Introduction Of Podcast
Performing at high stakes isn’t easy. Mental toughness can go for a toss and keeping calm and having composure can become an issue. We certainly need help to train our minds to deal with pressure efficiently. In today’s episode, Dr. Friesen shares how we can go about this. He equips us with handy tools and tips for us to implement and execute in our daily routine. We hope you find this extremely useful.
(0:00 – 01:36) – Introduction
(02:23 – 05:09) – Dr. Friesen’s Journey
(5:58 – 14:51) – How Can A Biomarker Help Improve Performance?
(16:06 – 20:13) – Dr. Friesen On Sleep
(20:29 – 32:24) – Impact Of Objective Data On Behaviour Change
(32:27 – 47:28) – Friesen Sports & Performance Psychology Centre & Performance Enhancement Devices
(47:35 – 53:21) – Top 3 Methods To Optimize Mental Performance
Key Takeaways – Transcipts
Intro (Mohit): As Ultrahuman is on the quest to build a stack of biomarkers for everyone to use and to optimize their health, it becomes imperative to understand how these biomarkers can potentially unlock a lot of about your health and body. You want to drive these conversations so everyone understands this at a granular level and gets curious enough. Performance and psychology are one such aspect of life. If you can tap into these biomarkers, you’re essentially unlocking a lot of yourself. We’re joined by Dr. Chris Friesen in today’s episode. He’s a clinical neuropsychologist and is more certified in EEG biofeedback, peripheral biofeedback, and heart rate variability biofeedback. In his years of research and experience, Dr. Friesen has used HRV as his focal biomarker and has clubbed this for his performance studies, helping us get deeper insights into our bodies. We asked Dr. Friesen how he stepped into the world of neuropsychology and how using a biomarker helps performance and coaching. Although we have spoken about sleep extensively in the previous episodes, Dr. Friesen adds a new dimension to the topic by talking about how sleep, or the lack of it can impact performance with an added angle of HRV balance. We discuss the various existing tech in this space helping you track your HRV. To conclude, Dr. Friesen his top three ways that you can use to optimize your mental performance. Without further ado, let’s deep dive.
(Mohit): Hi, Dr. Friesen. Good to have you here. Such a pleasure to have you on the podcast.
(Chris): Yeah, thanks for having me.
(Mohit): This is such an amazing space and there’s so much amazing work happening in the field of biomarkers. But I’m particularly very intrigued with your work. I think what I read about the Sports Performance Psychology Center that you founded and essentially the work that you’ve done with the HRV biomarker. So I’m particularly very interested given there’s a lot happening in this space. It’s a very early space as well, given the fact that a lot of continuous measurement of HRV is very new and it’s applicability as well. But before I actually go there, I would love to understand your journey a little bit. Like how did you get here and what was sort of like the backstory in terms of becoming somebody who’s interested in biomarkers and who is interested in doing research here.
(Chris): Yes. So it goes back when I was a teenager. I’m here in Canada, so hockey is our national sport. I played hockey as a goalie, which has a lot of psychological pressures. I was a poor student in school. I wasn’t getting great grades, and I didn’t have a lot of self efficacy or belief in myself at the time. And I was higher in the personality dimension of what they called neuroticism in the literature. I have a book called Achieve. I call this susceptibility to negative emotions and stress. Half the population is high on this, the other half is low on this. By definition, it’s about 50% to 60% genetic. And I realized that I wasn’t going to make it professionally in hockey. And so I used what I learned to become a better goalie in hockey, to apply it to school. I also read some books like Tony Robbins Awaken the Giant Within, but especially The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. That really changed my life around, and I realized that it’s not really what we think, it’s what we do with our behaviors or actions that help determine basically our destiny or how we turn out. Long story short, I went to a university and started studying physical education. I didn’t like that. I switched over to basically community health sciences, which is basically medical sciences and community public health. I finished that degree, and when I was doing that, one of my electives was in psychology. I just fell in love with psychology. It reminded me of seven habits of highly effective people and this sort of thing. And I switched I finished that degree. I did a degree in psychology, and then I went to graduate school, did my master’s degree in clinical psychology, and then my PhD as well in clinical psychology. And so I became a licensed clinical psychologist, but also neuropsychologist and forensic and correctional psychologist. So working in the criminal justice system, and I always wanted to come back and work with high performers. And so I basically went back and did extra training after the fact and became certified, or they call it a professional member of the Canadian Psychology Association, which is like a certification body to be able to work with athletes. I had my certification in our training in executive coaching as well. And so that’s what kind of brought me to where I am today. And I have a strong interest in psychology, physiology, and neurology, and everything I do is based around these sort of three major areas.
Question (Mohit): That’s really interesting given the fact that in this space, given that there’s a lot of work happening, but a combination of these two is fairly unique. There’s a lot of work happening in the space of psychology coaching. There’s a lot of work happening in the space of leadership coaching, from what I hear. But I think the modern take on this is that it could become way more objective and way more measurable. And traditionally, HRV or any other biomarker, most of these, the origin is in sports because that’s where people want the last 1% of edge, right? But bringing some of those benefits to executive coaching actually sort of like, bridges the gap between the real world and what’s possible, right, in today in the world of sports performance. How does that really work? Like, if you can share a few examples in terms of how does using core biomarker in the world of executive performance, executive coaching actually make a difference?
Answer (Chris): Okay, yeah, I’ll give you two good examples. One, whether you want to call this biohacking biomarker, one example is this because I’m still a licensed clinical and neuropsychologist. I work with a lot of people. High performers come to me now, especially since the pandemic, and they want to know whether they have ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. And the traditional way to diagnose this is you look at questionnaire data, you look at the number of questions, do they meet criteria for the symptoms? But there are biomarkers that are not 100% accurate, but that are highly predictive. For example, something I do is quantitative EEG, which is an EEG like you get at a neurologist’s office or a sleep study, except we compare it to a large sample of normals. And we look at basically if there’s deviations in terms of, let’s say, fast beta waves or slow theta waves or delta waves relative to healthy individuals of the same age. And that’s something I do with most of my clients. So, for example, they want to know if they have ADHD. And what I’ll do is one of the things of one piece of information is this quantitative EEG. And interestingly, what we find is what we know from the literature is about 85% of people with ADHD have excessive slow waves or under activity or under arousal in the brain, particularly the frontal lobe and the central top layer of the brain. The central and frontal parts of the brain have excessive slow waves. And EEGs are actually quite stable unless you’re just pounded down three cups of coffee or you didn’t sleep at all last night or you smoked marijuana. Other than that, if you’re a little bit stressed or a little bit tired, it doesn’t have a big effect on the quantitative EEG when we compare you to national norms. And what we see is, like I said, 85% of individuals with ADHD have excessive slow wave activity, again, under arousal, under activation. This is why the treatment of choice by physicians is a prescription of stimulant medication, which to a lot of people seems confusing, especially when you think of ADHD. Children or adults who tend to be hyper, talking fast, can’t sit still. Why would you give them a stimulant? Do you want to slow them down? Not speed them up, but it’s because their brains are under aroused and they need to constantly move and do things and change subjects to stay at a normal level of arousal in their brain. And so this is why stimulant medications are prescribed. So one of the things we look at is, do they have this biomarker? It used to be called in the literature called the theta beta ratio. So theta is slow wave activity, beta is faster wave activity, and it depends on the age category. Adults is about two point something ratio of everyone has more theta than beta, but you don’t want it much higher than that. And if you do, that’s highly consistent with individuals with ADHD. But it’s not just with ADHD. It helps me understand a person who comes in. So someone who’s got troubles with motivation, troubles with being as good as they want to be in their sport or in their life. If they have a brain map that suggests this, this can determine what, in a way, I quote unquote, prescribe for them in the sense of what kind of maybe I don’t sell supplements, but like, what supplements they may want to look into and always talk to their doctor what kind of brain training or neurofeedback would be helpful, whether they should be using caffeine and how much they should be using, whether they should try to meditate. So all these things play a role. That’s one example is the theta beta ratio is a biomarker that we use to help with identification of ADHD. The other biomarkers who use another one is basically heart rate variability or HRV. Like we’re saying, HRV is, as you know, cardiologists discovered this years ago that it helps predict heart attack risk with individuals with heart disease. But these are varied 24 Halter monitors. Then we know obstetricians use it to measure the state of the health of a baby in the womb. And exercise physiologists know that HRV or heart rate variability goes down when we are overtrained. And any high level athletes should be measuring their HRV, preferably in my opinion, with something like an Oura ring. I’m sure you’ve quite familiar with these. You want an overnight measure, in my opinion, as opposed to measuring it every day at 09:00 because there’s so many factors that can affect that. Whether you’ve gone to the bathroom, how hungry you are, how well you slept just before you woke up, whether you’ve eaten any food, all of these, whether you’ve checked a stressful email, can artificially affect your HRV. And so a longer overnight average is better. And of course, now we’ve known this for a long time, psychophysiology, or basically the profession that I’m involved in as well, we know that HRV goes down when we are psychologically stressed or of course we know we’re sick. So anything’s wrong with our nervous system, our HRV drops. So knowing someone’s HRV baseline and again, you want to know this over a longer period of time. So ideally the higher level clients I work with will have it an Oura ring or some sort of Whoop strap or something they use that measures overlay to HRV. And we look for deviations in that to help determine because some people, everyone’s got a different baseline, like the RMSD, which is the main HIV metric that, for example, Oura ring uses. Some people like mine is on average 80, 80 milliseconds, whereas some people it’s 15 and they get really upset and think there’s something wrong with them. But this is better to look at your relative change. So these are ways that we do use biomarkers in a way to help with performance. There are some other things I do. For example, I do something called psychophysiological stress testing. And what that means is it’s a standardized set of stimuli that’s often used in research. But we use this with athletes and we use this to measure stress levels. So essentially, we have someone come to the office, we sit them down, we use quite fancy equipment, and we measure everything from heart rate, sweat response, temperature, muscle tension, heart rate variability. And we do an EEG at the same time. And what we do is we have them sit down for about 2 minutes with eyes open and eyes closed, doing nothing to get a baseline. And then we have these standardized stressors. I won’t say exactly what they are. They’re not traumatic in any way, but they’re stressful things they need to do in front of a computer or with my assistant. And we measure what does our physiology do during the stressor and what happens after each stressor. They have about a 70 second rest period. What happens after that. And so we want to know how they’re doing. I’ll give you an example. I did a lot of work with one of the local police services. I still work with a different police service right now. And we were following the high risk officers. So these are the specialty groups like the Homicide units, the Tactical, which is a SWAT team, accident reconstruction unit. These are people you deal with, people who get badly injured in car accidents and pick up bodies, things like this. And they wanted me to check in on them every year. Traditionally, this is called safeguarding. Traditionally, this involves simply seeing a psychologist once a year and a psychologist asks, how are you? And most of them I know policing, most of them are going to say, I am perfectly fine. And now what we did, we did this for about three years. We stopped during COVID. But what we found was a lot of these options would say they’re fine. We do a psychophysiological stress profile. We’ll see they’re not as fine as they perceive themselves to be. And we give them feedback. We show them the graphs and we say, look, this is what we’d like your sweat response during the stress. Or we expect it to go up when you’re resting, we expect it to come down. This sweat response is a pure measure of sympathetic arousal or stress. And you’ll see like a lot of these, it keeps going up like a staircase over the test. And I said, this is interesting. So this is a 20 minute test. Imagine you’re facing much more severe stressors throughout the day. You may not be noticing or be aware that you’re having stress, but your body is having a hard time regulating this stress. So this was a real like the officers love this because it was objective data that could help them see what they couldn’t see. So these are just three examples of how I use basically physiological and neurological metrics to help people understand themselves.
Question (Mohit): What’s really fascinating is the fact that the biomarkers or the methods that you mentioned, the theta beta ratio, HRV especially, these are both on the spectrum of performance. Of course, athletes do use it, and in some cases you use the first one, theta beta ratio to detect brain activity ADHD and at the same time, these are quite typical for, apart from performance, your clinical diagnostics as well, which basically talks about the spectrum of these interventions, that it’s the same human wind, it’s the same nervous system. On one spectrum you’re optimizing for performance. On the other spectrum, there is disease or there is essentially how you can look at an ailment as well especially. We see something similar, by the way, with the glucose biomarker as well, the glucose metabolism trends that we see on the platform for the same type of individual. The science is similar for everyone, essentially, right, that efficient glucose metabolism is a marker of lower probability of a metabolic disorder. But at the same time you can use the glucose biomarker to actually do your benefit, to cognitive benefit as well as your physical performance, especially in zone three workouts. So we see that a lot of athletes actually have start using the glucose biomarker to improve their zone three workout. At the same time, when people regulate their glucose biomarkers, they reduce the probability of having a metabolic disorder or somebody just wants to have more stable energy levels. They work on their glucose levels by avoiding their crashes and oscillating glucose. So that’s, I think, the most fascinating thing about human physiology, that if you pull one string, everything else is connected. And one follow on question on the theta beta ratio is that you mentioned that you can identify slow wave, right, by the ratio essentially, in this case, the theta by the ratio. Is this the same slow wave pattern that you detect in slow wave sleep?
Answer (Chris): Yes and No. When you’re in deep sleep, your brain goes more into what they call delta waves. So if you were to rank brain waves in terms of speed or hertz or cycles per second, delta waves are usually between one and three or one in 4 Hz. So one in four times, it actually sounds fast. One to four times per second is actually for the brain is extremely slow. Theta waves are generally characterized between four and 8 Hz. Beta waves or beta one is basically between sorry, I’m skipped alpha waves. Alpha waves are between eight and 12 Hz beta waves or beta one is usually between twelve and 18 or 19, then higher beta waves or high beta is usually around 19 to 30-35 Hz. Course there’s gamma waves which are 35 to 45, usually around 40 Hz. It’s not as simple as the brain different speeds because they actually come from different layers in the brain. Delta waves primarily come from the brain stem deep in the brain, whereas beta waves are from the cortex. Which cortex is Latin for bark. So this is the outer layer of the brain. This is the thinking parts of the brain. And so they come from different areas. But there are, as we know, ADHD is more theta waves. When someone’s producing a lot of delta waves during the day relative to an armament of sample, it’s usually one of a couple of reasons. One is if you have any serious brain damage, this can cause delta waves, strokes, things like this. And we see, because I’m a neuropsychologist, I do see patients with severe brain injuries and strokes and things like this. Some of these theta waves will look like they’ll show theta, not so much delta. Otherwise, delta waves, for example, which are the characteristic of deep sleep. And just to go back, of course, we produce all these brain waves all the time. It’s just a relative ratio of the different ones, which ones are dominating, and delta waves. If you’re showing this when you’re awake, it could be a sign of serious sleep deprivation or serious sleep problems. And sometimes people aren’t even aware of this. They think they’re sleeping well. And I usually recommend they get a sleep study if they’re showing a lot of delta waves and they have no history of serious metabolic issues that might be affecting the brain or brain damage in any way. But this is usually not a good sign. The way I try to explain it to patients and clients is that, look, your brain isn’t getting the deep sleep that you need the stage for sleep. And this is when all the repair happens. This is when the glymphatic system is activated cleans, basically metabolic byproducts out of your brain which are now known because now we understand the correlation between sleep deprivation or sleep problems or insomnia in your 40s, 50s & 60s and dementia. And Alzheimer’s disease is one type of dementia later in life. And they didn’t really know. Now we know. If you don’t get deep sleep, your brain isn’t cleaning out these metabolic byproducts and they build up, and MLI plaques build up and things like this. So if you’re not getting it at night, your brain is trying to do it in the middle of the day and it’s not going to be doing it very well. And it’s also going to definitely affect your performance. You don’t want a lot of delta waves going in your brain when you’re trying to do anything that has to do with performance. So it’s really, really interesting what I do with relative to other neuropsychologists and sports psychologists, there is a subgroup of us in the world that do this stuff. But I love to look at things not from a purely psychological perspective. There’s people who do the brainwave stuff, the EEGs, the neurofeedback, and that’s all they really focus on and everything they try to explain every behavior, every problem based on an EEG finding. I think that’s taking it too far. The technology is great, but to me, I don’t believe it’s that as accurate as we like to think. It’s always a combination of at least these three things our psychology, our physiology, right, HRV, what we’re putting in our bodies, caffeine, these sorts of things, our blood glucose levels, right? And our neurology, what our brains are doing. And so if you want to be successful and you want to be a high achiever, Ultrahuman, you need to be seriously considering all three of these areas to perform at your best.
(Mohit): Yeah, I think the point on psychology is, I think, very, very accurate. That the fact that unless you have context of what’s really happening in people and their lifestyle, just why biomarkers might just be contextless to a large extent. Very much.
(Chris): Yeah, I love this, like what you guys are doing and where the world is going right now with biotechnology and biomarkers is there’s stuff going on beneath the surface that we’re not aware of. And for most people, I think the vast majority of people, if you understand and you have objective data, like the police officers I told you about, say they don’t think they’re stressed at all, and we show them the data, they change their behavior. Because I say your body is not handling it well. Now, in five to ten years, all these problems will come to a head. Your body will send you a rude message, whether it’s hypertension, whether it’s going to be definitely grinding your teeth at night, whether it’s all of a sudden migraines, have no explanation. Of course, chronic unregulated stress can lead to problems like heart disease, can lead to cancer can reduce your immunity, can affect your sleep, and of course, your sleep affects all these. And I actually have a YouTube channel where I just started over the pandemic, where I go over basically these things I’m talking about, I have a number of them on being productive and motivated. But the last six months or so, I’ve been producing videos on sleep.
(Mohit): What’s the name of the channel?
(Chris): Oh, it’s Friesen Performance with Dr. Chris Friesen. And I have they’ll be 20 videos specifically on sleep. I thought I was going to make three, and I realized this is too much details and I don’t want to make a long video. So there are 3 minutes to 12 minutes at the maximum, and I make these short videos that go over. First of all, what are the negative psychological consequences of poor sleep? There’s one video. What are the negative health consequences or physiological consequences of poor sleep? There’s a second video and what are the neurological consequences? All to show the people the reality of what happens when we don’t take this seriously. So it’s to motivate people to make a change. And then I go through what I call the three major causes of sleep disruption that are nonclinical. So I’m not including sleep apnea, and restless leg syndrome, the three major causes, as most people know. But our circadian rhythm disruption number two is what I call physiological activation, which is our physiology being worked up, whether it’s exercising too close to bed, caffeine in our system, stressful conversations. All these activate the sympathetic nervous system. When we actually need that to come down, which is our gas pedal, we need our brake to turn on, which is the parasympathetic nervous system. The rest digest relax system in the evenings, cortisol to come down. And then the last one, the vis-à-vis videos I’m just releasing now is cognitive over-activation, which is what everyone complains of when they say they have sleep problems. They say I can’t turn my mind off, I’m lying down and I can’t turn my mind off. That’s part of it. And I think for some people that’s purely the issue. But if you have circadian rhythm disruption by waking up at different times, being exposed to blue light and bright light, not getting bright light in the mornings, you’re going to have some circadian rhythm disruption and your body’s not ready for sleep. And therefore you lie down and you’re going to hear the chatter in your mind. And other people, it’s a physiological activation. They’re activated physically. And of course you lie down and your mind is just doing what it normally does. And other people, the mind is the issue that they cannot turn their mind off. They get hooked or wrapped up by thoughts. And there are a whole bunch of strategies and it’s beyond simple sleep hygiene, which I think is just the absolute basics. What supplements are helpful, what neurological strategies, heart rate variability, biofeedback helps with physiological activation. So I go over these in short videos to help people understand, because once your sleep is done and you’re not sleeping well, if your sleep is crap, you are going to be performing not well in your life. And of course we have a delayed response you might notice not functioning very well the next day. But it’s again in five to ten years when your body actually you start to see the remnants of diseases coming out. I’ll give you a quick example. One thing we know for sure, and I talk about this in one of the videos, is when we are somewhat sleep deprived, or if I was sleeping like only 1 hour less than normal, you start to have cognitive problems. So your processing speed, your reaction time, your memory, things like this go down. But interestingly, people have no awareness of this. They have no insight in this. And so I knew this from the literature. And so we tested the police officers, the high risk officers and the elite officers, their cognition, and we’d find out how much they slept before the test, et cetera. We’d ask them how do you think you did? Because I test them every year. They said, I think I did just as good last year and I think my brain is functioning just as well. And if they haven’t been sleeping well, their performance is actually reduced. So, lack of sleep. You don’t have the insight that our cognition is impaired when we have lack of sleep. So I think it’s like having one or two beers. People say, I don’t feel drunk, I think I’m fine, I can drive. But if you measure them, they are actually impaired. Maybe not as impaired as it could be if they’re completely drunk, but the reaction times are slow, etc. And these are enough to cause accidents.
(Mohit): Yeah, I think the fascinating part is that once that happens, you don’t really know whether you have a problem or not. Like if you have chronically being sleep deprived, you don’t know what normal is.
(Chris): Just like they wouldn’t know. Is your blood glucose high right now? You don’t know unless you have a measurement.
Question (Mohit): Yeah, it’s a little weird that a lot of literature around blood glucose and also around diagnostics around blood glucose is built around like why do you need blood glucose if you’re not diabetic? And I mean, to some extent the answer is that yes, unless you know what your blood glucose levels are, how do you know that you’re not diabetic? But I would love to take this to the next level. That a lot of people in there. You start doing a lot of, you can say, craft tests on people not to just look at their glucose, but also their insulin. So when we go a little deeper, what started happening was that perfectly normal looking people, perfect. I know that BMI is not the right measure, but perfectly normal looking people, good BMI range, good body fat percentage, low visceral fat, all those folks, when we look at that glucose, good control, completely within the range, and didn’t seem like there was a problem. But when we looked at their insulin via a form of an oral glucose tolerance test, then across 3 hours, sort of like an autocraft test, the story was completely different. The story was that their insulin levels were almost like 3-4x of where it should have been. And what basically was happening was that the glucose was rising and the body was overcompensating with more and more insulin. And because of extra insulin, the glucose would always look in the range. In fact, it would appear perfect. And for a lot of those people in their 20s and some of them are athletes as well, it would seem like, oh, this is not a problem to solve because I don’t really have a glucose regulation problem. But the problem is their insulin has become inefficient over the last few years, and as they age and they have more unregulated glucose, their insulin levels are going to rise further and at one point in time they can’t really regulate their glucose. And when they sort of like realize this, it’s already. Too late.
(Chris): Borderline type two diabetes. Yeah, exactly. And this is the other issue that comes up, and you know more than I do on this, is the idea of using normative comparisons. So, for example, there’s a reason why the standard American diet is called SAD. I don’t think it’s actually purposely called Sad, but it’s a sad diet. And so to say your blood glucose or your theta beta ratio is about average, that is not necessarily a good thing because our society is getting less and less healthy in a lot of ways. I’ll give you a quick example, the theta beta ratio. So when they did all this research on the theta beta ratio, it was very, very accurate to pick up ADHD. Normal people who didn’t have ADHD don’t show the theta beta ratio. Like it’s like 2% or something. What’s happened though, newer studies, and I say this in one of my videos, I go over this, the newer studies are showing that it’s not as discriminating between people who don’t have ADHD and people who do have ADHD. And the reason is this, since the studies, the original studies were like 20 years ago, the internet and cell phones and exposure to blue light, everybody is staying up later and their circadian rhythm is more disrupted. And so people’s sleep is not as good as it used to be. And so what happens is people who don’t have ADHD are showing a positive theta beta ratio now that they didn’t in the past. And if we just use a new normal, a new average, OK, for today, actually you’re the same as everyone else today when it comes to the theta beta ratio. That doesn’t tell me much because the whole society is getting sicker in terms of excess theta waves because of staying up later, getting exposure to blue light, et cetera.And so the biomarker has lost its sensitivity over time. But if you show positive on it, there’s a very good chance you have ADHD. But if you score positive on it, you can easily not have ADHD as well. It could easily just be a sleep issue. And so that’s the other thing. When you look at norms, if you just use latest, the latest norms, is that a good thing or should there be ideal norms of the healthy? It’s like in neuropsychology, when I do testing of memory and processing speed, we have to use normative data for their age category because let’s say memory for a 55 year old, an average memory is a lot worse than a memory of a 25 year old. And so if I use 25 year old norms, pretty much most people, like 90% of people who are over 50, are going to look severely impaired. One of the issues that comes up, I haven’t done this in a while, I used to do a lot more of this. I would be asked to do evaluations of physicians, of their safety to continue to work because in Canada, at least where we are now, there’s no mandatory retirement age. And the question is, if I use younger norms, they’re going to look quite impaired. Should a brain surgeon who’s 70 years old, is it okay for his brain and his processing speed and his memory and his reaction time to be the same as a seven year old? Or do you want they need to be what we call super-ager, which is their brains are actually functioning like a 50 year old or something like that. So the norms are what we compare it to, I think is important to think about.
(Mohit): This is really interesting insight because as the averages around us are actually changing because of what’s happening in the society, in our lifestyle, in our habits all around. And the biomarkers you mentioned, very simple ones as well, that we see here, like, for example, the Triglyceride biomarker or the LDL biomarker, it’s designed for somebody else. Totally different context. And it’s not designed for whether you have inflammation in the body or not. It’s not designed for that. It’s designed for that individual of people, a group of people who have studied what was the risk percentage. And if you’re trying to optimize for health performance, some of those benchmarks might actually not even matter because in this case, you might need to be alarmed much earlier if your Triglycerides are on the higher side or specially like, for example, things like LDL, the Liver protein A versus Liver protein B Like, totally different type of behavior. So totally resonate with what you just said. What I feel is that the verticalization of the performance domain has actually happened. I would love to learn more about Friesen Sports and Performance Psychology Center that you’ve been working on. But before that, I think one comment I wanted to make was that this verticalisation has actually happened. This new domain has actually been created. But I think more of that has been made available to athletes. And it’s not as accessible totally today as we build companies in this space. I think people like you who actually are leading the space get this out to millions of people. This will become available to not just athletes , but also everyone who actually wants to look and feel better. So with that, I would love to know more about the Friesen Sports & Performance Psychology Center. What are some of the key goals or key objectives that you have been working on with that?
Answer (Chris): Yeah, so it’s a completely applied practice. Even though I have a master’s and PhD, I don’t do any research. I’ve written some articles with some colleagues. One is Dr. Bob Konder, who is a neuropsychologist in North Carolina who worked with one of the NHL teams and he worked a lot with military. And we’ve done an article on not a study per se, but more of a summary article for healthy brain aging. And I talk about some of these things. And we also do one on concussions as well, because we do both a lot of that. My clinic is a combination of two things. I actually have two clinics in one. One is called Niagara neuropsychology, which is more the clinical side. And this is because I’m a neuropsychologist and neuropsychologist is much more rarer than a clinical psychologist, but I have both. I’m clinical psychology plus neuropsychology. And this is where people come for head injuries, potential dementia. They’re in the early stages. They want to know, is there something wrong? Is there anything I can do about this? And we have these sort of quote unquote experimental things, and that’ll be experimental in terms of dangerous just these aren’t standards of care. For example, infrared light, something called a V light, which is from a company in Toronto, which is here in Canada, close to us, where there’s a lot of pilot studies that have come out where shining infrared light into the brain, one through the nostrils to get to the orbital frontal cortex. And the other one is basically on the default mode network, which are these five points on the head central and the cingulate and the parietal areas. And basically it shines red light. And I actually have one. I use it. All these things I do with my clients, I do everything myself. I have one too. Oh, you haven’t? Okay. So you know what I’m talking about. Yeah. So using things like this, you can use peak performers. I highly recommend people meditate, actually. Let me give you an example there. So when it comes to meditation, there are ways to enhance meditation. So everyone knows that there’s lots of research on meditation, especially mindfulness meditation and focus meditation. These meditations tend to be quite good for us in our working memories and our ability to focus and emotional regulation, et cetera. And the problem is, so many people say, I don’t have time to meditate. Well, that’s one issue. But then other people say, I can’t meditate. It’s too difficult for me. When we do an EEG, a QEG, to look at their brains, it’s usually always the people who have excessive fast wave activity, the people that need it the absolute most. And there are a couple of ways to do this. And again, remember the psychological, neurological so mindfulness meditation would be a pure psychological strategy. A physiological strategy would be heart rate variability biofeedback. And for any listeners who are listening or trying to pick a device, there’s two devices out there that are consumer grade. One is HeartMath. The company is called heartmath.org. They have something called the inner balance or inner balance. And that is, it can basically connect your phone through Bluetooth. It measures your heart rate variability, and you get instant feedback from your phone as you’re doing it. So this has to do with something called respiratory sinus arrhythmia, which means your heart rate accelerates when you breathe in and decelerates when you breathe out and when you do this, it basically exercises a vagus nerve and you develop something called vagal tone. And there’s actually a big study. There’s a bunch of studies, but one of the interesting ones that came out recently was a metaanalysis in the journal Nature, which is the top you see the science here? One of the top journal in the world. One of the top journals and a metaanalysis for HIV biophyback specifically for depression. So we know it helps with sleep. In one of my videos I go over how to do this to help reduce physiological activation to sleep. It helps with mood, it helps with decision making, it changes blood flow to the brain. But this is something that when you meditate, if you have a hard time doing this, that people say I can’t do this, well, there are aids that can actually enhance the meditation. So this is one if you’re not going to get a fancy app like that. So the other one is besides the HeartMath, the other one is from Thought Technology. It’s a Canadian company and they have a product called Evu. EVU. And it measures not only heart rate variability training, it’s just for biofeedback. It doesn’t measure your baseline, it measures sweat response, which is a pure measure of sympathetic activation or stress response and temperature of your finger all in one little bluetooth sensor. You can get feedback while I do this. Those are the two best consumer grade ones. So that’s one way is to do your meditation through doing that breathing. And we know that meditation increases HRV, but nowhere close to the amount of HRV boost you get if you’re doing 5 seconds in breathing, 5 seconds out, no breath holding. None of this box breathing. Psychophysiologists have been looking at this trying to figure out what is the best breeding strategy to actually activate the parasympathetic nervous system. It’s basically for a vast majority of people, it’s called the resonance frequency. It’s five in, five out. Sometimes it’s four in, six out, but in general. Five in, five out. Ten second breath plus or minus a second for most people, but it’s usually around five in, five out. So that’s six breaths in a minute. The other thing you can get is a free app like a breath pacer. I use the Kardia deep breathing app, Kardiac with a K. I believe you have to pay a dollar, I think after the first week to get the bells and whistles. It’s just an app that is a timer and basically it buzzes or makes a tone or you can look at the screen every 5 seconds. You can set the settings and it goes the way I use it. At night at 09:00 I sit down and I watch YouTube or videos or whatever I do, or I do some emails. I hold my phone and it buzzes every 5 seconds because I have a Kardiac deep breathing app going buzz means breathe in through my nose. Buzz breathe out through my nose. You can breathe out through your mouth as well, but I just use the nose. There’s some potential evidence that nose is better in and out. So it’s in through your nose, out through your nose every 5 seconds. I can do it for a whole hour doing this. It’s basically exercising the barrel receptors which have to do with blood pressure. And there’s actually FDA products in the United States for this exact breathing, just for blood pressure reduction. So that’s one thing. The other thing is some people, if I’d especially do a brain map, you don’t need a brain map to figure this, to do this. But there are other AIDS like audio visual entrainment and these have been around for a long time, decades, where these are goggles that are opaque, you can’t see through them and they are flashing lights. So what it does, for example, alpha waves, which are between eight and 12 Hz, when our brain produces dominant alpha waves, we tend to stop thinking. We’re not very good at focusing as much because it’s on the slower end of the slow waves. You want kind of low beta to focus. But if your goal is to meditate and everyone says my mind is all over the place, well, this will. When alpha goes up in the brain, especially in the posterior cingulate, research has shown on meditation, when people meditate and they’re not thinking the posterior cingulate, the beta or the fast wave, the activity goes down and alpha goes up, which means it’s idling, it’s resting. And I’ve done neurofeedback where I’ve hooked up myself to the computer and I would meditate and it would be a tone every time my posterior cingulate would produce alpha. And as soon as I, you know, I would meditate and just focus on my breath and notice the breath. And as soon as my brain stops to think, the tone goes up. And then I start to realize I’m not thinking. And the tone disappears as soon as I think about the fact that I’m not thinking. And this was amazing because I knew what the research showed. There’s a guy in I think it’s Oregon. His name is Dr. Jeff Tarrant from the NeuroMeditation Institute. He’s the one who summarized a lot of this research. And he does like courses and things like this and he has a couple of YouTube videos and he goes over some of this research and this is really interesting to see. And so the audio visual entrainment, so if you produce it at pump, it at alpha, so it’s flashing ten times a second. And you’re also getting binaural beats in your ears that are in line with the goggles. So it’s audio and visual entrainment because binaural beats on their own is not as effective as visual and visual plus audio is better. After about 5-6 minutes the whole brain will mimic. This is the entrainment effective mimic. It will go into alpha. And actually I didn’t do it done in a long time. Yesterday, I decided I was going to do it again and I sat down and I did 1st 5 minutes, like Kardia, five in, five out, just to get my HIV up. And very quickly I realized I kind of lost track of time, my mind wasn’t thinking. Basically it’s meditation on steroids. So anyone listening here saying I can’t get myself to meditate, consider getting something like an audio visual entrainment device. The company I used is called Mind Alive. It’s a Canadian company. They’re the main manufacturers in this space. The cheapest product is David Delight I think it’s called. And this has ten different settings. But usually for meditation you want to use something around alpha, 8 to 10 Hz, that’s the best way to go again or do the breathing, or you can even do that at the same time. My point is that you can enhance these effects for the people who say they can’t meditate. So it does help too, because often people say the complaint is I can’t just sit down and do nothing for 20 minutes, I don’t have time for this. But if you’re actually putting some goggles on or you’re hooking yourself up to a sensor on your ear for the HRV, it’s different. You feel like you’re doing something, it feels more active, so people are more likely to stick to it and do it.
(Mohit): There’s definitely you’re using machines to actually improve your life and there’s a lot of controversy around machines and people say that oh, should you be dependent and do machines actually improve your quality of life? But it’s quite logical that machines have actually made life safer, convenient, and now they’re getting into health to make health more accessible to people. The most fascinating part though, for me especially is the fact that traditionally when healthcare research was done, it was done on a group of people. Let’s say it’s a drug and it has to be tested on a group of people and there will be a trial and then people would you’ll see the results and then you’ll roll out the drug, right? That’s what happened. What’s happening is that a lot of this is actually becoming DIY and there’s a micro trial happening every time you use the platform yourself. And what’s really interesting is that by the power of observation, because this is your own body, right? So if you can actually see positive effects yourself, that is as much validation you need to continue as anything else. That for me is the most fascinating part because then imagine it’s not a single stream, it’s not a lab that’s actually just researching. I mean, obviously the labs will validate what’s safe for people and what’s not, and do it for millions of people. But at the same time, imagine millions of people contributing to the research as well by their own experiences. And that’s going to be like the new era of how healthcare will evolve for people, potentially.
(Chris): Yeah. Another example that I like to use in two of the videos I’ve produced so far, go over this. One is in relation to getting yourself to sleep and the other one is in relation to performance under pressure. So I get a lot of people coming to me and say, look, I have this huge entrepreneur I have to pitch in front of investors. Can you help me feel no anxiety? Or have people say, look, I’m going to the Olympics or the Panam Games or the Olympic Trials and I don’t want to feel any anxiety. And of course, my thought is, and I try to explain this to them, the problem isn’t that you have anxiety in those situations. The problem is you think it’s humanly possible not to feel anxious in those situations. Feeling anxious is normal. And one of the things they do is both with sleep, we all fall into this. You basically try really hard to sleep or you try really hard to control your anxiety. And what we know is effort actually throws fuel onto a fire. In other words, the more you try, the more your anxiety goes up. And I can tell this to people logically, but when I see people in person, it’s perfect. And so this is one of the motivations I had to make these videos because I need to show people in a way because you’re in the pandemic, I can’t actually do it with them in person. And what I do is hook them up to the galvanic skin response, the sweat response. So these two little sensors on your fingers, it’s a sweat response on your fingers. It’s a pure measure of sympathetic arousal. The fastest, purest, easiest way to measure this. And basically I show them a line graph on the screen and it’s going up and down. And I say, See, when this is going up, your body is activated. Your stress response, your sympathetic nervous system is activated either through effort or stress or trying to control. I don’t see the control thing yet. And I say when it goes up, that means stress. When it goes down, it means you’re not feeling stress. And I say, I want you to try really hard like you normally do. Make this thing go down. And every time pretty much what happens, it doesn’t go down. It goes higher and higher and higher. And I say, see, this is what I’m trying to tell you. The harder you try to control, the worse it becomes. Just like the harder you try to fall asleep, the less likely you will fall asleep. Sleep is a process of letting go. And I explained this in the video. Anxiety. The more you can try to control, the worse it gets. So you have to just allow it to be there. And I finally say, and not everyone gets this on the first shot, I say, okay, now just observe this line going up and down on the screen, which is measuring your stress response. And stop trying to control it, just allow it to come down. And you see, I use the word allow as opposed to trying to make it go down. I’m saying allow it to come down. It’s a gas pedal and you press the gas pedal and then you just take your foot off the gas pedal. You don’t press the brake. That’s the parasite. That’s a different system to turn on the brake, which is a parasympathetic system. You have to do something like slow breathing, like five in, five out, HRV breathing. And so it’s an AHA moment for a lot of these people to say oh my gosh, I’ve been trying so hard to control my anxiety, make myself go to sleep. And so what we’re doing is I try to explain to people it’s like an iceberg. We only see the top part. So our stress, we don’t see this huge iceberg underneath the water. Just like our stress, this line going up and up. You don’t physically feel stress at all. You feel nothing at all. This line goes to its way up here. Then you’re like, no, I can tell them stress. Now this huge change in physiology, it was building and building and you had no awareness. So we just removed the water. Now you see the entire iceberg and then you train yourself to see I’m now training by watching the screen, I can learn subtle variations in my stress response and catch it and let go before it hits the red line. It’s before it hits above the water. And I’m like, okay, I’m stressed, I feel it. We want to catch that before. So it’s really cool. It teaches you two things. This is called galvanic skin response or sweat response biofeedback. One is it teaches you basically and you learn from that’s on an unconscious level and a conscious level, subtle changes in your stress response that you had no awareness before. And two, it teaches you that to have lower stress you have to stop trying to control it. And those are the two things that I think for most people are in a way a big miracle. But it is using their own physiology to mirror back to them so they can learn. And for a lot of people, it’s a game changer.
Question (Mohit): This is opening up another dimension for human optimization because a lot of this information awareness, the method of iteration, to be honest, does not exist today. And with wearables, with gadgets, with companies in this space, I think it’s been made much more available. To summarize this, I think, for our listeners and there are so many knowledge bombs that you have dropped today for people to digest, I think what would be your top three methods that you would suggest people to optimize their performance, and I’m dropping performance of the term very loosely, but let’s say mental performance. What would be the top three protocols? The top three methods that you would have seen experientially that one can actually think about as we summarize this.
Answer (Chris): Okay, so I have a whole bunch, but I’ll try and pick a couple. That heart rate variability biofeedback, no doubt. And that could be just buying or downloading an app like Kardia with a K. Deep breathing. And actually ignore the term deep breathing. Watch my video because I show you how to do it. You’re not deep breathing. You’re breathing long and slow. If you breathe too deeply, you’re actually going to mess up the CO2 and oxygen balance in your brain and you’re going to feel dizzy and yawn over and over again. So that because it’s not just a state effect. Like it doesn’t just change you right there. Research shows if you do this about four to six weeks, 20 to 40 minutes a day, you don’t have to do this for the rest of your life. You can cut away back after that, your vagal tone changes and your baseline level of HRV goes up for most people if you do it correctly. And what that really means is you still have the same reaction if someone fired a gun outside our offices here, excuse me, we both get the same stress response as always, but what would happen is how quickly your nervous system recovers. In other words, how quickly your parasympathetic nervous system is the break. The rest digest system kicks in, will become much faster. Instead of 10 minutes, it comes in 2 minutes without you even doing the breathing at that time. HRV Recovery, basically. Yeah, exactly. Recovery, that’s right. And that would be the number one physiological strategy, the number one psychology, as many the number one psychological or another psychological strategy would be this the biggest problem. The least successful people make their decisions about to do themselves every day based on their moods, based on their energy levels, based on what their mind says they can and cannot do in their circumstances. The most successful people, they make their decisions about what to do with themselves, not based on their moods, not based on their energy levels, not even based on what their mind says they can and cannot do. They base it on their goals and values. To do that it’s easier said than done. But you have to know what are my goals and values? And you have to have your reasons why and you have to prepare. I was working with someone this morning and I was teaching him a meditation strategy, and we had to go over he says, I’ll do it every day at noon. I said, that’s not good enough to say you’re going to do it every day at noon. Easter giving a time, that’s good. But what happens when the famous philosopher Mike Tyson says, everyone has a plan until you’re punched in your mouth, right? So when noon comes and you’re tired or there’s a pressing email and these things pop up, what are you going to do? You’re going to go back to your default, I got to do this email, I’m too tired. Your brain’s going to come up with 100 excuses. Because the number one motivator for all humans and animals is a reduction of uncomfortableness, which is part of the limbic system, which is not really much of a thinking part, has no forward vision, which the prefrontal lobe, frontal cortex is where our goals and values are. That’s what makes us human. And basically you have to have a list. Why did I say I was going to do this again? Why did I say at noon I was going to meditate for 10 minutes every day? And you have to look at that list to remind you because your limbic system is going to want you not to do it because it doesn’t want to feel uncomfortable. That sounds painful and boring. Why would I want to do this? And so you got to look at the list. What are the good things that will happen down the road if I do this, and what are the bad things that will happen if I don’t do this? So that’s probably the number one psychological strategy to get yourself to do things you don’t feel like doing. Because that is the key to health, to success, to making money, to academics, to relationships, everything. If you cannot get yourself to do things, even though when you don’t feel like doing them, you’re going to be in trouble. And let me think, let’s say a neurological strategy. I mean, you could do neurofeedback and train your brain. That audiovisual entrainant I was saying we can do to really enhance meditation. I think that would be a good neurological strategy. And this is, of course, not including things like, you better be exercising every day, or at least almost every day. Sorry. What’s good for your heart is good for your brain. We know that going for a run or going for doing exercise is pretty much equivalent to taking Prozac and Ritalin. So Prozac is an antidepressant, increases serotonin. It’s a misnomer. It’s not antidepressant. It’s an anti negative emotionality and increasing your feeling of satisfaction. That’s what generally serotonin does. And the Dopamine effect you get from the exercise as well is what almost every ADHD medication does, increases dopamine availability in your brain. And what does that do? It makes you interested and motivated to pursue potentially rewarding things. It’s not a pleasure molecule. That’s bullshit. That’s not really what it doesn’t make you feel pleasurable. It makes you want to search out things that might be pleasurable. And so it makes you attracted to things. So you gotta be careful what you do. So if you open up your Facebook or something like this and you’re supposed to be working, you do a quick run and you come in here, you’re going to get super attracted to whatever that is. So you want to make sure that you engineer your environment, that you have the thing that you wanted to work on ready to go. And there’s like a hundred things like this. This is what I work with my clients every day, basically, is how to get yourself to do things. You have to understand how the brain works, how your physiology works, how your psychology works. And once you understand that you have a language to describe this, then you have a chance to, in a way, game your own system or game the system. Now you know the rules of the game and you can get yourself to do things that are important, that are going to bring you towards what you want, your goals and your values.
(Mohit): So, tools aside, I think the fact that you mentioned that it’s your environment, either you control it, you get controlled by the environment, right? There are only two scenarios. You can be joined by your brain and your physiology, or you can ignore these and basically go beyond and above that’s very motivational. And I think this has been such an amazing session for our listeners. So many knowledge bombs, so many new things to try out and I’m sure I’m going to try, I’ve been noting these down. I would love to try each one of these out and see how can I use these to improve performance and to do this in a measurable way. But Dr. Friesen and this has been really insightful and I’m glad that we got a chance to connect. Thank you for making it here. It’s such an enlightening session and I’m sure we will connect and cross our paths in the future as well.
(Chris): I appreciate you having me on. Again, if anyone’s interested, the YouTube channel is basically still brand new. Friesen Performance with Dr. Chris Friesen. I also have a book called Achieve. Find out who you are, what you really want, and how to make it happen. It’s on Kindle, physical, paperback and Audible and I think it’s on iTunes as well. That is more about the values, how to be productive. But a big chunk is understanding your personality, which we didn’t really get into today, but you have to know, which is a lot to your biology, your genetics, understanding your personality. And once you know that, you can set the goals that are right for you. So it’s a bit of a workbook on doing this, but it’s a regular book, but it’s got lots of strategies and work pages built into it.
(Mohit): and for our listeners will drop these links so that it’s accessible to you on the podcast description. So, do check these out and I think this is super fascinating stuff, you don’t find this anywhere, so give this a try and let us know. So thank you again, Dr. Friesen, and look forward to seeing you very soon.
(Chris): Yeah, thanks so much. Thank you.
Outro (Mohit): Well, that was intense, wasn’t it? Optimizing both physical and mental performance are very layered and complex, but I hope this episode helps you understand how HRV and performance are correlated and we’re able to derive actionable insights as to how you can get started on improving your performance. We would love to hear your thoughts on this episode. Share your top ways of optimizing performance with us. Please feel free to start a conversation on social media by tagging us @UltrahumanHQ on Instagram and Twitter. If you love what we’re doing here at Ultrahuman Podcast, please subscribe, rate and review on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, that will be the best way for you to support us. That’s a wrap, folks. Keep at your metabolic health journeys. I’ll see you next week with a new episode.