Dopamine – the molecule of motivation and desire to pursue

I am a big fan of podcasts and hope to launch my own lifestyle podcast “Natter with Nina” in October 2022. 
This article about the chemical in our brain called dopamine rephrases some of the podcasts on the subject created by Andrew Huberman, a Professor of neurology and ophthalmology at Stanford School of Medicine. His podcasts are based on “neuro-biological principles and objective mechanisms”.
Dopamine is a very powerful molecule in our body and has two main roles:
1. It controls our motor functions (our movements)
2. It influences anticipation, motivation to go out and pursue and the desire for more
You probably recall that serotonin was the molecule of bliss, of contentment with what you have, of the here and now. The dopamine molecule is the opposite – it motivates us to reach out for resources, to have more, to desire or to crave.
The amount of dopamine in our body is determined by our genes. Therefore some people are naturally more driven, ready for action and striving to achieve. Others are more apathetic with a lower urge to attain goals or satisfy needs. 
So our dopamine baseline is set up genetically. Additionally there are behaviour (activities) and substances that can increase our level of dopamine. For example:
  • eating chocolate increases the level of dopamine 1.5 times
  • practicing sex (including persuasion, anticipation and actual sex) – 2 times
  • nicotine – 2.5 times
  • cocaine – 2.5 times
  • exercise (only if you enjoy it) – 2 times
  • amphetamine – 10 times.
It looks simple – practice these activities or take substances and you will achieve your goals. Sorry, It is not so simple at all. The catch is that every peak of dopamine in the body is followed by a crash in the dopamine level and more importantly, the crash lowers the amount of dopamine  below the starting line.  I remember crossing the finishing line of my first marathon in Rome – it brought me indescribable pleasure, I felt great, I felt on the top of the world. Some days later all this euphoria was gone and I felt very depleted, very sad. 
If the peaks of dopamine are very high the lows are very low and eventually the general dopamine baseline will decrease. Moreover, dopamine is the chemical of craving, of the desire to have more. After every release of dopamine we feel pleasure followed by the pain of craving for more. So, the first time you try a Lindt chocolate it melts in your mouth and pleasure spreads through your body, but the second time it is not so great and the next time even less. You need more and more chocolate to feel the same delight as before. It is a vicious circle and leads to addiction – drug addiction, food addiction, sex addiction, gambling addiction, video games addiction, Iphone addiction, social media platforms addiction, addiction to pornography, etc. Having more decreases the pain of craving.
Another important fact is that novelty and surprise bring huge releases of dopamine.
Dopamine motivates us to take action to achieve a goal and obtain the reward. And here is another catch in the way dopamine works. To achieve the goal requires hard work, even harder if the work is not liked and the reward comes at the end. An interesting project was conducted at Stanford University involving children in kindergartens. Only children who liked drawing were selected to participate and they were given rewards at the end of every drawing session – golden stars and some toys. After a period of time the scientists stopped giving these regular rewards. Remarkably, the children also stopped enjoying the drawing as a result. The pleasure of the regular rewards surpassed the pleasure received from drawing and made the effort to achieve the goal (drawing better) much more difficult. The release of dopamine as result of regular end rewards can keep you motivated for a short period of time but do not work in the long term.
So this molecule of pleasure and pain seems quite awkward, like Jekyll  and Hyde. How can we use the knowledge that science gives us to be more motivated and more driven to achieve our goals? The wonderful Professor Andrew Huberman has suggested some tools and protocols to help with that. Maybe you have already guessed some of them or even practice them. The next post in this section will be about how to balance the pleasure and pain of dopamine release for our benefit in everyday life. 

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