Where do you spend your dopamine?
Why your relationships suck, healthy eating is boring, and you can’t find motivation for exercise.
Dopamine is limited. Not your willpower.
Dopamine is the one that gives you energy for action.
It directs our energy spendings. Whatever our brain believes is valuable (increasing chances to top up our energy balance) - dopamine is released and we feel energized to pursue that thing - food, business goal, relationships.
No dopamine - no go.
You might have all the energy in the world stored in your cells AND have no energy for your workout today. Why is that? It’s not about what you have - it’s about what your brain allows you to use via dopamine release.
That’s what I learned from reading all the new books about the brain and performance, popular and applied neuroscience, talking to experts every day.
Dopamine is our willpower molecule, it’s a switch to release energy, it’s the turned-on action mode. The less of dopamine is released by the brain regularly - the less willpower to go after challenging and hard stuff you have.
WHY SOME PEOPLE HAVE MORE DOPAMINE DAILY
Our brain monitors our health and energy state all the time.
No energy - no life. It’s the brain’s primary purpose to manage energy.
The brain decides whether any action makes sense from an energy balance perspective. The goal is to spend less and save more. Your brain is a natural energy-wealth manager.
The brain is lazy, and stingy, and negatively-biased. Anything unknown, anything new, anything that might fail is perceived as a waste of resources. Unless we train the brain to believe otherwise.
The brain is not such a great long-term thinker. Your brain is concerned with immediate survival, pleasure, satisfaction not your longevity, that’s always questionable.
So don’t feel bad that your brain chooses “the wrong thing”, it’s actually quite right from the short-term perspective.
Why do then some people tend to have more energy and motivation for the hard stuff?
The more you invest in your health - the better the energy-producing machinery in your body and brain works. You literally make more energy every day via cultivating through your lifestyle choices more and healthier mitochondria.
The more energy you produce - the more dopamine is released to pursue opportunities and harder actions, because you have more to play with. Just like if you have more money in your account - you tend to do more with it. Logical and natural. Our brain does the same with energy.
HOW PROCESSED FOOD AND SOCIAL MEDIA STEAL YOUR DOPAMINE FROM “THE RIGHT STUFF”
Dopamine system is very sensitive and very regulated. It seems that any person can produce only that much dopamine before the down phase starts and we feel like doing less.
And it makes sense, if we are always in the “go go go” mode - we might overspend energy and that puts our life in danger. So nobody has unlimited dopamine amount just like nobody has unlimited energy reserves.
More dopamine is always released when we get more perceived energy ROI - more calories, more pleasure, more status, more comfort, more social interactions. That’s why we are so driven to processed foods, social media, things that make us feel good now - the brain thinks they are the highest value. And for short-term satisfaction they are!
The more pleasure we get - the higher the perceived value is, and the more dopamine is released to pursue more - that’s how addiction happens. You just want the high! With no work ideally.
The problem with that - long-term a lot of those things make our life worse - health problems, weight problems, relationship problems, while we are chasing superficial stuff like likes on social media, instead of investing in more rewarding but complex relationships.
The other problem is that processed food, processed entertainment, social media likes, these things drive dopamine higher than satisfaction from eating a healthy meal. And then you are never happy with things that are actually good for you.
It’s like if you spend every day riding a roller-coaster, your day without it starts to seem dull! No highs, no lows, just regular stuff.
In relationships, we start searching for the fun stuff only, for “the dessert”, for the likes and approval VS focusing on the foundational stuff, your “essential nutrients”, the love, the care, the compromise - the work that we put into great long-term relationships. You want the easy stuff!
I think I personally found that our “processed culture”, our instant gratification culture made us believe that everything either should be easy or it’s wrong. Like the career path, relationships, health journey they got to be full of highs and pleasant stuff and excitement and the rest is “bad” or to be avoided.
Life is actually the opposite.
Most people approach life like they approach their nutrition. People seek to maximize desserts and minimize protein and vegetables. For long-term thriving - it’s the opposite of what works.
HOW EASY PLEASURES MAKE YOUR LIFE SUCK
Back to dopamine.
Dopamine is limited.
Dopamine system is downregulated when we overstimulate dopamine pathways, when we overindulge in pleasurable, no-work stuff.
When it’s downregulated we feel like not doing much (especially hard stuff like exercise or going an extra mile for the other person or our work), we aren’t excited about the small things in life (that give US less of a dopamine spike) and that’s how you start to feel like your life sucks compared to all the Instagram pictures of other people. (Hello depression?). And you become a short-term thinker - you want it all right now with as little work as possible.
Where do you think this will lead you?
An unhealthy body that feels sluggish and incapable, a job that sucks, and relationships where you feel like other people are always bad since they don’t give you everything you want.
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Back to your dopamine spending habits.
Have you noticed that very productive people do not waste their time on always-available 24-7 social media culture? Have you noticed that people YOU admire for the results, they minimize instant gratification from processed foods and cheap entertainment, they train themselves to get gratification from things they work hard on.
People you admire spend their dopamine very wisely, in pursuit of meaningful, and that’s why they seem to have limitless energy. They just spend it where it matters - on deep work, relationships that last and endure, personal growth. Not on social media, junk food, and TV.
Andrew Huberman, the most popular neuroscientist these days, said that when we train our dopamine to mostly pursue the easy stuff that gives a lot of pleasure with no work - that’s a recipe for life when you are never satisfied, impatient, thinking everything should just fall into your hands without any work.
HOW TO INCREASE WILLPOWER FOR DOING “THE RIGHT STUFF”
If you want to get better at pursuing the hard goals consistently - if you want to eat healthily and exercise, work on harder goals and growth in your business or career, if you want to build great relationships that last - you got to eliminate the “easy” sources of pleasure. Unless literally deserved, like a dessert once a week because you’ve been putting consistent effort into your lifestyle.
I personally, just like Andrew Huberman recommends, try to get my pleasures from the outcomes of hard work itself. I don’t exercise to eat a cookie. I exercise to feel and look amazing - that I love. I don’t work on my coaching business to buy a dress. I work on it because I love feeling that I’m great at something and getting better, serving people, and making the world better. I don’t work on relationships because of what I can get from someone. I work on deeper relationships because it makes life feel amazing when you share deeper experiences with people who you’ve built lifelong connections with. And that’s why I don’t care much about cookies, material stuff or likes. Nice. But it’s not something I’m chasing. Or spending my dopamine on.
All the people you admire have this thing in common - they get pleasure from the results of their efforts, cause they learned the pleasure hit from the easy stuff isn’t lasting or meaningful. So be careful where you spend your dopamine and what you choose to chase, because that is what makes you truly happy or miserable, while constantly chasing the next satisfaction hit.
▶️Look at your habits and write them down for a day. What stuff in your life, gives you instant gratification without any work❓ Junk food, social media chats, brainless entertainment that requires no thinking?
▶️Eliminate. Minimize. Restrict ruthlessly.
▶️Put all that time into actions that build the future you truly want, the person you want to be “when you grow up”.
*Warning❗ It’ll suck a lot at first.
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