Think back to the days when you were a kid. The world was such an exciting place, full of endless opportunities. Riding your bike, playing basketball outside with your friends–the simplest things kept you entertained for hours on end.
Assuming you weren’t married to your video game console, our childhoods are some of the fondest memories we have. Full of boundless energy, creativity, and joy, we lived each day to the fullest and dreaded the idea of sleep; we were always ready to go on an adventure.
As the years passed, nearing adulthood, many, including myself started to feel dull, as if life was stripped of its luster.
Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that is responsible for controlling the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. From an evolutionary standpoint, dopamine is released whenever we perform activities that further our chance of survival, rewarding us for these actions. Thus creating a positive feedback loop in order to increase our desire to perform such activities. Adderall and other amphetamine based drugs take advantage of this pathway by mimicking dopamine, rewarding its user for tedious labor that would not call for a natural surge of dopamine.
Prior to the modern age, dopaminergic reward would be limited to certain events, such as procreation, successfully hunting down a prey, finding a fruit orchard in the wild, etc.. In response to these types of events, dopamine would be released as a reward for the immense effort that courting a mate, or stalking and hunting down a prey takes. Dopamine is naturally released in response to delayed gratification activities coming to fruition.
Flooding the Engine
Today, you won’t have to look far to see dopamine triggers around every corner, accessible to us at the snap of our fingers. HD porn, fast food, video games, social media–these things trigger massive dopamine spikes over longs periods of time due to their perpetual novelty and accessibility. This overabundance of dopamine in the synapse leads to feelings of excitement in the short term, but leads to depression and a decrease in both motivation and energy in the long run. This is due to the fact that dopamine receptors become desensitized to the excessive concentration of dopamine across the synapse, in order to achieve homeostasis. When the stimulus is removed, dopamine receptors remain desensitized, therefore, the body needs more and more dopamine just to feel normal. This is the general mechanism of addiction. Addiction to cheap sources of pleasure have repercussions, which include (and are not limited to) obesity, ADD, anxiety, erectile dysfunction, lack of motivation, O.C.D., depression and lethargy.
To add to all of that, the instant access to dopamine spikes we have today is actually counterproductive to the biological function of dopamine. Recall that dopamine serves as a reward for our hard work paying off. When we are able to have pure neurochemical reward at our fingertips, we end up rewarding ourselves for doing nothing. This vicious cycle of feeling reward for nothing, followed by needing more reward to feel nothing proves disastrous in our ability to do work of any kind. The fact that we are steadily losing our ability to delay present satisfaction for future gain becomes problematic, as today, people would rather watch porn than pursue a potential mate or binge watch Netflix over reading a book.
If you’re reading this and you suffer from any of the following:
- Inability to focus
- Erectile dysfunction
- Social Anxiety
- Lack of motivation
- Decreased willpower
- A general feeling of dullness and passivity
There’s a good chance you have become desensitized to the effects of dopamine.
While it is possible to pelt your neurons with dopamine on a daily basis and still maintain a productive lifestyle through sheer willpower, it is extremely difficult to maintain over the long run. It only gets worse as you inevitably become more and more desensitized as time goes on, leaving you increasingly less willing to perform the necessary tasks that get you where you want to be in life. You wouldn’t give a dog a treat for for sitting around the house and then expect him to do tricks for you. Why would he want to put in work if he constantly gets rewarded for doing nothing? It’s time to stop rewarding yourself for doing nothing and break free from the chemical chains that bind you.
The key to breaking free is to progressively phase out what I like to call neurothrills. These are neurological superstimuli that release excessively high levels of dopamine beyond the level for which we evolved. These stimuli are also prone to abuse due to their extreme ease of access.
After a brief withdrawal phase, the brain’s dopamine receptors become increasingly more sensitive to the effects of dopamine. Depending how desensitized your receptors are to dopamine, the withdrawal phase lasts about 24-72 hours. Once you graduate from this phase, you will typically see your mental clarity and focus improve first, followed by an increased willingness to perform activities that you would normally find mind numbingly boring. From my own experience, as well as that of others, around the one week point, you will notice a marked improvement in mood, confidence and a vast reduction in anxiety.
With each day of avoiding cheap neurothrills, the damage I had given myself from years of dopamine abuse was reversing. The beauty and luster of life revealed itself to me for the first time in years, and so it can for you too.