I wanted to do this podcast for a little while because I’m interested in the effects dopamine and our technology has on procrastination. For me, my go to isn’t my cell phone but watching YouTube videos through Fire TV. Which is where I found a lot of the information I’m going to share in this podcast.
If you don’t know, dopamine is a chemical found in the brain that, when activated, gives us a micro High. It is the chemical that is released every time your phone rings or dings and also whenever you snort cocaine and do other drugs. When you use drugs, the high is giga-times greater, but the repetition is the problem with technology. What neuroscientists have found is humans can become just as addicted to behavior as they can to drugs, food, gambling, and sex.
Dopamine is also known as the chemical of drive. It can drive us to do things like complete a project or email. However, It can also drive us to procrastinate and get stuck on projects. Dr. Daniel Z. Lieberman talks about dopamine as the chemical of Desire. It can drive us to accomplish things and receive the reward that seemed to be just beyond our reach. But once we have the thing that is just beyond our reach, the dopamine level drops off and that desire is gone.
Dopamine Over Stimulation
Think about slot machines. People love to play slot machines because of the intermittent rewards they give out. Your phone is like a portable slot machine because it gives you intermittent rewards, not in the form of money but of dings and beeps. Each time your phone dings and you look at it your brain releases dopamine and you feel rewarded.
Dopamine can drive us forward and give us the Boost to start a new business or change jobs or go after the person we believe we desire. We can also become over-saturated. When we’re always living at that peak and always looking for something more, we can become addicts with other substances like drugs and alcohol. When dopamine stops giving us the high that we want, we can seek something else to give us that high.
This is when we lose motivation. When we become overstimulated and dopamine turns off, we can sit on the couch, binge Netflix, scroll Facebook or TikTok, and answer the dings on our phone. We can overeat to our heart’s desire and still not experienced any pleasure. Think about a time when you realized you’ve been scrolling Facebook for 30 minutes or an hour and it just wasn’t fun anymore. When we’re over stimulated and our dopamine levels drop, we can become lethargic and procrastinate. We separate ourselves from other human beings and we can not care.
What it’s Like
For me, it goes like this. I’ve gotten up in the morning with a plan for the day only to have that plan slip away. I start watching YouTube or 1970s cop shows and end up playing video games. That’s dopamine. All I wanted to do was catch up on a couple of YouTube videos while I ate my oatmeal. The next thing I know it’s 3PM and my wife is getting home from work. YouTube’s recommended videos are there to get me to click on them. I don’t know what the reward system is behind the 1970s cop shows, but I watch those as much as I watch YouTube. Video games are the same way. It’s the micro rewards you get every time you kill an enemy upgrade an ability micro hits of dopamine.
What it all adds up to in the end is a wasted day and not getting the things done that I wanted to get done. No podcast has been written, edited, or uploaded for that day. The house isn’t clean, the laundry hasn’t been done, and dinner will not be ready. So how can we fix this procrastination and lack of motivation instead of binging Facebook, Netflix, YouTube, Tik-Tok, or old 1970s cop shows? The answer is a dopamine detox or a dopamine fast.
One thing I want to make clear is you can’t get rid of dopamine. It’s a chemical in your brain so you kind of need it, so you can’t just get rid of it. What a dopamine fast does is clear out the things that are causing the reward mechanism to fire off dopamine. Also, this will not make you superhuman. You’re not suddenly going to roll out of bed and be uber-successful because you did the detox. Remember, dopamine is about wants and desires, not likes and pleasures.
What you will achieve is an awareness of how certain things cause a response. You will know how to react or act when something happens.
Some things that trigger the reward center of your brain are: video games, apps, gambling, shopping, binge eating, pornography and masturbation, Thrill-seeking and the obvious one drug use.
I’m going to focus on the technology aspect because that is the biggest trigger for me. You can substitute anything that you spend too much time doing or things that keep you from your job or family, or connecting with friends.
Whether you’re setting a goal, changing a habit, or unlearning a habit, starting small leads to success.
When we’re doing a detox from a device, the number one thing we need to do is put some distance between us and the device. One way to do this is to come up with a list of rules that you will allow yourself to do or the time you allow yourself to spend on your device.
Do you want to allow yourself 5 minutes at the top of each hour to check your phone? Do you want to allow yourself 2 hours to play video games or watch Netflix when you get home from work? Come up with what device or app you are trying to separate myself from. Think about what is taking up too much of your time? And what is the rule or rules that you want to have for this?
One suggestion is from James Clear in his book Atomic Habits. He talks about taking the battery out of the remote control for the television or even unplugging the television. What I did was take the FireTV stick out of the television and put it and the remote in the closet. I have to get the fire stick, plug it into the television, put the battery back in the remote and then I could watch TV. Which was a hassle. But it kept me from watching too much television until I was done with my work for the day. I also have a timer on my television set for 7PM. Now my television turns off no matter what I’m in the middle of.
Another thing you could do is put an app on your phone that blocks messages. If I’m writing or doing research for a podcast, I use the Forest app on my phone. It makes it so I don’t receive any notifications or phone calls while I’m trying to work. When I go into a meeting, I leave my phone in the car. That way, I’m not distracted during the meeting. Now it’s taken me a long time to get to this point but the results have been worth it.
Stepping Out of the Noise
Another word for all of this is resistance. Anything that stops us from being productive or creative is what Steven Pressfield called resistance. Any of our little addictions that keep us from being the people we’re supposed to be and doing the things in life that we really want to do is resistance. Breaking our addiction from technology helps us become who we are supposed to be.
There’s a story of a student who walks in and asks his violin teacher what’s the good news? The violin teacher picks up a tuning fork and makes the note and says there’s your good news. The guy upstairs is flat, the singer across the hall is off key, and the piano is out of tune. There is noise everywhere but that my friend will always be in. And that’s where we want to be in life. We have to find something we can rely on that is constant. Our friends, family, and faith are all things we can find that are constant.
What can you do today to break free from the cycle of constant technology use? You have to make a choice. Like most choices, this has to become a habit. Technology is not bad, it’s how we use it that becomes bad for us. Also, maybe some companies that make our technology and our apps are bad, but that’s another podcast.
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