Dopamine Detox | How to trick your brain into enjoy doing things you keep putting off
How many hours can you spend on social media without taking a break? What about studying for an exam? If you are anything like me you can easily get lost in social media and spend hours without realizing it. But if you sit down to study for an upcoming exam, you can not do the same thing.
Why is it this way though? Most importantly, can you trick your brain into doing those important things instead? To answer these questions, let’s look into the activities of the neurotransmitter called dopamine.
What is Dopamine?
Dopamine is a chemical in your brain that governs desire and motivation. It decides what you do and what you don’t.
How does dopamine work?
Some activities release more dopamine than others. Anything that is crucial to our survival releases more dopamine. This includes food, sex, social engagement, and winning.
Up until recently winning meant surviving. Our brain is still wired to look at it the same way. That is why video games release more dopamine than important activities. As a result, you are motivated to play video games without even eating or sleeping.
Dopamine also plays an important role in the learning process. Unexpected rewards increase dopamine activity for the preceding behavior. For example, when you are browsing through social media you come across stimulating content. Then dopamine tells you to browse more.
Naturally when you predict a reward but do not get one dopamine activity drops. Social media as well as Casinos use a reward strategy that will encourage you to go on. That is you are rewarded frequently enough to make it harder for you to leave the platform. This is why social media and gambling is so easy to get addicted to.
Moreover, when you are exposed to too many high dopamine activities, you become less motivated to do other activities. This is why you find it so difficult to go exercise even though you know it is important.
How do we use this knowledge to our advantage?
Now that you know the reason behind your lack of motivation we can start working on fixing this issue. Imagine that you have been eating at five-star restaurants all your life. There is this certain quality of food you eat. When you are given something plain and not up to that standard you will reject it; wouldn’t you? Now Imagine, you are stranded in the middle of a jungle and starving, would you care about the quality of the food? No, you will not. You will not only eat plain food but enjoy it too.
This is exactly what you need to do to reset your brain. That is you need to starve yourself of high dopamine activities. Then your brain will reset itself to enjoy doing low dopamine activities as well. This process is called a dopamine detox.
How do you perform a dopamine detox?
When you are on a dopamine detox, you avoid doing high dopamine activities for an entire day. High dopamine activities are usually those activities that give you instant gratification.
- no internet,
- no video games,
- no sex, porn, or masturbation,
- no gambling,
- no tv,
- no movies,
- no phone etc.
Some people take it a step further and avoid food and social interactions as well. Now going to such extremes is not necessary. How I like to approach it is to avoid eating food that I absolutely love. That does not mean you have to eat the things you hate. I usually eat neutral things. For example, I drank tea but I reduced the amount of sugar I put into it to avoid instant gratification. If you prefer pizza over noodles deliberately choose to eat noodles.
As for social interactions you don’t have to cut off from family members or other people you meet every day. However, don’t go to parties or plan to meet your best friend who you haven’t met in ages.
This is going to be boring, isn’t it?
Yes, it is, but it is good for you. After doing this, you will realize that you get distracted less. You will find yourself with the willpower to do the things that are important to you. Even when you’re on social media you will find it easier to close it and get back to work. You will be able to avoid Temptation easily. In simple, spending the day board as hell is going to be worth it.
So, What are the things you can do?
- Read a book (non-fiction)
- Re-evaluate your goals
- Make plans for your future
- cooking, cleaning, etc
- Any activity that does not provide Instant Gratification
- Any activity that is not addictive for you
How to Prepare for a dopamine detox?
Doing a dopamine detox is tough. That is why we need to prepare head-on. It is easy to be tempted to use your phone. So as a precaution, tell your friends and family what you are doing. Make it clear that you will not be answering any text or calls. This way you are making sure that they don’t call you and distract you. You can even record a message on your answering machine.
“ I am on a dopamine detox today and will not be answering any calls. Leave a message and I will get back to you tomorrow”.
If you tend to change your mind about things give your phone to a friend and ask him not to give it back until tomorrow. Don’t feel safe doing that? Then you can lock your phone, laptop, iPad, etc in a cupboard and give the keys to a friend instead. The idea behind these tricks is to make it difficult to not follow through.
How to avoid common pitfalls
When you are trying something new it is easy to fall into these traps that will cause you to give up. Here are those traps and how to avoid them.
Don’t set too high standards that you can not handle
Some people set too high standards when it comes to a dopamine Detox. They avoid all human interaction and starve themselves. If this is your approach to the dopamine Detox you are much more likely to give up and never try it again. So unless you are someone with immense willpower I will not recommend you do that. Instead, I encourage you to eat plain food that you do not enjoy too much. For example, if you love junk food don’t eat them. eat healthy food that you like.
It is OK to talk to the people at home and your friends in the office. But, I encourage you not to go to a party or plan a meeting with a friend who you haven’t met in a long time. Moderation is key here. Don’t go overboard and make it so unpleasant that you wouldn’t even think about doing it again.
Make it easy enough to follow through
If you are someone who has a tendency to give up, I recommend you approach this one step at a time. Start by doing a social media Detox instead. Here you will avoid all social media but you are allowed to do other high dopamine activities. Do this once a week for a few months and then increase the intensity.
Next time you avoid the internet, not just social media. Do this once a week for another few months and then add TV to the list of things you will not do. Like this, you can increase the intensity little by little. Each time you successfully complete one of these detoxes it will help you increase your willpower. As a result, soon you will be able to do a complete dopamine Detox and reap its benefits.
Expect things to go wrong
You are trying to break your habits here. Normally when you reach for your phone you are not aware of it. so even when you are on this dopamine fast you might catch yourself doing something that you ought not to do. When that happens, stop doing it and forgive yourself for that. Don’t be too harsh on yourself. You are allowed to make mistakes but the important thing is to keep going.
Expect it to be boring and difficult
If you thought that this is not tough you are mistaken. People think that it is easy to do nothing at all but it’s not. You are going to feel like giving up. That is why you need to expect it to be difficult and boring. You should have a plan on how to handle it. I suggest having a list of items that you can do. Also When you feel like giving up tell yourself that this is good for you and that you have the power to continue.
Some people claim that after they did this they woke up the next day feeling awesome. When I did it I did not feel my mood shift that much. However, I did notice that I had more self-control and was able to carry on with important tasks without getting distracted.
I suggest that you use this self-control to delay distractions until the end of the day. Reward yourself with high dopamine activities for productive work you do. For example, for every hour of productive work, you can play 15 minutes of video games at the end of the day. This way you are using your craving for high dopamine activities to fuel productivity. But, if you reward yourself earlier in the day you are more likely to fall back into your bad habits. So never decide to play half an hour of video games after two hours of hard work in the middle of the day.
This is not a one-time solution that is going to last for a lifetime. Even with the above strategy in place, you will find yourself feeling less motivated as time goes by. That is when you need to do a dopamine detox again. Some people do a dopamine detox once every month as a ritual. This is a good idea to follow. That way you never lose your productivity.
Are you going to do a dopamine detox? Let me know in your comments below.
- Start Over | How to Start Over and take control of your life
- 12 Mind-blowing habits of successful people
- 12 reasons why perfectionism is the dumbest Standard on earth