The Dopamine Illusion
Somebody asked about dopamine he was asking about you were asking about different um the dopamine illusion this is another fantastic fantastic thing that I learned actually pretty recently from a wonderful book but if this is you guys like love love in this stuff is a book called the willpower instinct by kelly mcgonigal that really goes into depth and all this stuff awesome one of the best books on on behavioral change I've ever read highly highly recommended um and she and her work typically after this so uh we talked about dopamine very briefly earlier but did you guys know what dopamine is any any anybody want toe take a shot at it I'm sure you'll go into it but yeah I mean it's it's a neuro transmitter at um and what's it associated with generally pleasure pleasure taking pleasure avoiding pain right so dopamine is often the dopamine system of the brain is often called the river ward pathway it's what's activated in drug addicts you know it's a very much associated with addiction ...
not just drugs gambling alcohol other things um and and we are naturally drawn tio dopamine producing actions you know we love it right that's that's why people become addicted it's it's it's something when you think about cravings that's dopamine like it's like I want that so bad like that's really powerful very very, very powerful um and this and seeking out dopamine type behaviors is often triggered by stress right? So stress is one of those things that makes you feel comfort like you feel like you need something when you're stressed you're like I need I need I need you know something to take the edge off I need food I need a drink I need a cigarette that that is often leads us to these sort of reward seeking actions um but what's really, really interesting about dopamine and I you know I said I studied neuroscience for like, ten years, right? Like I I I studied this and I still had the wrong impression about what dopamine actually is. So when it's called the reward path I assumed it was something pleasurable I mean that's what you think right like that's what you keep doing it this like desire for reward but that's actually the secret word the key word here is desire um dopamine doesn't actually give you the pleasure it's the promise of pleasure it's actually frustration that it actually gives you um and this sort of, you know, thinking about it this way really really changed the way I perceive ah reward seeking behavior because and it makes sense when you think about it like that these dopamine type type that dopamine initiating actions they really actually spur more desire in frustration so this is what happens when people are overeating sugar addicts, you know, alcoholics smoking all these things are the results of over simulating the dopamine pathway, so though we think when we're stressed that that is what we want, we don't that's actually our brains are fooled by dopamine our brains think we will be satisfied if we follow this path, but it inevitably leads to frustration and overindulgence because you always think just a little more will satisfy me just a little more well satisfying me you would hear a story, a study about how they figured this out. It's really interesting, actually. So all the original research on this stuff was done in mice, so they found that opening happily in the brain and they put electrodes in the part of the brain that is responsible for this pathway and what would happen when they would do what they would do is they put the mice in a cage and they would allow that they teach them push a lever and the role of the lover would stimulate that part of the brain and what they found this behavior in rats and mice was it basically was writes it was basically the same as if they'd get had the right to put up special ever and get cocaine like it was like the exact same passing like this is that we discovered it's like the reward pathway and what would happen is these rats would literally push the lever to death they would starve to death because they would not stop pushing it to eat and you know similar with cocaine even is sure can do this sometimes two and and so I think like as humans they sort of like anthropomorphize like, oh, that must be awesome like they must love that those must be the best feel like there was this hypothesis that it was the feeling of bliss then in the future they did a similar experiment on patients that had that needed dopamine stimulation for I think it was parkinson's disease and and they put the electorate and people's brains and had them do the same thing and what they did that one but when they instead of and they had a very similar reaction they like wanted to stimulate it over and over again but what was funny when they asked the people how it felt there like it's amazing it's amazing and they're like no actually the feeling is really, really frustrating because what is the feeling of being so close to something? You know? Like I almost got it like just one more little one more little thing and like and it wasn't until we had this qualitative explanation of the behavior we were observing that we understood what was really going on um isn't that interesting to me? I just think this is super interesting on dh because you know, understanding that these sorts of behaviors don't actually give you the satisfaction that in the moment you believe you're going to get is really powerful the good news that's actually kind of depressing thie good news is that there is a form of actual peace and actual contentment and ask russell satisfaction and that I was actually more associated with the serotonin based pathways so uh, anything that you can find to substitute like a serotonin enhancing activity uh and replace that for the ones the dopamine ones that you think you want is really going to be far more powerful in the long term in terms of question cravings and dealing with those impulses that are so so hard to control all so things that enhance serotonin our exercise meditation, social contact with others you know, calling friends and family prayer deeply connected things that make you feel connected and centered and not distracted very internal type things instead of you know, the dopamine wants you to be very external reward seeking and and it's really it is it's so hard to remember this you know what? Like when you're in that hot moment when you're like cash, I just want you know, whatever you want that cookie or I just want that drink or just one whatever stress relieving thing you you think you need it's really important to remember that your brain is being fooled but the dopamine system and what it really wants israel satisfaction from serotonin so I think that these habits exercise meditation a good social strong social connectivity network or whatever else you do too feel this sort of contentment those are some of the strongest habits to develop and they've nothing to do with food you know it's more about being having a mechanism to cope with that stress that caused you to make bad two foot food decisions that make senses and deep stuff yeah uh I dio but I want to more fully understand the difference between dopamine and serotonin and I see what what triggers them but the difference of what they I mean they're different brain pathways basically there they're uh I mean it is very complex I am I get uh I'm always reluctant to talk too much about any brain area in isolation because your brain is big and it's a network and it doesn't know part acted in isolation dopamine acts all over your body serotonin acts all over your body it's not super simple but uh I'm not sure how to answer your question so I mean the dopamine reward pathways very well defined I mean there are thousands of researchers studying addiction stuttering the reward pathway and it's very clear how that influences behavior and this is just it's a it's a different network so it's just activating something different and and one of the ways tio one of the ways to get into the habit of of choosing serotonin over dopamine is with awareness just knowing that fact mindfulness and we'll talk about that a little bit more. Um, but basically, what were the point of the slide is to just keep you aware, keep bring to your awareness, the fact that often what we think we need isn't what we actually need and in our brain is easily fooled by these things. Yeah, I think maybe one way to answer questions just thinking about the dietitian would say that if you're craving, um chocolate at the stress induced time, they'll tell you will have the low fat version of the low sugar version, which that only I'm not even sure that delays you're stressed or or or how many would sure it does anything for you, it's a horrible strategy you're taking in fewer calories, but it doesn't address right? But enjoying it less to this hot is good and so you you then you just feel guilty and it's this that is like the worst strategy ever replacing I hi calorie or whatever indulgent experience with a watered down version of it satisfies nothing like like you don't get the comfort and you don't get the and you don't get the health benefits I mean it's just bad all around a few hundred calacanis it's nothing it issue number one hundred calorie snacks are supposed to take care of that ok, well sometimes it's going to be useful but that's that's a different issue yeah um I was just thinking so wouldn't this be one way that, uh let's say people go on diets right the good the word that you really hate that this would make them fall off of there so to speak bandwagon right? Because this maybe this pathway is a little bit stronger than creating a good habit so that was what I meant and asking which one is more weighty the creation of that habit or this right? Well, that's the point I'm trying to make today is that when you are not prepared, the dopamine system is going to win every time right when you are not in the habit of doing the serotonin enhancing exercises, you know exercise meditation strong social network when you haven't forcing future barriers to your because when the dopamine system wins when your willpower is weak, right wins when you are exhausted when you're low on blood sugar when you are stressed, so if you step back and say, when am I going to be stressed, you know when you're gonna be stressed, if you sit down and think about it, you know, maybe it's when your commute in dry fight traffic, maybe it's when you're kids get home from work I don't know where from school there's everybody has a different moments in there david they're predictable and so you can eat try to alleviate those by taking a lot of the decision making off your plate when you're in that state and also reducing the stress that you feel by by doing these other activities and it's always going to come down to balance you know and you're not going to win every time but if you can win most of the time then like then you're fine you know I mean like sometimes you know sometimes the situation's going get the better of you but what's witness really important is one of those things you do every single day you know the home court high impact habits that's when it can really derail you so I don't I try not to get too hung up on like all the little possible failure points unless they're ones that are happening over and over and over again thanks so yeah it's very interesting if you have any questions from online folks no I think people are really engaged right now they're making some comments but between each other about you know some of the things that they need to do to make changing set for us this isn't looking deep powerful stuff s o I just I wanted to make sure everybody's got it yet we have a question so it sounds like the dopamine pathways were kind of associating them with negative or not so positive effects is that what it is a case of a dopamine pathway trigger that isn't negative that's a great question and it isn't negative right and how do we manipulate that right I mean maybe that's a strong word but that's really what we're doing we're manipulating situations to grow right absolutely there khun b there are nobody wants to live in a life where there's no promise of rewards right like that's exciting like that's the word the definition of excitement right it's like the promise of something amazing to come and we want some of it like we did what we want is uh I get really like I don't know if it's dope with me but I get really excited about going to a new restaurant for instance like that's my new fix you know or my new as opposed tio I don't even know I feel like but when I was a dieter I had so little things I e like like there was just like so a few things I was actually that I could actually enjoy and not feel guilty about as in college so probably like drinking beer was the biggest one but you know, for the most part it was very you know, I you know I'm in a place where I live crafted somebody habits around these sort of riel contentment serotonin based things that like I mean, I don't even really think about the other stuff anymore like I don't have cravings anymore I just have the worst cravings like I would get home and I would eat dinner and then I would just feel like sugar like I need it and I would try not to go in my office and I would work and then I'd be like I think there might be some imminent on my trail mix and I'd like go in the pantry and I'd like dig him out on dh that all comes from like that lack of fulfillment I think when you start creating these fulfilling activities in your life and work with you know, I very nutrient dense foods now I just basically start of myself and I was eating a very limited diet on mostly processed health foods I I exercise, but I would torture myself like I would go to the gym for like two hours and just like running myself to death, you know, it wasn't fun for me, I you know, I would isolate myself from people socially because I didn't want to be in a situation where I had like it was even tempted to eat pizza, you know, I just like I'd stripped all those things out of my life cause that's what I thought I needed to do to have success is a dieter and now I hi gets joy from so many of the things I do in so many of those air around food, I mean, we three times a day should be awesome, you know, I love my breakfast routine. I love my farmers market, I make amazing lunches, I either go out to restaurants that share my philosophy for dinner. I cook at home with my husband, and, like, all those things, they're so rewarding that I never, ever have cravings anymore for sugar, like I almost I only eat sugar when I'm like, you know what that looks like? It might be the best pastry that ever existed, because I'm at tartine bakery, and they make the best pastries that ever existed, and then I'll eat it, and I'll enjoy every second of it, but I never but is not a craving anymore. So, um, you know, it's really sort of comes down like, tweaking all the different things in your life that make you happy and caused the cravings and it's there's going to be nutrition based ones, like I talked to a lot of people that they really do have food cravings, because they're not getting enough nutrients, but for a lot of people's, emotional, like, lacking emotional comfort in satisfaction, our other things like that social connection, so this is all like the deepest parts of, like having an awesome life, but food is such a big part of it because we do it so many times a day and there's so much baggage around it and it's so hard you know, constantly were being attempted to be derailed by food companies and everybody's telling you like cooking's too hard you shouldn't have to do it let us do it for you look how tempting fourth meal is um and you know, it's hard to like take a step back and say this is what's really important this is what's really going to make me happy in the long run and this is how I'm gonna accomplish my goals, but seeing through what's really going on is a big part of that and that's what all this is about, like, all those different sort of sort of, you know, I want to like scripts that we tell ourselves about what we can and can't do and how we can re program are thinking and then therefore our actions yeah, find a way of saying, jerry, would you say serotonin is how you really feel on dopamine is how you think you feel because they're they are immediate once is that good web describing it on? I would say I would say not how do you think you feel that what you think you want and I'm not what you feel and not what you was what was the word he was using they were saying certain is how you really feel on dopamine that's how you think you feel I saito is tones of what you want to feel because that that is you know that that is the basic pathway for things that people describe his actual contentment you make sense thank you call that was heavy thanks guys I um so ah another sort of illusion that I see as if this is an illusion this is ah barrier that I see people have all the time and it comes not sure where it comes from exactly but but it makes sense and I understand it so often when you think about health uh it's a big deal right like it's a really daunting topic right? Like you think like if some if you're really out of shape or you know or you haven't really figured it out I mean you can have uh you think gosh, I have to change my eating habits that means I need to cook I need to find a farmers market I need toe hate vegetables I need to learn like vegetables and I want a learning vegetables to deal with my kids and my husband or whatever and it's just like it could be overwhelming is what you know you feel really overwhelmed exercise geez and when people are overwhelmed um and you do a couple things one is they sort of uh what we'll we'll have a tendency to think that our like the option is either to be where we are now, which is like in the static state of disarray or be perfect you know, it's like if I'm going to be a healthy person I'm going to be working out four days a week cooking dinner every night, you know, not drinking, not going out like there's like this whole thing and so when we're like really far away from that like like people tell this to me, you know they'll be like the daily mail I mean like how could I ever be like you do it? You're the foodists you know, like how can I do that? I'm so far it's like that's not the question you need to ask that when you compare yourself to be like somebody who's got all those habits, you have to realize that that wasn't didn't happen overnight like it's a process and it's a slow building process and and it's hard. But what happens when people do that like we way see ourselves in our state and we see somebody like way ahead of us and we're like I have to do that that's way too hard and they feel overwhelmed for all the things I have to do and everybody does the same scent thing in this situation nothing, just do nothing close your eyes and put your head in the ground like an australian and like hope it goes away or some epiphany happens and you magically change her life I've actually heard people tell me that they wish they got sick so they could like lose weight I like it's really like is like they we just want the problem to go away and that could be paralyzing could be absolutely paralyzing so um this this idea of like ideals and perfectionism can often stop you from doing anything um and what's important to realize at this point if anybody is resonating with this, anybody online or anybody at all and if you feel yourself of that place, the one of the most important things to realize is it is not that you have to be at like perfection right now you just have to do something and honestly doesn't matter what do you just need to start and that's your problem is the fact that you hadn't started cause if you'd started something small two years ago you'd be in a completely different place today, you know, I had you know, I've never talked anybody who's like I want to start running god just my wedding's coming up like I have a friend she had a wedding coming up she's like I want to run three days a week and and and then she just like her trainer was like, well, why don't you run? Like once a week? And she was like no like that doesn't give me any results because you think like you want the high reward of, like running three times a week but like running once a week is like one hundred percent more than she's running now, right? So but what's important to remember, like we talked about earlier is that for habits, the reward is going to scale up, you know, and the difficulty is going to scale down so it's important it's more important, just start the habit to do something you can always build on it, but the reason you don't do it regularly now is because you're not in the habit and the only way to get into the habit is a start some make sense. S o this is the this is a problem that we get into, uh, because it paralyzes us and one tactic you canoes tio counter act this is this is we're going back to b j fog here that we talked about earlier is he coined this term called the tiny habit, and the argument here is that theo most important thing you can do is just to start to just do one small step toward building the habit you know, find a trigger two of the minimal small action you can think of and have a small reward the reward doesn't need to be big when the when the when actions really small when it's super easy um, because you could always scale right, you could always increase the intensity of your workout. You can always increase the number of days you work out, you can always increase the amount of vegetables you cook or how many times a week you cook or how many times you don't eat your scone, but until you start doing it once you'll never do anything, you'll never get to three workouts when you do zero without starting at one so tiny habits, the main message with that is that, like consistency is just far more important than intensity it's a begin intensity can change. Doing something regularly is way more important, so let's, do some let's do some examples of how tio think about forming habits and in terms of making tiny habit changes. So isn't it anybody thought yet of a particular habit that they want to start a sap? I think healthy breakfast at home great with the school great, perfect. Um so what? So the idea of the tiny habit is like what? What is like the smallest thing that you could think of to help you get in the habit of making breakfast and by the way let's let's let's clarify first we're gonna have breakfast at the office we're going to have it at home we're going to try for home ok? I like it good, good good choice umm figuring out exactly what I'm going to have and planning for it okaying shopping ok, so shopping so what what? We went to breakfast that you can think about oatmeal meal we'll get that's right um so how do you make oatmeal normally, um in the microwave for two minutes I think the easiest thing in the world right here is your tiny habit is making breakfast it is targeting a great awesome um is it says you've never tried this before um I'm not done it consistently. Okay. Um well I would say probably this is maybe not the best example because it's so easy but like one way to think about ah breakfast habit is just just wake up and just take the whole bailout and set it on the counter you know after a certain trigger so if you wake up out of bed you know you put on your robe, you go in the kitchen, just put it out and then go about your day like, you know, so it doesn't seem overwhelming I wanted one example that b j often uses in his descriptions is like let's say you want to develop the habit of flossing your teeth like you should write, we should all do that. But it's a pain and like, who does anybody actually floss? Every day I d'oh what do you guys were so good? But this if you don't and I I had this issue, so I realize that like one of the reasons I don't like flossing, my teeth is like it just feels like a lot of work and I don't like putting the fingers in my mouth, but what he recommended is instead of feeling like you have to do all that work of classical beauty just lost one tooth just like you brush and then you plus one too, and it sounds silly and then you have to reward yourself so he does like a little dance like we're like, I'm awesome um and you just start there and, like, you know, a couple days of doing when your final due to ugo, but they might like again, it sounds ridiculous, but the most important thing is you do the small thing, the reward will come when you build on it, but as long as you're doing nothing there's never gonna be a reward. So yeah, I'm wondering about the consistency of the oatmeal, right, so I can totally see how it's easy to do three days in a row, four days in a row maybe even you get to the next tuesday and do it but you know we're thinking about what is a reward to put into their right like we're on the teeth that was cool so you do a dance after a few days but how would you continue eating that old meal the next week? Right? Because eventually you just to me even though it's simple they're still willpower to do that because it doesn't taste good enough well for me no, but uh I don't I don't know where to put my reward with it with the oil so when it's a very small habit um the little we he is like actually good that's he tested this and his subjects and it works for foods, so for I have something similar to well actually it's musically and its five grain cereal and I mix it with a bunch of different kinds of nuts, seeds and raisins and it is delicious like I really love it, I eat it almost every day I'm home on weekends I go have brunch or whatever, just having a little more elaborate, but when I'm just like on autopilot the morning it's enough of a reward for me because I'm hungry too you know, I eat early enough that I'm hungry in the morning and I'm in the habit of eating in the morning so I literally just ate the same breakfast every day. I mean monday to friday so it tastes reward is enough for you to continue. Yeah, well, it's satisfying and I mean, I'm also hungry, like I actually made the fuel and it's so easy and tastes good enough, the reward is actually I feel great, like I can eat that breakfast and empowers me through for a long time, I think that's the actual reward also there's something really nice about a morning routine? I feel like there's its own psychology there, um, anyway, it's helpful to find something normal in your life to do the trigger. So morning is a great time, like with my meditation example with the breakfast example morning is a great place to do new habits because there's a very clear routine and that is ripe for triggers, you know, just put something immediately after a specific action reward yourself immediately, and if you want to learn more about this, you can check it out a tiny habits dot com. So, um, now we're talking about using willpower strategically, right? Like I've told you a lot of things, but I'm not going toe, you know, sugarcoat the fact that these illusions and barriers are very riel they feel really when you're in the in the heated moment and it's it's sometimes hard to remember that oh actually I want serotonin so instead of like having a cupcake I'm going to the gym like that that that is a you probably will be happy, but it takes some willpower to do that and so the now we're starting to instead of just will ourselves thin which we've learned is impossible we're starting to use willpower way more strategically and way more effectively and so these are some of the ways you can do that so use willpower to to figure out what we're doing now figure out the triggers and rewards use willpower to start new tiny habits it will take on a momentum of itself at some point it will become automatic but to get them started well, power is sometimes necessary use willpower to remember those points of failure in the future and anticipate them re scripting healthy habits like we discussed reframing remember we talked about language and how important that is reframing those beneficial behaviors as fun and rewarding you know I have an amazing salad don't just have a salad and try to focus on those mood enhancing and not necessarily reward seeking babers great, so we're actually going toe well, we have a little bit of homework on the break, but we'll talk about that a little bit later but actually on the online audience to if you guys have any raisins in your house uh, the activity we're going to be doing is to grab just one reason and take, eat it for five minutes and just see what that feels like. So this is a mindful eating practice. Just put it in your mouth and focus on it and do that for five whole minutes. And then let us know what you think in the next segment.