This post is about a very unlikely but very effective technique to increase performance. I predict it will be remembered as one of the more elegant biohacks of the decade for its simplicity and its broad effects. It could also be ignored completely, but I’m betting on Quantified Self data to make it hard to ignore. The technology is called electrical grounding or “earthing.” Before you (yes, YOU – the engineers) tune out, which is what I almost did, read the rest of this post. That’s all I ask.
In 2005, I was flying from the West Coast to Cambridge, England every month because I was an executive for a startup based there. Even with Virgin’s awesome seats, the jet lag from flying east was painful. I could kill it with a variety of chemical techniques and more complex nutritional approaches, but it was inconvenient and sub-optimal. I had heard about the idea that if you grounded yourself by walking barefoot on grass for 20 minutes, it made jetlag go away. I laughed at the idea.
I know that raising body temperature by exercising in the morning is effective for resetting circadian rhythms, so I tried doing yoga in the park by my hotel, barefoot. What an incredible difference! I did not experience the negative effects of jet lag at all. I figured it was the yoga, and tried yoga indoors on the next trip doing the same series at the same time of day. It did not have effect. After a few trips, I confirmed for myself that grounding worked for reasons I didn’t understand. I used it, but I didn’t tell anyone because I already have a reputation for weirdness given my butter-eating and collection of electrodes that only sometimes appear in my board meetings. You can only go so far and retain your credibility, or so I thought. I just kept grounding as one of my secret tools for being bulletproof.
What it does
A few months ago, I read about a cable systems engineering entrepreneur turned biohacker who figured out that electrically grounding himself had all kinds of positive effects. Being retired and rich, he funded some small studies that were published in the Townsend Letter among other places. Grounding increases resilience because it speeds recovery, lowers inflammation, and normalizes cortisol.
I get a lot more REM sleep when I’m grounded, according to my Zeo. I have no idea why my Zeo seems to think I wake up that often; I don’t. In fact when I’m asleep, it takes extreme interruptions to wake me.
Why Earthing Works
The theory is that our bodies develop a positive charge that is slowly dispelled when we touch the earth. The earth itself has negatively charged electrons that balance the positive charge we accumulate when we’re disconnected, which happens because we are almost always electrically insulated from the surface of the planet. Over time, this positive charge builds up, depletes our energy, and promotes inflammation and disease. (Or so the theory goes)
Buffoonery like this says basically, “It doesn’t work because it can’t,” or “It doesn’t work because we don’t know why it does.” The Quantified Self approach destroys those objections. It’s easy to ground yourself, and test the biological effects. It’s also easy to blind-test yourself so you can’t know whether the grounding wire is plugged in properly or not. My wife could tell with 100% accuracy when it was plugged in just from how her skin felt.
I won’t travel without my grounding mat because it helps me to kill jet lag while I’m sleeping. My mind is clearer on it too. The mats plug into the ground line in any normal outlet in your house. There’s one touching my feet as I type this post!
If you want to experiment, you can make your own mat with aluminum foil and a wire, which is what I did.