We live in a world where we are connected. Phones, TV, tablets, laptops…screens. We freak out if we’ve misplaced our phone or complain when a page takes too long to load or feel those “ghost vibrations” in our pockets making us think we have a message. People are becoming more and more addicted to technology, mostly because of a brain chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is what causes us to feel good after doing certain things, like eating something yummy, exercising, or interacting with people online. Dopamine is everywhere in our world; we’re flooded with it every time we do something pleasurable.
This past Saturday, my roommates and I decided to do the Dopamine Fast. The Dopamine Fast comes from a YouTube video by Improvement Pill. This video seemed legitimate despite the annoying ad in the middle of the video for watches, which made me question the whole fast since this video was supposed to focus on cutting out dopamine but buying something nice and flashy for yourself would release dopamine. A little counter-intuitive. Anyway, this fast is supposed to be a way to get your life back together by pushing the reset button on your brain through cutting out dopamine.
How the fast works
You need to take an entire day, from the moment you wake up until the moment you go to sleep, to cut out dopamine. That means you can’t eat, listen to music, use the internet or your phone, hang out with or talk to anyone, watch videos or TV, or even read books. A little intense. You can drink water, meditate, write and reflect, walk around, and do light exercise.
The fast is designed to “starve” your brain of dopamine, making it so when you reward yourself after the fast with a small and simple reward, like eating, it’ll be a genuine and good feeling. The fast is also designed to prevent masking of pain. If you’re physically or emotionally hurting, there’s no way you can use a screen or food or another vice to cover it up. You must acknowledge the pain and reflect on it; you must fix this pain by writing about it.
What is dopamine and why is it important?
This fast revolves around dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter in the body. This basically just means that dopamine is a chemical messenger between brain cells. At the beginning of the article, it was said that dopamine is the pleasure chemical, but it also controls movement and speech. Too much dopamine and you get addiction and hallucinations. Too little and you get Parkinson’s disease.
Dopamine is a sent to the brain when we think we’ll receive a reward, like a treat. According to sciencenewsforstudents.org “this dopamine release tells the brain that whatever it just experienced is worth getting more of.” This attribute of dopamine means that it’s a great way to motivate and reinforce certain behaviors. Drugs and technology release floods of dopamine, which is why these substances tend to be so addictive.
I thought the Dopamine Fast had too much buzz and wouldn’t help me, so I recorded my thoughts before, during, and after the fast.
I was very skeptical about this fast; it reminded me of one of those diet fads or reflection fads that are really popular right now. My main goal was seeing what all the fuss was about, since I didn’t really think that I had any really big issues in my life. After telling a friend about this, she told me it sounded like simulated depression.
It wasn’t that terrible at first. I slept in so I could minimize my time spent staring at a blank wall and twiddling my thumbs. While I couldn’t go to the gym, I did yoga probably three times that day, stretching and breathing; that was the best part of the experience. I slept a lot. There really wasn’t anything else to do. When I did venture out into the world, I found myself more observant, looking at the Christmas lights around the city instead of at the light of my phone. The reflection and writing part of this fast wasn’t entirely helpful. Most of my thoughts were little blips of interesting ideas or planning out some goals for the year, but nothing too deep or nothing that revealed I was in pain. The hunger came and went, but not eating made me incredibly cold and slow.
I went into this day thinking I wasn’t going to be productive, which was partly true. I had the chance to get back into yoga and fall back in love with my city, but my reflections weren’t that deep or insightful, mainly because I reflect at the end of each day. I would probably do this again but modify it to include some housework and reading.
Did it live up to the buzz? My answer is no. During this fasting period, I didn’t have any intense revelations about my current lifestyle habits; I was just bored and hungry and unproductive. But don’t let my opinion sway you. If you think you need to press the reset button on your life, try the Dopamine Fast.1
Also published on Medium.