One of the biggest growth-mindset shifts you can make is to appreciate the role dopamine plays in your decision making.
This blog post will look explain dopamine, and then detail a 2-step solution you can implement right away, if you need to bring this under control.
Why Controlling Dopamine Matters
Learning to control and harness dopamine can go a long way towards reducing:
Lack of motivation
Laziness and mental fogginess
Addictions you've become reliant upon
Apathy - feeling 'numb'
Can you relate to any of the above?
Learning to control and harness it can quickly turn things around. You'll feel more joy, more vitality, more hopeful and more passionate. Life gets easier, more rewarding and just...better.
Sounds great, right?
A lot of us simply aren't aware of this as a concept - and blindly base our decisions and choices on our feelings, moods or societal norms. It's a huge problem in modern societies - particularly ones that are developed and where choices are abundant.
We crave distractions from our life, rather than cultivate growth within it. Development isn't as attractive as gratification, but none of the best parts of you came about through gratification: they came about through development.
There is another way.
One that, given a chance, is so powerful and can be utterly transformative. All it takes is some short-term discipline and consciously letting go of a few things that you're perhaps normally used to.
What Is Dopamine?
You see, our body's contains things called neurotransmitters. These are the chemical messengers your nervous system uses to transmit messages around the body.
Dopamine is one of these. It's responsible for making us feel good, when there is anticipation of pleasure or a reward.
It also plays a big role in heart rate, sleep, motivation and learning.
It's sometimes referred to as 'the molecule of more'. It's responsible for desire, love, lust and more. It drives us to make decisions based on how we'll feel about something new and novel. How different things could be - and how good, happy and fulfilled we'll feel - with just one thing we're currently missing.
Dopamine makes us crave and desire more. It makes us fantasise, obsess and daydream about how things could be - based on what we perceive the pleasure or reward to be.
The issue with this is significant: once we get what we desire, dopamine instantly switches off.
And you very often don't feel quite as good, happy or fulfilled as you thought you would. Oftentimes, you'll actually feel 'empty'.
What this does is make you want that feeling back. So you desire more.
And it becomes a cycle. One that can be quite destructive, mentally, if left unchecked. You'll never quite get the fulfilment you want - and you begin to question yourself and your decisions.
It may be that dopamine sticks around for a period after you get what you desire: a partner, a pay rise or a better place to live, for example. But once it wears off - once that newness and novelty wears off, so does your passion and happiness. So you chase a better partner, more money or a bigger house.
The aspirations you have: a better car, holidaying in your dream destination, a new pair of shoes...and so on: dopamine is driving those. The anticipation of how each of those will make you feel.
And then you get what you desire...and it might feel good for a bit, but then that novelty wears off. Think of how many things you've desired in the last 5 years that you've gotten. Then consider how many of those you're still hyped about today. That new phone that you were so excited to pre-order, but is just your phone these days. The new laptop you spent ages researching...but now just exists as your laptop. And so on.
The dopamine effect can last for a few seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months or years. It really does depend...but one thing is almost always certain: it wears off, because it's fuelled by fantasy, rather than reality.
All of this is not to say that dopamine is a bad thing. In some ways, because it exists in a pre-gratification state, it can help us focus instead on achieving targets and goals we have (like saving money, waiting for release dates, etc).
The key issue - the one we're concerned with here on your programme - is one of problematic indulgence.
Many of us indulge in problematic things that are fuelled exclusively by dopamine: the anticipation of future reward. It fuels behaviours and pattens that count against us and diverts attention away from what will make us good, happy and fulfilled.
And the sheer level of this reliance on dopamine as a way to feel better means it's vastly over-stimulated. Very often on a daily basis.
Some examples of behaviours and patterns that are dopamine-fuelled, but count against us:
Junk food cravings;
Shopping (the unnecessary sort);
Social media scrolling;
Checking stats (sales, followers, likes, etc);
Drug use / smoking / drinking alcohol;
Binge watching TV shows.
If you can relate to any of these, take a moment to reflect on one or two of them. How do they make you feel afterwards? Do they make you feel unsatisfied or even guilty afterwards?
Think about why you do them, in the context of fantasy vs reality. If you're engaging with them to 'escape' reality, then acknowledge this. Understand your behaviours for what they are.
A lot of the examples above over-stimulate, unnaturally our dopamine messaging. How often can you get 'lost' in the examples above, spending far more time on them than you thought? Pornography is designed to present you with a ton of choices to stimulate fantasy and arousal. Video games are designed to give you rewards, coins and tokens to keep you continually wanting more. Social media feeds learn what you like and are designed to have endless scrolling, so you get hit after dopamine hit.
They can become addictive: chasing a dopamine fix can become addictive in itself, and lead to behaviours and patterns that you really struggle to stop. It can impact your life - your sense of self, your relationships, your ambitions and so on. You almost train your brain to seek out these fixes to make you feel (fleetingly) better - and this is the very cycle that can be so defeating.
In moderation and with control, almost all of the examples above are absolutely fine. The issue is when these things become uncontrolled - as they can be addictive. Let's take a moment to examine what happens when uncontrolled dopamine becomes entrenched in our lives.
When dopamine-fixes are entrenched in our lives - when it becomes chronically over-stimulated - our baseline level of happiness goes up.
Imagine a baseline 'bar' of happiness and fulfilment. Well, that rises the more you unnaturally stimulate dopamine. You then need more dopamine stimulation, more dopamine hits, to feel good and happy...all the while increasing the bar and moving further away from this baseline level. It becomes so much harder to feel happy, fulfilled, joyful, passionate, rewarded and satisfied...because you always need more.
This is when you might feel 'numb'. You've overstimulated dopamine for such a long time that it's become entrenched. Your neurotransmitters are out of balance and you've established a far higher bar for happiness and fulfilment than you otherwise might have.
You've likely used dopamine to cover up feelings, pain, stress, unresolved emotions or boredom to the point where it feels like the only way. On some levels, this is understandable, if you relate to this. You've continually chosen to alter your state and/or mask your pain in ways that seem gratifying or distracting in that moment.
But this is such a shame and a waste of potential. It can lead to depression, anxiety and a lack of mental and physical vitality and verve. It can lead to a glut of unresolved emotions and issues that just pile up to the point where it alters you as a person: your personality, your ambitions and sense of worth. Having coached for almost a decade, clients who find it hard to self-analyse, find solutions or display apathy often are in this cycle of dopamine fixes. In some ways, they're numb to themselves.
Some of us might identify that a problem exists. We might have tried to remove some of the aforementioned examples from our lives...but it's led to withdrawal symptoms where we feel even worse in the short-term. We might have felt symptoms such as feeling more anxious, more directionless, more over-worried, more fearful, more bored, more negative, more tired and so on. In some cases, emotions bubble, uninvited, to the surface and we're asked to confront them (which might be scary). So we go back to what we know makes us feel gratified. Those almost-instant forms of pleasure, just to 'release' from the symptoms we've experienced or how we feel.
Sometimes we just don't know any other way. You might feel almost 'dependent' on them.
There is a solution.
As mentioned, dopamine is a neurotransmitter. It's concerned with making us feel good, when there is anticipation of pleasure or a reward.
It exists in amongst other neurotransmitters, of course. In order to reduce the reliance on dopamine, we need to fire up some other 'here and now' neurotransmitters, namely:
Cultivating these contrasting 'here and now' neurotransmitters, regularly, will offset reliance on dopamine. They are termed 'here and now' because they don't deal with fantasy or expected future rewards. Instead, they deal with the present. They allow you to enjoy the present moment: to feel peace, calm, appreciation and satisfaction.
These are the neurotransmitters that do give you joy and lasting fulfilment.
PART 1: DOPAMINE DETOX
The solution to a reliance on (or addiction to) dopamine fixes is to remove. immediately, anything you know is causing issues for you.
Jordan Peterson says this:
"If you want to know something about yourself, sit on your bed one night and say, 'What's one thing I'm doing wrong, that I know I'm doing wrong? That I could fix. That I would fix.' You meditate on that, and you'll get an answer. It won't be one you want. But it'll be necessary."
Embark on a conscious detox from one or more things that you know aren't helping. You give your mind, your dopamine neurotransmitter, a rest. A reset. You're choosing to let that baseline happiness bar to lower.
You control this. You decide for how long you'll detox from all of these things - it might be one day, one week, one month or more.
As a starting point, detox for a full day within the next week, from everything you know to be counter-productive. All the indulgences, all the quick-fixes, etc. Choose a day in your calendar and mark it out as a 'Dopamine Detox' day.
It might be quite confronting: you might be bored or feel some withdrawal symptoms. But anyone can do one day.
Once you've done your day, reflect. Think about what felt better to not have. Think about what you can reintroduce, in doses that you can control and measure.
For example, it might be social media. You'd normally wake up and immediately check. You'd automatically scroll at various points in the day. Your detox day puts you in a state of heightened awareness: so you realise just how automatic this behaviour has become. Post detox day, you reflect on this and appreciate that you'd actually like to keep present on social media, but in controlled doses. You look to utilise the 'usage' features a lot of them have now, to monitor (and ultimately, control) your overall usage. Or you might reflect and decide that you had a far better day, slept better and felt calmer without social media and delete some accounts!
The point is: remove and reflect. Only through the removal of stimulation can we begin to understand it's effect. Remove via your detox day (or days)...and then analyse.
Going forward, for some things, one day probably won't be enough - but it's a start. You might choose a few things to carry forward and go without for longer (for your benefit). Remember, the more you actively avoid dopamine over-stimulation, the lower that baseline happiness bar lowers! You might recognise one or two things that are real issues - real obstacles that aren't serving you or you can't control in moderation - and choose to go without for several months. These sorts of things, if detoxed/eliminated, can massively accelerate that happiness baseline heading back to a normal level.
PART 2: CULTIVATE THE 'HERE & NOW' NEUROTRANSMITTERS
As mentioned, firing up (regularly) these contrasting 'here and now' neurotransmitters will offset reliance on dopamine. Look at this Part 2 as a 'reset and replace' exercise, where you choose to explore other ways to gain fulfilment - keeping what you like and discarding what you don't - but trying lots of options.
Think of non-screen-based energising and relaxing activities. Brainstorm them. Don't be afraid to think leftfield once you jot your first ideas down: addd the things you have always wanted to do, but just haven't gotten around to. This is the perfect time.
You'll deploy these ideas when you feel the need to engage in a dopamine hit and/or on your Detox Day, in place of the dopamine-fuelled activities you'd normally spend time on.
Be aware that if your dopamine stimulation is entrenched, a lot of your ideas might feel odd or dissatisfying to do in the moment.
This is because your mind is so overstimulated - you're probably quite prone to over-thinking, over-analysing or living life 'in your head'. You might be used to doing activities solo, where you're isolated - so being social, intimate or getting outside might feel weird. It's even more reason to choose to do them: it's part of the solution.
Seek more for yourself, closing down limiting belief after limiting belief. How you choose to act now, and in the coming weeks, armed with this raft of new information is vital.