With entertainment and distractions literally at our fingertips, we are spending more and more time on social media, watching Netflix and playing video games. Whenever we feel bored for a minute, we grab our smartphone and distract ourselves. Or what about grabbing a nice sugary or high-fat snack in order to fill the gap of boredom?
The question is, why do we do these kinds of things even though we know it isn’t good for us? The answer can be found in your brain.
You see, every time you scroll through Instagram, watch something on YouTube or Netflix, receive likes on your Facebook post, play some Call of Duty, masturbate to porn or take a bite of a nice juicy hamburger, your brain produces a strong hit of the neurochemical dopamine.
Essentially, your brain is addicted to dopamine and it feels really good whenever dopamine is produced. Therefore, your brain will try to stimulate the repetition of the behaviour that produced the dopamine in the first place. And that’s where things go wrong for us nowadays.
In other words, you scroll through Instagram once and your brain produces dopamine. Before you know it, your brain is signaling you to go back to Instagram because it knows it will get a new hit of dopamine again. All of a sudden you find yourself fighting an uphill battle against your brain — and that’s not an easy fight.
The problem is that a lot of the things that we consider normal in our daily life are not normal at all. It’s normal simply because we have developed a mild (and sometimes strong) addiction for some things on a large, global scale.
Yet, these things are usually the obstacles that prevent you from focusing on your main goals in life. They distract you from doing deep work and your mind is being occupied so that you don’t have to think about what’s wrong in your life. All in all, it can have a huge impact on the way you think and behave. And that’s why I decided to do a 24-Hour dopamine fast.
Note: Dopamine is not per se something bad. It’s a very complex neurochemical that is also responsible for motivation, our attention and our decision making. So dopamine isn’t the bad guy here.. It’s the fact that certain man-made pleasures abuse dopamine in unnatural ways that is the real problem here.
For 24 hours, I had to follow these strict rules:
The only things I practically could do were:
It may seem crazy to follow these strict rules, and I have to admit that I kinda felt like a monk doing this dopamine fast. However, keep in mind that it’s only 24 hours of your entire life. If you can’t follow these rules for 24 hours, you know you have a serious addiction to dopamine and all the other stimulants of daily life. Even though this is our standard nowadays, it’s unhealthy.
We are overstimulated with impulses from every direction and overloaded with information everywhere we go. The benchmark of what is fun and entertaining keeps shifting upwards, as we’re quickly getting bored by the things that don’t stimulate us enough anymore.
Our ability to focus and pay attention is decreasing faster and faster. Heck, most of us can’t even sit still and read a book for 30 minutes in a row without feeling the need to check social media or do something that gives us more dopamine hits. This is a real, real issue.
So many people in my environment talk about how overwhelmed, stressed or stuck they are in life. But then what do they do? They numb their mind by watching another episode of Narcos or Game of Thrones. They don’t give their mind the necessary space, time and stimulant-free environment to come up with insights and solutions for their problems.
They continue to drown in a sea of information, entertainment and distractions, while their real problems remain unresolved. And I’m not even blaming them (only a little bit), because most of the modern-day distractions are designed in a way to keep us all addicted (read the book ‘Hooked’ by Nir Eyal for example).
That’s why I decided to do this dopamine fast. I wanted to see what it would be like if I pressed the mental ‘reset button’ and be without external stimuli for a full day. I wanted to see what my mind would do.
Would I go crazy? Would I come up with valuable new insights? Would I be bored? Would I get my next breakthrough? That’s what I wanted to find out.
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My 24-hour dopamine fast, which is now two days ago, was a truly fascinating experience. And to be honest, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. In fact, I gained so many valuable benefits from it that I’ll likely do this dopamine fast every six months or so.
Never in my entire life did I have a day in which my mind was so incredibly still and focused. It was truly amazing to witness and it made me realize how our mind and thoughts are essentially being polluted by all the external stimuli that hit us throughout the day.
Especially during my two meditation session of that day, I could notice how calm my mind was. Normally when I’m meditating, it can take some time for my mind to calm down. Sometimes it simply jumps from thought to thought and it can’t seem to be quiet for the entire session.
This time it was different…
From the second I started my meditation, my mind was completely silent. The only thought that would pop up every 10–15 seconds was ‘Damn, is it really this silent right now??’.
Yet, at the same time, my mind was incredibly focused. During the day, I could direct my thoughts very consciously towards one topic that I wanted to do deep thinking for: my business.
Normally when I want to do deep thinking, I can have trouble keeping my mind focused on the topic or problem at hand. This time, however, it was a breeze. It was like I finally had my full mental resources available to think about this one topic, and that led to some great new insights…
Before starting my dopamine fast, I set the intention to use this day as a moment to think critically about my business. What was I doing well? What are the best next steps? What changes should I be making soon? That kind of stuff.
And finally, because my mind wasn’t busy with processing the past 16 Instagram posts or the latest funny cat video, I could use all of its power and direct it towards thinking deeply about my business. Throughout the day, ideas would pop up, new insights emerged and I was able to gain full clarity on what I was doing well and what my next steps should be.
It felt like my brain was operating in a higher gear. Almost as if I could use more of my brain power than I normally could (just like in the movie Limitless).
Of course, this is because my brain’s working memory had fewer data to process because of the limited amount of inputs it has been getting throughout my dopamine fast. Therefore, more was available for keeping my focus on thinking deeply about one topic.
On those days where I’m very busy or where I simply flood myself with Netflix, video games, and social media, my mind can get very busy. It feels like I have no control over my thoughts anymore. On those days, it’s not uncommon for me to experience stressful, negative and (lots of) random thoughts.
But during my dopamine fast, this was different. It finally felt like my thoughts were my own. There were fewer sources that could condition my thinking, and therefore my thoughts felt more in control, calmer, and more authentic. And that’s a pretty good feeling to have :)
Beforehand, I thought that not eating for 24 hours was going to be the hardest part of this entire challenge — but I was completely wrong. In fact, I hardly experienced the feeling of being hungry. Only about 5–6 times I experienced a wave of 30 seconds in which I experienced the feeling of hunger.
What was interesting to note, however, was that my brain craved the taste (and probably the dopamine hits) of food — especially sugary snacks and high transfat foods like hamburgers and pizza.
Even though I normally eat relatively healthy, I could clearly notice the difference in how my body didn’t need to process any food during my dopamine fast. Throughout the day, I had consistent levels of energy and my body felt very light. There was no crash in energy and no sluggish feeling, which does happen every now and then on my ‘normal’ days.
One of the insights I got during my dopamine fast was that we are wasting so much time. Nearly all of us. No matter how good we already think we’re doing. This is what I wrote in my journal during my dopamine fast:
“We have so much time in a day to do amazing things and make real progress. If only we didn’t numb, distract, and choke ourselves by the weapons of mass distractions. We are addicted to fake pleasures that take our focus away from the things we really desire.”
All the time we waste away on social media, watching Netflix or playing video games is insane. And don’t get me wrong here, I definitely think there is a time and place for doing these type of activities — but not for hours and hours a day.
Try to trade one hour of entertainment for one hour of reading, following courses, creating new things, or simply reflecting on your life and goals. Start with just one hour per day. That alone has the power to massively change your life over the course of a year.
As I’ve written in my journal during my dopamine fast:
“What this dopamine fast does is give you the necessary space to reflect, plan, strategize and think deeply. It creates clarity and should be done by anyone who is unhappy, overwhelmed, stressed or stuck in life. Heck, it should be done by anyone just to see what comes up! This day will shine a light on your next steps and the things that are off in your life”.
This is the exact reason why I’d recommend the 24-hour dopamine fast to anyone. Feel free to adjust some of the rules if they intimidate you. Maybe trade the ‘no eating’ rule for ‘eating strictly organic foods’ to make it more accessible for you. Nevertheless, I highly encourage you to try it for yourself and see what you come up with.
Let me know in the comments if you plan on doing a dopamine fast yourself (and if you already did, let me know how it went!).
To Your Personal Growth,
Founder Personal Growth Lab