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 take self-judgement, comparison and expectation out of the equation so that there is less stress (the very thing that drives the craving for relief) and more inspiration.
This blog is inspired by session 2 of my course: Mindfulness and Emotional Resilience. Here is a summary of some of that session:
Are habits biological or psychological or environmental?
Our reward systems - the old view of addiction
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 balance of dopamine and it's antidote, serotonin, 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.
It's not in the genes, it's in our society and in your own mind!
For years we've been labouring under the assumption that addicts are that way due to an imbalance of dopamine and serotonin, and so we've relied on drugs to balance these levels. This can help in the short term, but not long term. That's because dopamine 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 inner and outer persecucion is the very thing that humans need relief from as shown in these insightful videos:
How you think about it matters
We all have 'monkey 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 drives the habits - it adds stress, which 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:
Here's some ideas...
MAD habit holiday
One experiment you can try is a holiday. Pick one thing that you notice is a old, unhelpful 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 stressful and unhelpful, 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