I work in an extremely cognitive-intense job, investment banking (private equity). This isn’t about being able to do fast calculations or attacking the problem the fastest. It’s about being able to give off a great impression to the client, showing them what they have to gain, and why they should take it.
The job requires me not only to be smart (quick thinking) but also be enthused about my proposal, to be personable with the client because they don’t want a computer, they want a human. What modafinil does is keep you alert for any hints a client might drop about their experience, modafinil also allows you to be flexible and able to quickly change your proposal to meet your client’s needs. But this is rather a result of modafinil and not actually what it did for me when I was desperate.
It was my first year in college, I couldn’t believe that I was a freshman at an incredibly prestigious university despite my average accomplishments. I wasn’t anything special, I had no idea why I was even admitted. Well by the time midterms came up, I noticed that I was very well behind and could not handle the workload my professors were putting on me. For those next two weeks, I took methylphenidate (Ritalin) and studied my ass off for those midterm exams.
I spent entire nights sleepless burning the midnight candle at both ends. I ended up doing average on my midterms though I was definitely happy I didn’t fail. But then I thought, if I was able to use Ritalin to do that, then it would be a great aide for regular schoolwork not just midterm exams. And so I did. I used Ritalin for about three weeks of the following month then I quit. I quit Ritalin because it made me grouchy, it made me irritable, it made me angry, it made me antisocial, I hated Ritalin. Even the ‘good’ stuff was bad, for tests, Ritalin made me too focused that I would lose track of time, Ritalin gave me tunnel vision so bad I wasn’t able to think outside the box.
One of my friends then talked to me about modafinil. Modafinil worked! It was much safer than Ritalin, it was less intense in feeling, I wasn’t ‘amped up’, and it was a subtle yet effective answer. I was pro-social, I wasn’t irritable, and I was even able to found my own school club (later it became one of the most productive clubs on campus). It was all the benefits of a cognitive enhancer without the downsides! I could even sleep on it, it didn’t cause insomnia or any sleep problems. And so it helped me get through college happily and then helped me navigate my demanding job afterwards.
I wouldn’t necessarily label it a cognitive enhancer as much as I would label it a happiness-unlocking ‘enhancer’, if that makes sense. It allows you to do what you want to do.