Dopamine is a neurochemical that plays a vital role in our motivation and willpower.
Whenever the brain anticipates a reward, it releases dopamine to stimulate us to take the necessary actions to obtain that reward.
In other words, without dopamine, we wouldn't feel motivated to improve ourselves, build a better life, or pursue our goals.
But nowadays, a new problem has emerged:
Cheap, easy sources of instant gratification that have been purposefully designed to hijack our dopamine circuits.
As entrepreneur, investor, and fascinating thinker Naval Ravikant said, "The modern devil is cheap dopamine."
The most common sources of cheap dopamine are:
The problem with these sources of cheap dopamine is that it requires nearly zero effort to make us feel good.
It's easy, instant gratification.
This depletes our drive and motivation to work on more challenging (but more rewarding) long-term goals that require delaying gratification.
I mean, why go through the physical effort of going to the gym when you can feel 'good' simply by watching Netflix with a bag of chips on the couch?
Why go through the mental effort of working on a side-hustle when you can feel entertained simply by scrolling through social media for hours?
And why go through the potential pain of rejection that comes with dating when you can also watch porn every day?
Without leaving our comfort zone (or even leaving our house), we can escape into a world of highly stimulating distractions.
This is a real problem.
When we have 24/7 access to instant gratification, we'll become couch potatoes who don't produce anything valuable, achieve meaningful goals, or experience the richness that life has to offer.
Instant gratification triggers an intense, short-lived burst of feel-good hormones. But when this short-lived burst is over, dopamine levels crash below baseline - leaving us feeling empty and unfulfilled.
This results in seeking even more instant gratification because we want to fill the emptiness. Before you know it, you're stuck in a spiral of distractions (for example, you can't seem to stop checking your phone every few minutes).
No wonder dopamine is often called the molecule of more.
When we let cheap dopamine distract us for too long, we'll go nowhere in life. It doesn't make us healthier, happier, or more productive. All it does is keep us from being our best, highest-performing selves.
As Thibaut Meurisse, author of Dopamine Detox, wrote:
"Today's society is designed to hijack your dopamine neurotransmitters. And, unfortunately, this is not designed in your best interest, it is designed to empty your wallet as effectively and thoroughly as possible."
All in all, our lives will become much more productive and meaningful when we stop falling prey to constant overstimulation and instant gratification.
To make this actionable, follow these methods to reset your dopamine levels:
Of course, there's a time and place for easy relaxation and blowing off steam. That's totally okay.
The main point is to not lose yourself in the abundance of quick and easy sources of instant gratification surrounding us.
If you strive for a high-performing life, you'll have to train your brain to do hard things, delay gratification, and resist cheap dopamine.
Founder Personal Growth Lab
At PGL, we share science-based tools and routines to optimize your health, cognitive performance, and productivity.