We live in a world that is designed to stimulate our emotions. Every advertisement food product and social media post is geared to give us a short rush of pleasure, which is followed by emptiness and a craving for more.
Big companies are able to leverage our cravings and make trillions of dollars off of keeping us addicted.
If you don’t have a plan for yourself you will be at the mercy of companies who will play on your impulses to control you like a puppet.
You will sacrifice your free will searching for happiness in a maze that’s designed to keep you lost. Studies show that on average people use their smartphones for about 3 hours per day. That’s 1095 hours every single year.
Thankfully there is a way to regain control over your impulses and take your power back through a practice called dopamine fasting. What’s that you say?
Well, first we need an understanding of dopamine. Dopamine is a brain chemical associated with wanting. according to Loretta Breuning author of ‘Habits of a Happy Brain‘, dopamine is triggered by new rewards.
That’s why the first lick of an ice cream cone is heaven. 10 licks later your attention wanders you start thinking about the next thing on your agenda and the next you still love the ice cream but you don’t feel it as much because your brain doesn’t see it as new information.
Your brain is already looking for the next great way to meet your needs. However, with video games and porn sites and social media your brain always has the next thing to be excited about because they are engineered to trigger constant dopamine release.
I’m sure you are familiar with the feeling of wanting to make the day productive only to look up at the end of the day and realize you spent four hours mindlessly scrolling through Instagram and checking notifications.
You waste time, feel bad about yourself, and things that used to excite you no longer excite you like they used to. That’s where dopamine fasting comes in.
Dopamine fasting is the idea that if you avoid dopamine stimulating activities for extended periods of time you’ll be able to reset your brain and let go of addictive behaviors that negatively impact your life.
It’s commonly misunderstood as reducing dopamine but that’s not true dopamine is necessary to function as a healthy human being.
Dopamine fasting exploded in interest in October 2018 and gained even more interest a year later after. Dr. Cameron Sepah published an article on medium titled the definitive guide to Dopamine Fasting 2.0 the hot Silicon Valley trend. Dopamine fasting 2.0 is better defined.
It’s based on cognitive behavioral therapy it’s about reducing impulsive behavior not reducing dopamine itself and it doesn’t encourage you to act like a full-blown monk who abstains from all forms of pleasure. So, what is the science behind dopamine fasting 2.0?
Well, as mentioned before it’s based on cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT. CBT is an evidence-based practice and prescribed by thousands of professionals worldwide for changing behavior.
CBT solutions based on stimulus control can help you reduce the probability of engaging in addictive behaviors for example when your phone plays your SMS ringtone you pick up your phone and tap to open the message the ringtone is a stimulus and opening the message is the behavior.
Here are two solutions:
1. Remove the stimulus by putting your phone in another room or disable notifications or engaging in an activity that is not compatible with reading your phone like swimming.
2. Another solution is exposure and response prevention or ERP, for example, you see an attractive girl on Instagram you fill your heart rate increase and your body tingle so you run to your bedroom hop under the sheets, and masturbate into a deep sense of regret and worthlessness sinks in.
By applying ERP you would frequently look at attractive girls on Instagram but refrain from masturbating I know it’s difficult but you can use a technique called Urge Surfing which is essentially being mindful for a few minutes bring your attention to where you feel the urge in your body and simply be with it.
Describe what the sensations feel like when you are done thank yourself and set your intention for what you will do next in your day this will become easier over time and you’ll likely feel a sense of accomplishment.
Now at this point, you might be wondering does dopamine fasting really work to manage your addictions? if by dopamine fasting you mean reducing dopamine levels the answer is no. But if you mean dopamine fasting 2.0 based on CBT like we just learned then yes.
An analysis of 106 studies concluded that in general, the evidence base of CBT is very strong but how does dopamine fasting help restore your motivation?
Well sharp or prolonged increases in dopamine levels can reduce the number of dopamine receptors in your brain. Dopamine fasting may help increase the number of receptors you have through a process called up-regulation.
The more dopamine receptors you have the fewer stimuli it will take to achieve the same amount of pleasure. If you don’t eat processed sugar for a month a single blueberry could give you the same amount of pleasure as your favorite ice cream.
So, how do you dopamine fast? there are two steps
* In step 1, identify the behaviors that are causing you distress impairment or addictiveness 6 common impulsive behaviors are:
– Emotional eating
– Internet gaming
– Gambling and Shopping
– Thrill and Novelty seeking
– Recreational drugs
– Porn and Masturbation
* In step 2, follow a dopamine fasting schedule for example let’s say you want to reduce the amount of time you waste on your phone you would refrain from using your phone for 1 to 4 hours every day. 1 day per week, one weekend per quarter, and one full week per year. Start small and gradually increase the amounts of time you spend away from your phone.
These are guidelines, not concrete rules. Follow a fasting schedule that works for you. So now you know how to dopamine fast but you may find it difficult to do keep reading because I’ll share some tips that might make it easier for you to overcome your addictions and bad habits.
So, let’s talk about routine and reward replacement. Imagine that you have a bad habit of going to the cafeteria to buy a coke every day every time you drink the coke you feel bad afterward and end up gaining weight so you decide to do a dopamine fast.
Instead of drinking a coke every day, you try to only drink a coke every two days but you find this difficult. According to Charles Jigs’ book “The power of habit” here’s what you can try instead.
1. Identify the behavior
The behavior is the activity in this example it’s getting up walking to the cafeteria buying a coke and drinking it.
2. Identify the reward
You’re craving a craving drives our behavior and rewards are what satisfies a craving. So ask yourself why you turned to coke at the cafeteria.
– Are you thirsty?
– Do you want your sugar high?
– A moment to step away from your work?
– You desire social interaction at the cafeteria?
Then experiment with four to five different rewards, on one day you might drink a bottle of water. If after 15 minutes your craving has subsided then it could be you’ve just been thirsty but got into the bad habit of drinking coke instead.
Another day you might go for a walk and call a friend, if after 15 minutes the craving has subsided then it could be that you’ve just been craving social interaction.
After each different activity, you try to write down how you feel. After a number of days or weeks, look for patterns to see which reward is the one you are truly craving.
Let’s say you discover that the reward is the sugar high you get from drinking the coke. The next step then is to identify the trigger, what triggers your craving for a sugar high? Is it at the time of day? Is it seeing someone else drinking a coke? Is it seeing a youtube video advertisement? Is it because you ate something?
It can be difficult to identify the trigger but thankfully science tells us that triggers usually fall into five categories they are:
– Emotional state
– Other people
– The immediately preceding action
Let’s say you discover that your trigger is time-based because it always seems to happen around 3 p.m. every day regardless of how you feel where you are or any other this.
Once you’ve identified the behavior reward and trigger you will likely feel a sense of empowerment that you can change your habits.
So, the final step is to make a plan. When 3 p.m. comes around consciously choose a healthy behavior that delivers a reward you are craving in our example it’s the sugar high.
Make the conscious decision to go to a nearby juice bar to grab your favorite organic juice instead of coke.
I work from home so one of my favorite things to do is to stock my fridge with cans of flavored fizzy water with natural lemon flavors.
I get the same reward of having a Coke but without the bad stuff.
Thank you for reading.
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