Ah, dopamine: the pleasure chemical. The release of dopamine in your brain is triggered by any and every sort of reward, and you love it! Winning a carnival game, getting a promotion, drinking a glass of wine, kissing someone new – all of these actions cause our brain to be flooded with dopamine, which in turn makes us feel absolutely FANTASTIC!
Our lust for dopamine is at the root of all sorts of addictions: drugs, alcohol, sex, porn, gambling and even the internet. Our brains can’t really distinguish between virtual reality and reality reality, so online behaviors affect our brain much like they would if they happened in real life. If a friend posts that they like your new haircut, the dopamine centers in your brain react almost the same way as if you had received the compliment in person. All this attention can be quite flattering, and you may find yourself returning to your Facebook page again and again…and again, checking to see if there are any new comments or “likes” so that your brain can get the boost of dopamine it craves.
The architects of the internet have taken our brains’ desire for dopamine to create web pages that we never want to leave. Anyone with a Facebook account has experienced the social media time suck. You stop to check one thing and 45 minutes later, realize that you’re still logged in. Your dopamine is flowing and you’re momentarily happy. Meanwhile, all those plans for important future goals that will make you more deeply happy in the long term have fallen by the wayside.
Are you addicted to digital dopamine? 3 Ways To Get Clean
Reclaim your time from digital distractions that give your brain a temporary dose of dopamine. Going cold turkey isn’t a realistic possibility for most people in 2013, but there are some thing’s you can do to avoid the internet’s addictive nature and set yourself up for long-term success.
1. Unplug for an hour. Are you a slave to your phone, checking it morning, noon and night? Most people say, “in case of emergency,” but what they often mean is “my brain wants one more shot of dopamine.” Set up time in your schedule when you’ll go phone-free: the hour before bedtime, when you play with your pets or kids, to go on a hike or take a walk. Choose one hour of your day that you think would be easiest to ignore your phone, and do it. You’ll probably experience mild symptoms of withdrawal the first time you cut the cord, but soon you’ll relish your leash-free time and realize the world won’t come to an end if you take a few hours to respond to messages.
2. Ditch the games. If you’re an online gamer, know that designers are using your brain’s need for dopamine as well as your innate sense of social obligation to keep you playing – and paying. Online games seem to go on forever, with each opponent notified immediately every round. If you truly enjoy playing the game, set yourself a firm time (or money) limit and stick to it.
3. Turn off autopilot. Facebook is famous for sucking you in, but other sites can be just as addictive. If your social media page is the touchstone you return to all day long for your brain’s fix of dopamine, you’re likely wasting far more time than you realize on stuff that doesn’t matter. Give yourself 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening to check your social media sites, and use something else as your mental rest stop for the day: a mantra, a moment of meditation, or a round of easy yoga poses.
You can’t ever stop your brain from seeking out dopamine triggers; it evolved that way. Your brain will never say oh DRAT: a message from a friend who likes my new photo! However if you learn to work with your brain, you can give it healthy sources of dopamine while maintaining control over your digital life.
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