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The Straight Dope On Dopamine

“Dopamine is released when you accomplish something you set out to accomplish, when you cross something off your to do list, when you hit the goal. Dopamine makes us achievement machines, but we have to know we are making progress.” – Simon Sinek

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter released in the brain that is responsible for a number of motivated-man-720x480functions that makes human life worth living. Some of its more important functions are movement, behavior, cognition, attention, mood, and learning. Its most well-known, and probably most appreciated function, is its motivation, reward, and pleasure creating abilities. To put it quite simply, no dopamine, no fun.

Dopamine is produced in the ventral tegmental area of the midbrain. It is produced there, but it’s production does not happen independently without our cooperation. Dopamine mediates the pleasure centers of our brain. It is released during pleasurable activities and compels us to seek out more of that activity. It determines what we find satisfying, stimulating, and rewarding. It determines what we seek out, pursue, and how we feel when we ultimately find it. It compels humans to engage in some of life’s basic functions such as the pursuit of food and sex, creates motivation to strive, is the chemical basis for competition, reward, and that feeling of pleasure we get from the attainment of a goal. It’s what Mick Jagger was looking for in 1965 when he couldn’t get no satisfaction. It is the chemical basis for our fascination with sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll.

All animals, including humans, have some control over this chemical compulsion that dopamine creates. Left unbridled, dopamine can create a lot of problems for humans that other animals don’t have to worry about. Dopamine is the chemical incentive for a lot of human vices. It is the chemical behind love, which is good, but too much of it can lead to lust, adultery, and rape. It can lead one to seek out a satisfying and nutritious meal, but an excess may lead to food addiction, binge eating, and poor health. It can lead us to engage in physical activity that gives us a feeling of well-being, such as hiking or moderate exercise, but too much can lead to a desire to use addictive substances such as cocaine and heroin in order to get the same feeling faster and more intensely. Proper regulation of dopamine creates a life of achievement, satisfaction, reward and fulfillment. Misuse dopamine and you could find yourself in jail or a slave to addiction.

Dopamine also plays a role in cognition and memory. It is often activated by vision, as we often desire that which we see. It can determine what we focus on and can be a factor in compulsions such as gambling, pornography, Internet addiction, and even that compulsive need to check our iPhones hundreds of times during the day. Those little iPhone checks that many of us find difficult to stop are actually little hits of dopamine that we get multiple times during the day. The reward center of our brain is stimulated and compulsion is the result.

How can we learn to control and harness the benefits of this neurochemical to improve quality of our life? Since dopamine is associated with seeking and receiving kinds of behaviors, there is a lot a person can do to get the rewards that dopamine can offer. Unfortunately, it is far easier to improve dopamine levels with destructive behaviors than it is with healthy behaviors. You don’t have to resort to sex, drugs, or even rock ‘n roll in order to increase your levels of dopamine.

Get your diet and nutrition in order. Of all the chemicals that make up dopamine, none is more important than the tyrosine.Tyrosine, one of the building blocks of dopamine, is found in almonds, avocados, beef, bananas, chicken, chocolate, coffee, eggs, green tea, watermelon, and yogurt.

Engage in some dopamine building behaviors. Here are some simple tweaks to your lifestyle that can increase your dopamine levels:

⦁    Write things down and check them off as you accomplish them. Remember, dopamine is associated with seeking and receiving. By writing down a daily to do list, writing out your workout plan, writing out long and short-term goals, and checking these off as you attain them, you are working with your brain chemistry to not only increase motivation, but also to increase the intensity of your reward.
⦁    Be creative. Art, writing, cooking, home improvement projects etc. are all good examples of ways to increase your dopamine. Start with things you know you can do well and gradually increase the difficulty. As you do so you will build confidence, motivation, and self-satisfaction.
⦁    Engage in a daily routine of exercise. Don’t do the same exercise every day, change things up. Occasionally test yourself. Go for a new max dead lift, try to increase your personal best for push-ups, walk a little farther, run a little faster. Start small with these exercise goals and seek out goals that you are reasonably sure, but not certain, that you can achieve.
⦁    Listen to inspiring music. Whatever kind of music motivates you to get up and do something is what you should listen to. Many people find that different genres of music are useful for different reasons. Music is uplifting and inspiring and can be used as a way to regulate dopamine. In the ancient world armies frequently marched into battle to the sounds of trumpets. NFL games are punctuated with uplifting music at opening kickoff and after touchdowns. There is a reason that this is both inspiring and rewarding. Find ways to use different kinds of music for different purposes.
⦁    Avoid behaviors that are addictive. Avoid alcohol to excess and refrain from stimulant abuse from drugs such as cocaine. “Recreational” drug use can be the beginning of a dopamine depleted brain that will engage in high risk and often self-destructive behavior in order to feel some type of reward. Keep in mind that almost anything done to excess can be addictive. Be careful of how much “screen time” you engage in. Too much time pursuing stupid things on the Internet, online viewing of pornography, or mindless video gaming can ruin a person’s desire for real knowledge, real intimacy, or real life. Better to engage in real reality than virtual reality.
calendar⦁    Get a streak going. Counting off the number of days that you do something, crossing it off a list or a calendar, can build dopamine levels. Just be sure to start with something small and attainable, something that you are reasonably sure you can stick with. Crossing it off is a visual reminder that reinforces goal attainment. That satisfaction you receive in doing so is that dopamine hit that you crave.
⦁    Meditate. Meditation quiets the mind and eliminates the natural human tendency to over think things. While it may seem counterintuitive to seek a state of stillness in order to increase dopamine, it’s really not. When one can find satisfaction and reward from merely being, increased dopamine is easily attainable. Meditation can fit and well with getting a streak going. Don’t set yourself up by failure by thinking you’re going to do it for hours every day, set aside 5 to 10 minutes for starters. It’s more important to meditate a little every day, even if it’s for a few minutes, than to do with hourly once or twice a week.

So, that’s the straight dope on dopamine. Learn to harness the joys of this brain chemicalgronk and improve the quality of your life. Enjoy the journey, and reap the rewards!

“If you’re bored with life, if you don’t get up every morning with a burning desire to do things, you don’t have enough goals.” – Lou Holtz


P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

Rational Detachment : The Art Of Getting Out Of Your Own Way

“Attachment is the great fabricator of illusions; reality can be obtained only by someone who is detached. ” – Simone Weil

Humans are thinking, reasoning, and reacting beings that navigate through life through a complex interaction of reality, internal dialogue, and situational interpretation. We have capemotional existence far more complicated than that of other living creatures. We remember, we interpret, and we reminisce. We live our lives with one foot in the past and one foot in the future, often misinterpreting and making poor decisions in the present moment because of something that happened before, or something that we think may happen in the future. We miss a lot of enjoyment and pleasure because we are not focused on what is happening in the present. Most of us believe that we are somewhat clairvoyant, relying on feelings more than facts, and, since we are human, we are often wrong.

Emotional attachments to people, places, things, and events often get in the way of our acting in our best interests. We bring all of our previous experiences and our emotions into every decision that we make. This is unavoidable. Part of the nature of being human is having an ability to interpret, plan, and evaluate. With many things that we do, we evaluate our performance in the moment with a kind of “how am I doing?” mindset. We tend to over analyze, overthink, and misinterpret a lot of critical and often life shaping events. Then, with the rational separation of time and emotional distance, we sometimes find ourselves looking back at those moments with some regret and pain. We find ourselves longing for “the good old days,” those lost opportunities, and turns in the road of life that we wish we had taken. Why were they not taken? Quite possibly, if you’re honest, your emotions got in the way. You didn’t see the bigger picture as you were unable to separate your rational mind from your emotional mind.

As a practicing psychotherapist for the last 20 years, I’ve seen countless people come to me to try to obtain clarity between their emotional and their rational interpretation of some life event. More often than not, they are more focused on their emotions and feelings than what is actually happening. As they begin to speak out loud about this internal conflict, they often get clarity about what is the best course of action to take, if in fact one exists. As a person explains a complicated situation to an unbiased and neutral human being, their rational mind kicks in. It has to, as conversation cannot reflect a person’s internal turmoil. This is why all of us feel better after “talking it out, getting it off my chest, or speaking our piece.” This is the essence of rational detachment.

“Hindsight is twenty-twenty.” – Anonymous

mirrorIf you have ever spoiled a child, enabled a significant other, played it safe with finances or a job, or hung in with a bad relationship, then you know what it’s like to let your emotions run your life. On some level you knew that you were making a mistake, but you were so focused on the moment and how you felt at the time that you made a poor choice. This is the reason that the old adage rings true: hindsight is 20/20. Too bad you couldn’t have seen it then. Most people chalk it up to an “I didn’t know then what I know now” rationalization and move on-and make similar mistakes over and over again. It doesn’t have to be this way.

There are two concepts when utilizing rational detachment:

The word rational is defined as having a sound mind possessing a capacity to reason and think logically. Naturally, most intelligent human beings are rational people. The problem is that, when emotionally stressed, emotion gets in the way, clouds judgment, and prevents us from seeing the bigger picture options that might be available to us. Our emotions do not give us permission to do what our rational minds would tell us, if they could. People often know at the time that what they’re doing is probably not the best thing, but somehow it seems to be the safest and least stressful path to choose. We seek to spoil that child, enable that family member, avoid confrontation, prevent an awkward moment, or not take that  risk. We will avoid some pain, for a while, but a bigger problem will more than likely result down the road. The avoidance of pain is one of the most motivating factors for any living thing, but especially human beings. While other creatures are motivated to avoid only physical pain, humans are motivated to avoid emotional, imagined, and potential future pain as well. These are factors that can impede a rational mind and create a lot of bad decisions.


Detachment is a state of being objective, almost to the point of aloofness. The goal of being detached in using the rational detachment strategy is not to be uncaring or cold, rather it is to be stone cold objective. Remember, it is the emotional interpretation of what is happening, could happen, or you believe will happen when confronted with a challenging situation. Detachment is the 20/20 hindsight experienced in the present moment. We all have this ability, we are just not aware of how to use it for our own benefit.

For example, you probably have friends that you’ve given advice to, and, the advice was probably pretty sound. You gave your best friend advice about that terrible relationship they were in, advised your child about that problem at school, and you have an ability to recognize enabling behaviors in others quite clearly. You may even be the kind of person that friends gravitate to when it comes to seeking sound advice, a second opinion, or some guidance for a difficult personal matter. You give sound advice to all of them, but find it very difficult when it comes to advising yourself. Why? Why can’t you give yourself the same sound advice that you give others? The answer: you are not detached from the emotional baggage that goes into making good choices. It’s your baggage, which makes it heavy enough to cloud your judgement.

Here are some ways to rationally detach from the emotions that cloud your better judgment:

Get the story out. Usually, the emotions exist inside your mind. Clarity can best be gained by looking at the situation from an outsider’s perspective by telling the story to someone else or by writing the story out on paper. The goal of this kind of activity is to make the situation someone else’s rather than your own. Remember, if this was someone else’s problem you probably have great answers and insights to share. It doesn’t have to be any different just because the problem is yours. It’s often helpful to change the names of the characters. Substitute someone else’s name from your own and of those involved in the problem. View your “story” in the third person. This is the best way to detach from the emotions that will get in the way.

Review the story by visualizing both the potential negative outcomes and the positive outcomes. Look for patterns with past behavior is similar situations. Most people tend to make the same kind of choices when it comes to relationships, parenting, finances, and career decisions. Look for ways that you are repeating patterns that you are not okay with any longer. Reformulate the potential outcomes over and over again, detaching from the emotions by viewing the situation in the third person perspective. Visualize this as if it was a movie. Write down some note so you can literally see your story from the outside point of view.

When I deal with clients who make the same mistakes over and over again, I’ll say to them, “You’ve seen this movie before… ” Usually, they will enthusiastically responded with, chimp“Yeah, I have!,” and we begin to look at how to change the script. The combination of writing out the story in the third person, or even verbalizing the story in the third person out loud can create motivation to take a different course of action. When combined with appropriate visualization, the results can be amazing. You’ve always known what to do. Practice rational detachment and give yourself permission to do it.

“Detachment doesn’t mean avoiding things and going to Himalayas. It means doing what is necessary without drowning in it.” – Sumit Singh


P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

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