Dopamine and Discipline
Dopamine is a chemical in our body that makes us feel good and is released when we get something we want. Once dopamine is released throughout your body, you will want to do whatever you need to do to release it again (Mehta, 2013). This is the reason people get addicted to drugs and other bad habits. Once someone starts the habit of using drugs that release dopamine in their system, they want to do it again and again and again. Some drugs are more addictive than others, but there are other bad habits that we get addicted to that don’t involve taking drugs.
Many people get addicted to taking drugs or drinking alcohol. There are also people that get addicted to playing the lottery, gambling, or sex (“The Surprising Similarities Between Gambling and Sex Addiction”, 2019). There is no external drug that people take to get addicted to those habits, but there is a chemical that people get addicted to and want more of. That chemical is dopamine. When someone has the habit of gambling at a casino every night, that person gets a release of dopamine every time they go to the casino to gamble. Even if they know they shouldn’t go, they go because they want the release of dopamine and they know that gambling will release it and make them feel good. Dopamine can lead to some really bad habits, but it can also lead to good habits.
You can get a release of dopamine any time you get something you want. It’s your body’s way of staying focused on something that seems interesting or rewarding (Samsonovich, 2010). If you want to clean your kitchen and you complete the task, you will get a release of dopamine. If you want a loved one to give you a hug, you will get a release of dopamine when they give you a hug. If you want something that would be rewarding and get it, you will release dopamine. Instead of creating the release of dopamine for habits we don’t want, we need to create the release of dopamine for habits we do want.
One way to use dopamine to create good habits is to create a list and complete the tasks on the list. That’s why to-do lists work well because you get a dopamine release when you cross something off on your to-do list. Dopamine causes instant gratification, which can be powerful. On your way to goal achievement you will not get a whole lot of instant gratification. Most of the time you will forego instant gratification to stay disciplined. Therefore, it’s important to use this knowledge to create a release of dopamine and get some instant gratification and reward yourself for doing things well (Lopresti, 2016)
There are two types of instant gratification. One is getting what we want because we say “yes” to an impulse. We feel we want something and we go get it. We see ice cream, we know we like ice cream, so we get ice cream. When we eat the ice cream we get that little hit of dopamine and instant gratification. The other type of instant gratification is doing something because we know it will help us reach our goals. We see ice cream, we know ice cream will not help us lose weight, we pass on ice cream. We feel pretty good about making a disciplined decision, but there is no release of dopamine to make us feel really good. There are a couple of tools you can use to help you create that release of dopamine and help you become addicted to good habits.
To get the instant gratification from saying “no” to something we want, or “yes” to something we don’t feel like doing, we must create a system of feedback that allows us to see how our disciplined decision is helping immediately. We are designed to release dopamine and feel good when we get what we want (Samsonovich, 2010). To live the life we want, we must train ourselves to feel good when we make a rational, disciplined decision instead of an irrational, impulsive decision. We need to work with nature and how our bodies were designed or we are going to have a difficult time achieving what we want.
Your body is designed to use dopamine to make you feel good when you get what you want. So if you want to be a guitar player, you need to train yourself to release dopamine when you make decisions to practice playing guitar. The problem is that you will not always feel like getting up and getting your guitar to practice. You will need a system that gives you instant gratification when you get up and play the guitar. That's why it's so important to create Small Wins and keep track of those habits that lead to Big Gains. The Small Wins = Big Gains system provides a checklist of behaviors you want to achieve daily or weekly to get you closer to your goals. It feels good to know that you are on track with your goals and you will get small hits of dopamine when you check off something good on your list. The absolute best way to achieve your goals is to track your progress every day or night and continuously release dopamine for creating healthy habits. Tracking your habits will help dopamine be released to help you feel good on your journey toward your best life!
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