We have a classic Love-Hate relationship with our dearest Dopamine.
Is it good/bad for us?
In most cases, it is good for us and forms an essential tool for planning and motivation. Some say it is what that makes us desire things, like food, safety, or connection.
Its a natural/biological neurotransmitter and a hormone that sends signals (in the form of the feel good feeling), after we do something that ensures survival/progress. Its like a friend who rewards us for good behavior.
But, our brain doesn’t really know how much is enough or what is a good source of dopamine, it just seeks more and more dopamine, and without conscious control or a friendly intervention, we may see ourselves going down the Dopamine slippery slope.
Some Dopamine related issues faced by us day to day:
- Alcohol addiction/dependence
- Addiction to smoking(Tobacco)
- Anxiety due to phone/social media
- Over-eating (obesity/diabetes)
- Getting bored more often than ever
- Not enjoying our previous interests
- Drug abuse
- Reduction in our attention spans
Dopamine is released in day to day activities, when we workout, on eating food, and also on drinking water when thirsty. But these are in smaller quantities in comparison to video games or junk food (high sugar/ fat).
The case of alcohol/drugs is much more dramatic, on ingestion of which, a chemical reaction chain is initiated, and our brain is flooded with high amounts of Dopamine, a sensation called a hit/high. Which is why drugs may ‘feel good’, although they are detrimental in reality.
How do we get addicted anyway?
Addiction, is a by product of a habit formation and increased tolerance due to the repetition of the task.
Person A and B go to a bar, A is a regular, whereas B is new to the world of drinking. B gets the feeling of being drunk after 2 glasses of alcohol whereas A is still in his senses on his 4th glass. This is due to an increase in tolerance to alcohol.
We have an amazing ability to adapt to our environment, therefore on being exposed to more alcohol (or any other drug), our body prepares itself to digest more the next time. Also, we tend to get bored with the previous amounts of dopamine and crave for even more.
This over-dependence on the neurochemical finds itself creeping into our culture more than ever via Social Media, Gaming, TV, and Junk Food.
New Drug in Town: The Social Media
Dopamine is an indicator of the reward we may get on the effort we put in (short term/immediate).
We also get some amounts of dopamine in the anticipation of the reward. Especially when it is a random reward. This is where Social media, video games, TV, and their slot machine model come into picture.
We have our phones with us all the times, we are always anticipating and secretly waiting for a message/like notification.
Sometimes, it is what we expect, (a like on our recent pic, a friend request from a person we like, or a message of a close friend) and we get a dopamine hit.
But mostly its not what we expect (A regular email or a message forward), which is what causes the anxious feeling that we associate with our phones.
A feeling that is a result of an anticipation of a reward that’s unfulfilled, and since our phones are always with us, this can become continuous feeling.
Dope-Detox: break the addictive feedback loop.
To establish a sense of self-control and to come out of the dopamine dependent cycle, we may need to perform a Dopamine-Detox.
NO (to be avoided)
- Social Media
- Junk Food
LVL 1: Ban a single activity from the NO list once a week
LVL 2: Ban all the activities from the NO list once a month
LVL 3: Ban a single activity from the NO list, from MON-FRI on a weekly cycle
LVL 4: Ban all the activities from the NO list once a week
This pause/break enables our dopamine receptors to reset to our previous normal levels and does not further increase the tolerance.
This is an intense self-control activity and is not easy. To some, it can also be highly boring initially, but being in the extreme boredom and in the absence of tech enables us to find joy in everyday things.
Note: on severe dependence/addiction, its advisable to seek professional help.
Dopamine can also be leveraged as a reward to self on doing productive tasks, like 15mins gaming for every 2hrs of work/study or a dark chocolate after a week of successful workout sessions.
If you were fascinated by the topic, but were not able to read the entire information, and would like to watch a video instead, here is a link to the video that was also the inspiration of this topic:
How I Tricked My Brain To Like Doing Hard Things (dopamine detox)
by Better than Yesterday.
I had come across this technique via a friend, who sent me the above video. We started doing the LVL3 and LVL4 of the challenge and held each other accountable.
It can be extremely boring initially, and I didn’t have any idea what to do when I removed phone from my routine, I would count minutes till the end of the day to get back on my game or social media.
But later on, it became easier, and we do the DopeDetox regularly, its an empowering feeling of self-control. I was also glad when Tom Bileyu from Impact Theory mentioned it as a useful tool towards self-mastery.
Dopamine, much like any other chemical in our body can be used as a tool to make progress and complete the tasks we want to. Understanding that all urges are stemmed in chemical reactions in the brain can help us respond consciously and help us attain self-control, a necessary tool on the path of self-mastery.
A Student of life.
PS: If this post resonated with you, let me know in the comments, also share if you think it will be useful to others. Thank you, and have a great day.
All the images in this post are a courtesy of Pexels.com