Changing Habits

Keep Dopamine Under Control and Reach Your Targets – Part 1

Resist dopamine's take over you
wrote this on January 20, 2013 / 7 comments

Have you ever received a new toy that made you feel extremely excited or met someone who inspired you? Are you following every new release your favorite brand pushes through the media? I’m sure that on some level you do because everyone loves that “shiny toy feeling”.

You know what I’m talking about; a warm feeling in your gut that happens every time you’re exposed to something new or make a new discovery about something you’re passionate about, it can be:

- News about a person or a product

- Meeting that person or acquiring that product

- Or even discovering a new way to do something

Let’s take a micro-level look at what happens inside our brains when we’re exposed to innovation…

The joy of exploring and the exposure that ensues is actually a result of a mechanism called anticipation; yes, good old anticipation. Anticipation is a stress reliever because it releases endorphins, creates imaginative speculations that help us see future possibilities.  This ultimately promotes the stickiness of both new habits and also our constant thriving for new toys.

Why? Well, as it turns out our brain is wired to constantly look for new rewards. We’re always on the lookout, searching for the next pattern and the rewards it may provide.  Need an example, think monkeys, trees and fruit. The monkey that finds the fruit first, eats, get full, but then is on the search again.  Once identifying it and obtaining the reward, it moves on to try and identify other patterns and new rewards creating higher anticipation levels and fueling its (and our) brain with dopamine to keep it in a euphoric, almost obsessed state for a short period.  Can someone say addiction…?

After we get what we want, the excitement fades away and we calm down (e.g. it’s just a phone!), we identified all the associated rewards related to that new toy and stop anticipating new ones.

As a result, we immediately move on to look for new patterns and rewards.  Since the dopamine levels we experienced earlier faded as we are looking to satisfy our dopamine habit.  This results in increased level of dopamine transmission in our brain that supports the effort to reproduce that previously euphoric state.

This dopamine chasing can get distracting and can have a significant effect on our productivity.  How can we stay focused with all these dopamine adventures? How can we keep goals, deadlines and relationships while nourishing our previous engagements even after the initial excitement fades away?

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The answer is: Plan change (chasing new patterns) and introduce it regularly into daily activities.

Be In Control and Under Control

Lucky for us, we know how our brain works and we can sort of cheat it so it’ll comply with changes we want to introduce…of course, that’s easier said than done.

In Keep Dopamine Under Control and Reach Your Targets – Part 2, I’ll discuss how to establish an effective change mechanism, keeping your dopamine in check while increasing  productivity to reach your targets…stay tuned.

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