If everyone gets an award you then there's no motivation for people to be driven enough to have new ideas or reach for greater accomplishments. This is the modern story of dopamine.
This blog post is a my take on dopamine. It is a simplification and is largely rooted in my own experience but hopefully it will be some good food for thought. I spoke a lot about dopamine and serotonin in the neuro-genesis vs depression series so check that out in the categories if this is interesting to you.
I am a dopamine addict. How do I know? Earlier in life I loved coffee, cigarettes, and alcohol. No interest in THC; it doesn't play on dopamine. Dopamine dominant people tend to be driven. These are the people that feel good when they accomplish things. They are also the people that non-dopamine dominant people tell to relax and just be happy. Dopamine in excess converts to adrenalin. This often makes dopamine dominant people anxious and they will often push themselves to exhaustion and crash.
In modern times guess what spikes dopamine....blue light. In nature blue light is always balanced with other frequencies of light and is mostly partnered with red light. If dopamine is blue light then serotonin (the relax and be happy neuro-transmitter) is similar to red light. Nature perfectly built the system so that blue is more present in morning leading up to noon and red is more present going down to evening. Makes sense so that you get up and go in the morning and start to wind down and relax in the evening which is why people have used fire light after dark for thousands of years. In nature you see the most blue light at night on full moons. Luna = Lunar...Lunatic so you can see that blue light without the red has an effect.
I will also say fats (keto) lean more toward dopamine and carbs lean toward serotonin. So as you eat you may want to have more fat and protein in the morning and more carbs in the evening. I've talked about Inuit traits before and when it's cold you need to be more driven to get up and get the things you need to survive but in high light environments carbs are far more abundant because survival is much easier based on the light environment. Hopefully you are starting to see how light needs to be the lens you look at the world through.
Our modern tech is all blue. What does this do? It stimulates you. It causes the brain to get a dopamine spike. Dopamine is excitatory.
Dopamine is not good or bad, it is a tool your brain uses to help you navigate life. It is the reward you get from accomplishment so there's a big problem with dopamine in modern times.
In my life when I was inducing dopamine release from chemicals or from light I was simultaneously teaching my brain that dopamine comes from the environment outside my head. This is significant because you can also get dopamine spikes from your thought environment inside your head. A proper functioning dopamine pathway can be excited from outside stimulus but also when you have a good idea, when you learn, or when you problem solve in your mind: what I'm calling the inner dopamine pathway.
Putting LED lights in schools...? Think that encourages learning? Nope! Parents please think about this. If your kids are spiked under blue light all day at school you may want to consider having red light waiting for them at home. Over-stimulation from outside stimulus like blue light, alcohol, ect diminishes your inner dopamine pathway. I am still a dopamine junkie but now I'm hooked on learning and have retrained my dopamine pathway to give me rewards for having realizations and new ideas. This causes me to need chemical dopamine release far less. If a person can't get inner pathway dopamine from new ideas or mental accomplishment then they will not be excited about learning. Instead they will be glued to a blue lit screen. This is the equivalent of a person watching lots of porn and then not being able to get excited sexually when a real person is in front of them. I'm saying that the screens and lights in our environment are altering our neurotransmitter function to remove the ability to benefit from learning, leading to....less learning. I have seen this in my own life as I now crave new ideas the way I once craved alcohol and cigarettes.
In the same way blue light is more in the morning and less in the evening; always balanced by red light in different levels depending on the time of day, artificially increasing dopamine causes an imbalance with serotonin. So what do people get....? Depressed. What happens when they get depressed> They take SSRI's which boost serotonin. I'm not saying this is bad, I'm shining a light on the process so maybe people who struggle with depression also look at the environment they are in while they get help. This way medicine will be for a short time verses a life sentence. Remember that if you break a bone you use a cast until it heals, but if you leave cast on for years the arm underneath will shrivel up from lack of use making it even harder to go without the cast. In the porn example this is akin to the person who can't get turned on from porn now taking Viagra. See how this is a complete mis understanding of the environmental factors on brains? Our medicine needs to be the exception not the rule. Our external dopamine spikes also need to be the exception and not the rule. Nature must be the rule.
I have developed a type of list of low dopamine traits to determine how much information to give a person, looking to see if they spark at all for new ideas.
Giving lots of information to a low dopamine person is like yelling at a person who is hard of hearing. If you'd like to know, ask.
So pay very close to what chemicals you consume. Pay attention to the light environment you are in and what thought pathways your are digging in your day to day. A low dopamine person would be someone who can't stimulate their dopamine with thought, so tune in. If you are unmotivated and not excited about learning you may need to remove the things in your life that are externally exciting so that you can have a dopamine margin to use on learning. And yes, anything you expose the brain to for a prolonged period of time effects it and in many cases if you take it you won't make it so try to use substances incrementally as the exception and not the rule or you run the risk being a low dopamine person.
Having new realizations and learning is hard work and we need dopamine to be reserved as the reward for hard work. If dopamine comes easy its value goes down. If everyone gets a star no one does.
Rob Alexander is on a journey to learn not just about health but everything else.
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