing a book is one way to do that.
Ted Ryce: Yeah, and you’ve got a couple more in the works, or plan to be released eventually. Hey Chris, I’m curious, man, did you see I Am Not Your Guru, the Tony Robbins documentary?
Dr. Chris Friesen: I did. I did watch that close to when it came out, yes, I did.
Ted Ryce: Yeah, I just thought about it now, but I watched it, and I’ve never been to a Tony Robbins event, I’ve read some of his books, I know you have too, and we’re both kinds of like, fans of some of the things that maybe we’ve read or heard that have gotten us through moments where we needed to hear what it was. But when I watched him do some of the things, it kind of turned me off, all the cussing, and the derogative—I don’t know what you would call it. Is that something that has any scientific foundation to it?
Dr. Chris Friesen: Definitely, seeing is big. No, I’m kidding.
Ted Ryce: He called that woman’s mom a whore, and I was just like, “Well, what are do…? What type of technique is this, Tony?” I don’t know, man. I mean, he was doing it facetiously, but to get a reaction, but can you talk a little bit about that, and what you thought after you watched the documentary?
Dr. Chris Friesen: Yeah, for sure, interestingly, there is some research suggesting that people who curse have higher IQs, but I don’t know how robust those findings are. Kind of depends probably who you’re measuring. In prison samples, does that correlation still hold up? Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t.
Dr. Chris Friesen: That’s a good point.
Dr. Chris Friesen: I had very mixed feelings as well when I watched that documentary. Tony Robbins is undoubtedly very skilled, very charismatic, there’s only one Tony Robbins, and I was surprised because that persona doesn’t come out in his books. Of course, he’s written some financial books recently, but there’s been no real books other than the first two, as far as I know. Unlimited Power and Awaken the Giant Within, are the main ones, as far as I recall. He’s training in something called neuro-linguistic programming.
Ted Ryce: Yeah. Can you talk about that a little bit? Is there any basis? What is that stuff, and what do you think about it?
Dr. Chris Friesen: I don’t know that much about it, I read about it more when I was in my late teens. I do know there’s been a recent big review that basically debunked it. The research they were using to support it. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t work at all. There’s a lot of hocus pocus in it I believe, and it’s one of those things, you’ve trained people, make money. There are lots of little organizations that train people and make lots of money doing this. It sounds really fancy, neuro-linguistic, wow, that sounds like a fancy word.
Ted Ryce: It sounds sciency.
Dr. Chris Friesen: It does. But in my world, in the psychology world, in the neuroscience world, that is not a credible thing, so I’ll leave it like that. And Tony Robbins, he was really trying to get a state change; he’s all about changing people’s states. The one issue is, the unfortunate reality is people—when you feel lots of emotions, and you feel inspired, that only lasts for short periods of time. So change unfortunately takes time and effort.
It would be great if we could really just have a peak experience kind of thing at a Tony Robbins event. I’m not saying that people don’t change from his events, but you have a peak experience there, and change. But the reality is research shows that being motivated, you have to have a long-term follow-up, like coaching. And I know you work with people with their fitness and diet goals and just performing at their best. And I’m sure you can speak to this as well, is that if you could just lecture someone for 10 minutes on the phone or for an hour, and inspire them, and that just changed them forever, that would be amazing.
Ted Ryce: That’s all I usually do actually Chris, just about 10 minutes, I say some really profound stuff, and their life changes afterward.
Dr. Chris Friesen: Forever.
Ted Ryce: That’s a joke, for anyone listening who wasn’t sure.
Dr. Chris Friesen: I mean, it’d be great. There’s a reason coaching, personal training, psychotherapy, psychological treatments, they take a long time, and there are some myths about psychotherapy, jokes about it taking forever. But of course, a lot of those jokes are geared towards very older Freudian psychodynamic or psychoanalytic work, which you’d have to go to see the psychiatrist or psychologist and lie on the couch literally five days a week, for years, and years, and years, and then it cost you an absolute fortune.
There’s no real evidence that that is helpful. The evidence shows that going once a week and checking in, and having someone help you see things from a different perspective, someone who’s knowledgeable about human performance, the human mind, and behavior, and teaching you new skills that you practiced, and you have an accountability partner in that person, that’s how change happens, for the vast, vast majority of people.
So, I’m not saying Tony Robins, he’s not doing anything good or right. He’s good at what he does, but I was taken aback of there was a guy who was, from what I recall, had suicidal thoughts, and he got to the guy, seemed to make a significant shift, and he really centered people out. And if I was a psychologist licensed, I am, and if I did something like that, I would lose my license pretty much instantly.
But he’s not a licensed psychologist, and hopefully, I’m sure they all signed waivers before that, that there’s no therapeutic relationship or…But some of the strategies he used seemed motivational, seemed like they made a change in the people in a moment. I have no idea how they turned out long-term.
Ted Ryce: Yeah, that’s such a great point, the thing about the long-term, I think we all want—like you just said, we all want that peaky experience that just changes everything for us. And maybe there’s peak points in our lives that give us a new perspective, but then that’s where the work starts, usually at least in my experience. And very curious, when it comes to changing our behavior, how much of that is maybe talking about it, getting clear on our why, setting goals, versus a physical type of experience that makes us by virtue of what happens physiologically, and just to be a bit more clear.
I had someone reach out to me from high school, and she was the girlfriend of a friend of mine in high school, and I don’t know why she reached out to me, or how she even got my number, but we got to talking, and of course, the nice guy that I am, I tried to help her. And she was texting me a few days later, and she was all sketched out and feeling bad, and just—I don’t even know why she was telling me this stuff.
But I told her to do, I think it was 50 or 100 body weight squats, or whatever it was, right? And she did them and she felt better, and now that was just a very short-term kind of thing. But I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you adopt a behavior where, for example, exercise, where you start exercising frequently.
And you start to change as a result, because maybe the neurochemical changes, maybe something else changes, helps you think more clear, perhaps you just, I don’t know, feel better about yourself, can you speak to the psychological approach or the physiological approach, and how you look at them to change who we are and our behavior, and what you feel is the most effective way to go about it?
Dr. Chris Friesen: Yeah, that’s an excellent question. I firmly believe that we need both. You have to have your why, in other words, your motivation, you need to see things from a different perspective. So you need that cognitive element to—again, getting in touch with your values, those sorts of things to drive you, in other words, to motivate you.
But we know that physiologically, from exercise, from brain training, from all sorts of things, they have a profound effect. And when I work with people, I combine all these things, because I know they all are extremely valuable. So, exercise, for example, is known to be almost as strong or if not as strong as things like Ritalin, antidepressants, in terms of what we call their effect sizes, in terms of how effective they are, how much change they produce.
So, exercise is…if there’s any drug in the world that did what exercise or diet does, that drug company would be absolute trillionaires and would be rich for the rest of the humankind. Exercise and diet are the most powerful experiences, for obvious reasons. What’s good for the heart is good for the brain.
When you exercise, people often used to think about our heart, of course, our brain is full of blood vessels, and as we age, our blood vessels get weaker, and blood doesn’t reach certain parts of these really small capillaries, these really small blood vessels in our brain. And we get little dots on MRIs, these are, you know, they’re called white matter changes, they’re little dead spots, and those are correlated just with age, they’re correlated with obesity, they’re correlated with—we call them cardiovascular risk factors, you know, high cholesterol, lack of physical activity, all those things.
And we know that if you exercise when you’re older, you can significantly prevent your cognitive decline. So, there’s no doubt… And actually, my second book is specifically on exercise, diet, so exercise includes movement, and of course, just how all these things affect performance in the brain because you can’t, you know, the first book is more about motivating yourself, getting to know your why, and then being able to know how to effectively set and work towards goals.
And then you have to have your system working properly, you have to have the organ, your one organ, which is your whole body, and especially your brain, working optimally. So, the last thing that my second book focuses on is on sleep, for the same reason. So, when your sleep, and your exercise, and your nutrition is good, then if you really want to take your life to the next level, you have to be doing those things.
And you can’t replace it with psychotherapy, talking about it. But if you live an unexamined life, you’re also going to be at a disadvantage as well. I’m not saying everyone needs psychotherapy, but to use psychological strategies, understand what neuroscience and coaching and sports psychology has to say, and implementing these strategies in your life, that’s how you’re going to be effective. And that’s where the third book is going to be more on those strategies.
So, I’m trying to write this whole series, this whole handbook, to be really well-rounded, to basically cover all the major bases of peak performance. It’s not just mental skills, because that’s just one part of the picture. And we talked about this last time a bit, having a peak experience is much more powerful than talking about something.
Let’s say for a fear, when you feel, you know, we talked about having—whether you’re afraid to jump off a diving board, a high diving board, you can have someone or try and convince yourself and get into a debate in your head of how you’re going to be okay, and all those things, and that’s fine, it might be helpful, but if you just go up and deal with the anxiety, and just do it anyways, you know, you jump off once, and you’ve essentially “cured” your anxiety when it comes to jumping off the high board.
So, experience trumps psychotherapy. This is a behavioristic perspective on psychological treatment or peak performance. But the reality is that’s what the research shows, and I’m sure everyone listening can think of their own experiences that one experience, or just making yourself do things, it was more important than getting convinced or convincing yourself.
So, I really think that it’s a combination of these things, you can’t perform at your peak if you’re eating garbage, you can’t perform at your peak, if you don’t exercise, you can’t perform at your peak if you’re barely sleeping. So, I work with guys who, some of these are executives, and they’re burning the candle at both ends, they’re like, “Okay, teach me some more hacks, some more hacks.” I’m like “Okay, the number one hack is…”
Ted Ryce: More hacks.
Dr. Chris Friesen: Yeah, you’re sleeping three hours a night, that is destroying your performance, and even if you don’t think it is right now, maybe you’re a bit younger, or you’re less than 40 years old, you are going to pay the price. There’re some principles of how the universe works, and how the human body works. And you can either work with them or break yourself against them. So, that’s really what it comes down to.
There’s such a strong push these days to be productive, to just push forward, sleep is for wimps, and yeah, you’ll see how much of a wimp you are when you’re sick, or when you really start to underperforming, and when other people who are sleeping are outperforming you now, and there’s only so much Modafinil you can take, there’s only so much Rhodiola you can take, caffeine, that kind of thing.
So, all of those things are helpful, but they cannot replace what the human body needs. And just, not to go on a crazy tangent, always remember, our bodies were designed for the Savannah, they’re not designed for this modern age, we haven’t evolved since that time. So, if you’re not getting sunlight, if you’re not sleeping when it’s dark, if you’re exposing your eyes to bright light in the evenings, your brain won’t produce melatonin.
And if you’re eating constantly garbage that’s overly manufactured, your body isn’t used to that, that’s not what you’re meant to eat. And if you don’t have social relationships, all those things, if you’re not exercising, if you’re not fucking, excuse my language, but moving, if you’re sitting on your butt all day in front of a computer, it’s like you have a Ferrari and it’s parked in the garage, and it’s just rusting. So, I’ll stop there, but this is my rant.
Ted Ryce: I love it, you’re fired up, Chris, and you brought up so many things that are so important, and we talked about that a lot on this podcast, but I think coming from someone like yourself who is a neuropsychologist, it matters who you hear things from. A bum on the street could give you some investment advice, and you wouldn’t listen. But if Warren Buffet gives you the same advice, you will, right?
So, coming from someone who—you study the brain, you’re an expert in the brain, and brain disorders and helping people with brain disorders, that counts for a lot. Chris, I’m really curious, man, in my dealings as a coach for health and fitness, I’ve helped a lot of people get in better shape and lose body fat, and etc, etc, to see their abs for the first time, whatever the goal was, deadlift 300 pounds.
But sometimes, someone will make such an effort in transformation, and they’ll stop drinking as much, start eating better, start exercising, then they’ll start to realize that they’ve kind of been in a haze for years, and they start to re-examine their life, it’s almost like they were using the food, the drugs, or the alcohol for self-medication for something going on in their life, and then all of a sudden, we take it away with exercise, and although they’re healthier, and they’re feeling great, they’ve got something that they’re struggling with psychologically.
Is there anything to that where they medicate…? Obviously, we’re speaking in generalities, you don’t know who I’m talking about, although it’s been many people. And I just had a conversation with a fellow coach, Joe Di Bernardo, who works with people at health and fitness. Can you talk a little bit about that? I’m sure you’ve experienced something similar, right?
Dr. Chris Friesen: Yeah, there’s no doubt that we tend to use food in our lifestyle to self-medicate, and I’ll give you a quick example. It’s interesting here in Canada, surprisingly, next summer, June, I believe sometime in the summer of 2018, marijuana is going to be completely legal, recreational marijuana. Which is good and bad. I’m on the fence with it. I’m not a big marijuana user, but I’ll give you an example.
So, because I do neurofeedback and QEEG analysis, which is a brain mapping, you can see, when people smoke marijuana, for example, their brain produces a lot of alpha frequencies, which is actually a good and a bad thing. Alpha waves tend to come out when you’re really focused on the present moment, or entirely focused, or your brain is just idling.
In other words, your brain isn’t doing too much, so it’s not thinking too much, that means your brain is more in beta, you’re not really anxious or angry, which you’re in something called high beta, and you’re not totally just daydreaming and out of it, which means you’re in theta, which is pretty common with people with ADHD actually.
So, I really do think that we use our lifestyle to self-medicate. So, when people smoke marijuana, they gain more alpha. One of the theories is that they may be self-medicating, probably excessive beta, in other words, their brain’s revving too fast, it’s uncomfortable, marijuana slows it down, and now they feel good.
The same thing with caffeine, it really depends on your personality, this comes back to my book in the Five-Factor Model of Personality, so when it comes to that negative emotion, or susceptibility to negative emotions and stress, that has a lot to do with serotonin, you can think of it in terms of alpha and beta.
But when it comes to using caffeine and stimulants, well, people who have tendency towards ADHD, they tend to produce a lot of slow-wave activity like theta, so in other words, their brains are under aroused, especially the front parts, the frontal lobe is under activated, and so, stimulants from cocaine, to obviously ADHD medications, to caffeine, to just sensation-seeking behaviors: Skydiving, getting in trouble with the law, these things all can be seen as a way to self-medicate. In other words, you’re trying to make your brain feel normal, because it’s uncomfortably low and spaced out, and you have to do these things to feel normal.
This is also correlated with extroversion versus introversion as well. And then you start to live a healthy lifestyle, and you take away these comfort behaviors, which are foods, excessive Netflix watching, that kind of thing. And I think a couple things happen, your brain starts to function a lot better, and you become a lot more aware of all the problems you really have because your brain is now—you got an oil change, the car is running, the engine is running a lot better now.
And it’s different, when you exercise, there’s a positive effect right away, of course, there’s an endorphin effect, but it’s really something you have to keep up, it’s effortful, whereas eating hamburgers, or eating not very healthy food like donuts or something like that, you’re going to get an instant positive rush. And so that feels good in the short term, but in the long-term, you feel like shit, so you get another hit.
So, it’s like an addictions model, in the sense that we have our own quirks, and we need to self-medicate. And I think our society does that, going back to what I was saying earlier, we live in this artificial society, with artificial lights, that control the light cycles for us, which is not what our brains and bodies are meant to do. We’re not physically moving, all those things are—we’re living in this lifestyle where a lot of the work we do is meaningless, seems meaningless, it’s not like you’re gathering food for the tribe, and you’re extremely important.
Maybe you don’t have a job that’s really meaningful, it makes a lot of money maybe, but it doesn’t feel meaningful, then you’re going to feel really empty inside, and you’re going to have more pain that you’re going to have to face when you remove these self-medication behaviors, like eating junk, watching Netflix successively, that kind of thing, Facebooking for hours on end, yeah, that’s my take.
Ted Ryce: Yeah, you bring up so many good things, and it’s interesting you say that. And I just want to recap a little bit, because I’ve heard about brainwaves a lot, and I have really just barely touched on it. So, there’s alpha brainwaves, beta brainwaves, theta brainwaves, delta brainwaves, and how often we spend time in those different brainwaves.
And I’m just trying to make sure that I understand you correctly, it kind of determines or shows what we may be, may have a proclivity towards when it comes to stimulation, or relaxation because some of us like alcohol a lot better to dampen the stimulus that we feel, or other people try to light up parts of their brain with stimulants.
So, is that set? I’m assuming there’s a genetic component to it, but you also talk about we’re living these modern lives that are just so out of sync with our genetics, with our evolution, with how our body is designed to function, it causes a lot of problems. I don’t think there’s a clear answer with okay, here’s how you become healthy in modern life, but how can we do it the best way, if we’re not going to move out to the jungles in Costa Rica or something?
Dr. Chris Friesen: Yes. Okay, so I’ll give you an example of some of the stuff I do, I’m not pretending I live the perfect life. So, I, as a psychologist, obviously my job could be just sitting on my butt all day, writing, talking to people, and eating crappy food when I can. That’s what my lifestyle or my environments are poles for.
And so, what do I do? First thing in the morning I exercise, I have to get up, I have a child, and I have to get up before my real duties come into play. So, I have to exercise, and I exercise at that point, I turn on a full spectrum light lamp, because I’m in the basement, and I’m a bit of an introvert, so I’m usually motivated by just working out on my own, if I was more extroverted, I would probably want to be working out with friends, go to a busy gym, but that’s the way my personality is, so I know that, and so I put on this light to tell my brain that in 14 hours it’s going to be nighttime.
Ted Ryce: What full spectrum lamp do you use and recommend?
Dr. Chris Friesen: I use something called the Daylight Sky.
Ted Ryce: The Daylight Sky.
Dr. Chris Friesen: You can buy it on Amazon. This exact one actually is one of the main lamps they use in research for a seasonal affective disorder. So, individuals who get depressed in the winter months because of a lack of sunlight. But the reality is, research shows that for people who aren’t depressed, it actually makes you feel better, and it resets your circadian rhythm, it tells your brain that in 14 or so hours, you’re going back to sleep.
And it also releases serotonin, which is an antidepressant, obviously serotonin, or SSRIs, these are the medications psychiatry uses for depression and anxiety. So, it makes you feel better, so it sets your clock. And then when I’m working during the day, I don’t sit on my desk, I have a treadmill desk, I have two desks, I have one where I can stand and walk, it’s a treadmill, you can’t run on it, I’m not sure how fast it goes? I haven’t tried, I don’t have the shoes on. But it’s meant just for walking. And then I go back and forth, if you’re sitting and standing and walking, to be physically moving as much as possible.
Of course, if I could be outside, that would be ideal, and if I take breaks going outside, if I’m working from home, I’d go into my backyard, to get that exposure to fresh air. And of course, in the evenings, is not exposing my eyes to bright lights. So, for example, I wear blue-blocking glasses, and on that note, I think it’s called the Uvex 1933. Google it, check it out on amazon.com.
Right now, the last time I checked, at least on the Canadian side, it was $16, these are industrial grade, blue wavelength blocking glasses. In other words, you put them on and blue lights that comes out of your house lights, and your computer monitors, that prevents your brain from producing melatonin, actually it’s not the brain, sorry, the pineal gland, which is just underneath the brain produces melatonin, which we all know melatonin from the grocery stores, and the health stores that can help you sleep, it’s a hormone that helps you sleep.
And when our eyes are exposed to light in the evenings, our melatonin gets shut off for a significant amount of time. So, that’s just one example of trying to live your life incongruent with the natural cycles of the earth. I don’t mean to sound earthy or new agey, it’s not a new agey at all, it actually goes back to this whole idea of where we came from.
And of course, then comes diet, there’s some debates out there. I’m more on the fence of—my understanding is more of that our bodies evolved from primarily eating vegetables. I’m not a pure vegetarian, I’m not a vegan, but during the day, I don’t eat any meat, I eat meat in the evenings, because my wife likes meat, and I try to live as normal as possible. But during the day, I eat in a utilitarian fashion, I eat oatmeal with blueberries, sometimes I’ll have pure cacao, or pure chocolate in there, if I need a boost. Or I’ll have olive oil on whole wheat toast, or I’ll have some sort of dish with beans, and kale, and in the summers, I’ll have smoothies with all these things.
And one person I’d recommend people check out is the website nutritionfacts.org, Michael Greger, Dr, Michael Greger, he’s one of the top authorities. He’s really into the vegan lifestyle, but he really goes over the science of this stuff. And so, the way I look at it, most of the science as far as I can tell is still suggesting a high-fiber vegetable diet with as little meat as possible.
And I know there’s some other research coming out that high meat, high fat might be better, so I could be wrong, but right now, when it comes to disease prevention, that’s my understanding, and that’s how I try to live my life, is eating as natural as possible, the foods that I put into my body, it’s the closest to what we used to eat, I guess you’d say.
Ted Ryce: Yeah, so you make your own whole wheat bread and…
Dr. Chris Friesen: No, not quite.
Ted Ryce: …you went and gathered the spinach leaves and kale, yeah, I hear you, man.
Dr. Chris Friesen: I’d probably be healthier if I did. Physically, I could be moving, I’d be outdoors, there’s some truth to that. Yeah, I know there’s some debate there, but we can all agree that eating Twinkies and potato chips is bad for us, right? So, I think we can all agree there, but that’s the most Americans and Canadians, we eat like shit, there’s just no doubt about it.
Ted Ryce: Yeah, too much, poor quality, and we don’t move enough, and everyone wonders why they can’t lose fat, and it’s usually pretty obvious. It must be the genetics. Anyway, not to go down that road, but I’ll tell you, what’s interesting about what you bring up, and what’s interesting about the perspective I take, because I don’t get paid to make people healthier per se, or longevity, or to prevent diseases, although I’d like to think that I’m able to do that to some extent, by getting people to eat more vegetables, cruciferous vegetables and kale and watercress and all those things.
But what I’m usually doing is paid for a result of, you know, gaining muscle, losing body fat, and then there’s all these other…And what I’m bringing up is context and goals, because if you talk to some of the “life extension” people, they’re all about cutting calories, specifically protein, because leucine-rich sources of protein, animal-based proteins, in other words, most have the highest leucine content, stimulate the mTOR pathway, which is great for protein synthesis and recovery from exercise. But it seems like it may have some negative effect on aging, so they have low protein diets.
There’s a guy who does a ton of research, a Canadian guy, actually, Dr. Stuart Phillips, who does a ton of research on protein, and he recommends as we get older, we should eat more protein, because sarcopenia, osteopenia, maintaining functional, maintain our muscle mass, which muscle is the biggest endocrine organ in our body, was reclassified as an endocrine organ, as I was so recently educated on by another guest. And then you’re talking about hey, I’m doing this for health, mental performance. So, can you talk a little bit about context with what you do with nutrition? Did that make sense?
Dr. Chris Friesen: Yeah, it does. I’m not a nutritionist of course, right? I’m not a licensed dietician, for example. So, I have to be careful with what I say.
Ted Ryce: Sure.
Dr. Chris Friesen: Everyone I talk to... So, when I work with people, I don’t go into too much detail about exactly what they should eat because of that reason, I’m not a nutritionist. If they’re eating garbage, that’s something we should talk about. And like you said, there are some people who are on the high animal fat and high animal product.
Ted Ryce: The ketogenic people.
Dr. Chris Friesen: I’ll be honest, I’ve seen some research with cancer coming out, but there’s so much research that high animal fat is not good for you, even if it’s fed grass, as far as I know, in terms of heart disease and all these things. But again, I’m not the top expert in this, so I differ. But I do think, at least with me, it really comes down to if someone wants to perform at their peak, they really need take their diet seriously.
But diet is extremely hard to change, you eat certain foods and you get these positive reactions to foods, you get your mood –your moods are often based on what you eat, and so, removing… I’ll give you a silly example, so I eat these Quest Protein Bars that I love, they’re pretty healthy, and they taste to me like-- they’re chocolate, and they taste awesome, they have carbs, but it’s all fiber, basically. And I tried to cut back on that, and I’m a really disciplined guy, and I would be craving these protein bars, and this is a pretty healthy thing.
Ted Ryce: They’re pretty good for what they are, yeah.
Dr. Chris Friesen: And I was eating three of them a day, I’m like, these are $3 each, this is a pretty expensive habit, I recently bought the, I think it’s the Vega One, or Vigo One protein powder, or Vegas Essentials. And I thought okay, it’s got a bunch of vegetables in it as well, so I’m going to try and replace it with that because I thought maybe I’m just craving protein, and that wasn’t the case.
So, just our taste buds, and eating something that we don’t think is good, you have to be very motivated to do that. And so, you have to—like you’re saying earlier—you have to know your why, why are you doing this? Is it that you want for promotion-focused goals? We talked a bit about this last time, in other words, some really great achievements, like getting more abs, or looking great in your wedding dress, whatever it may be.
Or performing better in your sport, let’s say, or is it prevention focus goals, which is to prevent something bad from happening. Like, “Look, my dad died of a heart attack when he was 48,” not my dad, I’m just saying this. “I don’t want to be like him, I have a child, I don’t want to be dead before my daughter goes and gets married, I want to walk her down the aisle,” that kind of thing.
So, you have to know your why, and we talked about this last time in the number one predictor of success in life is simply this; is you make your day to day, moment to moment decisions based not on your emotions, your urges, your feelings, even your circumstances. You make your day-to-day and moment-to-moment decisions based on your goals and values. There is no doubt, and the research supports this, that that is the number one predictor. If you can make your decisions based on what’s important to you, you will go far. And you have to be in touch with what’s important to you, you have to know why you’re not eating chocolate cake.
Ted Ryce: Right, because it’s pretty good.
Dr. Chris Friesen: It is, and that’s right, and our brains become as soon as we’re emotional, as soon as you put that chocolate cake in front of us, our brains become stupid, for lack of a better term. We become weak-willed, and we know that willpower, and this is in my book, willpower decreases throughout the day.
So, when we’re on a diet, nobody has a problem avoiding eating that ice cream in your freezer in the mornings, we only have a problem in the evenings, why is that? Because our willpower is drained. Every decision you make during the day, it’s also called decision fatigue, it saps your willpower. So, every decision you make, what to wear, which coffee to buy? Everything you do actually saps your willpower, and there’s tons of research to support this.
So, by the end of the day, you’re at your absolute weakest, and so the biggest trick there let’s say for diet, like when I work with athletes trying to diet down for let’s say wrestling, for Olympic wrestling or MMA, you fix your environment. That chocolate cake and that chocolate ice cream, those things are removed from your house. Despite how strong you feel when you’re on a diet, you’re going to have a really hard time resisting. It’s part of how the body tries to survive, it’s going to want you to consume calories. We’re designed to be fat in a way because it feels a lot worse to be starving than to be full.
And for good reason, you’re not going to die right now if you’re full, you can die in a couple of weeks if you don’t eat, so that’s how we’ve evolved and we really work on in engineering the environment, and we do another thing called “if-then planning”. So, we come up with if X happens, I will do Y. And you say okay, if my buddy comes over with chocolate cake or chips or something like that, and I’m dieting down, what am I going to do? Well, maybe I’m going to chug a decaf coffee or something like that, maybe I’m going to eat a protein bar, maybe I’m going to, you know, rehearse in my head what I’m going to do before it happens.
Because when it happens, your emotions are high, your urges are high, your prefrontal cortex is practically shut off. And you can’t think clearly, you can’t make good decisions, so you have to basically have it preplanned out, so it’s almost unconscious, you just know what to do. It’s like astronauts, it’s not like they, “I’ll figure it out when I get to the moon,” they’ve planned it, they did a thousand ‘if then’ plans. And they know, no matter how tired they are, no matter what happens, they have trained themselves, they know what to do. So, you have to live your lifestyle that way if these goals are important to you.
Ted Ryce: Yeah, it’s so important, and I’m glad you said that, and I’ve heard that before, but not the way you said it. And you just put it in such an easy-to-understand way with some great analogies in there as well. And one of the things that I really see a trend, if you will, with I guess personal development, health, whatever, is this idea that we’re just not in control of ourselves like we’d like to believe.
And it’s just, you can try to fight it, and in fact, you’re Canadian, and I’m sure you’re aware of this, but a very American perspective is like, “Oh, it’s all about hard work, it’s all about what you do, and if I failed, it’s all on me, because I didn’t do well enough, and I wasn’t able to do this, and so, therefore, I’m a piece of garbage.” And it’s like, well, there may be some truth to that, but at the same time, you’ve got to know what to do, you’ve got to—like what you said, set up your environment, right.
And I love what you said with the if X, then Y plans. Because if you don’t have that, you’re going to fail, and it’s not because you’re a loser, it’s because your plan sucks, your training sucks, you’re not going to be sent into space, because you don’t have what it takes to survive up there when something does go wrong, to stick with your analogy, you’ve got to get better training.
Hey, Chris, I’m curious, man, and I’m just going to pop this on you. So, we haven’t talked in a while. I actually found myself in the emergency room with heart palpitations not too long ago, and I had all the tests done to see if there were any signs for a heart attack or whatever, and what I was experiencing was a panic attack.
And I know some other people who’ve listened to this show, and I’ve even done an anxiety episode. But can we talk a little bit about anxiety, where it comes from, and what are some solid things to treat it, perhaps the neurofeedback even, if that’s something that’s a viable approach?
Why is anxiety, and I’m not talking about, “I’m a little anxious for this job interview” or something happened, I’m talking about when life is going around as usual, and maybe got a mortgage or family or whatever’s going on. But where does this anxiety come from? How much of it is really psychological? Because in my case, I feel like sometimes psychologically I’m kind of okay, but I feel like my physiology is run out of control. I don’t know if I’m right or wrong about that, but could you break that down and maybe perhaps give us some solid strategies for dealing with it?
Dr. Chris Friesen: Yes, no doubt, and I can relate, I had some panic attacks back in undergraduate. I had an MRI relatively recently, and I treat this stuff all the time, and I had a panic attack inside the machine, because I had it from my back, and I hadn’t had a panic attack in a long time, and I had them in undergrad, I had like three or four of them, and I was very unsure.
So, let me talk a little bit about panic attacks. So, panic attacks there are two types, there’s cued panic attacks, in other words, there’s a trigger for them, those don’t fall into a category of what they call panic disorder, the diagnostic category. So, you can have a panic attack for a hundred reasons, you know, you have social anxiety or you give a presentation, someone’s threatening to hurt you, anything.
There has to be a reason for that, but there’s something called uncued panic attacks. And if you have those, along with a whole bunch of other related symptoms and behaviors, you can be diagnosed with panic disorder. So they’re very, very different when it comes to treating them because panic disorders come out out of the blue. So when I had mine, I was in a class during a break, and I was drinking a decaf coffee, and I just got this rush. And I thought, “Wait a sec, am I having an allergic reaction? Or is there really caffeine in here?”
So I had this pretty significant panic attack. Then I was working out alone doing bench press, which, of course, you’re not supposed to do, in the house I was living in, and I was sort of struggling, I could still do it, but then I just had this panic attack, like, “Oh, my God, what if I’m trapped here?” And that kind of thought.
I went to see a counselor. And obviously, I knew it was probably psychological. So what ends up happening is when you have uncued panic attacks, we tend to think that there is a physiological reason—and there is a physiological reason, but it’s an interaction between your mind and your physiology. So essentially, what happens is, you notice some sort of behavior, some sort of physiological symptom, whether it’s, you’re kind of short of breath, or your heart seems to beat funny or is beating really fast, or you just get dizzy for a second or anything like that, or you feel just kind of, something called Derealization, just for a minute you feel, “I feel like I’m spaced out,” or even like a deja vu.
All these strange symptoms that happen all the time, we have them a lot. But for whatever reason, our brain interprets this as a really bad thing, for obvious reasons. It’s because these are symptoms of fear. It doesn’t mean you’re experiencing fear, the experience, what didn’t cause the symptom. Usually, you have some sort of anomaly in your physiology, and then your brain interprets that as an emergency.
So you’ve got to remember, our brains are designed – again, we’re designed for the savanna, they’re designed to be biased towards the negative and to look for the negative in things. Some of us are more positive than others. But in general, our minds are designed to protect us from anything that causes pain, or anything that could hurt us. So, our brains are on the lookout for any anomalies in our physiology, as well.
Ted Ryce: Make sense.
Dr. Chris Friesen: Yeah, so your brain is going to notice a symptom, let’s say your heart’s beating fast, and you didn’t just like run up the stairs. Our hearts do this, our bodies make these symptoms –not all the time, but occasionally and they are usually harmless. And that’s why it’s good to go to the hospital to make sure there isn’t something really going on in your heart or otherwise.
So we noticed this symptom, our brain immediately says, “Emergency, emergency, pump more adrenaline, fight or flight, this is bad.” And then you start to notice, “Hey, my fingers are getting numb, holy shit”. And their brain says, “Oh, my God, look. So Holy shit, you know, more adrenaline more cortisol, panic, panic,” and then there’s this cycle that happens, like a positive feedback loop that continues to increase, and then you get a full-blown panic attack.
And what happens is, if you have that happen, going forward, your brain is on hyper-alert for any other anomalies in your physiology, and you start to notice anything else, and the same cycle will happen again, this is called the cognitive...
Ted Ryce: It sounds very familiar.
Dr. Chris Friesen: Does it? Yeah. But at the same, the research is strong for this point. But I believe when you have a lot of pressure on yourself, and you try and push through the anxiety or the stress, and just keep pushing forward, and trying to not deal with it or not acknowledge it, your body has a way, and your mind has a way to get you to slow down, and it says, “Look, okay, if you’re not going to listen to our little cues, we’re going to set you off.”
So your physiology might be kind of on hyper-alert and so you develop a panic attack. So I do feel that this is really what happens in uncued panic attacks. It’s our brain’s automatic false alarm system going off, and it spirals. So in terms of treating it, well, the first step is knowledge, is, of course, knowing, look, this is what happens, our brains are designed to look for abnormalities and to set off the fire alarm. So it’s like having, you know when you’re younger, probably, you have a fire alarm in your house that would go off, even we had a shower or like once you know, little bit of smoke came off your toast because you burnt it a little bit and your fire alarm goes off. They don’t seem to do that anymore, but when I was young, they would go off over everything.
That’s like our brains, they’re meant to be very, very good at detecting problems. That’s what I mean by bias to the negative. That’s why we touch a stove, we burn ourselves, we never touch it again. If we didn’t have that bias, we’d all have very little fear, we’d all be dead. So one of the things is to think, look, I’m so glad my brain works, it’s supposed to detect problems and send emergency signals. And so just knowing that that’s what’s going on, is the first step.
Because often people think A, they’re having a heart attack, B, they’re having a stroke, C, they’re going crazy, D, they’re having some sort of allergic reaction when it comes to uncued panic attacks. So it could suggest that when we have these, that you have a lot of pressure. And you know, it’s one way that your body and mind is trying to get you to slow down a little bit and maybe work on some relaxation, generally.
But when you’re having a panic attack, it’s really about, you know, we call it riding the wave, you don’t want to like, okay, just popping Ativan, because then you didn’t learn anything, you didn’t learn that nothing bad will happen. You don’t want to drink beer, because it’s the same thing, you’re just going to mask it, you don’t want to distract yourself. You actually want to be able to actually just tune into your body, don’t tune out and say, “Look, where am I feeling this? Ah, it’s in my heart, I feel a pounding, I’m noticing my mind saying bad, bad, bad, this is crazy,” and accept it and allow it to be there.
In other words, ride the wave, it’s supposed to do that. Every once in a while, your car will rev, and allow it to do that. And once you have that accepting attitude, you can actually allow it to be there and move forward. And the emergency bells will stop ringing in your mind.
Ted Ryce: Let me ask you this, because this is why I ended up in the hospital. It happened uncued in the middle of the night. And while I was asleep, I kind of woke up, and then it started happening. And I’ve had them in 2008 because we actually went back over my records and that’s when I was in school. And I remember the night it happened I ended up in the same emergency room because I lived in Miami Beach then, but my heart was probably going 160 beats per minute.
Now I’ve done that during exercise and more and it didn’t feel very dangerous when I was doing it with exercise. And obviously, there are all sorts of things going on and all sorts of stimuli coming in. But when nothing’s going on, it makes me feel like it’s more dangerous, and if our heart doesn’t slow down, but can’t there get to a point, especially with, obviously, I’m in pretty good shape, but with a person whose heart is going 160 or 70 beats per minute, who doesn’t usually do that, isn’t there some danger to that person? And obviously, you’re not an emergency room physician, you’re a neuropsychologist, but you’re specialists in this. I mean, what can you tell us about that?
Dr. Chris Friesen: What I can tell you is, your physiology, like your car, is meant to be revved once in a while. So, the fact that your heart’s beating so fast is not harmful at all. If your heart’s beating fast all the time, there’s a physiological reason, like you have some sort of defect in your heart.
Ted Ryce: Like an arrhythmia or valve problem, or...?
Dr. Chris Friesen: That’s right, exactly. So ruling that out because I don’t know what the exact number is, it’s probably 95%, 98% of people who go to the emergency room with chest pain, shortness of breath, it’s panic. And so yeah, the thing to keep in mind is your body is going to feel worse when it’s doing it without exercising, but your alarm bells are going off, that’s actually showing that your body is doing what it’s programmed to do.
Your brain is interpreting the symptoms as a bad thing, as an emergency, and it’s getting you ready to fight or flight. This is how we survive. If that fight or flight system didn’t work, we would be in big trouble as a species. So what you’re describing is something called nocturnal panic attacks, and those are actually pretty common. You wake up, for whatever reason, could be a dream—often we don’t remember the dream when we wake up. It could be you’re changing sleep cycles.
And when we wake up actually, especially near the morning, of course, but our physiology goes into overdrive to get us up. So our adrenaline goes, our cortisol goes, like if it didn’t, we would never be able to get out of bed to take a piss. So it’s like the pedal to the metal is what happens when we wake up in the mornings and sometimes in the night. And so, sometimes we’re able just to kind of go back to sleep, but what you’re describing is very common.
When your heart races really fast, sometimes that’s not a bad thing. It’s not really unhealthy because your heart is meant to do that. And that’s why you can run, you can imagine the scariest thing, watch a scary movie. Think of it that way, watching a scary movie, and if your heart was pounding like that, we would probably be less inclined to think it’s really dangerous. It’s the same physiology that going on.
And what’s happening is our brain, this is really automatic. It’s not like you’re deciding to think this necessarily, it’s coming up with a decision or a judgment, which is what our brains are designed to do, is biased to the negative to notice anything that sounds bad, it’s going to send the alarm bells off. And that’s what’s going on, the alarm bells go off, your brain is interpreting, “Hey, my heart’s beating at 100 beats a minute, holy shit, this is bad! Okay, send more adrenaline, etc, etc. Now, it’s been 130. Oh my god, now I can feel I’m actually sweating! Oh, my God, boosted more, this is must be a really bad thing.”
And so what you’re describing is super common. If anything, I would say when people have these is to, of course, get it checked out, make sure it’s not something physiological and dangerous. But you know, like I said, 90 plus percent of the time, it’s not, and you realize what it is, accept it, don’t fight it, ride the wave. In other words, it’s like the guys who go to the Olympics that I work with, I say, “Look, don’t fight your nerves when you get there, you’re supposed to feel that way, you’re supposed to get anxious. This is the biggest event of your life. The more you find it, the worse it gets. The more you try to make it go away, the worse it gets. The more you mask it with drugs or anything else, the worse—it’ll just keep coming back.
Even in the moment, the more you fight it and try and make yourself relaxed—actually, making yourself relax is a misnomer. Relaxation, or it’s called the parasympathetic nervous system is the opposite, it’s actually removing the foot from the gas pedal, it’s not a brake, it’s just taking your foot off the gas pedal. So that’s part of your nervous system--and I want to add something to this --is more of allowing something to happen.
So, I’ll give you a quick example. One thing I do with patients is called biofeedback. And one type of biofeedback is called thermal biofeedback, we put a little temperature gauge—and people can buy these at home, you can buy them on Amazon, they’re like 20 bucks. It’s called like the stress something and it’s a temperature gauge, you put the little thing on your finger, and it tells you the temperature.
If you even use the language, “I’m going to make myself relax,” or try to relax or try to calm down, what happens is, actually your temperature goes down. So just to go back a step, the blood vessels in your fingers, the temperature of your fingers is related to your nervous system, so when you’re relaxed, the blood vessels dilate. In other words, your fingers get warmer. When you’re stressed out your fingers, the blood vessels in your fingers shrink, constrict, and your fingers get colder.
So you’re cold, you know, what they call it, clammy and cold hands. That’s a stress response, sign. You shake someone’s hands, but it’s kind of wet and cold. That’s exactly what happens. You get a sweat response. It’s called galvanic skin response, and you get a temperature response and their opposite, you get the sweaty hand, but it’s cold. So when you try and make your temperature go up, in other words, warm up your fingers, you have to use even language to yourself, “allow myself to relax, let it happen,” as opposed to “make myself.” Does that make sense?
Ted Ryce: Yes, it does. I personally do deep breathing, because I feel like I have to work to stimulate my parasympathetic response. So, I do like a headspace meditation or deep breathing exercises with an app on my phone or something like that, to really let myself focus on something but yeah, I’ll try that. I’ll try that.
Chris, I have a question, man. I’ve read something about people with sensitized amygdalas due to maybe post-traumatic stress or some other event. And can you talk a little bit about that, and if that plays into panic attacks or anxiety in general?
Dr. Chris Friesen: Yeah, that’s a really good point. You’re right. When we have a traumatic past, when we have PTSD, our brains, like you’re saying, our amygdalas, which is the negative emotion part of our brains are highly activated. And in other words, these pre-stress responses.
A lot of the more modern treatments for things like PTSD are focused also on physiology because it’s not just a matter of psychologically discussing things. And exposure helps because exposure means you expose yourself to the thing that makes you anxious, and the more you do it, you basically get used to it, you habituate to it.
And this is where biofeedback and neurofeedback come into play. So that breathing you’re doing, that will stimulate heart rate variability training. And if your listeners want to get something for that Inner Balance from HeartMath has an app, works on only Apple products. I use it.
I use it with a lot of my clients. But it costs like 100 bucks or so just for this clip that goes on your ear that measures heart rate variability, but it’s not meant for like the athlete guys who are thinking of it in terms of determining overtraining, it’s meant for biofeedback training.
In other words, when you breathe into this deep breathing, you breathe in for approximately five seconds, breathe out through your nose, breathe out through your mouth for five seconds, you’re activating the parasympathetic nervous system, you’re increasing vagal tone, and in other words, the Vegas nerve, which controls the parasympathetic nervous system through all your organs, gets strengthened, for lack of a better way of saying it.
And that is, there’s a lot of new research with doing that exact breathing for things like PTSD so that people with PTSD have these hyperactive nervous systems partially to do with, like you’re saying, the amygdala. So that breathing should be done. If any of your listeners have a traumatic past, or if they are just generally anxious or they’re high on the personality dimension of negative emotions, they—And I use it myself, like I said, I try to practice everything I preach— they have, by doing this breathing for 5 to 20, or 5 to 30 minutes a day, you strengthen your Vagus nerve, which basically allows you to calm down from stressors quicker.
And so the cheap way of doing it is downloading something called MyCalmBeat. So my and C-A-L-M B-E-A-T, it’s one word works on both iPhone and on androids. Essentially, it’s just the timer, it goes ding, means you breathe in through your nose, dong, you breathe out through your mouth. And almost all my clients, I get them to do that at home. And you don’t get the feedback of what’s happening with your heart and heart rate variability. But it’s a good close second. So doing that is really good to strengthen vagal tone.
Of course, neurofeedback you know, people who’ve had traumatic experiences often have a lot of fast beta activity, which means at rest, when they’re just sitting there, you put the cap on, and you’re measuring them at 19 electrode sites on the EEG, they are showing this fast, fast activity, that’s when they’re just sitting there doing nothing.
And their brain is kind of stuck in that mode. It’s a state… sorry, it’s a trait, not a state, a state means it changes, a trait means it’s more generalized and permanent. So, it’s very reliable, so if you measure someone two months from now, they would look pretty much the same.
So, neurofeedback actually trains you to— you put an electrode or a sensor on your scalp, over the area that’s most activated, and you look at a computer screen, and let’s say it’s a car, the car doesn’t move forward until you reduce that fast activity. If I told you right now or you told me, “Hey, just, dude, reduce your beta,” we can’t do it, we can’t, we don’t know how to do it.
But when we’re given direct feedback, our brains want the car to move forward. Or it could be a video that pauses every time you’re producing too much fast beta. So once you reduce that, the video starts to play again. Your brain just wants it to play, so it’s kind of an unconscious training.
And your brain, is you’re getting your brain unstuck. And if you do this enough time, neurofeedback, you have to come in usually, or do at least twice a week—yeah, twice a week at the minimum, and you’ve got to do it for at least 20 to 30 to 40 sessions.
And you can give your brain more flexibility, we call it mental flexibility. In other words, like I say, it’s like the gas pedal has got a brick on it, it’s stuck, revving really high. And now what we’re training you is to actually pull that brick off for a little bit. Now, it’s going to go back on, to pull it off for a bit, and now you’re actually getting this flexibility. So, instead of your brain being in this high beta all the time, you can actually take it down when the situation doesn’t need it to be at that level.
So it can have some profound effects on people. And this is why I’ve got my board certification in this, because it’s such a powerful treatment strategy. And of course, it works really well for ADHD, which is the opposite, I was saying earlier, too much theta, which is slow-wave activity, and we train them to decrease theta activity, which in turn, increases activation of the frontal lobe so they can function more normally.
So, it’s big, and this is the future of… I tell a lot of psychologists and neuropsychologists, the future of psychological treatments and peak performance, it’s already here, but a lot of people are behind the times, is what they call neuromodulation.
Neurofeedback is a form of neuromodulation. Then there’s electrical stimulation that modulates the brain as well. And I’m sure people have heard of tDCS or CES, Alpha-Stim. Lots of things like that.
These are all going to be the future of treatments. Not that psychotherapy is going to disappear. We’re tinkering with the engine. We’re not just changing the wheels. We’re actually tinkering with the engine to make it perform better. And of course, we do that with peak performers as well.
Ted Ryce: Very cool. And Chris, it’s so good to hear you talk about it because Dave Asprey, huge into neurofeedback and 70 years of Zen.
Dr. Chris Friesen: Yeah.
Ted Ryce: Dave, I appreciate him for what he does, but sometimes I’m not sure if I can trust his science 100%, and I know people have been talking about neurofeedback for a long time, but when someone like yourself comes on and starts talking about it, and it being a future along with other forms of neuromodulation, that makes me feel like okay, this is really something that people should look into.
Now, I can buy a neurofeedback or transcranial stimulation device, I can get them, I can mess around with them at home. But I’m guessing there’s probably— can I mess myself up with something like that?
Dr. Chris Friesen: Yes. Unfortunately, yes. You know, some practitioners out there, it’s more in the United States than in Canada, there’s a lot of social workers and less trained mental health professionals that are doing neurofeedback.
You know, I’m a neuropsychologist, and I like to say, the professionals that know the most about the brain are neuropsychologists, neurologists and neurosurgeons. No one else is really trained in the brain.
And most people in these fields all know that we don’t know shit about the brain. And so it makes me very nervous when people mess ticker themselves. But that being said, so I wouldn’t mess with tDCS, although lots of guys do it. I’ve done it. I’ve messed around. But if you put it in the wrong spot in your brain, or you reverse the anode and the cathode, you’re going to deactivate parts of your brain you don’t want to deactivate and activate, you know, you can mess it up.
That’s not something I would mess with at home, but neurofeedback is a lot safer. But if you put the electrodes and you train up, let’s say delta, so delta is often...we produce all the brainwaves all the time, it’s just certain ones are more dominant. So delta is produced when you’re sleeping, and people with a lot of head injuries and like dementia, they have lots of delta, and you could mistakenly be training up delta and you know, that’s not a good thing.
But that being said, I would say the best unit available on the market for peak performance—And also you can treat yourself to some extent—is called Versus, V-E-R-S-U-S. I think it’s called getversus.com. The person who made Versus—so I like to think I know stuff about peak performance in the brain. This guy, his name is Leslie Sherlin, he is, in my opinion, the world’s top quantitative EEG and neurofeedback and sports psychology…He’s licensed in clinical psychology just like me.
But this guy, he’s been doing this from the beginning. And he is Leslie Sherlin, is the top dog when it comes to peak performance. So he developed this product called Versus, and I have it and most of the neurofeedback I do on myself, I’m using the Versus device. The problem is it’s pretty expensive cost like, I forget they’ve changed the price, maybe $800, $900 now, then you got to pay 25 bucks a month. But this is the most high-quality unit. And what you do is you do a baseline test. In other words, its own quantitative EEG. You can compare it to an elite athletes’ sample, and you can compare your results to tennis players, boxers, executives, etc.
Ted Ryce: Interesting.
Dr. Chris Friesen: Yeah, the games are good, the training is fast, it’s easy, it’s designed – you only can train 20 minutes a day. So just to even to set it up—real neurofeedback equipment takes a long time to set up, it takes a full hour to do a neurofeedback session with a practitioner like myself. But with the Versus unit, I can do 20 minutes of training in 25 minutes, including setup and resting between games.
So if anyone is serious about that, you do the baseline assessment, it finds your weakest area, whether it’s too much slow-wave activity, whether it’s too much fast-wave activity. It measures, I think, five sites near the vertex, so the top of your head. So it’s not as good as a quantitative EEG, where you do 19 sites, so it’s not as specific. But for the vast majority of people looking to boost their performance, the Versus neurofeedback device is the way to go.
And there are some studies that compared its quality to the clinical equipment and the research equipment. It’s very close. And that’s why it’s so expensive. So, yeah, if you’re going to do something, you can’t go wrong with that because you don’t control the training. It trains you in your weakest area and then you get retested. If you improve that area, then it’ll train you in your next weakest area, so you can’t go wrong with that.
If you buy your own neurofeedback equipment that costs 3000, 4000 bucks and you just get an electrode pasted on some random spot on your head, like I said, you can train incorrectly, and the software is usually really difficult, but the Versus is seamless.
Ted Ryce: Very cool. Chris, it’s such a pleasure to have you on and to hear about these things that nobody else I’ve heard is talking about. And I haven’t heard of Versus, I haven’t. I know a lot of apps and everything but MyCalmBeat. And if you’re listening right now, you’re like, “Whoa, that was a lot of information, I’m here driving in my car, running on the treadmill or outside, having a hike.” I will have all these resources available for you.
We’ve been going for over an hour right now, I want to wrap things up because I want to be respectful of your time. But man, I’ve got to get you back on, we’ve got to talk more about this biohacking, neurofeedback, biofeedback, neuromodulation and also supplementation, we didn’t get a chance to get into that and just a bit more deep on maybe the types of exercise for mental performance for brain performance.
But man, it’s been such a pleasure catching up with you, Dr. Chris Friesen. People listening, you can go to Friesenperformance.com. Dr. Chris Friesen is the real deal. If you’re following the people with the fancier marketing, you’re getting exactly what you get. But with Chris, you’ve got the real deal.
And make sure you check out his book, Achieve: Find Out Who You Are, What You Really Want, And How To Make It Happen. I can’t tell you just—he’s a total rock star. Chris, I mean that, so glad to have people like you who are getting away from your practices to talk about this stuff so that other people can benefit from it. So just great to have you back on, man. And thank you so much.
Dr. Chris Friesen: Yeah, Ted. No, it’s a pleasure. This is all fun and pleasure for me because these are my favorite topics. And I know this is the type of stuff your listeners would be interested in, because these are people who want to take their lives to the next level. And you know, this is all play for me. I really appreciate you having me back on the show.
Ted Ryce: And Chris, is there anywhere else you want people to go other than Friesenperformance.com?
Dr. Chris Friesen: You can follow me on Twitter, I usually just repost information on peak performance, the brain health, that kind of thing. So it’s @ Friesenperform. I’m on Facebook as well. If you search, Friesen Sport and Performance Psychology, you’ll find it. Those are the best ways. And I have a newsletter, that every couple of weeks, you’ll get an email from me going over either an article I’ve written and giving you links to that or a podcast I’ve been on, that kind of thing.
And of course, check out my book. The audible book, I love, because Chris Abell, who’s this great narrator, does Fox commercials, he had the greatest—we had like 70 or 80 people audition to be the narrator and he was the guy I picked, and I love his voice, I love his style, and I think your listeners would dig it. So on my web page, you can actually listen to the first few minutes, there’s a sample so you can get a sense of what it sounds like on my web page as well.
But yeah, I have another website called www.naigraneuropsychology.com , which is more my clinical website, I talk about neuromodulation and things on there. So it’s really for local people and clinical people, but I do talk about neurofeedback in more detail and that kind of thing. There are some information there for people who are interested.
Ted Ryce: Excellent. And if you are looking to experience in neurofeedback, I can’t think of someone more qualified to really help you out with that. So the other website, it’s niagraneuropsychology.com?
Dr. Chris Friesen: Yes, that’s right. It’s all one word, Niagraneuropsycho, like Niagra Falls neuropsychology.com.
Ted Ryce: Excellent. And Friesenperformance.com.
What I thought were the biggest lessons to take away from the interview that you just listened to in case you know, there’s so much good information that you got a bit lost in it.
And first, I’ve got to say, what an amazing guy, Chris Friesen is? He is the person who all the biohackers wish they were because he’s got that great mix of academic foundation, as well as experience and just personal passion for experimenting with supplements, with these other things. And it just was an action-packed, information-packed interview.
And we talked about a lot of things. And I’ve even mentioned some personal things, and I’m willing to go there with Chris because I trust him so much as a professional, as someone who’s going to give me the best advice possible. So the first thing I would say is, make sure you’re following people like Chris Friesen. If you’re into the personal development, that’s great. If you find people who motivate and inspire you like Tony Robbins, that’s great.
But if you’re following some of their recommendations, and you’re not having measurable success in your life, then consider looking or hiring someone like Chris or looking into what they put out.
And I can’t tell you how awesome his book, Achieve is - Find Out Who You Are, What You Really Want, And How To Make It Happen. It’s such an amazing book because it tells you “Okay, here’s what works, go and do it.” He’s not trying to say, “Hey, let’s get fired up with all these good emotions, and hopefully, that will inspire some action on your part.” No, he tells you what to do. He tells you what to follow through on.
So make sure you’re learning from guys like Chris, if you’re not getting results from your guru, right, from the person who you’re following who puts out these inspirational messages, but perhaps after following them or reading their books or listening to them, whatever, you don’t have much to show for it, except for feeling good every time you listen to them, right?
Every time you hear their message. Feeling good is important, but it won’t change your bank account, it won’t change your relationship at work, you’ve got to do the things that actually cause your life to change, right?
Being all excited about working out is not the same as working out. So the second thing I would say is be careful with the biohacking information out there. And Chris understands the brain, like very few people do. He’s a neuropsychologist, they actually don’t sit with you and talk on the couch about your childhood, they diagnose brain disorders like aphasia, and egnazia, and concussions, he’s a specialist in concussions.
So that’s the type of professional that you’re getting, okay? And I love that I get to have him on the show, because I feel like I’m doing such a good service for people by promoting people like Chris, instead of all the people who don’t have as good of information but better marketing behind them.
So those are the two biggest takeaways, I want to stop there because it was quite a long interview. And I talked with Chris for another like hour, or I think actually it was more, afterward because we just have so much to talk about. I really hope I get to meet him one day or even put on a retreat where maybe he handles like the biohacking side of things.
So again, make sure you check out his book Achieve. I know I’ve plugged it a lot, but I’m telling you that because I really want people to get better quality information, so they get the results they want. And I can’t recommend Achieve: Find Out Who You Are, What You Really Want, And How To Make It Happen enough by Dr. Chris Friesen.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.