The Top Biohacks Out Of SXSW 2015
By: Dave Asprey
July 11, 2015
This post is by my friend Mark Moschel, who you may also remember as our awesome emcee at The 2014 Bulletproof Biohacking Conference (you can sign up for the 2015 Bulletproof Biohacking Conference here! This post is for you if you missed SXSW earlier this year but wish you’d been able to attend. Check out this awesome recap! -Dave
Guest post by Mark Moschel
I went to SXSW this year and it was both awesome and terrible.
It started as one of the coolest opportunities of my life. But it quickly turned. A few days in, I was reaching into a toilet to collect my own poop. Only a handful of events have ever made me feel truly vulnerable. Sitting on a cold bathroom floor staring at my own feces-covered hand was one of them.
In this post, I’ll share what caused this personal turn and the self-improvement tactics we can all learn from it.
Let’s start with the cool stuff though.
The Cool Stuff
Last fall, I started traveling frequently to new cities. As you’ve likely experienced, travel can rip healthy habits to shreds.
I stopped exercising. I stopped eating well. I stopped taking cold showers.
I needed something to push me back to my old ways.
When I was offered the opportunity to attend SXSW and write about it for Bulletproof, I knew this was that push.
I was nervous though. I asked some people what I should write about. Write about biohacking, everyone said. The obvious answer only increased my anxiety.
But okay, I’ll figure this out. I set an intention: Learn new tactics for achieving optimal health and performance.
Here we go…
Arriving at SXSW
SXSW Interactive is a five day festival focused on cutting-edge technology and digital creativity. There are keynote presentations, panels, workshops, expos, trade shows, and networking events.
If you’ve never attended, imagine walking around a real-life YouTube.
One moment you watch Dave talk about life automation, and the next you’ll Google Hangout with astronauts in space. Later you’ll talk entrepreneurship with Belgian break dancers, and then you listen to Snowden talk internet security.
As my plane landed in Austin, I scrolled through the hundreds of session titles for each day. I already felt lost and overwhelmed.
Day 1 – Searching For Secrets
“At SXSW, there are hundreds of people who could change your life dramatically. Your job is to have a deep human connection with just ONE of those people before you leave.” – Tim Ferriss
My first session was “How to Rock SXSW in 4 Hours” with Tim Ferriss. Fitting that my journey here started with the person I’ve long aspired to follow.
As he talked, I frantically scribbled.
How do you mitigate the damage of excess booze at SXSW after-parties?
Eat a lot of avocados. Drink more water. Focus on clean drinks. Eat burnt toast.
How do you make a meaningful connection?
Don’t be a dick. Don’t dismiss people. Don’t rush, play the long game.
How do you find good sessions?
Read speaker bios, not session titles. Ask moderators for advice.
How can you be successful at SXSW?
Connect deeply with just one person.
I left that session inspired. Looking at the people walking around me, I realized any of them could potentially change my life.
I had no idea how that would connect with biohacking, but I was confident the pieces would fall into place.
Tim was signing books upstairs. First, though, I made a detour for the bathroom. My stomach hurt. I thought maybe I just needed to eat more avocados.
I tried ignoring it hoping it would go away. As you’ll see later, it wouldn’t.
(Me and my good friend Tim)
Comedy & Rejection
While standing in line to have the 4 Hour Workweek signed, I talked with the guy behind me. His name was Will Hatcher, a standup comedian. After small talk about putting butter in our coffee, he described the emotional challenges of standup.
He’s been doing it for nine years and he’s still scared shitless every time he walks on stage (his words). Sometimes, audiences just don’t laugh and he hates that feeling of rejection.
And yet he walks on stages almost every day. As he’s become more confident, he’s continued to challenge himself with bigger stages. He credits any success he’s had to his willingness to confront that fear.
In a later session, Jia Jiang spoke about that same fear. During his 100 days of Rejection Therapy, Jia learned not only to accept rejections but also to see them as opportunities.
He would ask strangers out to dinner, waitresses to dance, and flight attendants to let him say the safety announcement. He got rejected a lot. But he also learned a lot.
I jotted down some takeaways:
- Rejection is human. It’s simply an opinion of the rejector and heavily influenced by the context of their lives at that moment. It often says more about them than you.
- Rejections are learning opportunities. Ask why and you’ll be more prepared next time.
- A NO can become a YES if you are persistent, collaborative, and creatively switch up your request.
- Rejections open up new levels of freedom and meaning. As Jia said, “If I opened myself up to the world, the world would open itself to me.”
Just like Will, each time Jia confronted the fear of rejection, he became more courageous. Now, 100 rejections later, he’s rejection-proof.
Failure & Innovation
“If you’re not failing, you could be learning faster.” – Astro Teller, Captain of Moonshots at Google[x]
Astro seems like a very cool dude. His job is to solve some of the biggest challenges in the world using breakthrough technologies. Plus, has there ever been a more epic name than Astro?
Like jokes in a standup routine or asks during Rejection Therapy, most of his projects fail many times before they succeed.
He listed examples: Google Glass, Project Wing (drone delivery), Project Loon (balloons in the stratosphere to bring internet globally), Flux (sustainable building design), Project Makani (renewable energy through wind), self-driving cars.
Failure, Astro says, is our friend. Every failure is a lesson to be learned, and thus moves us one step closer to the goal. It’s not always easy to see, but the pain we feel from failure and rejection is a sign of progress.
“I don’t believe a mistake-free learning environment exists. I just wish we made mistakes faster.”
Later that day, as my mind flipped through my many failures and rejections, I nearly bumped into two Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Talk about failure leading to growth. An accidental fall into radioactive material led to six pack abs and ninja abilities. Kowabunga!
Sports & Tech
As I walked by, I noticed one of the turtles wore a Fitbit. I guess he was worried about his 10k steps. He certainly wasn’t the only one. People wanted to track everything.
There were headphones to measure biometrics, devices to test for skin cancer, 24-hour patches to monitor stress, sensors to record temperature in fabrics, and apps to track your entire existence.
Companies showcased new tools that measure athlete biometrics during games and EEG’s that track brain activity while players are on the field. As more data is collected, real-time feedback could help players develop their skills faster.
For example, the image below shows the difference in brain activity between a novice and professional golfer right before a swing. The top is a novice and the bottom a pro.
(look how focused the brain activity is for the pro golfer in the bottom scan)
Teams, like the Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia Flyers, and Indianapolis Colts are also using video, GPS, and sensors embedded into courts, fields, and equipment to track movement during games. Eventually, this technology could help teams optimize plays and strategies. In a different setting, similar technology could be used to optimize movement patterns in offices or cities.
Virtual Reality (VR) was also a very popular topic. Like data from new sensors, VR is a way of “seeing” things that were previously invisible. Google had a VR simulation that let you see San Francisco from the perspective of a bird.
In the near future, students will learn history by virtually participating in historical battles and biohackers will study their guts by walking around inside them. Given my increasing stomach pain, I didn’t want to know what I’d find inside mine.
The pinnacle of futuristic tech, though, was mentioned during a talk about AI and immortality with Martine Rosenblatt. She discussed early attempts at mind cloning and what that means for our future. Cyber-consciousness, she said, is the ultimate mirror into our own heads. Rather than meditating on our thoughts, we will talk to them. Imagine the conversation you’d have with your digital clone.
My clone would have yelled at me.
As I bounced from session to session, my stomach kept feeling worse and worse.
It’s somewhat ironic. I was running around the city looking for secrets to improve health and performance but not understanding why my own health and performance were deteriorating.
I was lethargic, nauseous, and increasingly frustrated.
Despite being surrounded by people, I felt alone. I didn’t tell others about my stomach problem because it was embarrassing and I still didn’t know if it was real.
Maybe it’s from the tacos. Maybe it’s all in my head. I was losing confidence in myself.
Eventually, it became too much. Between the random stomach cramps, the constant need to hurry to a bathroom, the increasing nausea, and the feeling of weakness and fatigue, I lost it.
I hit my lowest point early one evening while walking away from the parties on 6th street.
What am I even doing here? The conference was almost over and I felt like I had nothing valuable to share. I was a failure.
I stopped twice to lean over a trash can. I felt completely empty. I decided it was time to change.
The one person who could change my life right now was the doctor at Austin’s regional clinic.
I think I have parasites, I told him.
I recalled my month in Ecuador and the $1 mixed seafood ceviche that had left me bedridden for a week. Maybe my stomach never fully recovered. I left the clinic with a stool test.
An hour later I was sitting on the floor in my friend’s bathroom, scooping poop into three plastic tubes.
Sure enough, I scooped too quickly and my hand touched. I lifted it up and stared at the damage. Very few things are more humbling than this.
I returned the tubes to the doctor, but I already knew what they would say. Knowing what was wrong empowered me to change it.
I stopped eating tacos and started taking medication. The medication failed to eliminate the parasites and the symptoms returned. That’s okay. Failure just meant I was one step closer to a breakthrough.
I realized I needed more data about my gut. I ordered two uBiome kits and started using the Reporter app to track every visit to the bathroom.
I also found an extensive online stool panel and emailed it to my doctor. Can you order this for me? I asked. He said no. He didn’t trust the source and didn’t believe the data would be actionable. I recognized this as a rejection and remembered that rejection is human.
A NO can become a YES if you switch up your request. I asked instead for the same stool test I took before, and he agreed.
This second round of tests showed I still had parasites. There was more work to do.
From Toilet to Triumph
Now a couple months later, I’m still working through issues. I’m excited though. The lessons from SXSW have prepared me to overcome this challenge and grow stronger because of it.
Here’s what I learned.
Frame the story
Storytelling and narrative were widespread themes at SXSW. Different versions of the Hero’s Journey were mentioned frequently.
In short, the main character enters an unfamiliar situation, is challenged, and then overcomes it, now better than when they started.
Consider this as a framework for your personal biohacking goals.
Imagine one of those goals right now. Can you see yourself as the hero in your journey to achieve it?
Once you can, your adventure, regardless of its size or scope, has begun.
Prepare for the parasites
These parasites were a reality check for me. They caught me off guard and knocked me down.
In retrospect, it’s easy to see they were just a natural part of the journey. In the moment though, they made me question myself and my commitment to health.
Like any journey, the road is lined with obstacles. To be ready, prepare your integrity, purpose, mindset, and resources. Dr. Jeff Spencer explains those 4 steps in the Champion’s Blueprint.
Read this and take those 4 steps now: Champion’s Blueprint for Success
Like Jia approaching his next rejection, Will walking up to the microphone to tell his first joke of the night, or Astro committing to the next world-changing project, you must enter an uncomfortable new world.
It could be a trip to SXSW.
It could be a commitment to a 30-day Bulletproof diet challenge.
It could be parasites, an injury, or something that ails you.
If nothing else, fly to Ecuador and eat some $1 ceviche.
That exposure leads to new courage, creative innovation, and, ultimately, personal growth.
Before my stomach issue, I wasn’t a newbie to nutrition. Yet, if I had not gotten those parasites, I would not be learning about the microbiome right now, collecting this new data, or experimenting with new ways to improve my gut’s ecosystem.
In the long run, I’ll be stronger because of this.
Open your eyes
You’ve now stepped into an unfamiliar world. It’s scary and dark.
It’s time to open your eyes and start mapping the terrain.
Like professional athletes collecting biometrics, researchers measuring brain responses to music, or a futurist interacting with her mind clone, data and technology can help you see things that you couldn’t see before.
In my own case, I knew that the foods and supplements we eat impact how we feel, but I never knew what was actually happening inside my stomach?
Stool samples, uBiome tests, and even tracking trips to the bathroom have given me glimpses into this world.
Ask For Help
The main value of SXSW isn’t the sessions or workshops. It’s isn’t the free swag or new technology. It isn’t the concerts or early access to films.
The main value is the community.
By bringing a diverse group of people into a small, high-energy space, there is massive opportunity for innovation.
Biohacking is similar to SXSW. It is a large ecosystem, difficult to grasp in its entirety and impossible to fully explore alone. We need each other.
That’s why I love the Bulletproof forums. That’s why I started the Chicago Biohacking meetup group. And that’s why the annual Bulletproof Biohacking conference is my favorite event of the year.
They’re all ecosystems of personal growth similar to SXSW.
Like Tim Ferriss said, “Connect deeply with one other person.”
That same tactic applies to the biohacking community. You’re reading this, so you’ve already started.
Do one of these next:
- Attend a biohacking meetup. If there isn’t one in your area, start one. It’s surprisingly easy and extremely rewarding. Email me and I’ll help you set it up.
- Register for larger events that bring these communities together, like the BP conference or next year’s SXSW. Make it your goal to connect deeply with one person while you’re there.
- Check-in often with a biohacking friend (thanks Justin and Hiren!). Keep each other accountable. Share ideas. Don’t have anyone? Go to the forums.
Become the Hero
Eventually, you’ll return from your journey stronger, smarter, and most certainly better-looking than ever before.
Don’t get comfortable. Whenever you think the journey is over, it’s really just begun.
Here we go…