Put an end to your short attention span. Today, you’re going to learn why Dopamine Fasting can help you get your motivation back.
You may have noticed that your attention span isn’t quite what it used to be. Maybe you find it challenging to get motivated, and you can’t work for very long without picking up your phone or getting distracted. If this sounds at all like you, in the next few minutes, you’re going to learn why dopamine fasting might be for you.
We’re going to be looking at dopamine and the brain’s reward system, how your digital devices are using it to keep you hooked, and how dopamine fasting can fix it.
The Brain’s Reward System
First, let’s learn about the reward system and the role that dopamine plays. Dopamine is an incredibly important neurotransmitter, which plays a huge number of essential functions in the body. These include motor control, executive function, arousal, reinforcement, and reward, to name just a few. For our purpose, we’re going to focus on dopamine’s role in the brain’s reward system.
For the longest time, scientists thought of dopamine as simply a pleasure neurotransmitter. The idea was that when we take part in pleasurable activities, our brain releases dopamine. However, it turned out to be more complicated than that. Researchers found out that the brain release dopamine before even taking any action. For example, when you decide to eat a sugary snack, the brain will release dopamine. Activities that stimulate dopamine before and during include eating high-calorie food, intimacy, engaging in novel situations, learning new information, etc.
Dopamine acts as a reinforcing mechanism, telling you that you should remember this activity and do it again if possible. This system has been essential to humanity’s survival. Without the drive to eat, procreate, and explore, humans would not have made it to the 21st century.
However, we are now in the 21st century, and your ancient reward system is not quite ready for modern life. Long gone is the era of the hunter-gather days, in which stimulating and rewarding situations were rare. Dopamine releasing activities are now everywhere, and you have access to them all the time! 🤯
Now, this is causing us some problems because it is affecting our motivation and concentration. On the surface, this might not be very clear, so let’s explore exactly why this is.
Dopamine Mouse Experiment
In an experiment to study addiction by Christian Lüscher and his team took a group of mice and hooked their brains up to an optical sensor that could stimulate the release of dopamine.
They then gave the mice a lever. Every time the lever was pressed, the sensor would release dopamine in the mice’s brains. The mice very quickly started to display addictive behavior. They would continually keep pressing the lever to release more and more dopamine.
“If after two hours we didn’t take them out of the cage, they wouldn’t eat, they wouldn’t drink, then they’d probably die quickly, but very happily,” says Lüscher.
The mice lost the motivation to complete basic biological necessities such as eating or drinking. Every time, they would opt to release more dopamine. 😬
You may be thinking, “well, that’s all well and good, but I’m not a mouse!” and yes, that is true. However, the same processes are happening in your brain. The mouse experiment may be an extreme example, but it does illustrate how too much dopamine affects motivation.
What is Dopamine Fasting?
Dopamine fasting or dopamine detoxing involves reorganizing your relationship with overly-stimulating applications and digital devices. Your goal is to reset your brain’s response to digital devices. As your mind stops anticipating a dopamine release at the thought of reaching for your device or visiting a particular website, you’ll find your work and studies more engaging!
Modern Dopamine Releasing Activities
Many of the most popular applications on your phone, tablet, or computer release dopamine in your brain by design. We have already learned that novel situations and new information trigger a dopamine release. Social media especially mimics these real life situations. Your brain is being exposed to new and novel information with every post you scroll past. Each time, your brain releases dopamine.
Have you ever put your phone down, only to instantly pick it back up again? Or close an app, and then open it back up again immediately? 🤔 Your subconscious is almost always telling you to reach for your device. It isn’t just a habit; it’s a form of addiction. Your brain releases dopamine at the thought of using your device.
Did you know Americans check their phone on average once every 12 minutes? Not only this, but 31% feel chronic anxiety when separated from their phone. Of course, the real culprit isn’t the smartphone itself, but the applications installed on it; Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, etc. Many use these applications exclusively on a desktop computer and still suffer from the same addictive tendencies.
This type of dopamine based addiction is perpetually distracting. If any of this resonates at all with you, perhaps it’s time to try dopamine fasting.
Dopamine Fasting Guide
The goal of a dopamine fasting is to reset your brain’s response to digital devices and media. The aim to stop your brain from looking for its dopamine fix from your phone or computer.
When dopamine fasting, you’ll be looking to do one or two of the following. (1) Taking a break from your digital devices and applications, (2) Drastically reduce in your digital device and application usage, or (3) Permanently cut many of your most commonly used applications.
The last of these is the most drastic and is not for everyone. Many of these applications, especially social media, are needed in some form or another. Therefore, the first two of these are suitable for most people.
Make a note of all the applications that you think triggers a dopamine release. For example, your notes might look like this.
- Smartphone News Feed
- Mobile Game
It is a good idea to think about each of these applications. If they are causing you problems as a result of compulsive use, how can you re-imagine your relationship with them? Applications like games and certain social media, you can perhaps cut from your life altogether. You might decide that the benefit you gain does not outweigh the negative impacts on your concentration and motivation.
Email, for example, cannot be removed entirely from your life, for obvious reasons. However, you still might be checking it compulsively, and if so, you need to address this. Ask yourself, what is the maximum I need to check my email? Maybe set aside time twice a day when you deal with emails.
Do this for every application on your list. Once you have done this, put a plan in place to ensure you stick to your rules. Here are a few tips to prevent you from accessing some applications:
- Logging out of applications after you’ve used them
- Using a website blocker browser extension
- Placing your phone to different rooms when you don’t need it
After a week or so, your brain will learn that these applications are not a source of dopamine. As a result, your reward center will direct its focus towards other sources, such as your work or studies. You will again find your concentration and motivation levels back to normal levels.
If you’re looking for more brain optimization tips, why not check out our article on multitasking and how it affects cognitive performance!