How to Boost Your Dopamine
- Dopamine affects motivation and focus.
- Company’s exploit this happy chemical to get you addicted.
- Learn how you can boost your own dopamine to reach any goal.
Your cells are constantly bathed in hormones that turn genes on and off and affect how you think, feel, and behave. While we produce about 50 different hormones, only four primary hormones —dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and cortisol—control your motivation, mood, how connected you feel to people, and your level of trust, safety, and pain.
Understanding how can increase levels of your feel-good hormones will help you create lasting change in all areas of your life. This blog focuses on how you can boost dopamine. Future blogs will discuss your other happy chemicals.
Dopamine is one of your two major happy chemicals. Dopamine affects motivation and focus. Specifically, dopamine:
- drives you to seek rewards
- creates the joy of finding what you’re looking for
- focuses your attention and allows you to be more adaptable.
Traveling to a new city? Getting to your destination is a goal that increases dopamine. Arriving and relaxing is your reward that releases more feel-good dopamine. And the excitement of navigating new streets, eating new food and hearing and seeing new sites gives you a lovely dopamine high. But stay in one place for long and the environment isn’t so much of a novelty anymore. There aren’t many new challenges. As a result, less dopamine is secreted as you grow accustomed to your surroundings. It feels less exciting.
Companies get you hooked
The gaming, television and social media industries create entire products based on dopamine. In his book, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, Nir Eyal, discusses how companies engineer user experiences to profit from our brain’s natural love affair with dopamine.
When you’re scrolling on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest, you’re searching for something that grabs your attention (your reward). Sometimes I’ve found myself scrolling for way too long looking for political or scientific news articles Facebook friends may have posted but I hadn’t seen yet. Or scrolling through videos looking for kids doing silly things or funny dog or a good Jimmy Kimmel or Trevor Noah segment.
When you swipe up you don’t know what’s coming next. It’s that uncertainty and knowing from past experiences that social media will at some point feed you what you crave that replicates the dopamine thrill of the hunt. With each swipe I get a little hit of dopamine to keep me going. And when I find what I’m looking for, I get even more.
Video games and television shows also get us hooked by exploiting feel-good dopamine. Sony’s epically successful game Call of Duty taps into that part of the brain that loves the hunt. There’s an unknown enemy around the next corner, and not knowing what will happen next creates dopamine-induced excitement.
Cliffhanger endings on televisions series that get you jonesing for the next episode work off the same neural pathways. And it’s not just thriller television series like Fauda or Madam Secretary. Producers of reality television bake this formula into their shows. Millions of viewers tune in to see what’s going to happen next on America’s Got Talent or The Bachelorette.
Too much stimulation
The problem is that people have gotten used to so much stimulation and the always-on dopamine high, that when the screens are turned off, people’s mood drops, leaving them feeling sad and troubled. Their brains have associated screens with feeling good and motivates them to get back on to feel normal again.
It’s not just in the virtual world that dopamine gets us hooked. The love of dopamine is one of the same reasons people get addicted to amphetamines, including cocaine, and to gambling and sex. The trick is to recognize the power of dopamine and learn how to control it so you’re focused on getting what will create long-term health and happiness instead of a temporary high followed by a crash. When you do, you’ll know exactly what to do to move in the direction of your goals, change your mood in an instant, and get you to kick ass on whatever you focus your amazing brain to go after.
Boost your own dopamine
Instead of getting you hooked on dopamine in the pursuit of sedentary activities that really don’t help you reach your goals, you can engineer your dopamine pulses to propel you to greater heights. Here’s how.
Step 1: Set an attainable goal. For example, if you want to exercise regularly but aren’t now, simply set the goal of exercising today. Don’t focus on tomorrow. Only today. Then tomorrow do the same. Before long exercise will become a habit.
If you’re not sure what to do for exercise, it doesn’t have to take a lot of equipment or tremendous effort. Simply walking an average of 7,000 steps a day is associated with a nearly 70% decrease in your risk of dying from any cause. And there are ways to work exercise into your everyday life.
If you want to improve your diet, make incremental changes. To help you, my 3-Steps to Eating Healthy for Life can walk you through a tried-and-true process. You can also decide to simply make a smoothie a couple of times a week, then add on to that. Since dopamine is found in bananas, plantains, avocados, oranges, apples, eggplants, spinach, peas, beans, and tomatoes, making sure you’re eating these foods can also help.
Step 2: Evolve your goals. For dopamine to keep pushing you forward to ever greater heights, your goals have to evolve. As you achieve one goal, like eating better or exercising, your brain will start releasing less dopamine. To get that happy dopamine chemical to work for you, you need to create another challenge for yourself. This might be as simple as walking through a different neighborhood, increasing the intensity of your exercise, or experimenting with new spices and recipes. Regularly taking dietary supplements is also an important goal for a lot of people.
One of the beautiful things about dopamine is that this cycle of ever-changing goals, learning, stretching and growing never ends. You can use this happy chemical anytime to your advantage. You know you’re on the right track when you’re feeling energized and motivated. The only thing limiting you is your imagination.
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