There is something slowly killing our society – and we are perhaps more addicted than we think.
I have been running weekly behaviour change sessions for over 5 years and lately I have been noticing the ongoing challenge with addiction especially related to screens, alcohol, unhealthy food and online shopping. All these habits are keeping many stuck in cycles of behaviour that are not in alignment with the life they want to create or the human they choose to be.
Over the covid pandemic, all or some of these activities, became a way to cope with the effects of isolation and loneliness. A way to temporarily ‘feel good’ amongst the stress, overwhelm and uncertainty we were experiencing. New neural pathways were created and over the months and years of the pandemic our baseline for feeling good changed dramatically. This has left us unconsciously aiming for much higher levels of ‘outside’ stimulation yet feeling unmotivated, lethargic, bored and frustrated with our lives.
As a society we are in the midst of severe dopamine addiction.
Dopamine is one of the most powerful chemicals that our brain releases. It is the driving force controlling our wants and our craving. It drives us unconsciously to crave novelty and outside stimulation. It is so compelling that it has the power to drive our behaviour to what we have been programmed to do rather that what we truly want to do.
Dopamine is released in massive quantities when we drink alcohol, eat high
fat and high sugar food. Other activities that create a dopamine rush include scrolling social media, dating apps, you tube videos and porn sites. Binge watching Netflix, playing games on our phone, internet shopping and overspending. The list continues.
It is a feel-good chemical, released by our brain which motivates us to take powerful action in anticipation of an alluring and immediate reward. The sound of a text message arriving – the smell of greasy food – the endless temptation to scroll on social media – the sudden thought or vivid imagery of an activity that brings us instant pleasure.
Dopamine keeps us wanting more but never actually fulfills what we truly desire. Here is the thing – dopamine has no control over whether we enjoy something or not. It has no control as to whether we receive the pleasure we are trying to find. And even when we do receive the pleasure it’s usually short lived and combined with a result of feeling depleted, empty and overstimulated.
This over stimulation in turn leads to exhaustion, memory loss, fatigue, laziness, apathy, weight gain, impotence, low self-esteem and feelings of hopelessness. More than anything it compels us to do what we have been programmed to do through our past habits and patterns of avoidance as opposed to engaging in activities that are healthy and aligned with what we desire.
If you are relating to any of this, then perhaps it’s time to change your relationship to this powerful chemical. A dopamine fast can support you to feel more in control again and to find pleasure in the simple things.
So, I am sure you are thinking – What is a dopamine fast? How do I do a dopamine fast?
A dopamine fast is choosing to abstain from activities that bring you instant gratification. It is a great way to reset your brain and disrupt addictive behaviours so that you can feel pleasure again from activities that are simpler and healthier.
When we do a dopamine fast, we don’t fast from dopamine – we rather fast from the activities that reinforce the cycle of dopamine so that we can create new habits that are more aligned to who we want to be and the life we want and choose to create. OUR MEGA SELF LIFE.
Here are some signs that dopamine addiction is negatively affecting your life.
- You are continuing to engage in activities that interfere with your health – mentally, physically and emotionally.
- You have tried to cut down on your behaviour but have been unable to.
- The behaviour is causing negative effects in your life and your relationships.
- You feel disconnected from society and community but given the opportunity you would rather stay home to engage in the activity. Afterwards you feel worse– the reward and pleasure you were seeking did not match the anticipation.
Let’s talk about how to do a dopamine fast.
- Choose a single behaviour you want to release. An example could be that you scroll through your phone before bed each night for hours. This causes you stay up later than you desire, which effects your sleep quality and in turn your ability to feel productive and motivated the next day.
- Choose an amount of time you want to abstain from that activity. In the example above you might choose to make this a constant change. Other examples could include starting with 1 hour of abstinence that you increase slowly. It might be working up to only watching 3 episodes of Netflix a week if you are a serous binger. Often this isn’t about complete long-term abstinence but more a feeling that you are in control and can create a healthy limit that you can adhere to and that doesn’t negatively impact your life.
- Find other activities to fill this space in a healthy way. Using the MEGA SELF framework can be extremely helpful. Examples could include:
- Write/Journal (with pen and paper)
- Go for walks
- Do deep thinking
- Drink water
- Visualize the life you want to create
- Breathe work
- Gratitude practices
- Cook with foods as close to their natural state as possible.
- Spend time in nature.
- Connect with friends face to face
- Complete an activity around the house you have been procrastinating
- Declutter a space.
By slowly rebooting this part of your brain you will notice increased energy levels, joy, productivity and feeling like you are an active participant in your life again.
The average Australian smartphone usage equates to 5.5 hours a day – this is 33% of our waking hours. What activity could you be doing with this time that positively fuels connection, joy and pleasure in a way that sustained and promoted continued growth, mental wellness and personal empowerment.
This is PROJECT MEGA SELF.