Could dopamine be the cause?

. 3 min read

Okay. I just think I figured something out. Tell me what you think.

Perhaps the reason one feels weird or can't find the motivation to work or doesn't see the meaning of living or observes the world as this bland pointless thing without hope for the future, is dopamine.

I should have seen this coming long ago. After all, I wrote a freaking book about this. While The Numbing Effect is about meaningful living through regular hard things and rare easy things, it's almost the same thing as to say:

If you get a dopamine release too often, you become numb to its effect, and you'll need more and more to feel it in the future.

While my book is about those special kind of easy things, such as going to the movies or taking a trip or shopping, it's not that hard to see how the concept could ripple down to the most basic forms of easy things, such as browsing the internet or having coffee or checking your email.

No matter what the level of the easy thing, be it a vacation or eating something sweet, it releases dopamine in your brain. Could it be possible that while a vacation once a year releases a ton of dopamine in a short period of time, eating candy every day for a year releases a ton of dopamine in a long period of time?

How are these two different? Fundamentally.

Between your once-a-year vacations, you get to reset your brain. You'll have to wait for the next vacation. You'll detox from the dopamine. It can be nasty in the beginning, just after the dopamine release has ended, but it'll pass, and the next vacation will feel just as amazing a year later.

Between your everyday candy sessions, your brain doesn't have enough time to reset. The detox time is too short to bring down the effects completely, so next day when you have candy again, you'll need more than the previous day. This cycle continues until all you eat is candy, which no longer tastes sweet enough and doesn't release enough dopamine for you to feel pleasure.

(I now understand why we had one designated candy day per week in my childhood. Six days is probably enough to reset the brain from a dopamine release of this scale.)

Okay, so does this mean that there's hope? I can feel alive and hopeful and not-weird again if I just reset my brain? How do I do this?

Well, having written a book about this, I am NO expert. But since I have a ton of experience in life optimization, here's what I would do:

  1. Cut out all social and regular media consumption. (Production is all right.)
  2. Don't touch your phone unless someone calls you. Don't check or reply to messages until the evening.
  3. Before checking your email, do some work.
  4. Before breakfast, do something beneficial (work, meditating, exercise, journaling, walking outside etc.).
  5. Pick a dopamine releasing beverage to motivate you in the beginning of your detox journey. (As in: I can have this cup of coffee while I write this article.)
  6. Only watch movies or play games on the weekends.
  7. Only have sugar and alcohol on the weekends.
  8. Find ways to raise your serotonin levels (exercise, a good diet, quality sleep, sunlight, meditating, low stress).
  9. Create a daily schedule and stick to it.
  10. Get your daily small dopamine release through finishing work-related tasks.

For me specifically, this means no YouTube videos, no movies, no Häagen-Dazs; checking email no more than once a day; and adding an extra stroll around the lake.

It sounds good on paper, but in my mind, I hesitate. I suspect it won't work. I feel like my current state is the normal state and no cheap hack can lift me to some imaginary higher level.

...but then again, rationally, I know it's possible, because I've been there before.

Faith for the win!