Why we are all addicted to Texting, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Escape the Dopamine Loop, create new reward habits
Do you ever feel like you are addicted to email or Twitter or texting? Do you find it impossible to ignore your email if you see that there are messages in your inbox? Do you think that if you could ignore your incoming email or messages you might actually be able to get something done at work? You are right!
The culprit is dopamine -- Dopamine was "discovered" in 1958 by Arvid Carlsson and Nils-Ake Hillarp at the National Heart Institute of Sweden. Dopamine is created in various parts of the brain and is critical in all sorts of brain functions, including thinking, moving, sleeping, mood, attention, motivation, seeking and reward.
Pleasure vs. seeking -- Dopamine causes you to want, desire, seek out, and search. It increases your general level of arousal and your goal-directed behavior. From an evolutionary stand-point this is critical. The dopamine seeking system keeps you motivated to move through your world, learn, and survive. It's not just about physical needs such as food, or sex, but also about abstract concepts. Dopamine makes you curious about ideas and fuels your searching for information.
Wanting vs. liking -- The wanting system propels you to action and the liking system makes you feel satisfied and therefore pause your seeking. If your seeking system isn't turned off at least for a little while, then you start to run in an endless loop. The dopamine system is stronger than the opioid system. You tend to seek more than you are satisfied. Evolution again -- seeking is more likely to keep you alive than sitting around in a satisfied stupor.
Dopamine loops -- With the internet, twitter, and texting you now have almost instant gratification of your desire to seek. Want to talk to someone right away? Send a text and they respond in a few seconds. Want to look up some information? Just type your request into google. Want to see what your colleagues are up to? Go to Linked In. It's easy to get in a dopamine induced loop. Dopamine starts you seeking, then you get rewarded for the seeking which makes you seek more. It becomes harder and harder to stop looking at email, stop texting, or stop checking your cell phone to see if you have a message or a new text.
More, more, more -- Interestingly brain scan research shows that the brain has more activity when people are ANTICIPATING a reward than getting one. Research on rats shows that if you destroy dopamine neurons, rats can walk, chew, and swallow, but will starve to death even when food is right next to them. They have lost the anticipation and desire to go get the food. Although wanting and liking are related, research also shows that the dopamine system doesn't have satiety built in. It is possible for the dopamine system to keep saying "more more more", causing you to keep seeking even when you have found the information. How many times have you searched for something on google, found the answer, and yet realize a half hour later that you are still online looking for more information?
The cost to your body and mind -- This constant stimulation of the dopamine system can be exhausting. And the constant switching of attention makes it hard to get anything accomplished. Can you do anything to get out of a dopamine loop? Or prevent getting in one in the first place?
Turn off the cues -- One of the most important things you can do to prevent or stop a dopamine loop, and be more productive is to turn off the cues. Adjust the settings on your cell phone and on your laptop, desktop or tablet so that you don't receive the automatic notifications. Automatic notifications are touted as wonderful features of hardware, software, and apps. But they are actually causing you to be like a rat in a cage. If you want to get work done you need to turn off as many auditory and visual cues as possible. It's the best way to prevent and break the dopamine loops.
Create new Habits -- The dopamine system is especially sensitive to "cues" that a reward is coming. If there is a small, specific cue that signifies that something is going to happen, that sets off our dopamine system. So when there is a sound when a text message or email arrives, or a visual cue, that enhances the addictive effect. One way to extricate yourself from this loop is to create new habits.
Research shows that up to 95 % of your day is based on Habit! Think about it; you wake, make the bed, brush your teeth, eat, drudge to work, come home, etc. etc. Most of daily life occurs on auto pilot! Built in are reward cues...you reach for a cookie, or ice cream, to fee a sense of reward. BUT it is possible that other things, new habits will satisfy that reward center.
According to Dr. Kelly McGonigal, the brain can learn to attach the promise of reward to almost anything. If your brain believes that something is going to make you happy, your brain can initiate the craving response. One study from the University of Maryland connects compulsive technology usage to the same parts of your brain as cravings, another from the journal NeuroImage suggests drug cravings are no different from food, shopping, or other cravings. Many researchers claim that anything that is highly rewarding for somebody can elicit strong cravings, because the reward center has "learned" to anticipate the pleasure it brings about. So, anticipated reward is, in a sense, the "common currency" of the brain by which various activities are evaluated.
What do you think? How do you deal with dopamine loops? Are you willing to turn off your cues?
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