Now My Brain Works Fucking Hard
Do you struggle with your work or you have been thinking about getting your dream startup ready from last 5 years. But you just keep procrastinating?
I am sure you don’t have any problem playing video games or even browsing social media on your phone.
I bet you that you can spend hours in front of your screen and and do theses activities with full concentration.
Does that sound someone like you?
But if I ask you to study for half an hour. Will that be something you are up for doing? too hard isn’t it?
What about your dream project you wanted to do since from your childhood. You always thought of doing it once you had enough time and money in your pocket. Will you start working on that? Does not sound that appealing does it?
“A dream does not become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination, and hard work.” — Colin Powell
You do understand that things you don’t want to do like exercising, start working on your startup, studying, learning new language etc. will bring you lots of benefits in long run. But still you choose to play video games and watch game of thrones over it. You prefer to scroll and scroll on your social media feed instead of working on a business plan.
But have you ever though that;
Why your brain need so much concentration and power to do things which brings benefit to your body and mind. Where as its so easy to do things which has no value addition to your life? Actually when you do productive things you get tired easily and your brain shuts down.
And I am sure you have a friend who goes to the gym every single day. And your girlfriend always looks at him and taunt you comparing his 6 packs with your big fat tummy.
You have a colleague who is so good with his job and he gets promoted every year. Or you have a friend in your class who gets the best marks always.
Which haunts you in the night and ask the question, why?
How come some people more motivated to tackle difficult things.
Is there a secret? Do they have some kind of magic pill like limitless?
To answer this question we need to look at this brain neurotransmitter called dopamine.
Dopamine is often considered a pleasure molecule. But that’s not quite what it does. Dopamine is what makes us desire things, and it’s that desire that gives us the motivation to get up and do stuff.
If you’re not sure how powerful dopamine is, let me tell you about an experiment neuro-scientists did on rats.
The researchers implanted electrodes in the brains of rats, whenever the rat pull the lever, the researcher stimulated the rat's reward system in the brain.
The result was that the rats developed a craving so strong, they kept pulling the lever over and over for hours, the rats would refuse to eat, or even sleep, they will just keep pressing the lever until they withdraw from exhaustion.
But then the process was reversed. The researchers blocked the release of dopamine in the brain’s reward centre.
As a result, rats became lame and lethargic. Even getting up to get a drink of water was not worth the effort. They wouldn’t eat, they didn’t want to mate, they didn’t crave anything at all.
You could say that the rats lost all the will to live. However, if the food was placed directly in their mouths, the rats would still eat and enjoy the food.
But they just didn’t have the motivation to get up and do it themselves. You would think that it’s thirst or hunger that motivates us to get food or water, but there’s also dopamine that plays a key role here.
Those rat experiments might be extreme cases. But you can see similar effects, in humans, and in our daily lives.
In fact, your brain develops priorities in large part, based on how much dopamine it’s expecting to get, if an activity releases too little dopamine, you won’t have much motivation to do it.
But if an activity releases a lot of dopamine, you will be motivated to repeat it over and over.
So, which behaviours release dopamine?
Any activity where you anticipate there is a potential reward releases it. But if you know there are no immediate rewards with the behaviour, your brain won’t release it.
For example, before we eat junk food, your brain releases dopamine because you anticipate that the food will make you feel good. Even if it actually makes you feel worse.
That’s because your brain doesn’t even care if the high dopamine activity is damaging to you, it just wants more of it.
A stereotypical example would be someone who’s a drug addict. He/She knows that what he’s doing is not good for him, but all he wants is to get more of that drug.
Besides getting you high cocaine and heroin, release unnatural amounts of dopamine, which in turn makes you crave them even more.
Of course, it has to be noted that nearly everything releases some amount of dopamine, even drinking water when you’re thirsty does, but the highest dopamine release happens when you get a reward randomly.
One such example is playing on a slot machine in a casino, even if you’ve only been losing money until that point you eventually expect to get a bigger reward.
The answer is don’t know when it could happen. And in today’s digital society, we’re flooding our brains with unnaturally high amounts of dopamine on a daily basis, even if we don’t know it.
Some examples of high dopamine behaviours include:
- Scrolling through social media websites
- Playing video games
- Watching internet pornography etc.
We anticipate some sort of reward with each one of those behaviours. That’s why we’re constantly checking our phones.
We expect to see a text message or some other notification. And we know that eventually, we’re going to receive it.
We’re becoming like those rats pulling the lever trying to get new dopamine hit.
And you might think, oh so it’s not like it’s harming me in any way. But you would be wrong. Our bodies have a biological system called homeostasis.
It means that our body likes to keep internal physical and chemical conditions at a balanced level. Whenever an imbalance occurs, our body adapts to it.
I think I can give you an example.
When it’s cold outside our body temperature falls. As a result, we start shivering to generate heat and warm the body.
However, when it’s hot outside our body temperature rises, and we start sweating to lose some of that heat, essentially our body is looking to maintain temperature i.e., 37 degrees Celsius or 98 degrees Fahrenheit no matter what.
But there is another way homeostasis manifests itself, and that is through tolerance.
For example, someone who rarely drinks alcohol will get drunk really fast, but someone who drinks on a regular basis will have to drink more alcohol because their body has developed a tolerance to it, essentially takes more and more alcohol to make them drunk.
Because they become less sensitive to its effect. And it’s not much different with dopamine as your body tries to maintain homeostasis.
So it down-regulate your dopamine receptors, essentially your brain gets used to having high levels of dopamine, and those levels become your new normal. That’s how you develop a dopamine tolerance.
This can be a huge problem because the things that don’t give you as much dopamine, don’t interest you any longer.
And it’s much more difficult to motivate yourself to do them, they feel boring and less fun because they don’t release as much dopamine, compared to the things that do in high amounts.
That’s why people tend to prefer playing video games or browsing the internet, compared to studying or working on their business.
Video games make us feel good and comfortable as they release a lot of dopamine.
Sadly, things like working hard or reading release it in lower amounts. This is one of the reasons why drug addicts who tried to quit, have a hard time adjusting to a normal life.
Their dopamine tolerance gets so high that normal life isn’t able to match it. They become like those rats from previous experiments who have no motivation to do anything if there’s not enough dopamine release.
And it’s not just drug addicts, people who are addicted to video games social media or internet pornography experienced the same thing.
Once their Dopamine tolerance gets too high, they simply aren’t able to enjoy low dopamine behaviours.
Which raise the question, is there anything that can be done to prevent this?
The answer is you need to perform a dopamine detox. By now you might already have an idea what dopamine detox is going to look like.
What you’re going to do is set aside a day where you’re going to avoid all the highly stimulating activities.
You’re going to start flooding your brain with high amounts of dopamine and are going to let her dopamine receptors recover.
Disclaimer: if you’re suffering from a drug addiction then I suggest you seek professional help. As you’ve probably formed a physiological and psychological dependence. And I don’t want you to experience any extreme withdrawal symptoms.
Now, back to the detox. For one whole day, you will try to have a little fun as possible.
You will not use the internet or any technology like your phone or computer. You’re not allowed to listen to music, you’re not allowed to masturbate or eat any junk food.
Basically you’re going to remove all sources of external pleasure for the entire day.
You’re going to embrace boredom. And trust me, there will be a lot of boredom. You are however allowed to do the following. Go for a walk, meditate and be alone with your thoughts, reflect on your life and goals, write down any ideas to get not on your computer or phone, but on a physical piece of paper.
All of this might seem quite intense, but if you want radical results, and you want them fast, you need to be able to take radical action. Now you might be asking yourself, why would this even work.
You can think of it this way. Let’s say that you’ve been eating every single meal at the best restaurant in your town.
As a result, what happened is that those fancy meals became your new normal. If someone offered you a bowl of plain rice, you would probably refuse it simply wouldn’t taste as good as your usual restaurant meal.
But if you find yourself stranded on a deserted island and you’re starving, suddenly that bowl of plain rice doesn’t seem so bad.
And that is what the dopamine detox does. It starves you from all the pleasure you usually get, and in turn, it makes those less satisfying activities, more desirable.
To put it simply, This does not mean detox works because you become so bored it actually means that boring stuff becomes more fun.
Now if you don’t want to take such extreme action and starve yourself of all the pleasure, you can perform a smaller dopamine detox.
You’re going to pick one day of the week, where you’re going to refrain from one of your high dopamine behaviours completely.
Whatever that behaviour might be, maybe checking your phone all the time, playing video games on your computer, watching TV, eating junk food, watching internet pornography, whatever.
And from now on every single week for one whole day you’re going to avoid that activity, you can still do other things but the behaviour you pick is off-limits.
Yes, you will feel slightly bored, but that’s the point. You want to let your dopamine receptors recover from the unnaturally high dopamine that’s been flooding your brain and boredom is going to propel you to do other things.
The day you do the detox, things that you will be doing would naturally put you off because they don’t release as much dopamine, and because you’re bored.
Of course, avoiding high dopamine behaviour once in a while, is good, but ideally, you should avoid those behaviours altogether, or at least as much as possible.
Because what you want is to connect more dopamine release to the things that will actually benefit you.
And what I found is that your current high dopamine activities can serve as an incentive to pursue things that actually give you those long term benefits. In other words, you could use your high dopamine activity as a reward for completing difficult work.
And this is exactly what I do myself. I track all the difficult low dopamine work I do.
- Cleaning my apartment
- Practising the piano
- Reading books
- Doing some sort of exercise etc.
After I’m able to get a certain amount of work done, I reward myself with some amount of high dopamine activity at the end of the day.
The keywords here are after. And at the end of the day.
If I indulge in high dopamine behaviour first, then I’m not going to feel like doing the low dopamine work.
I’m simply not going to be motivated enough, so I always start with the difficult things, only then I allow myself to indulge in high dopamine activities.
To give you an example for every completed hour of low dopamine work I reward myself with 15 minutes of high dopamine behaviour at the end of the day.
That means that for eight hours of low dopamine, I allow myself roughly two hours of high dopamine behaviour.
Of course, these are my ratios, you can tweak them to your liking. Also it has to be noted that if you’re addicted to something that’s damaging to your health. Then you don’t want to treat that behaviour as a reward. Instead, find a different reward, that’s not as damaging.
One that you still think is worth the effort. And if you’re wondering what my guilty pleasure is, it’s the internet.
I can easily get lost there for hours without doing anything else. That’s why I have this system, so I’m able to control my addiction. But make no mistake, even with this system, I still plan days where I abstain from high dopamine activities completely.
To conclude, I want to say that it is possible this will make doing things difficult but when your brain is getting so much dopamine all the time, you won’t be as excited about working on something that doesn’t release much of it.
That’s why you might want to limit your phone and computer usage, along with other high dopamine-releasing behaviour. And I can tell you that it’s definitely worth it.
So if you have motivation problems start dopamine detoxing your brain as soon as possible, separate yourself from the unnaturally high amounts of dopamine, or at least expose yourself to it far less frequently.
Only then will normal everyday low dopamine activities become exciting again, and you’ll be able to do them for longer.
We are all dopamine addicts, to a certain extent, and that’s a good thing because dopamine motivates us to achieve our goals and improve ourselves, but it’s up to you to decide where you’re going to get her dopamine from.
Are you going to get it from things that don’t benefit you, or are you going to get it from working on your long term goals?
The choice is yours. If you enjoyed this article, I would really appreciate if you would, gently tap the clap button.
Look forward to hearing some of your experiences.