I recently watched a program on military dog trainers. The trainer explained how dogs have noses up to 1,000 times more sensitive than a human’s. He described a scenario of a dog walking into a kitchen with a pot of soup brewing.
When we walk into that room, we smell soup. But this is just scratching the surface of what a dog experiences. Their noses pick up scents of carrots, celery, potatoes, garlic, and all the individual components making up that dish. A dog’s nose is literally a super power compared to that of the walking chimp that is the human.
In terms of physical ability, humans are aggressively average in the animal kingdom’s totem pole. We don’t jump the highest, run the fastest, or lift the heaviest. Yet despite our physical setbacks, we sit on the top of the food chain. We all know it’s our brains that catapulted us to the top of the ladder. But more specifically, it was the tools that came from the mind that truly made the difference.
We couldn’t hunt better than lions, but we sure as hell could make a spear that gave us a distinct advantage. We wouldn’t stand a chance against a bear attack, but we could create a trap that avoided it from happening. We’d struggle to catch fish in the ocean, but a net suddenly allowed us to hunt with ease.
As history progressed, the tribes, cultures, and civilizations that flourished not only over animals but over each other were those that had superior tools.
Why does all this matter? In the game of life, your greatest competitor isn’t those around you, but yourself. It’s your limiting beliefs, your fears, your insecurities, and all the mental baggage holding you back. Like any other arena, technology can make the difference in rising above this worthy adversary.
One of the best forms of technology that can help us in this aim is biofeedback training. In her book The High Performance Mind, Anna Wise describes biofeedback in its simplest terms:
“Biofeedback is simply the feeding back of one’s biology. You cannot consciously change something of which you are unaware. If you can be made to be aware of a certain body function, then you can learn to alter it.”1
She later goes on to point out that most people already use biofeedback whether they’re aware of it or not. Every morning you gaze into one of the most commonly used biofeedback instruments in the world: the mirror. You use this device to gain valuable feedback about yourself – whether it’s your hair needing brushing or a popcorn kernel lodged in your teeth. You then use this valuable data to make some improvement.
Taking this a step further, we can use sophisticated biofeedback devices to feed us even more subtle data about our biology to better optimize our lives. Here are some of the most common biofeedback tools we have in our mind hacking toolbox:
- Electroencephalography (EEG) – monitors the electrical activity of one’s brain (linked to various mental, emotional, and physical states).
- Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) – monitors the level of electrical resistance of the skin (linked to our body’s sympathetic nervous system, or our fight or flight response).
- Electromyograph (EMG) – monitors the electrical impulses linked to muscle tension (again, linked to our fight or flight response).
- Heart Rate Variability (HRV) – monitors the variation in the time intervals between heartbeats (linked to our body’s parasympathetic nervous system, or our relaxation response).
If your body were a car, these valuable metrics make up its dashboard, giving you real-time information about your vehicle. In the same way the speedometer, odometer, and fuel gauge are essential information to drive and maintain a car, the same can be thought about the information from biofeedback devices.
They feed you invaluable information about your mental, emotional, and physical states that would have completely fallen under the radar. This information can be used to have greater control over various aspects of your mind and body, dramatically optimizing your life in the process. In this article, we’re going to go over 5 reasons why this is true. Let’s get started.
1. Biofeedback Training Gives You Greater Awareness Of Your State of Consciousness
In his book The Happiness Hypothesis, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt had a great analogy for the human condition. He looks at his conscious mind as a rider on the back of an elephant. The rider can grab the elephant by the reins and attempt it to go this way or that. But ultimately he’s no match for the animal. When it really wants to do something, there’s nothing the rider can do about it.2
The elephant can be looked at as your unconscious mind, the driving force secretly directing your life. It governs your thoughts, your feelings, and your beliefs. It makes up your biases, your deepest motives, and paints the window through which you view the world. Like it or not, you’re more elephant than you are rider. Yet as central as the elephant is in your life, it typically operates under the radar.
If you find yourself drawn towards a particular partner, and can’t understand why, it’s the elephant at work. When you get hot-headed with a friend, saying things you later regret, it too is the elephant. If you can’t stop eating that last bit of chocolate cake even though you know you shouldn’t, you can bet the elephant is behind this.
To have greater control over our lives, we need to develop greater awareness of our inner elephant. By doing so, we can release the shackles of control it has over us. Carl Jung once said, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life, and you will call it fate.” Biofeedback training is one of the best ways we can achieve this.
Remember the scene in Jurassic Park where the little boy senses a T-Rex coming his way through subtle vibrations from a cup of water?
Think of biofeedback in the same sense. Biofeedback training allows us to be more aware of subtle physiological signals linked to unconscious mental and emotional states. By becoming more aware of these signals, we can learn to consciously enter or exit particular states of consciousness. Biofeedback training experts Maxwell Cade sums up this point perfectly in his book The Awakened Mind:
“Essentially, biofeedback is a new way of learning about ourselves, or a way of relearning, or realizing for the first time, what the body already knows— how to act, how to feel, even how to heal— if we listen to it. With biofeedback instruments and techniques, the art of listening to internal cues can be restored, or established. Since one cannot control that of which one is unaware, biofeedback can be said to provide the means to become aware— acutely aware— of ourselves, and thereby to gain the possibility of self-control.
For we are an inseparable body-mind unity, and it is only by becoming aware of our related mental and bodily functions that we recognize their unified effect on our health, well-being and inner development. If we are to achieve domination over our individual experience and growth, then it follows that we must develop maximum awareness of ourselves, of our own bodily and mental states.”3
2. What You Measure, You Can Manage
If you wanted to lose weight, the road to success is more-or-less straightforward. You can measure your weight, calories burned, fat intake, and a host of other helpful metrics giving you a clear picture if you’re moving towards or away from your goal. From health, to finance, to our careers – objective measurement is the vehicle that drives us towards our end destination.
Legendary management consultant Peter Drucker was famous for saying “If you can measure it, you can improve it.” This adage holds true for most areas of our life. But things gets tricky when we get into areas involving the mind.
If you gain weight, you see it on your hips. If you spend too much money, you see it on your bank account. But if things like stress and anxiety start to creep into your life, oftentimes this goes unnoticed until they become major problems.
Not only is mental health camouflaged from clear view, issues with the mind are typically wrapped in shame and embarrassment. It’s far too easy to force a smile and hide our innermost challenges from not only those closest to us, but even ourselves. On the exterior, we can create the illusion that we are healthy, happy and functional even when our world is falling apart internally.
Not having a measuring stick to track our mental, emotional, and spiritual health is one of the main reasons these challenges can be difficult to manage. Yet biofeedback training can be the answer to this problem. It clears the fog and allows us to quantify areas of our life usually filled with mystery.
Want to reduce stress? Hook your hands up to a GSR device, and track its sweat gland secretion. Want to manage anxiety? Place an EEG device over your head, and measure the amount of high amplitude beta waves. How about improving your body’s relaxation response? Place a heart rate monitor around your chest and measure your heart rate variability (HRV) linked to slow breathing. These invaluable biometrics give you access to a mental mirror allowing you to quantify, analyze, and improve upon.
Biofeedback training also gives you the ability to catch mental and emotional issues upstream, rather than downstream when they become larger problems. For example, many biohackers track HRV in the morning which is linked to things like stress and the body’s ability to relax. If you find a trend of your HRV lowering a number of days in a row, you’re getting early signs that your body is experiencing too much stress. Instead of waiting until you’re burnt out, you can catch the issue early and take the necessary steps to take the foot off the gas pedal and add more energizing activities in your life.
3. The Numbers Don’t Lie
Although things like psychology and neuroscience are excellent ways to learn more about the mind, spiritual dojos such as Buddhism, Taoism, or Hinduism are some of the most advanced bodies of knowledge on this subject. Neuroscience and psychology are relatively budding fields compared to something like Buddhism which is the result of over two thousand years of collective study, practice, and experimentation.
Eastern spiritual maps elegantly lay out the workings of the mind you simply can’t find anywhere else. If you can learn to extract the practical tips, techniques, and strategies from their texts, you have a proven blueprint to take greater control over your mind.
Yet many are put off with these schools of thought. One of the reasons this is true is because they’re attached with so many things that are off putting such as dogma, guru worship, hierarchy, and strange clothing. Jiddu Krishnamurti once said:
“Religion is merely mumbling words, going to the temple, or practicing a discipline – which is all repetitive, copying, imitative, habit forming. And what happens to your mind and to your heart when you are merely imitative? Naturally, they wither, do they not? … Therefore, emotionally, inwardly, there is no creation, there is no creative response – only dullness, emptiness.”
Religions can be a collection of regurgitated belief systems that participants are told to blindly adopt without testing, tinkering, and uncovering their own truths from direct experience. Biofeedback training elegantly cuts through this problem.
The beauty of biofeedback is its sits upon numbers. And with numbers comes objectivity. Numbers don’t have agendas. They don’t require faith. They’re brutally honest, even when you don’t want them to be. Numbers cut through the fluff and tell you the exact truth of whatever scenario you’re sitting in front of. Amidst a cloud of confusion, they can be relied upon to guide you towards your end goal.
With biofeedback tools such as EEG, we can measure the brainwaves profiles of Zen monks, Christian nuns, and Hindu yogis deep in practice. We can extract the numbers from these ancient practices, and weave this data into our lives.
For more information on the EEG profile of peak meditative experiences, check out our article The Awakened Mind & Brainwaves Of Enlightenment
4. Biofeedback Training Speeds Up Development
One of the most common complaints with meditation is how slow it can be to see the benefits. You can meditate for months, sometimes years, and still, suffer from an uncontrollable monkey mind. Many quit well before this point, frustrated with their lack of results.
Biofeedback training allows you to hack this process. Imagine being in a pitch black hallway searching for a tiny key. As you stumble around in the darkness, you use your hands to feel the floor, the walls, and objects around you hoping that you’ll find the key. This conundrum isn’t dissimilar to what we face with meditation.
Now imagine being in that same room, but now you have a friend who knows where that key is, telling you if you’re moving closer or further away from your target. It’s a game changer, as your ability to find the key exponentially increases.
This is akin to biofeedback training. The moment you use a biofeedback device, hidden physiological signals linked to your mental state is suddenly fed to you and made clear as day. By knowing in real time if you’re moving further or away from your goal, development drastically accelerates.
Take Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) as an example. As you relax your mind, sweat gland secretion in your hands begin to decrease. GSR devices measures this and emit a tone that begins to lower in pitch. This feedback allows you to be acutely aware of what processes are moving the needle. As this occurs, the pitch lowers further, and a positive feedback loop begins to take form.
Biofeedback expert Maxwell Cade speaks about how biofeedback training helped him achieve meditative techniques in 2-3 months, what would have normally taken him years to achieve:
“Seven years later, it dawned on me that biofeedback equipment provided both the ideal way to teach meditation and relaxation and also provided a means for investigating the psychological and physiological effects of different traditions on a comparative basis.
Not that the relaxation response, which is what biofeedback instrumentation most readily enables us to measure, is the whole, or even the main part of meditation. But it is the common entry path to all altered states of consciousness except the ecstatic. Biofeedback instruments have enabled me to achieve a thirty-year-old dream: to be able to teach the basic elements of different techniques of meditation (including a full, conscious awareness of every bodily change as it occurs) in two to three months, as compared with the years which it took in my day, and still does at many schools.”4
5. You Can Rewire Your Baseline Physiology
It doesn’t matter how well a tool, technique, or method can help your mind – whether that be to feel better, increase focus, or ease stress – if those benefits don’t stick outside of using the tool, then this could lead to dependence, even addiction.
Throughout my time at university, I had many friends who saw their mind transform into focus driven machines with the use of Adderall. However, they’d soon find their attention falling right back down as soon as the drug wore off. This lead to many of them becoming addicted to the drug well past college, into their careers.
The amazing thing with biofeedback training, is it rewires your baseline physiology for lasting results. Devices like GSR or HRV literally reshape your body’s nervous system, improving its ability to relax for the long term. Once this happens, you can move on from the device, only using it to maintain the results you’ve already built up.
Chemist Tim Scully once said:
“What it is is learning to be aware of various states of consciousness, and how to notice what things you can do that either encourage them or discourage them. By doing biofeedback training you can learn skills so that you no longer need the biofeedback instrument. You can still have the skill you learned while using it and hopefully you can learn a portfolio of different states that may be appropriate for different situations, and hopefully you can learn how to observe in your own life which states are more successful for you in a given situation so you can choose to encourage the ones that work for you, and discourage that states that don’t work well for you.”5
One of the reasons results tend to stick with biofeedback training is it brings light to physiology that you may not be aware of. You get a deeper sense of what your mind and body undergoes when its relaxed, focused, excited, etc. Once this awareness sinks in, it’s difficult not to be aware of it in the future.
Biofeedback expert Elmer Green writes:
“We must remember, however, that in every biofeedback situation involving self-regulation information is first fed back to the cortex via biofeedback devices. Later, when self-regulation develops to the point at which biofeedback devices are no longer necessary for the continuation of the skill, a sensitivity to interceptors (internal feedback circuits) has taken over, has replaced the original biofeedback source of information. The machine’s information has been replaced by direct body awareness.”6
Biofeedback training can give you mental super powers that can dramatically improve your life. With devices such as EEG, GSR, or HRV, subtle physiological signals linked to your state of mind can be amplified, giving you information about yourself that would have normally been buried from your awareness.
What you measure, you can manage, and biofeedback gives you the opportunity to do just that. By using the biofeedback data to your advantage, you can make key mental and physical adjustments allowing you to enter or exit various states of consciousness at will. Overtime, you’ll find your baseline physiology rewiring for the better, making you a calmer, more focused, more resilient person in the process.
Do you have experience with biofeedback training? We want to hear about it. In the comments below, tell us what biofeedback tools you’ve used and the results you’ve had with them.
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- Wise, Anna. The high-performance mind: mastering brainwaves for insight, healing, and creativity. New York: Penguin, 2004. Print.
- Haidt, Jonathan. The happiness hypothesis: putting ancient wisdom to the test of modern science. London: Heinemann, 2006. Print.
- Cade, Cecil Maxwell, and Nona Coxhead. The awakened mind: biofeedback and the development of higher states of awareness. Shaftesbury: Element, 1991. Print.
- Cade, Cecil Maxwell, and Nona Coxhead. The awakened mind: biofeedback and the development of higher states of awareness. Shaftesbury: Element, 1991. Print.
- Davis, E. (2017, February 11). Acid Maker [Audio blog post]. Retrieved May 23, 2017, from https://techgnosis.com/acid-maker
- Elmer E. Green & Alyce M. Green, Biofeedback and States of Consciousness, In Handbook ofStates of Consciousness (B. B. Wolman & M. Ullman, Eds., Van Nosttrand Reinhold Company, New York, NY, 1986).