Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that powers our brain’s reward-pleasure pathway, driving our motivations and desires. Before the modern era, it’s function worked exceptionally well for human’s development and progression. It motivated us to procreate, eat, and survive. It’s triggers were sparse so it’s function worked to our advantage. Too much dopamine was never a problem the brain had to solve for.
Today, dopamine triggers can be found in every corner, accessible at the snap of a finger. Our circuitry was not prepared for smartphones, internet memes, social media, or Black Friday deals. On the surface it seems harmless but our whole economy is built on creating the most attention-capturing, dopamine-stimulating experiences. Companies fight for your attention to make money by exploiting your psychological vulnerabilities. You can use apps like Moment (iOS) and Breakfree (Android) to track your smartphone usage and set daily limits. I was alarmed to discover that I spend nearly 12 hours a week on social media apps like Snapchat and Instagram. That’s almost two hours a day!
In the short term, excessive dopamine feels wonderful however it causes an imbalance which the brain adjusts for, also known as tolerance build up. Over time the number of dopamine receptors available are reduced. It’s like a game of musical chairs where each seat is a dopamine receptor and the people running around are dopamine. Fewer receptors available for docking result in things like depression, anxiety, inability to focus, lack of motivation, lethargy, etc. It’s a game you don’t want to play.
You wouldn’t reward your dog with a treat for sitting around the house and then expect him to have motivation to listen. Why would he put in the work if he gets rewarded for doing nothing. It’s important to be aware of the bad habits that cause dopamine triggers so we can build new ones which are in harmony with our brain’s chemistry. This doesn’t mean we revert back to caveman living, we just have to focus more on experiences that are conducive to our health and happiness. So put down the phone, and go for a run outside!
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