Dopamine, eat poorly, walking through certain aisles at the

Dopamine, the Double Edged Sword 
“Dopamine is released when you
accomplish something you set out to accomplish, when you cross something off
your to do list, when you hit the goal. Dopamine makes us achievement machines,
but we have to know that we’re making progress.”
-Simon Sinek
 
As mentioned in the previous chapter,
Dopamine is a chemical released in the brain that gives us pleasure 19.  The
natural release of Dopamine is cued by sight, sense, or smell.  These cues are
associated for a need or want for reward and instant gratification.  This could
be the smell of coffee for a coffee lover, fresh baked cookies for a foodie, or
the visual image of a chiseled body for the avid gym enthusiast.  Dopamine is
the initial internal push that gets the ball in motion.  It not only plays a big role in
our motivation and reward thought process but it also plays a critical role in
our decision making and creativity.  The greater our urge and motivation for
reward the more creative we will become in figuring out a way to attain that
reward.  So there are many upsides to dopamine.
The Bad Side of Dopamine:
The opposite edge of the sword is not
as appealing.  When we do not fulfill a craving the result is a decrease in
dopamine.  Simply put this decrease in dopamine feels pretty awful.  This is why
it is so hard for us to resist the temptations we are bombarded with while
trying to make a change.  I am sure we can all attest to the frustration and bad
feelings accompanied by not receiving an anticipated reward.  These temptations
are lurking around everywhere in our life.  The cues are similar to a complex
matrix where many different variables, chain reactions, and input factors are
simultaneously linked to a single reward.  For example imagine that you are
trying to eat healthy.  The time of day when you normally have a snack is a cue
to eat poorly, walking through certain aisles at the grocery store exposes you
to the visual cues of unhealthy foods you want, if you have a night out on the
town and have a few drinks intoxication could be a cue if you generally eat
poorly at the end of the night when you get home.  Perhaps you normally have an
unhealthy breakfast (croissant, doughnut, candy bar) with your morning cup of
coffee, making breakfast time, the aroma of coffee, the urge for caffeine, and
coffee itself a cue. Our bio-chemical makeup has already put us at a
disadvantage to making change especially when we are faced with years of deeply
rooted triggers/cues embedded in our day to day life.
Making Dopamine Work for
You:
The good news is that with proper focus
and development on self-discipline the ball is back in your court.  Education is
a crucial factor when combating dopamine, not simply understanding your enemy
and what you are up against, but learning your body and being cognitive of your
cue/reward associations or triggers.  A very basic illustration of this is when
the dieter on the quest to start eating healthy rids the house of all junk food
and unhealthy eating options.  This is done to reduce the temptation by
minimizing cues and triggers to eat poorly.  Another example is when the dieter
changes their route to work because over the years when they drive by the
doughnut shop they stop and get a doughnut.  The mere sight of the doughnut shop
is a huge cue.  They almost instinctually pull into the parking lot without
thinking.  Habits can be so deeply embedded that we act on them without
realizing it.  These are very real subconscious wirings that have created a worn
and well-trodden path over many years of repetition *.  To beat dopamine you
need to educate yourself and be aware of your cues and triggers.  The next step
is to reduce your daily exposure to these triggers.
We can’t realistically put ourselves in
a glass bubble and block off all triggers.  Inevitably we will come face to face
with temptation and the greater the change we are making in our lives the
greater the foe, temptation.  Imagine you are trying to create a completely new
daily routine, like the example in the transformational habit section.  You may
be battling years and years of well-developed and deeply rooted habits.  This is
why you must do everything you can to reduce your exposure to temptation.  You
can also use your dopamine to associate new reward with new behaviors.  If you
are anything like me you love coffee.  To make my morning and evening routine
habitual I only had to have the self-discipline to have my coffee after I finished my morning
routine.  It allowed me to use my coffee as a reward and the dopamine to stem a
change in behavior through its natural reward aspect. I simply added another
layer of cue/triggers that created the motivation from dopamine.  Finishing my
daily routine led me to my cup of coffee which was enough of a reward to get the
ball rolling.
Overtime and through the creation of
new habits you will find an additional benefit of dopamine as you start to
develop new cue/reward associations that create positive results.  If are able
to stick to a new behavior for 254 days, you are scientifically guaranteed to
create a new habit.  Over the course of this habit creation the natural release
of dopamine from the new rewards you experience will become more habituated
eventually altering your cue/reward association.  For example, I found after
about 6 months of completing my daily routine the sense of success at the end of
the day became a great reward for me.  When I woke up in the morning the simple
sight of my coffee cup next to my laptop put me in a highly excited and
motivated state to start my day with my morning routine.  I felt good throughout
the day as I completed small milestones that eventually accumulated to a
successful day.  I knew that at the end of the day the euphoric and fulfilling
feeling of self-accomplishment was waiting.  It kept me pushing with
intermittent bouts of cue/reward as I achieved the varying
milestones.