Most of us have heard about the substance 'dopamine' in relationship to social media. The hit you get when your post is liked, when an 'unread message' banner appears. Contrary to popular belief, however, dopamine does not control happiness.
As an experimental episode of the Tim Ferriss podcast, Tim invited guests to share great sections of their own podcasts. Andrew Huberman, professor of neurobiology at Stanford, shared a bit of a podcast episode that can best be described as a dopamine masterclass. It opened my eyes to the workings behind the substance and the way to use it to your advantage.
Dopamine can be best summed up as the molecule of more. It motivates us to continue the behaviour we're engaged in, spurring us into action. You can easily see how this is a useful evolutionary mechanism, as going out to hunt and forage was risky behaviour for our ancestors.
Now, the tricky part about dopamine is that we all have a baseline level, on top of which we get a little peak when we act in certain ways (finish a puzzle, win a race, hand in an RFP, ...) which then drops below the baseline level. This drop makes us feel miserable, spurring us into action to get another dopamine hit. More!
Huberman then goes on to explain how external rewards cause us to associate less pleasure with an activity itself, as demonstrated in the classic 1973 experiment at a Harvard nursery school. Kids being rewarded a 'gold star' for drawing lost interest in that activity after the reward was abandoned, because the dopamine hit shifted from the activity itself to receiving the reward.
If you want to reap rewards from our dopaminergic circuitry, according to Huberman, you can trick your mind into dopamine release during a hard activity by telling yourself "I'm doing this by choice and I love it!" at the moment of maximum friction. Spiking your dopamine after an activity by rewarding yourself makes the activity itself even harder.