Unlocking your brain’s full potential and optimizing performance with Dr. Chao

“But then when you get to drugs for the brain, the wheels fall off. And I couldn’t help but think there’s gotta be a better way. You know, for a lot of the drugs for the brain the side effects are worse than the disease.” — Dr. Daniel Chao

This podcast is supported by Ample. Ample is a new company that has brought you convenient and healthy meals in a bottle. Mark loves Ample and has started using them as his regular “MRE” or Meal Ready to Eat. The Ample meals aren’t just protein shakes,  they are complete meals, including fiber and healthy fats as well as protein.   Check them out. Listeners can use the code “unbeatable” on amplemeal.com to get 15% off their first order.

Dr. Daniel Chao

This week’s episode features Dr. Daniel Chao (@danielchao), with a degree in biochemistry, MS in neuroscience and a medical degree from Stanford University.  He explains the science behind neurostimulation. Dr. Chao has developed HALO Sport which uses proprietary technology called Neuropriming to improve the brain’s response to training and drive accelerated performance gains.

This type of “hyper-learning” allows you to learn and become comfortable with new kinds of movement much more quickly than you can through regular training. In effect, it is able to make training more effective through stimulation of specific parts of the brain. They talk about the science, how the military is undergoing the ultimate testing with the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Development Group and how he is trying to inspire and train not just athletes, but pilots, musicians, surgeons and even stroke victims.  We all want to improve our lives and unlock our brains full potential. Don’t miss this interview.

In order to encourage the Unbeatable Mind and SEALFIT tribe to take advantage of the Halo system, Dr. Chao has made the system available to podcast listeners at a discounted price. Go to haloneuro.com and use the code “unbeatablemind125” on checkout to get $125 off the regular price of the Halo sport.

The Commander is a huge fan of Qualia, an extensively researched nootropic, brought to you by The Neurohacker Collective.  It will help you reach your full potential cognitively, so that you can always think clearly, even when you’re tired or overwhelmed. When you purchase an ongoing subscription for Qualia at neurohacker.com, enter the code “unbeatablemind15r” to get 15% off the price of a monthly subscription.

Love the Unbeatable Mind Podcast? Click here to subscribe on iTunes. We’d love your feedback, please leave a rating and review.

Other episodes of our podcast that you might be interested in are Mark’s interview with Dr. Andrew Hill on the Peak Brain Institute and neural feedback and the episode on neuro-hacking with Daniel Schmachtenberger.

Transcript & Shownotes

Hey folks, welcome back. This is Mark Divine with the Unbeatable Mind Podcast. So grateful that you could join us today. I know your time is valuable and also there’s literally a hundred billion podcasts popping up these days, so you have a lot to choose from. The fact that you’re listening to the Unbeatable Mind podcast is really, really cool.

And I know for the longest time we’ve only had it available on iTunes. But now if you’d like to look at it on other places, we have it on Google play, Stitcher, Soundcloud and, of course, our website: unbeatablemind.com/podcast. If you go there drop your name in our email because we have a lot of cool things–like one of the things we’re going to talk about today.

About a special promotion with this cool device which I have on my head. Which is not a set of headphones. Actually it is, but that’s not the primary purpose. So I’m actually going to take this off in a second.

But anyways, check out the Unbeatable Mind podcast, get your name on the email, and please rate it if you can, cause that really helps other people find it.

One last thing before I introduce our super-cool guest. The unbeatable Mind summit is going to be held December 1st through the 3rd. Here in Carlsbad, California. We’re already 50% of the way to being completely sold-out. It’s going to be an unbelievable event. It’s 3 days of Unbeatable Mind training, tribe connection, working on our front-side focus plan for 2018. And some really cool speakers. And also, you’ll be able to play around with some technology and some of the tools that we’ve been testing this year. All right? So that’s really cool.


Now today, I have a guest who is one of the founders and the brain behind a company called “Halo,” which is this cool device I have on my head. So I’m excited to introduce my guest today, from Northern California, Dr. Daniel Chao. Daniel thanks for joining us.

Dr. Daniel Chao: Yeah. Thanks, Mark, for having me.

Mark: Daniel is the… we’re going to get into his background and everything… but he’s an MD and has an MS in neuroscience, so he’s truly a brain doctor. Formerly worked for McKinsey and is now co-founder and CEO of Halo Neuroscience. Which is this little doohickey. This is one of their products, which is pretty cool. We’re going to talk about Halo and we’re going to talk about some of the cool things they’re doing with the fitness and the military community. And Dan, thanks for making your way down here to do this in person.

Dan: Thanks for the opportunity.

Mark: So this thing is really cool. Now the Halo… I don’t want to get into the details right now, but for everyone who’s listening, at the end of the show or in the shownotes, we’re going to be… I’ve tested this product myself and it’s wickedly cool and it works. And so we’re going to be offering a program discount for you guys where you can get 125 dollars off to check out the device. So that’s my sales pitch. So wait ’til the end, I’ll give you the promo code. Or look in the shownotes if you have to go and you’re going to listen to this later. But you don’t want to wait, and you wanna go check out the device.

So now I get to take this off. Boom. Pretty comfortable though actually. I like that.

So Dan tell us a little bit about… before we get into your work with Halo, which is, I think, going to be something that everyone’s really interested in, tell us about your background, where you grew up, how you got interested in science and brain science and all that stuff.

Dr. Chao: All right. So how far back should I go?

Mark: You were born…

Dr. Chao: Born, immigrant parents. In LA.

Mark: Chinese background?

Dr. Chao: Yeah, yeah. My parents were both born in China and escaped the communists. They escaped the Cultural Revolution when they were really young. And so they grew up in Taiwan. And then came here in 1968. So after the Civil Rights Act of 1965, that reversed… not to get too deep into American history, but there was something called the “Chinese Exclusion Act” of 1882. So there were no Chinese immigrants that were allowed between 1882 and 1965.

Mark: Really?

Dr. Chao: Yeah, so…

Mark: (laughing) We have to do a separate podcast on that. I’m kinda curious about that…

Dr. Chao: Yeah, post-1965. That’s when you saw a lot of… a wave of Asian immigration. And my parents came here to go to graduate school and live the American dream.

Mark: Outstanding.

Dr. Chao: Got married. Had me. Had my sister.

Mark: And were they scientists too?

Dr. Chao: Yes. Both of my parents were… they’re very technical. My dad is a aerospace scientist. He worked to create the space shuttle, as we know it.

Mark: No kidding.

Dr. Chao: Yeah, yeah. He worked for Boeing Corporation, and my mom was an accountant. So, you know, English not being their first language, technical jobs were good for them. Because you didn’t really need to… you can communicate in numbers.

So yeah, I was fascinated by the brain since I was a child. And I built a long road of education to learn more about the brain. So, yeah, I’m a medical doctor. I went to Stanford for medical school. Got a Master’s in neuroscience from Stanford as well.

And, Mark, I still remember the day… sitting in pharmacology class in medical school and learning about the different types of drugs that we have access to. And it didn’t take me long to realize that drugs are really the miracle of modern medicine. So, a hundred years ago, you might have died of a foot infection. And today we don’t even think about it. We take an antibiotic and it’s gone. Cholesterol–take a little pill every day, and you’re going to live longer. Same thing with blood pressure and these types of things. But then when you get to drugs for the brain the wheels fall off. And I couldn’t help but think there’s gotta be a better way. For a lot of the drugs for the brain, the side-effects are worse than the disease.

Mark: And it’s still a huge industry. Billions and billions of dollars.

Dr. Chao: Absolutely. Multi-tens of billions of dollars go into drug sales for drugs that actually don’t work that well. So I started thinking, maybe electricity could be better medicine than…

Mark: The brain works on neurochemicals and neural… electrical stimulation.

Dr. Chao: Exactly. It’s an electrical organ. It’s a computer circuit. 100%. So what if we spoke its language and used electricity to communicate to the brain.

Mark: Interesting. Do you think the electrical stimulation precedes the neurochemical reaction which is what the drugs were trying to effect?

Dr. Chao: Yeah, the drugs… the way drugs work is the just sort of modulates neural activity. And they work on these different receptor channels, and this type of thing to modulate brain activity. But the problem with a drug is that it doesn’t know where to go.

Mark: Mm-hmm. So it’s going to affect everything.

Dr. Chao: It’s going to affect everything.

Mark: Shut some things down, and open other things up that it has no…

Dr. Chao: Yeah, it doesn’t know that we only need to go to this part of your brain. It goes all over the place, and that’s why there’s a lot of friendly fire when we’re talking about drugs for the brain.

Whereas if we use electricity, we can put the electrode wherever we want.

Mark: It’s just going to stimulate that part of the brain.

Dr. Chao: Exactly. And another great thing about electricity is something called the circuit. We can turn it off whenever we want. We can turn it on, whenever… With a drug, how do you turn it off and on? Right? It’s just about the blood clearing it, and the liver metabolizing it. And if you’re having a bad day on the drug, you’re kinda stuck with it. There’s no antidote. So what started as an idea in medical school led to a company…?

Mark: So did you ever go and practice medicine? Like, as a brain doc?

Dr. Chao: No, so… Boy, all right, we’re getting in here. So I went to Stanford in this special program, where you get an MD and a PhD. Usually takes 7 or 8 years. It’s called the MSTP. Medical Scientist Training Program.

Mark: Interesting. So you never intended to be practicing doctor, but you needed the MD to be a scientist in the medical profession.

Dr. Chao: Exactly. The MD was just to inform my research so that it can be very targeted toward human health.

Mark: Most of the Unbeatable Mind listeners speaking have MDs, PhDs, MBAs. (laughing) I’m just joking…

Dr. Chao: No, I heard you’re listenership is pretty smart…

Mark: But getting an MD, PhD is a little bit unusual, I gotta admit.

Dr. Chao: Yeah, so at Stanford I… it’s just a very weird place to go to school. I think most people know about it now, but…

Mark: There were like 2 people in your program?

Dr. Chao: 6. (laughing)

Mark: (laughing) And 2 graduated right? It’s like SEAL training. Did everyone get through?

Dr. Chao: Everyone got through. They’re very nurturing there versus… (laughing)

So, yeah, Stanford is an academic institution that is tied to industry like no other university that I’ve ever been a part of. This is known today, but it was true back then when I was at school. And I couldn’t help but to learn about startups and businesses. And I became really interested and quickly learned that a startup is a better vehicle for my life dreams and for my professional goals than the lab.

I could do practical, applied research and actually take it further. There’s this translational step of taking it from a lab into practice that was something that I was really interested in.

Mark: Did you… and so I imagine that they have access to advisors and funding and you can probably come out of that program with an operating company. Or at least a research-based company with funding.

Dr. Chao: Absolutely. I… for me there was a step in between. But absolutely. There’s venture capitalists right across the street. There’s advisers and this kind of thing that you have access to uniquely at Stanford. So, yeah. At some point I realized that the lab wasn’t for me. A startup was better. So I dropped out of the PhD program which is why I only have a Master’s. And I finished out the MD.


And yeah, what started as an idea led to… I joined at the time it was a very small startup called Neuropace. And there we… it was a big effort. It was a 10 year effort to develop what’s like a pacemaker for your brain to treat epilepsy. This is a medical implant with electrodes going into the brain and basically an embedded computer in the skull. With its own battery, its own computer chip, its own software…

Mark: So the computer chip senses epileptic seizures coming on and then will stimulate it to try to ward it off?

Dr. Chao: That’s exactly right.

Mark: That’s cool.

Dr. Chao: So we have this on-board computer that’s sensing the brain. And looking for signals that are suggestive of seizures about to happen. So let’s get ahead of the problem.

Mark: Are they doing that through EEG? Or what’s the…

Dr. Chao: It’s a different form of EEG. So EEG is traditionally thought of as a scalp electrode, but now we have electrodes in the brain. So it’s really privileged access, right?

Mark: And epilepsy happens in a certain area of the brain? Like, it’s not one area for one person, another area for another person?

Dr. Chao: It can happen… it can start from anywhere. But there are some hotspots. The hippocampus and the temporal lobe are hotspots for the genesis of seizures, so…

mark: And since I know nothing about… well, I know a little bit about this, but not much… if, let’s say, the hippocampus sends a signal out that is pre-epileptic, does that signal radiate through the entire grey matter of the brain? Or is it localized?

Dr. Chao: Sometimes it’s localized. And that’s good for the patient. It could still lead to a seizure, but if it’s localized, it’s a less severe form of the seizure. There are other seizures where what’s starts as a local short-circuit spreads more broadly across the brain. And here’s where you see…

Mark: Like one wave will trigger a different wave…

Dr. Chao: Correct. This is people in different ways have seen this happen in other individuals where they’re on the ground and this kind of thing, and lose consciousness. So, it could be localized or it could spread.

Mark: So this device, was it successful?

Dr. Chao: Yeah. So a lot of clinical testing. A lot of engineering and development, but we got it to the finish line. So we had our big day in front of the FDA. And they voted 13 to 0 for approval.

Mark: No kidding. Is that pretty rare?

Dr. Chao: It’s extremely rare. So a vote at that level in unanimous fashion hasn’t happened in decades. So we’re really proud of that. And it’s out there in clinical practice, Mark.

Mark: Is it?

Dr. Chao: I don’t think people realize that 1% of the world has epilepsy.

Mark: Hunh. That’s a lot of people.

Dr. Chao: Yeah, and it’s a disease of the young. So we’re helping young people get their life back. We’re helping young people get their driver’s license back, get back to college. Get a job.

Mark: And before this, or someone without this treatment, what was available to treat epilepsy? If anything.

Dr. Chao: The mainstay of therapy is drugs. And for a third of people with epilepsy, drugs don’t work. So it’s a complete failure… medications…

There’s another third of people who take the drug and it works, but they would actually rather have seizures than the side-effects of the drug.

Mark: Oh, no kidding.

Dr. Chao: Yeah, so…

Mark: So it still debilitates them. They can’t have a normal life.

Dr. Chao: Right. So effectively they can’t use the drug because the side-effects are so bad. So, yeah… I guess this whole conversation is just to really kind of introduce this concept of using electricity as medicine. I know, especially in this country, there’s some baggage around using electricity with the brain…

Mark: Yeah, well the first attempt at it was rather intrusive, right? Literally, a frontal lobotomy with electricity.

Dr. Chao: Yeah, so that surgery and then we used ECT inappropriately. We almost used it as a form of punishment. And there was a movie that memorialized that. “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” So yeah, I know what might sound like a crazy concept… especially with the baggage that electricity in the brain comes with… I would really love to appeal to you and your listenership that we’ve come a long way since those early days. We could do a lot better in using more refined forms of electricity to our advantage.

Dr. Hill

Mark: Well most of the listeners heard an earlier podcast I did with Dr. Andrew Hill from Peak Brain. Do you know Dr. Andrew Hill and his work?

Dr. Chao: Yeah, yeah.

Mark: Yeah, so he’s using electricity in a neurofeedback way for performance but also has some evidence that the stimulation and the training of the brain… Getting the brain into a certain pattern–Alpha-Beta pattern–will help heal people from the extreme ends of behavior. ADD and OCD. Can bring that back into norm. Also he makes claims that we can find dramatic improvements in extreme alcoholics and as well as other neurological disorders. So that’s kind of interesting. What do you think about that work?

Dr. Chao: Yeah, that… I think it has a lot of promise. Especially with these new biofeedback systems. They’re so much easier to use. Just about anybody can buy a decent biofeedback system, and use their phone to do biofeedback.

Mark: Pretty much what he said. So he was going to set me up… I haven’t done it yet, but set me up… and it was a little bit more elaborate than a phone. It hasn’t been condensed into an app yet. That’s a huge opportunity for an entrepreneur to be able to take neurofeedback and do what you’ve done, kind of, with the Halo for the movement.

So we’re going to get into that, but for him it was a 4000 dollar computer with essentially a game where you would fly a jet with your mind. And the point was, you weren’t actively flying the jet. You were passively flying it by trying to get your brain into a perfect state of mental electrical activity. It’s very interesting.

Dr. Chao: Yeah, so now you can gamify it. Instead of just looking at squiggly lines, you can take that squiggly line and put it into a video game engine so that it’s more entertaining. And it’s stickier that way. Yeah, it’s good. It’s all going in the right direction, so…

Actually, in contrast to biofeedback, what we’re doing with neurostimulation is actually the reverse. So we’re not sensing the brain. We’re actually delivering energy to the brain.

Mark: Yeah, makes sense. I did not pick that up. So the Dr. Hill neurofeedback is passive. It’s pulling information out and then feeding back that information through your cognitive senses. Eyesight, audio. And then you’re making intentional adjustments. Which is different…

What you’re saying is… I wore the Halo and I felt it. When I put it on, it was a tingling sensation, and then all of a sudden and I turned literally into a cyborg.

I was a cyborg at one point in my life in the SEAL teams. But the workout I did and the experience I had was just like, everything kind of clicked in. And I was able to perform at a really high level.

And I don’t know if I was just having a good day, or if it was a result of the device. Because normally, it takes some time to have its effect, right?

Dr. Chao: Yeah. Usually it takes a little bit of time and especially for people who are highly trained, like yourself, and do a lot of… you’ve been training every day of your life for multiple, multiple years now. So, usually for highly trained individuals we need a little bit more time. But what you just said is not unusual.

Mark: It’s not?

Dr. Chao: Yeah, yeah. So…

Mark: So I kind of jumped forward, but you went from the electrical stim to heal epilepsy. How did you then transition that into performance with the Halo?

Dr. Chao: My last company is called Neuropace. And that’s where we made the implantable neurostimulator for epilepsy. My now co-founder, Brett Wingeier, we were together at Neuropace for a long time. And we really felt like the Holy Grail for this field of neurostimulation was to do it non-invasively. So what is appropriate for someone with severe epilepsy… to get 3 hours of neurosurgery, to have electrodes and pulse generators installed into their brain? If you have a disease that severe, that might be appropriate for you. But for the rest of us, it’s not. So we really thought that if we could do… if we could take some of the principles of using electricity interacting with the brain to augment its capabilities… if we can do it without surgery, not only can we help people with medical conditions–but maybe we can help just regular like healthy people without disease get more out of their brain.

And what we found in the literature was exactly that. So there was this way to stimulate the brain using this technology TDCS–Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation.

So we started reading papers back in 2005, 2006. And there were only like 10 papers in the whole world. And then slowly year over year we saw this body of literature just take off. So we went from 10 papers to 2000 papers in 10 years.

Mark: Really? So these are students and scientists who are doing this stuff in the laboratory.

Dr. Chao: Correct, yeah.

Mark: But there wasn’t any really commercially viable products at the time?

Dr. Chao: Yeah. They’re using scientific equipment. Boxes with dials and switches that cost 10s of thousands of dollars. Takes a real expert to assemble onto a test subject.

We saw an opportunity to build it far simpler. Same capabilities, same level of engineering and safety features, but what if we could build this into something that just about anybody could use? Pair it with an app on your phone. Now we’re basically unlocking a technology that’s been proven in a lab and bringing it out into the world.

Mark: so when did you start this process with Halo? How long you been at it?

Dr. Chao: So it depends on when you start the clock. Let’s roll it back. About 2012, 2013. We started building prototypes in our free time after work. And testing ourselves and then testing our friends.

Mark: So you did this completely outside of Neuroscape.

Dr. Chao: Yeah, yeah. So we were able to replicate some of the published work with our little prototypes on ourselves and our friends. So then we started to think, “All right. This technology has got some legs.”

We raised some money, as you do in Silicon Valley. Quit our jobs and we started Halo in 2014.

Mark: Okay. Wow. That’s not too long ago in the whole scheme of things.

Dr. Chao: Yeah, yeah. So what started with some basic testing–like using ourselves as guinea pigs–led to… we raised a little bit of money to get started. To get some office space and to pay ourselves a little bit. To keep the lights on.

And then fast forward to today. We’ve got about 25 employees. And we’ve got Halo sport launched.

Mark: Yeah. So, just so listeners can get a sense of where this is going–you’ve got some professional sports teams using it. The Navy SEALs are… have gone through testing and are adopting it in some capacity. A lot of Crossfit athletes and some real top-tier Crossfit Games athletes are using it.

So you’ve already got adoption by a validation crowd. And so now you’re challenge is to get exposure and to get it into the hands of more people who could benefit from it, it sounds like.

Dr. Chao: Yeah. So we don’t see this as a tool just for elite competitive athletes. WE want to see all athletes. Amateur athletes using this. I have a day job, but I really love the athletic side of my life. And I use Halo sport so that I can perform at a higher level. And that makes me feel better… more complete as a human. It keeps me alive. It keeps me balanced.

So yeah, I really see the win for this company is not when just elite athletes use it. But when everybody uses it.

Mark: Right. I think I read somewhere… I was talking to Steve who runs the Unbeatable Mind Company for me. He took it and borrowed it to use for his musical performance. And he said that there was some evidence that some piano players have found it to be effective.

Cause it affects the movement area of your brain. Moving the fingers. It’s a little bit more subtle than picking up barbell, but it’s not that different. So it can be used by not just athletes, right?

Dr. Chao: Yeah, so… maybe we can take a step back and talk about what the neurostimulation is doing. So if your listeners aren’t watching, Mark had the Halo sport headset on like a regular set of headphones. There’s some special pieces built in the underside of the arch…

Mark: These are the stims, huh?

Dr. Chao: We call them “primers.” But effectively they’re, you know, electrodes. And that is what emits and electric field that interacts with this special part of your brain called the motor-cortex. So the motor-cortex controls movement in our bodies.

Movement and the Motor Cortex

Mark: The motor-cortex is in the mid-brain?

Dr. Chao: It’s not in the mid-brain, but it’s in the middle of your brain. So the mid-brain is actually a deeper structure. So this is still pretty superficial…

Mark: Still in the neocortex…

Dr. Chao: Yeah. Still in the neocortex, just right above your ears…

Mark: Got it.

Dr. Chao: 20 minutes of neurostimulation will include a temporary state of hyper-learning. So in this case, in your motor cortex.

Mark: I see. Movement. It’s not going to help you learn mathematics or memorize a language…

Dr. Chao: No. Unfortunately. This is purely for movement.

But let’s think about movement broadly. Like, when people think about movement, they naturally think about elite athletes. But we define athleticism and athletes much more broadly than just baseball players and football players.

So you mentioned musicians. We view musicians as athletes. Not the creative or emotional side of what they need to do. But the technical side. So think about a guitarist, and what their left hand needs to do. Or a violinist or a pianist. Both hands. Or a drummer.

Mark: Imagine this extends to artists as well. Painters and…

Dr. Chao: Yeah. We have artists buying this. We’ve even called them to say, “Hey listen, this is not going to help you with the creative aspects.” They’re like, “Yeah, yeah. I just want to move a brush across canvas more gracefully.” Perfect.

Mark: Interesting.

So there’s one thing that Dr. Hill said that I wanted to ask you about, cause it was intriguing. Cause I asked him about the Halo and I wasn’t clear on the stimulation versus the passive receptivity. But he said something about one of the challenges or one of the things to be thoughtful of, when using neuro-stim is that there is some evidence that it can recruit neuroplasticity from other areas of your brain. Does that statement make sense to you? I’m not sure exactly what he means.

Dr. Chao: Yeah, so I use the word “hyper-learning” and that is an easier to understand word. But let’s use the word “neuroplasticity” cause that’s actually more accurate. So neuroplasticity is the process by which our brain can create new circuits. And this is how we learn and remember stuff. Movements and otherwise. Math. Presidents’ names. All of that is encoded in a circuit. And neuroplasticity is how we build these circuits. It’s the process by which we do that.

Now, neuroplasticity is most active when we’re young. And it begins to decline in our mid-teens. Never goes to zero. So you can teach an old dog new tricks. That’s absolutely true. It doesn’t matter how old you get, you still have a plastic brain. You can still learn.

Mark: But your ability to do that diminishes or slows down or changes over time.

Dr. Chao: Right. And that’s part of natural aging. Which sucks.

But what we can do with neurostimulation is we can induce these temporary states of hyper-plasticity. So I use the easier to understand word “hyper-learning,” but really, what it is, is a temporary state of hyper-plasticity.

Mark: Yeah, we’re bringing it back alive again. Like, you’re learning capacity comes back online a little bit.

Here’s a question, though. I think what Dr. Hill was alluding to was that if you do that in the movement area, you might be recruiting potential neuroplasticity from other learning areas. And so is this possible that this could make you a dumb jock? (laughing)

Dr. Chao: So… no.

Mark: (laughing) Whew. We’re all very relieved.

Dr Chao: Maybe we could make you a smarter jock, though.

Mark: All right. I’m all for that.

Dr. Chao: So with our electrodes… and I think this was what Dr. Hill was getting at… our electrodes are–we’ll call them primers–are built a little bit wider than it needs to be. And this is to account for a small amount of natural variation in the way that people put on headphones. So there’s like a centimeter of leeway on either side that we provide you. So what that means is that when you put it on, you might be stimulating some neighboring structures of the motor cortex. And the neighboring structures are actually our friends and could actually help with movement. So on one side, it’s primary sensory, and on the other side, it’s pre-motor. So stimulation in these structures actually might help us. So we don’t feel like it’s a bad thing.

Mark: You know, here’s another thing that’s kind of running through my stimulated mind. With Unbeatable Mind we try to experiment with multiple modalities of learning. And one of the reasons it’s so effective is cause we like to say, if you want to really learn something fast, then move your body while you’re learning it. Like learning a new language while you’re walking or something like that. Or performing Tai Chi. Or a burpee.

And so I can see how learning a non-movement related thing while you’re stimulating the movement area of your brain could actually accelerate learning.

Dr. Chao: We should try that.

Mark: Test my theory. That’s pretty interesting. I wonder if that’s why the SEALs are using the product. Been testing it at DEVGRU and other areas. How are they using it? What’s the modality?

Dr. Chao: As you can probably be sympathetic towards, I can’t really talk about too much about our work. But what started with some work with Naval Special Warfare has led to a more significant work, more broad work across the military. So now we’re working at the DoD level. Not just with the Navy but with multiple branches of the military. Primarily in Special Ops, but across multiple branches of the military.

Mark: And at that obscure unit the Defense Innovation Unit Extreme… Extrapolation… Experimental (laughing). DIUx.

Dr. Chao: Yeah, so… right, so the funding agency is called DIUx and it’s a new acronym…

Mark: It sounds a lot like In-Q-Tel which is the CIA’s venture fund.

Dr. Chao: Yeah, they are cousins of each other. So DIUx is Defense Innovation Unit experimental. They have an office in the Bay area… San Francisco Bay area… and one in Boston. And their mandate is to connect the military to new technologies that are being developed in the country where the former… the military proper would have… would be too slow to react to these new technologies. So here’s a new vehicle where they can incorporate newer technologies into problem areas to help solve problems.

Mark: That’s cool. So they’ve connected with you or vice versa and now we’re testing this across different branches of service?

Dr. Chao: Yeah, yeah. It’s actually say it goes beyond testing at this point. They’re using it in practice which is awesome.

Mark: And I guess my question is I imagine it’s still being used… or the first inclination is to use it to enhance physical movement performance, cause that’s what the design is. But one of the things we’ve kind of been dancing around and we were talking about earlier, before we started was the ability to use this tool to actually increase your skill level in an area that is not directly related. Let’s say, the actual performance itself. But you can increase your skill level in let’s say, how to do a movement pattern. Because if you’re doing it improperly then you have to unwind the neurological pathways… or over-ride those neurological pathways.

Let’s use running examples. Cause we talked about running and rucking. You don’t put the Halo on and it’s not just going to make you a better rucker or runner. But if you put the Halo on and then learn how to do it more efficiently, then that’ll help grease the grooves, stimulate new pathways, and those will over-ride the dysfunctional motor patterns. Am I right there?

Dr. Chao: Yeah, yeah, so think about it as biomechanical reprogramming. So when you’re talking about walking long distances under load, there’s a way to walk that is more efficient than if you were bouncing up and down, walking left and right. To the extent that you can walk in a straight line, that’s a good thing. You’ll end up at your target area in better shape.

And for your previous line of work, that is everything, right?

Mark: So I could see an infantry unit, or the Rangers wanting to use this to make sure… for injury prevention. And durability training. To make sure that the gait and the ruck… how the body is moving under load is the most efficient for the soldier so that they survive that ruck to the target, and can carry on with the mission.

Dr. Chao: Yeah. So how can we use neurostimulation to help reprogram the brain such that you adapt to feedback. You adapt to instruction on how to walk more efficiently, or run more efficiently. That’s definitely…

Mark: Is there any way to build this into a helmet?

Dr. Chao: We’re in discussion with some helmet manufacturers. So the idea would be the Intel inside. We would just be the neurostimulator inside.

Mark: And I can see for more complex movement like shooting. So you’re on the firing range, and you first wanna learn how to shoot expert with a 25 yard pistol. That we can go through the movement… put the stim device on, the Halo, and let it warm up your brain for 20 minutes while you’re dry firing. And then while you’re firing. And then the idea is that you’ll be able to perform and achieve an expert rating much faster.

Dr. Chao: Yeah. Shooting is a great application. The movements required to properly handle a gun, position it, take down a target. All under duress. Where time is limited. That takes a lifetime to learn. Hundreds of thousands of reps are required to get that perfect. And when you need it the most, you can’t think about it.

Visualization and Neurostimulation

Mark: I have a question that you may not be able to answer because it hasn’t been tested yet. And it’d probably be very hard to test, but I’m imagining that a soldier or SEAL could use the stim and visualize. And still have the same effect or a similar effect.

Dr. Chao: That makes a ton of sense.

Mark: Cause doesn’t visualization stimulate the motor function area as well?

Dr. Chao: Yeah, so motor visualization will light up your motor cortex like a Christmas tree if you’re in an MRI scanner. So you’re not moving, but you’re thinking about moving. The movement part of your brain is going crazy.

Which really begs the question, what if you just thought about movement? And you had neurostimulation on?

I think it’ll work.

Mark: I think so too. Interesting.

Dr. Chao: But there’s no data to support what I just said. It’s just a hypothesis. I would love to try it.

Mark: So we’re talking hypothetically speaking. I would love to try that to. I don’t know how the heck you would ever validate it. Except for the same… I guess the same baselines, right? If my shooting expertise level on a scale to 1 to 100 at an 80. And I used the Halo stim, and I visualized it. Never picked up a weapon. And then shot a hundred, then that would prove it.

Dr. Chao: Yup. Visualization’s really… it’s a big thing in golf. I know a lot of our pro golfers are using this as a visualization tool. Especially with golf, there’s only so many reps you can do a day. It’s so repetitive. You can’t put that kind of load on your body and expect to be healthy into your 40s.

And so, yeah, how you can you get some movement free repetitions?

Mark: You just gave me a whole new lease on how I’m going to use this thing. Because I explained earlier that my schedule… and we’re all busy. The person who’s listening to this–our Unbeatable Mind tribe–are so busy, that even getting to the gym… you gotta be efficient and “Bam-bam-bam.” Get in and out. And move onto the next thing.

So the challenge I had is I would pick the thing up and I’d have forgotten to charge it. Or I’m missing a part. Or I don’t have my phone with me, so the app is not there, or…

And so I used it, and then I couldn’t use it. And then I use it, and then I couldn’t use it. But if I could use it on the airplane to visualize and know that I’m getting the same results… I’m going to try that. In fact, I’m going to take it with me on my trip this weekend.

Dr. Chao: So Mark something that you said that I want to touch on is that, that word “efficiency” really resonates with me. So whether you are a working professional and still value the athletic side of yourself. Or if you’re a professional athlete and this is all you do… Practice is precious, right? Practice puts load on the body. It steals time from our day. Too much practice is bad. Risk of injury, fatigue…

Mark: Over-training is a big issue with the SEALFIT community. Cause we love, love, love working out. But too much is not good.

Dr. Chao: So we see ourselves as an efficiency tool. With a given amount of practice, knowing that practice is limited, how can we maximize the gains? Now I think we’ve done some great jobs with the neck and below. With proper fueling and nutrition. With foam rolling and stretching. Light activation work to get the body prepared. Maybe the biggest part that is the biggest part of this equation we’re completely neglecting. And that’s the brain.

How can we get the most neurologically from a training session? So that’s where we come in.

Rucking and the 300

Mark: Okay. I love that. Let’s talk about an application… One of the things that we love to do in our tribe… We love Crossfit and I know some Crossfit games folks and Cross fitters are already using this with a great effect. So it’s been shown to improve even their… even like the dead-lift or some of their core lifts. And the ability to move efficiently under load and that type of thing. So we know it’ll work for that.

And that was the application I was using it for actually. Short, high-intensity WODs and it was effective. But I hadn’t thought until we talked earlier about how it would be used for, let’s say, a ruck. Now we addressed that with the army, but for those of us… like, we’re going to Greece in September. (laughing) We’re going to go fight the Persians. And we’re metaphorically going to attack the Western Empire again.

Dr. Chao: Key word there is “metaphorically,” right?

Mark: Yeah. All joking aside, we’re going to retrace the trail that Kind Leonidas and his 300 Spartans took from Sparta to Thermopylae–the Hot Gates. And along the way we’re going to train. Do a SEALFIT WOD every day. We’re going to do some Unbeatable Mind training. And we’re going to bring some vets who are suffering from PTSD over and get some corporate sponsors. It’s all very cool.

But I can see how cool this would be to bring this along and integrate it into our training. Both before and after.

And the before part would be how do we make sure that we can walk 300 kilometers and avoid injury. And so, correct me if I’m wrong, we would want to use the stim device and use it with some gait training. You know, like, a pose clinic or someone who knew how to analyze my gait in terms of rucking with 40 pounds on my back. And say, “Okay, you need to shift this a little bit. You need a little bit more on the ball of your foot. Not pick your legs up so high. You need to lean a little bit forward. Because you’re not doing those things. Which is going to lead to inefficient rucking.”

And so I use the Halo device to do it in the new way…

Dr. Chao: While you’re getting this expert instruction…

Mark: While I’m getting the expert instruction. And that’s going to stimulate and create the new neurological pathways, is that right?

Dr. Chao: Yeah, yeah. Just what can we do to get more neurologically from a training session? How can we help with this biomechanical reprogramming? So that we can adopt a new skill–or hone a skill that we already do pretty good–and make it better.

Mark: Okay. So that’s one application. Can you think of any other applications for athletes who are like Spartan obstacle course racers? SEALFIT? People training for Kokoro camp or those long, arduous, mentally demanding events?

Dr. Chao: Yeah, so there’s a… just continuing on this endurance application… there’s a… we had some athletes go to Rio, who were training with Halo sport. Competed in the Olympics. I think we got some medals that were unexpected in endurance sports. So that really kind of piqued our interest. We went back to them; it was like, “How are you training with Halo sport?” And it kept coming back to interval training.

So their races are much longer than the hour of hyper-plasticity that we buy them. So what they try to do is they condense their race into an hour by doing really, really hard intervals. And what I think neurologically is happening is that as you enter a really hard interval, you’re just thinking about getting to the other side of this interval in the best shape possible. In the least amount of pain.

And the way you do that is you figure out for yourself the most efficient pattern of movement. So it encourages… It’s almost a forcing function for you to be efficient.

Mark: Interesting. You can’t be lazy.

Dr. Chao: You can’t be lazy in an interval. And if you are, you’re going to suffer. You’re going to suffer from it. So with interval training, there’s absolutely from the neck and below there’s things that are happening. Tapping different metabolic stores and this kind of thing.

But I would argue from the neck and above–from a neurologic standpoint–there’s something really cool happening. You’re learning. You’re learning to be efficient. You’re forcing yourself to be efficient.

So there’s Ironman triathlete, Tim O’Donnell. He won the Boulder Ironman about a week ago. He won by 20 minutes.

Mark: Wow! No kidding.

Dr. Chao: Yeah. So its results like this that are just really heartening to see. And, yeah…

Mark: That’s amazing. That must have been a little disheartening for his competitors. His peers. (laughing) Who think they’re putting out and he’s like… Whoa! What are you eating out there? Where is he?

Dr. Chao: Where is this guy?

And then there’s a big race this weekend. The Western? Ultra-marathon…

Mark: Yeah, the Western 100 or something like that. It’s a hundred miles up through Durango, right?

Dr. Chao: I think it’s in the Sierras. So it starts in Auburn, I think. Our part of the world. Lake Tahoe area.

But, yeah, we’ll have a couple of athletes. Remains to be seen how well they do, so knock on wood that they do well.

Mark: That’s cool. Very cool.

So why only 20 minutes? Why wouldn’t I want to use this for an hour?

Dr. Chao: So we get this a lot. Because folks like you are thinking if 20 minutes…

Mark: (laughing) More has got to be better, right?

Dr. Chao: 20 minutes is good, maybe 40 minutes is twice as good. It turns out it isn’t. And there’s diminishing returns after 20 minutes. So 40 minutes doesn’t buy you double the plasticity.

Mark: Are there any risks if you kept it on longer?

Dr. Chao: Nah. Just wasting your time. There might be some skin irritation. So through the app, we’ll keep you honest.

Mark: It shuts you down, right?

Dr. Chao: It’ll shut you down. Right. We’ll have a necessary lockout period. I think it’s 8 hours. It’s set at 8 hours.

Mark: You can’t train for more than 8 hours?

Dr. Chao: Well, you can. You just can’t use neurostimulation.

Mark: (laughing) Good point.

All right. I think the Halo… I’m excited to try it for visualization and to have some other SEALFIT athletes give it a whirl. And probably use it for this 300 kilometer hike in Greece. Sounds pretty cool. We’re going to have to talk further about that.

But Allison, who set up this podcast… mentioned to me you’re working on something new. Some super-duper- dodecaphonic secret product. Can you tell us something about that?

Dr. Chao: Yeah, so we’re known as a sports performance company, because Halo sport’s out there, and it’s mostly on athletes. But we actually think of ourselves as a human performance company. So we don’t want to stop with just movement. We want to scale the technology… basically just move the electrode to target a different part of the brain.

Accelerated Learning of Anything

Mark: Different learning areas.

Dr. Chao: Exactly. Different learning areas. So same stimulation output but different form factors so we can more easily target different parts of the brain. So I’d love to just appeal to you and your listeners. Think about your life and think about some of the things that you would want in your life, but you don’t… because it takes too long to learn.

Like, Mark, what if you wanted to learn Italian. But… and you tried. You had Duo lingo on your phone and you tried for 10 days and you just weren’t making the progress that kept you motivated.

Like what if we can change that? What if we could throw an electrode over your language cortex and then you practice with Berlitz, or Duo lingo or anything? Rosetta Stone. And we made learning faster. Fast enough to keep you motivated to keep with it.

What if you want to learn to play piano? But you don’t even start today, cause you’re just thinking, “Heck, it’s gonna take me 10 years. And I just don’t have the patience for that.”

But what if we could reel it in and I forgot who said that there was this 10,000 hour rule.

Mark: Yeah. Malcolm Gladwell.

Dr. Chao: We want to bust that. We want to reel that in to 2000 hours.

Mark: That’s interesting, cause I’ve been saying the same thing happens when you get yourself into a deep learning state through breathing, meditation, visualization exercises. Which is the Unbeatable Mind path. And I imagine… and that does work. It does accelerate learning. And the SEALs are using sensory deprivation. My friends Kotler and…I forget the co-author… wrote about that in “Stealing Fire.” So we’re all about stacking different tools and techniques. So I can imagine how stim combined with either sensory deprivation or meditation to get into an ideal learning state would almost accelerate the acceleration.

Dr. Chao: Yeah. So I think there’s a lot of opportunities to mix technologies…

Mark: What about social skills? When I was 18, I would have loved to have something like this to teach me how to meet girls.

Dr. Chao: Yeah, I’m in my mid-forties. I could still use that.

Mark: (laughing) Motivation for you to invent this new device.

Dr. Chao: Yeah. So social skills. I honestly hadn’t thought of that. But, yeah, maybe…

Mark: Maybe. We just got to stimulate the emotional area of the brain. Does that even exist? Or maybe it’s a heart stimulant. I don’t know. We’re going off track, here. But probably could do that, I imagine.

So what’s the prognosis on the new development?

Dr. Chao: Yeah, so you could expect our second product about this time next year. We’re already off to the races, working on it. And we’re excited about that one.

Mark: Sign us up to text it. I’m sure there’s plenty of listeners who’d be all over that.

Okay, so Halo… obviously, just look you up online. But I wanted to let people know… I mentioned it earlier. If you’re interested in trying this product out, Dan has graciously offered 125 dollar discount on the product. So you’d go to our website… or go to their website which is what?

Dr. Chao: haloneuro.com.

Mark: And then when you checkout, enter the promo-code “unbeatablemind125” That’s cool. I’m excited for that. Thank you very much. That’s very generous.

Dr. Chao: It’s my pleasure to do this. Huge fans.

Mark: Thank you. Likewise.

So keep up the good work. I can’t wait to test this with visualization. Can’t wait to see the new product. Good luck with the work with the SEALs… of course they’re near and dear to my heart. And the rest of the military. So this is important. It’s important to keep those guys physically and mentally healthy so we can do our mission. And protecting the world.

Dr. Chao: Absolutely. Thanks for the opportunity. It’s been a lot of fun.

Mark: Really appreciate you joining me today.

All right folks. That’s it. Dr. Dan from Halo Neuroscience. Really appreciate your time today. It was extremely interesting and this podcast is available on video which you’ll be able to see it at the unbeatablemind.com website. Eventually, we’re going to have a new YouTube channel, so that we can have videos for all the podcasts, or at least most of them.

And if you’re just listening to audio, just imagine 2 really cool guys standing and talking to each other. That’s about all you’re going to get to see. And me goofing around with the Halo headset. That’s it. So you didn’t miss much.

Anyways, thanks for being here. You guys rock. Really appreciate your support. And go check out Halo, and let’s support these guys in their incredible mission. And I guess that’s it. And we’ll see you next time.


Divine out.

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