A behavioral brain trick called “dopamine fasting” has been around for a while now - the idea of restricting most of your pleasurable daily activities — from social media, to watching videos, gaming, or even eating — you can “reset” your brain. The idea also plays into people’s simplistic ideas about how the brain works.
But does it work? TLDR: No, not in my opinion. It is still focused on using willpower to overcome primal drives, using a high stress method of deprivation, rooted in the false notion that dopamine imbalances cause bad habits and addictions. They don't, cultural and mental persecution does. Dopamine rises are the result of MAD habits, caused by trauma and disconnection with positive things.
Instead let’s change all that. Let's use powerful reframing to think positively and take a MAD habit holiday instead so that you can focus on SANE strategies to reconnect you to what you love! This blog is inspired by session 2 of my course: Mindfulness and Emotional Resilience. Here is a summary of some of that session:
Why the focus on Dopamine?
Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that signals anticipation of pleasure. Ir helps you be motivated to get things done and to move. Dopamine pushes you to crave more stimulus. This is a natural drive and nothing is wrong with it. Modern life offers a lot of stimulation of dopamine. Feeling over-stimulated is often a sign of doing too much and getting a high dopamine hit. This can inhibit present moment focus and stop you from enjoying simple things. The opposite neurotransmitter is serotonin - the contentment chemical. The balance of serotonin and dopamine plays a part in our understanding of addiction and I wrote about that here - but does this isn't the root cause, as we once thought.
Is something wrong with you?
For years we've been labouring under the assumption that addicts must have an imbalance of dopamine and serotonin as the cause of addiction and depression. We've relied on drugs to balance these levels. This can help in the short term, but not long term. That's because dopamine isn't the problem, it is the result of a lack of positive connection. If a person is brought up in a negative environment, or doesn't have meaningful work, sustainable income or worse, has a criminal record, then they will feel the pressure of life as stress in the body and negative thinking in the mind. This is the very thing that humans need relief from. In a culture of instant pleasures it makes sense that we find relief in them. These videos discuss the old and new ways of understanding habits and addictions:
How you think about it matters
Ultimately we all trying to escape the negative mind and stress in our bodies, Because we have minds that tend to think negatively we often beat ourselves up about our habits. We have high expectations of ourselves and others, so we talk about our habits as 'bad'. This makes the cravings for relief stronger and make it more likely you'll relapse into the old habit, eventually.
A ‘dopamine detox’ is a way of thinking that uses a serious amount of willpower an ‘deprivation stress' to remove all pleasure. Willpower can get used up. The internal slave driver will sap your energy and make things less enjoyable. How long will it be until you need to escape and find some instant pleasure from the old habit again? What you are really running from is the negativity of the mind, felt as stress in your body. Your body needs some relief. A holiday perhaps?
Reframe your habit change, positively - as a holiday!
If you can use the mind in a cooperative, instead of punishing way then you'll be happier AND get more done. Positive, empowered thinking will not add stress, it will add enjoyment! I have a few suggestions to help you here:
This is my bonkers theory. It is not proven by science.
We have evolved three basic directions to threat detection (stress): Fight, Flight, Freeze. Millions of years of evolution are not overcome by a weekend off your smartphone. The next time you feel lonely or rejected you’ll be back on social media because the powerful autonomic nervous system has evolved to do that. Here are the modern ways we Fight, Flight and Freeze:
Fight: Get busy!
Freeze: Panicked Thinking
To help bring consciousness back into balance we can practice, what I call, SANE strategies. Instead of fighting our reactions we are better served to notice and accept them. That doesn’t mean just give in and do nothing, it means we notice and neutralise negativity and play with some experimental actions. When you notice a MAD habit:
MAD habit holiday
One experiment you can try is a holiday. Pick one thing that you notice is a MAD habit and decide to take a short holiday from it. Write it down and look forward to planning a trip away from it.
Remember - it's a treat. Time off to enjoy yourself. You might consider something you'd actually like to do instead. Write that down too.
A holiday can be an hour, a day, a week, or even a whole month of liberation from something MAD and stressful, You lucky devil! here are some more tools to help you...
Dopamine Doggie Reframe
Clap yourself out of it!
Travel Companion: Accountability Buddy
Find someone enthusiastic, to go on holiday with
I like to tell everyone I’m on holiday and celebrate it daily. I can do it so much better if I holiday with another person. We can call this an ‘accountability buddy’. We encourage and celebrate daily. If we get an urge? Tell them. Call each other ‘lucky swine!’ for the fact they have painful cravings. Ha! That’s because the pain is a good sign - a sign of growth and opportunities for more growth if framed correctly.
Ps. After your holiday you can choose, naturally, without any ‘shoulds’ or willpower, how to re balance your habits. I will probably still look at visual stimulus sometimes! ;)
Want to experience this course or 1:1 coaching - contact me now.
Neil Morbey is a meditation teacher, group facilitator and inspiration guide for Positively-Mindful.com