Hooked On Pleasure? Try a dopamine fast.

When we do something we enjoy the brain releases a little bit of dopamine and we feel good. But one of the most important discoveries in the field of neuroscience in the past 75 years is that pleasure and pain are processed in the same parts of the brain and that the brain tries hard to keep them in balance.

Now, before you yell “bullshit”, we’ll do it for you.

A dopamine fast is bullshit. Well, kinda. Dopamine is one of the body’s neurotransmitters, and is involved in our body’s system for reward, motivation, learning, and pleasure. While dopamine does rise in response to rewards or pleasurable activities, it doesn’t actually decrease when you avoid overstimulating activities, so a dopamine “fast” doesn’t actually lower your dopamine levels.

You can’t fast from a naturally occurring chemical in your body but you can limit your access to some of the externally-driven things that provide an onslaught of pleasure for a little while. You can take a break from the texts, the notifications, the beeps, and the rings that accompany living in a modern, technology-centric society.  Instead of automatically responding to these reward-inducing cues, which provide us with an immediate but short-lived charge, we ought to allow our brains to take breaks and reset from this potentially addictive bombardment. The idea is that by allowing ourselves to feel lonely or bored, or to find pleasures in doing simpler and more natural activities, we will regain control over our lives and be better able to address compulsive behaviors that may be interfering with our happiness.

6 Behaviors That Could Respond To A “Dopamine Fast”

  1. Emotional eating
  2. Excessive internet usage and Gaming
  3. Gambling and Shopping
  4. Porn and Masturbation
  5. Thrill and Novelty Seeking
  6. Recreational drugs

A productive dopamine fast is about mindfulness, good sleep hygiene, and self-awareness in general areas of our lives. It’s not necessary to become ascetic. In fact, many psychologists say adopting an austere ascetic lifestyle may actually spur the opposite effect of reducing our immediate responses to pleasure.

What A Dopamine Fast Isn’t

– Reducing dopamine (the focus is on reducing impulsive BEHAVIOR)

– Avoiding all stimulation (focuses only on specific behaviors that are problematic for you)

– Not talking/socializing/exercising (actually encourages values-aligned health behaviors)

– Rebranding meditation/asceticism/sabbath (doesn’t involve meditating or not working)

– Vacation (people treat vacations as times to indulge even more in bad habits)

If you want to learn more about dopamine fasting and impulse control, take a look at this in-depth article.

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