Benefit maximization is a series of practices around psychedelic experimentation designed to create a framework that increases the potential for healing and growth to take place. Up until now, practices for benefit maximization focused mainly on integrative practices. This is because new beliefs and habits are easier to form and make actionable after an altered state of consciousness. However, it is now being recognized that the integration process starts before a profound altered state even occurs. Establishing a benefit maximization mindset also starts long before a substance is ingested.
However, before benefit maximization can become relevant, it is important to address harm reduction needs. Harm reduction is a series of practices around substance-use that aims to reduce, not eliminate, potential harms. These practices include: reagent testing, the buddy system, needle-exchanges, and sanctuary spaces at large events. The goal of harm reduction is safety. Once basic safety needs are met, then the focus can shift towards benefit maximization of psychedelics
Benefit maximization is important because it increases the healing and growth potential of psychedelics. Attending a medicine ceremony in another country is a huge undertaking; benefit maximization practices work towards the goal of ensuring that the most good comes from that experience. A peak experience is an altered state of consciousness characterized by euphoria, often achieved by self-actualizing individuals. The concept was originally developed by Abraham Maslow in 1964, who describes peak experiences as “rare, exciting, oceanic, deeply moving, exhilarating, elevating experiences that generate an advanced form of perceiving reality, and are even mystic and magical in their effect upon the experimenter.” Some people do not have the luxury of experiencing multiple peak psychedelic experiences in their lives so it is important to make the most of them if the opportunity does arise.
Setting an Intention
Asking yourself why you want to take a psychedelic can guide setting an intention statement. This intention will guide decisions related to your experience and let you mindfully engage with the medicine. Some people like setting a very specific intention, while others prefer something more broad. If you pick a very specific intention, you have an opportunity of getting a clear answer to whatever you are hoping to learn from the experience. While setting an intention is important, psychedelic substances are sometimes unpredictable in the delivered experience, therefore intentions need to include open-ended expectations. Psychedelic journeyers commonly talk about getting the “trip they needed” vs “the one they wanted”.
Incorporating New Skills
Incorporating a beginner’s mind and cultivating a willingness to develop skills can help in maximizing the benefits of psychedelics use. Learning new life skills has been scientifically shown to increase neuroplasticity – the ability of neural networks in the brain to change through growth and reorganization. Focusing on developing new skills prepares the mind to accept new messages received in the psychedelic space. Increasing one’s aptitude to new situations can help manage difficult or uncomfortable moments that may occur during an altered state of consciousness.
Infants and adolescents have the ability to take in a huge amount of information and quickly learn from it. Then, as we age, we become more rigid in our worldview and loose neuroplasticity. This is also in part due to a decrease in teachability, or the willingness to learn, that affects one’s ability to process new ideas. Teachability is a measure of attitude more than intelligence or ability. It is the willingness, desire and hunger to learn, unlearn, and relearn in the pursuit of mastery. Striving to be more teachable and open to change is the cornerstone of benefit maximization. It is similar to the concept of buddhism “a beginner’s mindset”. Psychedelics have been shown to increase neuroplasticity; an increase in neuroplasticity is theorized to correlate with an increase of one’s abilities to break out of old habits, and form new, healthier patterns of behavior.
Exploring behavioral therapies complements psychedelic medicine. Many skills used in popular therapy modalities can be studied, learned, and applied in a do-it-yourself (DIY) approach. Empowering oneself to develop skills that help in the healing journey can look like: setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals, developing mindfulness practices, journaling, and exploring healthy coping mechanisms. Seeking out directed self-study programs like this DIY Coaching Bootcamp, can prepare the psychonaut for profound healing by increasing neural-flexibility and support learning. Look for live programs that offer accountability and encompass a wide range of skills.