Two weeks ago I was writing in the newsletter about how dopamine made us addicted to social media. This week I listened to a Podcast that I enjoyed A LOT. The podcast is the Huberman Lab, hosted by a Neuroscience Professor at Stanford.

In this episode, Andrew explains in detail how dopamine works and how you can, after understanding it, improve your motivation (that is directly connected to dopamine). These are the key insights that I got from the podcast:

Dopamine hits are a myth

There are no dopamine hits. You have a baseline of dopamine that can increase and decrease. This baseline will define how motivated you are. If the baseline is too low you could be depressed.

Increases in dopamine are relative to the context

Every change in dopamine will depend on the baseline. As an example: If you see an Instagram post that you like a lot, dopamine will increase. If you see another image after that, the dopamine will not increase as much, as it will be already above the baseline. But if three days after you see a post like the second image, the dopamine increase could be like the first one. As it is relative to the current baseline.

Every increase comes with a decrease afterward

Every dopamine increase comes with a decrease afterwards. Most of the times lower than the previous baseline. That’s why things that produce high increases of dopamine get you addicted, as you need and want more of the same experience to increase the baseline again. This increase is less noticeable every time until has no effect at all.

Stacked dopamine activities are bad

Having stacked activities that increase dopamine is not the best. Doing a workout while listening to music is an example. You could also have an energy drink before the workout. All this increases the expectation that the next workout will produce the same excitement. What Andrew suggests is to have intermittent activity. Toss a coin every time you do a workout to decide if you will listen to music or not. This way, the variability of dopamine increases will make it less predictable.

Caffeine helps to release dopamine

Caffeine is good to be stacked before an activity that increases dopamine because it amplifies the dopamine of the activity itself. Even if caffeine is different drinks, yerba mate is one of the best for dopamine.

Intrinsic vs Extrinsic motivators

Some people attach rewards to do an activity they don’t like. A drink after a workout, a chocolate bar before studying. Also known as an extrinsic reward. That’s a bad approach.

Instead, what Andrew suggests, is to trick your brain to enjoy the activity itself (intrinsic reward), not the reward. You can say: “I chose to do this” and convince yourself is good for you. This can increase dopamine during the activity, even in situations when is painful. This leads me to the next point.

Dopamine increases are subjective

One activity that you enjoy can increase dopamine in you and have a negative impact to another person.

Journal or reflect on an activity

Journaling or reflecting about an activity you enjoyed will make you release more dopamine next time.

The longer the wait, the higher the pike

The longer you restrain a dopamine pike the higher will be. For example, not eating for a period of time will make food taste better. People doing intermittent fasting experience more joy when they eat again.

Social interactions release dopamine

Close social interactions, do not have to be in person increase dopamine. Romantic relationships and friendships are important for your mood as well.

These are my notes but the episode contains a lot of other useful information. Listen to the full episode here.

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