The right way
Would you like to try a drug that makes you happy, for free, and with no side effects?
But there is a catch…
Dopamine is a natural drug. It’s a hormone and neurotransmitter released by the hypothalamus and its function is to activate the pleasure centers of the brain.
Dopamine signals the desirability of an outcome propelling the individual towards that goal. We can think of dopamine as dessert, it gives us the motivation to eat that kale knowing that in the end we’ll get the reward. Yet, we don’t realize that the reward is actually the kale.
There are two ways to release dopamine: High and Low
High dopamine activities
Those activities that give you instant gratification — drugs, alcohol, sugar, Instagram, porn, Netflix — are triggered by a high release of dopamine.
This release is quick and shortlived, it gives you a boost then it disappears, leaving you craving for more. It’s addictive.
High dopamine activities are not what you want if you want to stay healthy and productive.
Every time you engage in high dopamine activities you are selling yourself short. You are wasting time, energy, and more importantly the motivation to do what you really want to do.
When you eat a donut, smoke a cigarette, or check your phone, you get instant pleasure but it’s like empty calories. You end up sacrificing high-value activities for low-value ones. It’s not worth it.
High dopamine activities rob you of the energy you need to pursue high-value stuff like exercise, eating healthy, or learning. You don’t want to eat your greens after chocolate. It can only be done the other way round
Phones are mass distraction weapons. They are designed to break your concentration from whatever is hard — studying, working, reading — and cajole you into easy crap that gives you a quick boost.
This is how it works:
- First they break your concentration. Instant notifications, pictures, vibration
- Then, they want to keep you there — they lure you from one activity to the next in order to max your time on the screen
- By doing this, they create addiction so you come back for more — it’s a vicious circle
The constant distraction makes you form a bad habit and you develop a weak concentration muscle. Your ability to stay focused drops and you become a junkie unable to pursuit anything worthwhile.
Writing a book, starting a project, training, are activities that require a tremendous amount of focus that you no longer have due to the dopamine rush.
Google and FB know this and that’s why they specifically design apps, news, and notifications to make you addicted. If dopamine is your drug, Zuckerberg is your dealer.
The more time you spend on your phone, the more money they make. Click-bait is the new gold.
They know how your brain works, how to trigger your dopamine response, and how to make you addicted.
You can only escape this trap by:
- Switching your phone off or putting it in flight mode
- Set certain times to check your phone and stick to it
- Cancel all notifications
- Have a second phone for emergencies (ideally a non-smart phone)
- Take the phone outside the room when you are working
- Use blocking apps
- Delete addictive apps
- Don’t read or watch the news on your phone (or anywhere else)
- Refuse to break your concentration, make it a habit to build momentum
- Only allow yourself to waste time when you have achieved all the goals for the day
Apart from all these screens that steal your life away, there are other high dopamine sources you need to avoid:
- Junk food
Take alcohol for example. Let’s do a cost-benefit analysis.
It’s lunchtime and you think it’ll be nice to have a glass of wine. Nothing wrong with that, right?
Then after one you are a bit more relax and decide to have a second one.
Now you feel sleepy so you postpone the work you were going to do in the afternoon. Another day wasted.
For a few minutes of enjoyment you’ve wasted hours that you could have used to exercise, read a book, learn a new skill, or make money online.
It’s a raw deal.
That time you wasted will never be back. There are so many things you want to do with your life but you never seem to have enough time. That is why.
When you look back, the reason why you are not where you want to be in life is probably dopamine. Imagine how would your life look like if you haven’t wasted so much time. The past can’t be changed but the future is still unwritten and you are writing it now.
Do what you want now but know that you’ll pay the price later.
Are you happy being broke, fat, idle, and distracted? How long are you going to keep lying to yourself? How much more time are you going to waste?
Our ancestors lived in a different habitat. There were very few things they could indulge in and no distractions. Sugar and fat weren’t easy to find and the other culprits were not available.
Now, we live in a world full of temptations that kill our time, our concentration, and our health. We have expert manipulators that pull our strings and make us puppets.
We are not well equipped to fight this and yet we have to, the default option is suicide.
But let’s not despair. There is no need to become monks and live a life free of temptations.
There is another option
We also release dopamine with activities like exercise, writing, learning, anything that needs time, effort, and dedication.
This dopamine is low in quantity but it lasts longer. In fact it lasts forever.
20 years ago I finished a marathon and to this day, every time I look back it gives me satisfaction.
When you achieve something that seemed impossible you enjoy the benefits forever. Compare that to smoking a cigarette, watching cat videos on WhatsApp, or indulging in gossip.
Learning a new language, losing 10 kgs, starting an online business are activities that will change you into who you want to be.
Even the things that are challenging, the things that make you suffer seem to have extra power, a boost that pleasure can’t give. We all have fond memories of some of the struggles we went through in life and somehow we long for them.
When I go cycling, the more I suffer the more I enjoy. An easy day is a wasted opportunity. It is only when you struggle that you give it your best.
There is a human tendency to see our battles as epic and to minimize suffering. Perhaps that’s one of the effects of dopamine, to distort your memories so we want more of it.
That’s the reason why mothers go for a second baby despite the ordeal with the first one, soldiers want to return to action and students miss burning the midnight oil
We think we want an easy life but we don’t. We want to struggle, to fight, to starve. All that, makes us feel alive and it’s because of the low dopamine release.
Have you ever had cold feet because something was too easy?
An easy life is not worth living.
Ask the Lyons in the zoo
Activities that bring you low dopamine are less attractive in the short term but much more valuable in the long run.
Satisfaction lasts far longer, you get visible results and you get to keep the habits you’ve built during the struggle.
So, instead of pursuing instant gratification why don’t you look for something bigger, better, and real?
- Read a book instead of watching Netflix
- Eat Broccoli instead of sweets
- Learn a language instead of browsing Instagram
- Be productive instead of checking your phone
- Commit to goals instead of fluffing
- Chose exercise instead of the sofa
- Think long term instead of quick gains
- Choose personal development instead of cynicism
- Play chess instead of candy crush
You have to choose, you can’t have both ways
High dopamine rush is killing you, eliminate it from your life, or prepare to live a life of regret.
Get your daily fix from low dopamine activities. The high you get will be better and long-lasting and as side effects you’ll end up fitter, stronger, more productive, and richer.
It’s a win-win situation
Only allow yourself high dopamine activities at the end of the day and only if you have achieve all your objectives.
Never eat dessert before the main course
Now that I have finished this article I’m going to indulge in chocolate and Youtube…actually I won’t, I don’t need it anymore. I’ve had my fix for the day.