I am a huge fan of Mr. Money Mustache‘s blog, but he rarely posts nowadays, I got two valuable suggestions from his recent posts about “Lessons from the Badass Muscular Neurobiologist.”
First, to know about this man, Andrew Huberman, who is a neuroscientist and tenured professor in the Department of Neurobiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, and he also runs a podcast channel on YouTube where he covers everything about physical and mental health.
And another recommendation from the MMM post is a book called “The Molecule of More” by Daniel Z. Liberman about a single chemical in the brain that can drive love, sex, creativity, etc. and the molecule is “Dopamine”.
The title of the book frightened me to read, and I told myself I wouldn’t be able to understand the concepts because this was my first psychology book. So, I thought I’d start with the basics, and then I read “Dopamine Detox,” by Thibaut Meurisse, which is a 50-page book that explains what dopamine is and how to detox it.
In this post, I’ll discuss how I perceived dopamine before and after reading these two books. Also, how I did my dopamine detox and the mistakes I did.
Before I begin, I’d like to state that everything I’ve written in this post is entirely my own perspective. When I was going through the books, there were lots of biological terms included, I’m not going to add those in this post. I am going to do this in layman’s language.
Let’s dive deep into it.
For those who don’t know what dopamine and dopamine detox is,
What is dopamine?
Dopamine is a neuronal molecule in the brain. You feel satisfied or pleasure within yourself when you accomplish something or try something new; this occurs most frequently during sex, eating favorite foods, or breaking your own personal records, its all because of dopamine molecule.
Actually, the items previously mentioned (sex, food, and breaking one’s own PR) were the only dopamine-inducing items a decade ago.
There are many more activities these days that cause us to feel that pleasure in a short period of time, such as binge-eating junk foods, watching porn, gambling, games and using social media.
This is also the reason we are addicted to short video formats nowadays in the form of YouTube shorts, Instagram reels, TikToks, etc.
We get stimulated by these unhealthy ways and increasing our dopamine levels. To take a rest from this we are doing dopamine detox.
To know what we misunderstood, we need to know about another molecule in the brain called the H&N molecule.
The Here and Now molecules, or the H&Ns. Once you start to feel pleasure or enjoyment, it’s not because of dopamine, it is because of H&N.
We all misunderstand dopamine as a pleasure hormone. After reading these books, I got to know that it’s not a pleasure hormone, it is an “anticipation molecule.”
Dopamine is a future-oriented molecule; it always thinks of what is going to happen next, but when reality hits and what we thought happened, our brain must transition from future-oriented dopamine to present-oriented H&N.
Most of the time, it’s not sex, food, or social media that causes our dopamine levels to rise; it’s our expectations of them. If you clearly investigate your triggers, you will understand what I am saying.
For example, my investments in stocks are long-term, and I am not going to sell them tomorrow, but still, I check my stock portfolio every day. Because of the urge to know what happened today, what’s my portfolio value today? That anticipation (dopamine) caused me to check every day. Once seeing the portfolio value (reality) it’s taken over by H&N molecule.
Consider this suppose you posted a picture on Instagram in the morning but decided to check its status only at night. But your anticipation of knowing how many likes you’ve got for that picture(dopamine) urges you to check the Instagram notifications within a few minutes of posting. Even if you get 2,000 likes (H&N), it’s just for that moment. This is processed by the H&N molecule, but the anticipation is what makes the dopamine level rise, which makes you open the app every time.
Mistakes I made in my dopamine detox
Initially, I thought social media was the only trigger that was increasing my dopamine levels in an unhealthy way. It’s the only addictive habit I have, so I decided not to use it. I uninstalled Instagram and moved WhatsApp to hidden apps (sometimes it’s essential) and disabled all notifications. This is what I did for the last six months on all my devices. I will get a notification only if I miss a phone call. (If you want to know a few other ways to stop using social media, check this out later.)
These are all the items I thought were causing my dopamine levels to increase, somehow, I kept them in control. But I had no idea that, aside from social media, there was a plethora of activity that triggered me.
I’ll list a few of them. When I woke up in the morning, instead of checking WhatsApp, I checked my text messages, even though there were none. But I used to get a few messages from people who couldn’t reach me on WhatsApp, and I used to open my phone with anticipation in the morning, wondering if someone had texted me the night before or not; the anticipation fed my dopamine.
Then, by mail, I subscribed to lots of newsletters, and all of them are awesome. Those have added more value to my life. But checking the Instagram profiles of my favorite celebrity profiles in a day was similar to checking my mailbox, anticipating a newsletter from my favorites, and wondering if there was anything useful in their newsletter today.
And checking my stock portfolios multiple times a day, doing online window shopping on Amazon and Flipkart, etc. This happy reward prediction error is what makes us do it repeatedly.
I thought I’d stopped my unwanted dopamine triggers, but somehow, without my knowledge, I was feeding them in an unusual way through e-mail newsletters, text messages, my stock portfolio, and so on.
Why must we need a dopamine detox?
I’ve seen a lot of YouTubers do dopamine detoxes, but they said they want to detox from social media; there was not a specific reason we needed to detox from dopamine. We call it the pleasure hormone, and now I am saying it is the anticipation/prediction hormone. What is wrong with it? Why do we need to detox from it?
Here is the main reason of it,
Usually, dopamine hits it’s high only when we achieve or try anything new, which is good way. And there are also lots of advantages to having dopamine when it’s attained in a healthy way.
Nowadays, how we are achieving it is a shortcut and dampens the performance of our brain.
In the book Dopamine Detox, the author clearly stated “The reduction of stimulation to prevent overstimulation and put you in the proper state of mind to tackle the major tasks”
When you’ve overstimulated yourself, the chance of completing a challenging task after overstimulation will be very low, and you’ll lose your willpower to do it. Whereas when you’re in a less stimulating state (dopamine detoxed), the challenging, boring, or tedious task will look more appealing and be easier to handle for you.
If you’re able to understand what I mean above, this is why we need to do a dopamine detox.
After learning this, I realized that I feel very energized to complete a task if I keep myself from those triggers.
The days when I checked my emails, messages, and stock portfolios first thing in the morning were the days that were not productive and also, my energies were depleted before doing other important activities.
Try to compare this with your daily routine and remove your unwanted triggers.
How to control overstimulation of dopamine
There are few ways that can stop you from unwanted triggers to control your over-stimulation of dopamine.
Be good at something
Attain mastery in something you’re interested in, be it cooking, fitness, basketball, etc. From dopamine’s view mastery is a good thing, you’re pursuing your burning desire, and it’s not easily achieved by a click of a button on a social media app or fast food. Dopamine achieves dopamine’s goal. Mastery is the point when dopamine bows to H&N.
Reward yourself for doing things right. Schedule rewards for your work but it should be random, don’t reward every weekend or every successful workout you do. Don’t celebrate every win, keep it once or twice a month but be random.Without rewards, you’re more likely to fail at habit formation, and your willpower to do that will decrease. When you’re on a diet, the more times you resist the urge to eat what you want, the more likely it is that you’ll give up too soon. Having a cheat meal once or twice a month can keep you going.
Move your focus to the H&N molecule
The reason most couples break up within 1 year of their love life is when they started loving they were processing with dopamine molecule, once the reality hits that the H&N molecule process the love, they feel it’s not working out, so they break up. Only couples who can withstand H&N will live together, that’s why couples who have loved each other for 5 to 10 years are not breaking up easily.To enjoy the things we have, you must transition from future-oriented dopamine to present-oriented Here and Now molecule (H&Ns). When you achieve what you want to try to process it with H&N instead of dopamine. Don’t rush yourself when it happens, being present in your reality can help you achieve it by H&N.
Beware of open systems
Open systems are all the social media platforms with no end in sight YouTube, Instagram, Twitter etc. These apps are overstimulating our dopamine circuit.You get overstimulated from scrolling through the bottomless newsfeed in the morning and struggle to do your important tasks. Guard yourself against open systems.
Beware when you start relapsing
You need to know when you deviate from your track. Notice whether you’re overstimulating yourself or not. If so restart.The truth is you’ll mostly relapse after a few days, it’s normal. Everybody fails but don’t dwell on it. Just recommit to what you were doing. Simple.
Create a to-don’t list
First, know yourself what things are overstimulating you and list them out. Then remove them from your routine one by one each week, and track whether you’re following it or not.I made a to-don’t checklist for mail newsletters, stock portfolios, messages, and Amazon window shopping to track them. I must check it before going to sleep to make sure that I haven’t done anything.
Start with the difficult one
After waking up do your hardest task first, that gives you the motivation to drive the entire day well. Once you’re overstimulated by any of the dopamine-inducing activities then the chance of doing a productive task is extremely low.
Live the moment
Dopamine wants everything to happen right now. But when you achieve what you wanted your brain seeks some other which drives you crazier than what you achieved now. When you got the food that you craved you start to think when I’ve will have this again instead of enjoying the reality. This happens mostly during brushing teeth which take only 5 minutes, you are not focused on the brushing you’re more likely to think about what’s going to happen today (expecting/predicting). Live the moment seems to be simple in words but it’s the hardest to implement.
This is a battle between you and your mind. Most of the time you tend to give up and don’t beat yourself for that. It’s not going to build you a successful routine. Simply restart your routine, do it one day at a time.
Until next time,
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