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How to maintain joy and motivation?

Here I touch on some of the neurology of dopamine….

We know there are dangers of over indulging in high reward behaviours like gambling, sex, drugs and alcohol, social media, gaming, shopping and yes, you workaholic professionals, work too! The danger is the effects of deregulation to our dopamine receptors.

What is dopamine?

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitter are molecules that bridge the gap between two neurones (nerve cells) in the brain.

Dopamine is associated with the experience of reward, but also with movement towards something.

It’s a really powerful, important molecule in the brain that helps us experience pleasure and moves us to action.

We are always releasing dopamine at a baseline rate and it's the deviation from that baseline that we need to be aware of.

When we experience pleasure, our dopamine release goes above baseline. When dopamine goes below that baseline, then we experience a kind of discomfort or pain. There is a constant seesaw regulation effect in the brain.

With any deviation from neutrality, the brain will work very hard to restore a level balance, or what scientists call ‘homeostasis’.

If we expose ourselves chronically to substances or behaviours that repeatedly release large amounts of dopamine in our brain, we change our baseline level and it actually lower it over time.

Our brain tries to compensate for all of that dopamine, which, these days, is often much more than we were designed to experience.

The basis of any addictive substance or behaviour is that it releases a lot of dopamine in our brains reward pathway.

Right after you do something that is really pleasurable and releases a lot of dopamine, your brain is going to immediately compensate by down regulating your dopamine receptors.

That's the come down, or the hangover. That after-effect is that moment of wanting to do it more triggered by wanting to move away from the pain of being below that dopamine baseline.

If you wait for that negative feeling to pass, then dopamine will re-regulate itself and you’ll go back to your baseline.

So keep in mind, if you keep indulging in high reward behaviours again and again, ultimately you will have so much on the pain side that you have reset your brain to a chronic dopamine deficit state which is akin to a clinical depression

The key is not in ever allowing yourself these high reward states. It’s to avoid staying in them for too long or repeatedly. We’re ideally looking for a flexible, resilient and balanced approach to this as trying to be too rigorous or disciplined can also have a detrimental affect, causing us to give up dealing with the problem.

The key learning here is one of awareness. Being conscious of our time, evaluating what we are doing with it. Listening and responding to our emotions and having agency to push back and take control. If we seek out high effort dopamine reward behaviours as replacements for those requiring none, this will prove an effective long term strategy for joy and motivation.

If you need help making healthy changes in your life, having a coach or trusted other to support you is about the best thing you can do.


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