Dopamine Detox - Fixing Escape Mechanisms

I completed a seven day Dopamine Detox challenge, which I originally started as a 30 day challenge, but failed after a week.

Dopamine Detox - Fixing Escape Mechanisms
Dopamine Detox - Fixing Escape Mechanisms

What is dopamine?

Dopamine is a chemical messenger between neurons and is released in anticipation of pleasure/reward. It's important to note that it's the  anticipation of pleasure, which causes dopamine spike, not the fulfillment itself. All our habits are dopamine driven feedback loops. 

What is Dopamine Detox?

If we had to choose between an activity that will benefit us in the long term and another, which will provide us instant gratification, our brain favors the path of least resistance, the comfortable one - the instant gratification activity. For example, studying through a big chunk of technical topic vs browsing memes or insta. This is because, the brain has been wired to crave the high dopamine rush. Hard things can't compete with the quick or relatively easy activities that grab your brain's attention.

We escape reality and avoid our life in many ways. We procrastinate by picking the easier activity over the hard things - actual priorities of our life.

  • Sleeping on time vs browsing through the rabbit hole of internet.
  • Confronting your demons and making an action plan to deal with them vs numbing it all with a late night snack.
  • Dealing with a high stress activity with a plan and taking it step by step vs escaping into the vast world of books - passive reading.
  • Actually solving problems vs watching more videos about coding.
  • Racking your brain for a tough problem vs watching "What if blackhole was in your pocket" - something that seems kind of productive to your brain, giving an illusion that you are learning something interesting/educational instead of browsing insta. 

Your escape could be anything - inherently evil or neutral(even good), but non-priority, which you use to avoid doing something important. Day dreaming, books, music, movies/series, facebook, memes, youtube, insta, twitter, junk food, sleep etc - anything could be your dopamine fix. Look at your priority list - things you must actually be doing and think about all the ways you avoid them - even if it seems like a productive enough activity, it's still escapism.

Dumbledore sums this up the best way - "We must choose between what is easy and what is right."

This doesn't mean that indulging in non-priorities is a completely bad thing. If we can time it and keep our cravings in check, they may help us. But as you may already know from your experiences, it's quite hard to stop when we are already high on dopamine. Moderation is tough. Because the person who decided to indulge in something fun just for a while and the person they become after indulging in it - who is already high on it have completely different mindsets. When you are high on it, you can't stop, you lie to yourself. This is why accountability partners are recommended, because when you have an addiction, you are two persons - one fighting it and one craving for it and you know who wins most of the time.

Dopamine Detox is considered as a way to reset, by depriving yourself from all the stimuli. The main purpose is to quit escape activities. As mentioned above, these could be anything, depending on your addictions. Here are some rules based on the most used escape activities:

  1. No social media.
  2. No notifications (that ping sound, which acts as our Pavlov bell)
  3. No music
  4. No movies/series/TV/youtube
  5. No junk food
  6. No books
  7. No news
  8. No video games
  9. No multi tasking
  10. No oversleeping or daydreaming.

Add your own dopamine activities that derail your life and stop you from addressing the priorities list. Be mindful and focus on the task in front of you.

My Experience:

Most of the above mentioned activities are my escape mechanisms. But what I didn't realize early was that I was escaping heavily into books. Reading is great and it does provide us with several insights.  52 books challenge has helped me in my dark times. But I was actively avoiding my life by reading all the time. 

Maladaptive Daydreaming(MD) is my worst escape mechanism. All MD addicts would tell you that it's an auto-pilot process that can't be stopped. I realized that music has been a great trigger point for me to slip into MD. Music can seem as something that shields you from the noises around you, but it can also be a distraction in itself. 

For a week, I was really focused on the task in front of me. At times, it gets boring doing any chores without music. But it does make you more mindful. The toughest part of this challenge was to fall asleep without looking at my phone. Bedtime is when all the problems, long overdue priorities, rush into our thoughts. It was tough to just face them in my head, instead of just picking the phone and browsing something fun, that will make me forget about their existence. 

I didn't know how to relax without my low energy mode escape activities like oversleeping or passive browsing. I was literally just staring at the ceiling. When I had to take a break from hours of work, I walked sometimes, but sometimes it felt like too much energy requirement to just stand. I journaled a lot, probably because I had nothing else to do.

Overall, dopamine detox helped me in realizing on how much I could get done and how mindful I can be, without the low quality dopamine fixes. Over time, even the hard things become tolerable and you may even get dopamine rush after accomplishing it. And that's the purpose of this detox - to get dopamine from the things that actually benefit us, to replace escape mechanisms with purposeful activities.

From your detox experience, you will realize when, where and how your escape mechanisms are distracting you in your priority tasks. Probably, the best thing to do after the detox could be to assimilate it into your life as much as possible and not spiral into a chain of low quality dopamine fixes, when you break your discipline. Remember, we may break a bad habit, but never forget it, this is why we relapse. We can only make our low fix stimuli as invisible as possible.  

Happy detoxing!


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