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    Self-Optimization — Optimization

    Get Motivated & Stop Bad Habits With A Dopamine Detox

    Get Motivated & Stop Bad Habits With A Dopamine Detox

    Dopamine detox? Wait, isn’t dopamine good for you?

    Well, yes and no. In the words of the illustrious poet and playwright, Oscar Wilde, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”

    Like so many things that are good for us, the use of everything must be considered in its proper context. Water is essential for life. However, while rare, a person can literally drown himself by drinking too much water at one time. This phenomenon is called water toxemia. 

    Sunlight is essential for our good health, especially the formation of Vitamin D, but we all know what happens when we experience too much sun exposure at one time. Like Goldilocks, we need to pursue not too little, and not too much. Ditto with dopamine.

    Today, as in times past, people are hooked on dopamine. Actually, they’re hooked on the activities that cause our brains to secrete dopamine. To be more specific, human beings are hooked on pleasure, and activities that produce pleasurable experiences. This dependency on activities that cause dopamine levels to spike has given rise to a new type of fast: fasting from activities that cause dopamine release. This is a brain/mind fast, rather than a metabolic fast. Proponents of the dopamine fast have ascribed the term; ‘Dopamine Detox’. 

     

     

    The principle behind dopamine detox involves abstaining from activities that are likely to create pleasure for a specified period, perhaps one day, or perhaps for a week. This may include cutting back or eliminating:

    • Anything you would normally associate with instant gratification, which is just about everything we pursue in our lives these days (no, you shouldn’t hibernate)
    • Cut down on the amount of information flowing into your consciousness
    • Put the stimulants and psychoactive substances away for now
    • Images involving members of the opposite sex (or same sex) who are not fully clothed and engaging in potentially population-increasing activities
    • Stick with healthy, but bland-tasting food (just for the detox)

    Proponents of the dopamine detox put much of the blame for, what they term ‘today’s dopamine addiction’, on screens; computer, television, phone, tablet, kindle, games - oh my, we have so many varieties of screens. Since our lives are literally dependent on screens, we can only ‘cold-turkey’ screens for a day or two per week, perhaps on the weekends. However, there are ways to cut back, such as:

    • Cut back or eliminate visits to social media sites
    • Cut down on the electronic notifications coming from your devices (they create a ‘Pavlov’s dog’ physiological reaction when we hear them)
    • Unsubscribe from invasive media, like newsletters, updates, and alerts
    • Keep phone on ‘do not disturb’ setting

    What is Dopamine?

    Dopamine is a hormone secreted in two areas of the brain which acts as a neurotransmitter, facilitating communication between brain cells. It is involved in a variety of physical and psychological activities, including our movement through space, our appetite, and various cognitive functions, including speech. 

    Dopamine is also involved in the pursuit of reward. When we do something we enjoy, dopamine release tells the brain that the action associated with the enjoyment is something we should experience more of. So, the release of dopamine in this context alters human behavior by spurring us to repeat activities that produce pleasure and desirable rewards.

    Dopamine alters mood. Actions that are associated with rewards make us feel good. Low levels of dopamine can actually cause us to lose interest in vital activities, like eating and drinking, since low dopamine reduces or removes the pleasure factor. 

    Dopamine helps the mind focus attention, since anything which is rewarding is worth paying attention to.

    Dopamine causes the brain to seek reinforcement through repeated behaviors. It’s the magic substance that prompts lab animals to press the lever that releases pellets of food, over and over. This type of reinforcement was a necessary feature of survival for early humans, helping people learn where and when to find essential elements, like food and water, so that they could return for more. 

    The Two Faces of Dopamine

    Dopamine also has a dark side, with respect to its role in helping to perpetuate addictive behaviors. Street drugs, like cocaine, nicotine, and heroin cause big spikes in dopamine. In fact, part of the ‘high’ that people experience with these types of intoxicants, derives directly from the release of dopamine itself. 

    This dopamine spike causes drug users to seek out these drugs, again and again, even though they know they’re harmful. The associated reward can lead to drug abuse and drug addiction.

    One feature of addiction is what is termed ‘tolerance’, the phenomenon of lowered pleasure-reward, associated with repeated use or action. In other words, the first time you use a street drug, for example, you get a strong ‘high’. But if one consumes the same drug a short time later, a user will not experience nearly as much effect as the first use. Researchers have been able to tie this phenomenon with a lower release of dopamine on the second and subsequent uses of the substance.

     

     

    Dopamine Addiction

    The term, ‘dopamine rush’, has been coined to describe the feelings that people derive from a sudden, pleasurable experience. This could result from finding money on the ground or consummating the acquisition of a highly desired item. Some have concluded that it is the dopamine itself that we become addicted to. But researchers have concluded that it is not the dopamine, per se, that people become attached to, but the underlying activity itself. 

    When dopamine is released, the brain retains clues associated with the underlying experience, to help find it again. Was it a substance, a behavior, or an activity? Was it experienced at night, in the morning? Was there a particular place or person associated with the experience? When we encounter these cues later on, dopamine causes a trigger or desire or urge for that experience that is difficult to ignore. 

    This process, of course, doesn’t necessarily involve harmful substances or activities. It may involve the work we are engaged in, eating healthy, nutritious food, creating art, or engaging in sports and healthy activities. 

    Dopamine and the Flow State

    A popular 1990 book entitled, “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience”, by Hungarian-American psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is gaining a resurgence of interest amongst active people who are looking to enhance their levels of happiness and life satisfaction.  

    The state of flow takes place when a person’s attention is so immersed in a given activity, that his sense of self-awareness is lost for some time, replaced by a union of consciousness between the subject and the activity itself.  

    This absorption into the activity is so complete, that everything else which is going on around the person, is completely blocked out.  The person’s attention has withdrawn, or ‘disengaged’ from the outside world and all thoughts which are unrelated to the activity.  The entire person, both body and mind, are fully invested in the activity.  Achieving this state of flow enhances the performance of the activity, while creating a sense of genuine satisfaction and happiness.  

    The experience of flow is actually fairly common and is something which every person has experienced, although some people seem to achieve it easier.  After experiencing flow, some have used the popular expression, “I was in the zone”. 

    Modern neuroscientists have now tracked a distinct pattern of neurochemical responses that are associated with inducement of the Flow State. Five neurotransmitters interact to help induce ‘Flow’. Topping the list, of course, is dopamine. 

    • Dopamine
    • Norepinephrine
    • Endorphins
    • Anandamide
    • Serotonin

    But researchers don’t believe that dopamine creates pleasure, but rather helps to reinforce enjoyable sensations by associating things or activities that are pleasurable with a desire to repeat them. 

    There are, in fact, neurotransmitters that do cause feelings of pleasure directly. 

    • Serotonin
    • Endorphins
    • Oxytocin

     

     

    Dopamine Detox in the Twenty-First Century

    The dopamine detox has been adopted and heralded by certain people, especially Silicon Valley intellectuals, as a means to refocus the brain on certain activities which need our attention, but are often ignored or put off because they do not produce much of a dopamine rush. 

    They recommend a type of ‘intermittent dopamine detox’, where certain periods of time are designated for abstention from pleasurable activities. They believe that the process helps to reprogram the brain, making everyday, mundane activities fun and more enjoyable.

    This abstention can be mild or fairly severe, including activities such as sex, tasty foods, exercise, social media, video games, and even chatting and gossiping with friends. They may even go so far as avoiding eye contact and fast physical movements, all in an effort to avoid stimulation. The catchwords for allowed activities might be, ‘bland, vanilla, beige, mundane, commonplace, boring, everyday, humdrum, uninteresting, ordinary, mild, lackluster’, (my thesaurus just crashed). 

    The purpose behind this escape from sin and pleasure into the realm of blandness is an attempt to reset the brain’s reward system, wired in large part by dopamine. The dopamine detox has, of course, stirred controversy. 

    Critics claim that adherents have pushed the practice to impractical and unnecessary extremes. Some medical people argue that the trend oversimplifies the role that dopamine plays in brain physiology, to the point of being inaccurate and misleading. 

    The One-Week Dopamine Detox Protocol

    In order to pursue this weeklong detox protocol, which admittedly is a bit severe, plan for a weekend of contemplative, old-school, low technology activities. Make up a list of low-dopamine activities that you can engage in, in advance. Schedule the weekend with these low-dopamine activities, to make sure you are not tempted to engage in screen-watching.

    Your low-dopamine activities could include such things as:

    • Writing
    • Meditating
    • Walks
    • Exercise
    • Visualization
    • Face-to-face conversations with close friends (post-covid)
    • Play with your pet, if you have a pet, and if not, borrow a pet
    • Enjoy a low-excitement hobby, like needle-point, or wood-working
    • Pull weeds and/or plant flowers
    MONDAY –
    • Switch off all push notification on electronic devices
    • Unsubscribe from all redundant email lists
    • Set all email apps to manually refresh

    TUESDAY – 

    • Isolate and silence all devices during meal times

    WEDNESDAY – 

    • Switch off all electronic devices 120 minutes before retiring for bed
    • Cold-turkey all alcohol, stimulants, and similar substances until Monday AM

    THURSDAY – 

    • Begin alternative low-dopamine activities to replace normal activities after work
    • Cut television time in half
    • No sex (of any kind) until Monday

    FRIDAY – 

    • Cold-turkey all television from 5:00 PM onward until Monday morning
    • Cold-turkey all email from 5:00 PM onward until Monday morning
    • No posting on social media from 5:00 PM onward until Monday morning

    SATURDAY – 

    • Screen-free all day
    • Engage in low-dopamine, low stress, low excitement activities all day

    SUNDAY – 

    • Screen-free all day
    • Engage in low-dopamine, low stress, low excitement activities all day

    THE FOLLOWING WEEK –

    Take some time to assess how you feel, and in particular, your cognitive function, especially clarity, memory, focus, and energy levels. Then, plan for your next dopamine detox. 

    Waxing Philosophical

    So, what’s behind our relentless pursuit of pleasure? Eastern mystics claim that the essential, innate quality of the human soul is bliss. People pursue pleasure and happiness in an attempt to discover and experience their innate ‘selves’. Dopamine-inducing experiences become a kind of proxy in our quest to know and experience our higher selves. 

    These same mystics would urge us to seek happiness and pleasure (bliss) directly, within our own consciousness. They claim that various forms of meditation and contemplation can quiet both body and mind, allowing for direct contact with our blissful, inner selves within a state of undisturbed quiescence.

    4 Steps To Make Your Habits Stick and Achieve Your New Year’s Goals

    4 Steps To Make Your Habits Stick and Achieve Your New Year’s Goals

    Making new year’s resolutions is an established component to modern life. Every year, everyone is reminded, by friends and the media, of the time-honored tradition. It’s an opportunity to take stock of ourselves, or lives, and our habits; an opportunity to establish a commitment to self-improvement.

    Anyone who is keen on improving themselves and their life might pose the obvious question: “Why wait until the new year to initiate these positive changes?” It’s a rhetorical question, of course, one worthy of contemplation. But if we didn’t have this annual reminder, many people might never address the issue of personal development and self-improvement.  

    New year’s resolutions are not just a component to modern life. The tradition has been around a long time. Historians claim that the ancient Babylonians were the first culture to make annual, new year’s resolutions, 4000 years ago. They believed that if they kept their resolutions, the gods would look upon them more favorably. If not, they risked the wrath of the gods, a chilling proposition for an ancient Babylonian.  

    Common Resolutions

    Researchers claim that the top ten new year’s resolutions for Americans are:

    1. Exercise more
    2. Lose weight
    3. Get better organized
    4. Initiate a new skill or hobby 
    5. Live life more fully
    6. Save more and spend less money
    7. Quit smoking (insert alternative destructive habit)
    8. Spend more time with family and friends
    9. Travel more
    10. Read more books, watch less TV

    Resolutions #1 and #2 are, of course, interrelated, with activity being an essential component to weight control.  With two thirds of Americans being either overweight or obese, it’s logical that #1 and #2 would rise to the top of the list.  

    Regrettably, the percentage of people who need to lose weight doesn’t appear to change much from year to year, so the obvious conclusion is: people don’t tend to keep their resolutions, or at least they don’t keep #1 and #2.  


    Most People Fail at Their Resolutions

    The first step in making new year’s resolutions is to write them down. This creates a level of manifestation, and manifestation is the name of the game. Until we act on our resolutions, they remain in the realm of thoughts and theory. Thoughts and theory are a good starting point, but if we don’t resist that extra donut, they are clearly not sufficient. What is required is action. If we don’t act on our resolutions, what’s the point?

    According to a 2002 research study, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, only 46% of the people who made new year’s resolutions, were able to follow through successfully. The other side of this coin tells us that the majority of those who make new year’s resolutions, fail.

    The same study also looked at a population of people who did not make specific resolutions, but who did have a goal that they wanted to achieve in the new year. Surprisingly, the study concluded that only 4% of this population were successful in reaching their goals. Doing the math, those that actually made a tangible resolution were ten times more likely to achieve their goal than those that had the goal, but made no specific resolution to achieve it. The obvious conclusion is that the act of making the resolution has significant value. 

    How to Create Positive Habits

    In general, the establishment of a new habit benefits from these four steps:

    Make it easy – Whatever behavior you want to foster should be easy to adopt. This includes the process you utilize to establish the habit. 

    Make it obvious – Your contemplation of the habit you want to adopt should be conceived and written down in a way that makes it completely clear.

    Make it attractive – The habit itself should be one that is desirable.

    Made it satisfying – The new habit should have a clear payoff, with respect to its likelihood to create a tangible benefit to your life. 

    The Secret to Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions

    There are a number of specific helping factors which can be used to initiate and maintain your resolutions, including:

    1. Establish the right mindset.  Before establishing your new resolutions, take stock of where you are with your current goals and habits. Did you create new year’s resolutions last year? If so, how did you do? Have you succeeded in applying them to your life? Have you met some or all of your last years’ goals? Will this year’s resolutions be a continuation of some of the ones you initiated a year ago? If you did make progress, give yourself credit. Try to set realistic goals for yourself, perhaps in stages. Don’t expect sudden changes. Remain positive.
    2. Set goals that will help motivate you. Don’t adopt goals or resolutions that are dictated by people around you. Focus on you, and your own aspirations and needs. Choose resolutions that you feel enthusiastic about adopting. They should resonate with your personal goals, aspirations, dreams, and priorities.
    3. Limit your resolutions. This means not only the number of resolutions you list, but also the process required to achieve them. If you think you have too many resolutions, write all of them down. Then rank them in order of priority. The ones at the top of your list are the resolutions to go after. Remember, it’s better to have complete success at one resolution than failure at many.
    4. Make your intentions clear. Be specific about your goal. Try to quantify what success will look like to you. Make sure that the goal is attainable within a realistic timeframe. And make sure that attaining the goal is appropriate to you and your life and needs.
    5. Break up bigger resolutions into smaller, manageable tasks. Perhaps a monthly scorecard will help. Prioritize these tasks and establish benchmarks. Focus on each step, rather than the total resolution. 
    6. Create tangible, visual reminders. Write your resolutions down. Create a picture or graphic you can place at your desk, in your car, or on your wall that reminds you daily. Each time you are reminded of your resolution, do something that very day that contributes toward your goal.
    7. Make your resolutions known to others, especially those in your life who play a supportive role. Now, you’re on notice. How will it look to your friends and family when you come up short? Be accountable, not only to yourself, but to your associates. Guilt can be a strong motivator. 
    8. Embrace technology that will support your resolution quest. The app world is replete with organizers and calendars with reminder beeps and to-do lists, and the like. Utilize whatever you need to help you stay on track.
    9. Revisit your resolutions regularly, daily if feasible. Approach your resolutions like an accountant. At a minimum, audit your progress on a monthly basis.
    10. Don’t give up. Even if you find yourself off track on your resolutions, keep at it. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

    Breaking Your Bad Habits

    Resolutions can involve adopting new, positive habits, and it can also involve eliminating negative, destructive habits. In general, breaking habits involves:

    Make it invisible – If there is something in your life that stands in your way of self-improvement, especially something tangible or physical, try to eliminate it, or put it out of your everyday view or routine. 

    Make it unattractive – Spend some time in contemplation about the habit in question, paying attention to how this habit impacts you and your life in a negative way. Write these observations down.

    Make it difficult – Sometimes you can put some distance between you and a habit by simply making it more difficult for yourself to engage in it, somehow.

    Make it unsatisfying – In your self-analysis, take time to consider whether or not this habit actually provides any satisfaction in your life. Be honest with yourself.

    Some New Year’s Resolution Possibilities

    For those who don’t already have a laundry list of possibilities for new year’s resolutions, here are some to consider.

    Meditation 

    All day long, we do and do and do. We’re busy juggling our careers, our families, and our personal interests. We go, non-stop. Try not-doing. Meditation is the art of not-doing. This means both physical and mental not-doing. The great Chinese sage, Lao Tzu, called it ‘Wu Wei’, or actionless action. 

    Find a comfortable spot with no distractions. Put the dog outside. Chase the children away. Turn down the lights. Sit quietly for 15-30 minutes. Once you adopt a posture, don’t move, physically. Close your eyes and gaze within, as if you’re looking at a screen, your inner screen. Without putting any stress on your face or eyes, pinpoint your attention in the center of the screen. Keep your attention engaged on seeing within. When random thoughts arise, ignore them and continue with your inner gaze.

    Gratitude

    Spend some time thanking yourself and the universe for what you have. We spend too much time stressing over what we don’t have. Gratitude is an expression of love. Love is the panacea for everything.

    Experience nature

    Make it a point to spend more time out in nature. Breath in the clean air and enjoy the plants and scenery. Get out of that stuffy office or apartment and feel alive! 

    Journaling

    Writing down your thoughts and reflections is one of the most effective methods for achieving self-transformation. There are few activities you can engage in that are more beneficial for anyone seeking self-improvement. Describe what happened during the day. How did your thoughts and actions impact your resolutions, for better or worse.

    Embrace healthy activities

    Keep your body healthy and vital by supplementing your diet. Try experiencing cold exposure with a cold shower or bath, recognized as a powerful immune booster and stress buster. Be good to yourself.

    Better Brain, Better Life

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