Upgrade Your Life and Health With Empowered Responsibility with Daniel Schmachtenberger

April 9, 2018

Jon Waterlow from the High Existence Podcast has Daniel on the podcast once again to talk about how to upgrade your life and health with empowered responsibility.

Talking to Daniel Schmachtenberger is like having an audience with a prophet.

His vast knowledge extends across health, economics, technology, strategy, and philosophy. More importantly, he’s a brilliant communicator dedicated to bringing those often disparate fields into dialogue, in order to make powerful, genuine change for the betterment of our individual and collective lives.

Last time I met Daniel, we spoke about the collective future of humanity in the face of imminent ecological and economic disaster. This time, we bring the focus back to you and me: the individual life and how we can become the best, most fulfilled and conscious versions of ourselves.

This is a conversation about unlocking our individual potential through empowered responsibility. What steps can and should we make to create the foundations for a truly high existence? Crucially, the aim here is not to feel responsibility as a burden to be shouldered, but as the wellspring of personal power and agency.

It begins not with the mind, but with the body.

Every single experience that we’re going to have in this life is going to be mediated through our body. Every experience of learning and helping people and making love and staring at a sunset… And how long [our physiology] lasts, how vital it is and how cognitively and emotionally clear we are – it’s all related to the bio-hardware that our consciousness is running on.

– Daniel Schmachtenberger

On that basis, Daniel argues we must try to understand our physical selves as more than meat-suits for our consciousness. And that means making empowered choices about our sleep, our food, and our physical expression in the world.

So you’re born here, you got this body, you didn’t [get an instruction manual] for how to really use it well… But you should fucking figure it out. Of all the things that everyone should become an expert in, learning how to take care of the vessel that they exist in, that mediates everything else they do, [that] should be one of the things that everybody develops some capacity in.

– Daniel Schmachtenberger

But that’s far from easy in a social and medical system which is geared towards detecting and treating acute problems that have obvious causes, while anything more complex gets lost in the fog.

As Daniel puts it:

The medical system is mostly not oriented toward optimizing human flourishing – it’s oriented toward treating acute illness.

– Daniel Schmachtenberger

Therefore, to truly nurture and develop ourselves,

We have to take a more complex approach to understanding something as complex as the human body.

– Daniel Schmachtenberger

Which in turn means we need a new understanding of health and disease.

When it comes to [a] disease that doesn’t have an acute cause, oftentimes it doesn’t have one cause at all. It might be the dysregulation of regulatory systems from exposure to toxins, exposure to pathogens, dysbiosis in the gut, chronic stress, postural issues, lack of movement efficiency… And if you have one thing that’s sub-optimal that makes the system regulate slightly less well, that makes it more susceptible to other things that are sub-optimal and you get a vicious cycle. Eventually there’s enough dysregulation that you actually start to get damage in certain tissues or certain systems and those cluster together and we call it a disease – we call it MS or Rheumatoid Arthritis…

– Daniel Schmachtenberger

So if true healing comes from discovering and addressing the causes of these problems, then by the same token, true health comes from putting in place the most robust foundations possible.

But with so much information (and even more misinformation) available to us these days, how can we begin to make informed choices without being immediately overwhelmed?

In this interview, Daniel makes it clear that while there’s no one-stop-shop or a WikiHealth that we should blindly believe, there’s still a lot we can do. Empowered responsibility rests on building solid foundations for our physical, emotional and psychological lives. Daniel suggests three key pillars from which to begin:

  1. Sleeping enough and sleeping well
  2. Movement
  3. Dietary choices

Daniel gives us tips and tech for all three, and then challenges us to think of the costs not as the money required to eat all-organic food or buy a gym membership, but as the physical and psychological costs of not investing in ourselves.

If that sounds like the kind of responsibility that’s onerous to shoulder, there’s good news in the longer term. Because addictively grabbing for the fast food and Netflix isn’t going to make you happier:

Addictive things spike your pleasure and then crash it, but the baseline lowers. So you get more highs and lows, and progressively more lows. […] In the healthy cycle, with anything, you get less extreme highs and lows and progressively more highs. […] So while the addict is controlled by pleasure, they actually have much less pleasure in their life.

– Daniel Schmachtenberger

Which means, as Daniel puts it, “when we’re talking about what’s more healthy, we’re actually also talking about what is more pleasurable”.

And that’s the deepest attraction of empowered responsibility: it’s actually more fun than taking the easy way out.

Beyond our personal lifestyle satisfaction, there’s even more at stake. In many ways our human creativity has outstripped our biology and threatens to damage us as a species as well as at the personal level.

[We had] evolved a set of responses that were appropriate to an environment, and then we became these amazing tool-makers and we changed our environment faster than we could genetically be adapted to [it].

– Daniel Schmachtenberger

So our challenge as a species and as individuals is to learn how to navigate the built world around us, which is not our natural environment. For example, unlike our hunter-gatherer ancestors, we live in a world where impulse-control is more vital than consuming as much salt, sugar and fat as we can whenever it’s available. If our genes adapted to the natural world, we now have to take more direct control of our biology in order to survive and to flourish.

That’s the mission of Neurohacker Collective, which Daniel co-founded, and they’ve created a revolutionary nootropic – Qualia – which is designed to fundamentally upgrade our biological regulatory systems, rather than to artificially spike one aspect of our abilities as many do with “smart drugs” like modafinil.

Beyond the fantasy world of Limitless, where you can pop a pill and be amazing at everything, smart drugs and energy drinks all come with a cost. And beyond the often disturbing side-effects, why would we want to be “in the zone” at all times, or lose the contrast between different experiences?

Daniel and Neurohacker Collective take a different approach: What if we can permanently raise our biological baseline for cognitive function and for our regulatory systems more broadly? That’s the opposite of an addictive substance: lasting benefit, whether or not you continue taking the product.

Once again, this isn’t just about taking a pill; this is about embracing our personal role as part of the collective – about becoming the best we can be for the betterment of all.

In this incredible, wide-ranging interview, we also get into:

  • Circadian rhythms – can we change them?
  • The microbiome
  • Why gluten intolerance isn’t what you think it is
  • Understanding our motivations and how they color every action


Daniel’s Projects:


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