Trick Your Brain to Love Doing Hard Things (Dopamine Detox)

In the modern digital world, entertainment is readily available in our pockets, and instant gratification is calling our attention left and right. 

In a world of distractions, it is easy to get pulled into habitual activities for hours on end. Whether it be social media, video games, video streaming, or smartphones, our attention is being fought for to an extent incomparable to any other period in human history.

The human brain has not evolved to keep up with the exponential growth of this digital evolution. As a result, the general population has become addicted to and distracted by devices and media at unprecedented levels. 

Social media is designed to be as addicting as possible as it intentionally triggers high levels of dopamine to keep users coming back. 

What is Dopamine?

Dopamine is the neurotransmitter attributed to desire. Our brains prioritize activities that trigger a high-dopamine response over activities triggering a low-dopamine response. 

Some examples of a high-dopamine triggering activities are:

  • Scrolling through social media
  • Playing video games
  • Binge watching Netflix
  • Eating junk food
  • Drugs and alcohol
  • Watching pornography

Some examples of a low-dopamine triggering activities are:

  • Reading a book
  • Writing
  • Cleaning
  • Working on difficult tasks
  • Meditating

High-dopamine triggering activities tend to grant some sort of instant gratification, whereas low-dopamine triggering activities tend to take time and discipline to see the positive results.

Many high-dopamine activities tend to have a long-term detrimental impact on the individual, while many low-dopamine activities tend to have a positive overall impact.

Why does the brain prioritize high-dopamine activities over low-dopamine activities?

The human brain does not care what is good for the individual, it gravitates toward the activities that generate the most amount of dopamine in the least time possible.

The brain seeks instant gratification despite the notion that it might be detrimental to the individual and a blatant waste of time.

Any activity that has a potential instant reward will trigger dopamine. Any activity you know has no immediate reward will not trigger dopamine. 

If an activity releases too little dopamine, even though the individual knows it would be beneficial, there will not be motivation to pursue it.

When we constantly pursue activities that trigger high levels of dopamine, our brains develop an increased tolerance to the dopamine. We might find ourselves gravitating toward the same activities of instant gratification. 

So, how do we pursue the activities we know will be beneficial for us?

Dopamine Detox

Through a Dopamine Detox, it is possible to deliberately change your actions to reprogram your brain into prioritizing the activities that are beneficial to your long-term goals. 

The intention of a Dopamine Detox is to bring your brain closer to a state of homeostasis that will lower your tolerance to dopamine. What this will do is starve your brain of dopamine so low-dopamine triggering activities become satisfying.

Anecdotally, the Dopamine Detox has been shown to help people find the motivation to pursue the difficult tasks they would normally procrastinate while simultaneously finding more satisfaction in their work.

There are several methods to a Dopamine Detox (we will touch on two).

Method 1

Set aside a single day dedicated to cutting out all high-dopamine triggering activities.

This includes cutting out the following for 24 hours:

  • Electronic devices
  • Internet
  • Music
  • Junk Food
  • Any other forms of instant gratification

Allow yourself to pursue low-dopamine activities such as:

  • Walking
  • Meditating
  • Reflecting
  • Journaling (with pen and paper)

The goal of this method is to have as little fun as possible, so that normally boring tasks become fulfilling.

Method 2

The second Dopamine Detox method is more of a lifestyle approach.  

Through this method, you intentionally cut unnecessary instant gratification activities from your daily routine, while shifting your focus onto action toward your goals.

What this will do is keep your tolerance to dopamine low; as a result, your brain will be more motivated to pursue difficult tasks.

A few examples of unnecessary high-dopamine activities to cut out of a daily routine would be:

  • Social Media
  • Movies and Television
  • Drugs and Alcohol
  • Junk Food
  • Any other unnecessary forms of instant gratification

The idea is not to cut out all means of pleasure forever, but rather to manipulate your brain into prioritizing the normally neglected tasks that are good for your individual goals and well-being.

An optional addition to this method would be allowing yourself to partake in a limited amount of high-dopamine activities as a reward, only after having finished the difficult tasks for the day. What this has the potential to do is trigger a dopamine response for additional motivation to finish the difficult tasks.

Conclusion

In a world full of intentionally engineered addictions and distractions, it might seem impossible to focus deeply on difficult tasks. Understanding the functions of our brains and bodies help give us the ability to take control of our lives in a system that is ultimately rigged against us. We have the ability to take the control back if we so choose.

If you choose to partake in a Dopamine Detox or if you have already done so, please leave a comment letting us know how it worked for you.

Cheers,

 Nathan Borealis

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