Dopamine Detox (probably pt.1) | Day 44 of 100

5min read

One of the key reasons I gave up social media was to reduce the time I spent staring at a screen and scrolling. I would often wonder about what better things I could be dong with my time, but would always find myself returning for the quick dopamine hit. Since leaving the virtual 'second life' behind, I have had more time to spend as I wish. A gap to fill. This gap has filled in a few ways; more reading, more side projects, more home and self-improvement. But also; more video games, more 'normal' media consumption, more procrastination.

Whilst there has been a shift in the proportions of stimulus and information I have been consuming and outputting (from bad to good which is definitely a good thing!), the amount of consumption and output has probably remained the same. This all leads to a similarly busy head, perhaps a more busy head as it is now leaning more on the side of creation rather than consumption. Which I wouldn't mind so much if it were all good. So I have missed one of the purposes of getting rid of social media, to be less 'over-stimulated'.

As mentioned in a few previous posts;

  1. Having less to do more
  2. Boredom is a creative catalyst
  3. Decision fatigue

I think there is great benefit in being stimulated less; being more creative, being able to think clearly enough to make good decisions and being able to know you are deciding for yourself (not based on manipulative influence).

So with the benefits of less stimulus clear, and with the problem area now defined, it is probably about time I actioned a solution. In my view the logical next step is; A Dopamine Detox. I know what you're thinking, “This all sounds very unhappy to me, and anything unhappy probably is not in your best interest Pete.”. To which I say... “Hold your horses! I think this is a great idea! Let me give it a go...” Let's take a look at a 'Dopamine Detox' a bit further.

Dopamine, often coined 'the happy hormone' or 'feel-good chemical', is actually a key component of the brain's reward function. Being a neurotransmitter, Dopamine is a significant aid to the mesolimbic pathway which facilitates reinforcement and reward-based learning. I have a suspicion that there are all sorts of 'rewards' that dopamine is reacting to that I do not necessarily want it to.

Some examples of how modern-day actions manipulate the brain's primal use of dopamine and the mesolimbic pathway; Social media = social acceptance from your peers, Binge eating = obtaining a caloric surplus, video games = increased social acceptance and/or higher on the social hierarchy. To me, all of these are pseudo-rewards. Food is widely available and I know where my next meal is coming from, so I do not need a caloric surplus (for example).

The brain's reward system is not the problem here, it is the way it is being utilised which is. Consciously I agree with my reward system for 'good' actions like reading or side-projects, so I do want to reinforce these behaviours. But as the reward system is over-loaded with stimulus, good or bad, it is over-working. As such, the rewards for completing tasks become diminishing, but like a drug addict we continue to chase the high.

I think a dopamine detox provides an opportunity to reset this. Stop the runaway mesolimbic train, and bring the dopamine balance even more in favour of the good. By giving dopamine – the neurotransmitter – nothing to transmit, we are breaking the circuit and giving the whole reward system and brain a rest. In theory, this means that when we do spin up the dopamine machine again, it's effects are hopefully more potent. The brain after only drinking water for a while can finally have a cocktail. As long as the cocktail is of the good kind and not the bad kind. The reading kind, not the gaming kind.

I sense another upcoming post on the 'how' I intend to give this a go. Hopefully in conjunction with more research.