The world’s largest media companies, backed by research from some of the world’s brightest minds, are manipulating your mind to get you hooked on instant gratification.
TikToks, notifications, infinite scroll feeds, auto-plays on Netflix, algorithms, and many other features have created an environment where staying focused is difficult because there’s always a new distraction to steal your attention.
In a world with decreasing attention spans, the ability to focus has become more powerful than ever. A dopamine detox can help you train your brain to pay attention to what matters and ignore what doesn’t.
If you learn to rewire your mind, you can reclaim your focus, which will help you live a happier, healthier, and more successful life.
You can spend more time working on important projects like a side business.
You’ll have less anxiety and mental fatigue.
You’ll enjoy life more by spending more time in the present moment.
Let’s break down the role dopamine plays in your life and talk about how to do a dopamine detox to put your brain back on the right track.
What is dopamine?
Dopamine is most notably involved in helping us feel pleasure as part of the brain’s reward system. Sex, shopping, smelling cookies baking in the oven—all these things can trigger dopamine release, or a “dopamine rush.”
This feel-good neurotransmitter is also involved in reinforcement. That’s why, once we try one of those cookies, we might come back for another one (or two, or three). The darker side of dopamine is the intense feeling of reward people feel when they take drugs, such as heroin or cocaine, which can lead to addiction. (source)
Look at some of the examples listed as sources of dopamine and add to them the ones I’ve mentioned already. The more you trigger a dopamine response, the more you seek the same high again, just like an addict.
Have you ever reached for your phone to check social media after checking it only a few minutes ago? If you want a startling view of how dopamine can affect your behavior, just look at the daily screen time on your iPhone.
It will show you how many times you pick up your phone each day.
As mentioned in another article, each time you switch tasks—like checking your phone while working on an important task—your brain needs time to reset itself and focus again.
You can reach a point where you task-switch so much that you become dramatically less effective than you could be.
You can develop a real addiction.
The first time you take a drug, you feel euphoric. You feel pretty good the next few times, too. Eventually, though, the power of the high wears off, and you need to take higher doses of the drug just to feel something. It can reach a point where the drug doesn’t even make you feel good anymore; you need it just to reach a baseline.
When people are addicted to drugs, they may have to go through a detox period to curb their addiction. This leads to withdrawal symptoms that make them feel sick because their body craves and needs the drugs so badly.
A detox can be quite rough, with the withdrawals being almost unbearable. But if you come out on the other side, you have a fighting chance of staying clean. While you might not experience the same physical symptoms as you would abstaining from a drug, you’ll experience some psychological difficulty while doing a dopamine detox.
But remember, this is for your long-term mental health, so embrace the short-term discomfort you’re about to experience. Embrace the dopamine detox to build a long-lasting, healthy relationship with this chemical.
How to do a dopamine detox: rules to follow
A dopamine detox is just like a drug detox. Here’s how the basic process works.
- Write down all of your top dopamine-triggering activities (e.g., checking your phone, watching TV, or playing video games). Rank them from most addicting to least addicting.
- For at least one day, abstain from these activities. Take whatever measures you need to, like giving your phone to a friend for the day or disconnecting all your electronics.
- Focus on activities that keep you calm and present—like meditation, walking, exercising (with no music), or spending time in nature.
- You’ll likely go through a withdrawal. There’s no great way to overcome this other than to “grin and bear it.” Instead of running from your anxious and bored feelings, sit with them.
- After the detox is done, take some time to reflect. Journal about it and talk about the lessons you learned.
- Once the detox is over, create a new plan to keep dopamine from putting you in a constantly distracted state.
- If, for some reason, you don’t succeed with your dopamine detox, try it again with less strict standards—like choosing one activity you’re going to avoid for the day.
A day-long detox should suffice, but if you want to stretch yourself and try longer periods, like an entire weekend, you can. It might also be a good idea to have a regular dopamine detox period once per month to rewire your brain for the long term.
After it’s over, the most important step comes in.
You have to create a long-term plan to help you stay focused and avoid distractions.
Here are some dopamine detox rules to become more focused and less distracted.
Don’t go “cold turkey”
Odds are you won’t be able to ignore all of these cheap sources of dopamine all day, every single day, for the rest of your life.
You have to build a sustainable process.
Try creating new rules for yourself that let you get your dopamine rush sometimes, but not as much as you’re used to:
- Allow yourself a “cheat meal” once per week or a small tasty dessert at the end of the day once per day.
- Set a time limit for certain activities like playing video games, going on social media, or watching TV—like one hour per day.
- Add some new practices into your life that will help you stay more focused—like a daily meditation routine.
My favorite technique for a dopamine detox
I created a separate section for this tip because it’s one of my favorites to help you make your dopamine detox stick, stay more focused for the long term, and avoid constant distractions.
Don’t check your phone first thing in the morning.
Doing so sets you up for a distracted day.
Often, I’ll turn my phone completely off the night before. Since I can wake up whenever I want as a self-employed person, I don’t need to use an alarm. If you need to wake up at a certain time, you can buy an alarm clock to avoid using the alarm on your phone.
I don’t check my phone until I’ve completed my most important tasks, which leads to my next point.
Use the power of time-blocking for productivity
Focused time blocks can help you achieve important goals.
Instead of just getting rid of your bad habits, develop good ones.
Add a daily time block where you spend time focusing on a task or a skill that will improve your life:
- Building a business
- Working on a creative skill like writing
- Taking time to “just be”
This will help you form a keystone habit:
[Keystone habits are] changes or habits that people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives
—Charles Duhigg, “The Power of Habit”
Once you establish a solid positive habit, it will be easier to create new ones and avoid bad ones.
Years back, I started writing an hour per day. After I started to build a successful career, bad habits naturally dropped off simply because I placed less importance on them.
I also used to watch TV for hours each day. These days, I can’t bring myself to binge-watch TV because I have so many other worthwhile activities I’d rather focus on.
This entire process will lead to a different and much healthier relationship with dopamine.
Dopamine isn’t all bad: Use it to your advantage
You can rewire your mind to seek dopamine through activities that make your life better.
- You get a dopamine rush when a sale comes in for your business.
- You get a dopamine rush when you publish an article online.
- You’ll feel a dopamine rush when you see improvements in your life, like noticing your physical appearance improve through exercise.
Your brain is wired to seek rewards. Don’t fight against it. Just change the rewards.
This is where “gamifying your life” comes in.
Video games are addicting because you unlock new levels, skills, and points when you do well.
What if you treated your life like a game?
Unlock a new level in your career, develop new skills that make you more talented, and earn points—like numbers in your bank account, pounds off the scale, or followers to your social media profile that you use as a creator instead of a consumer.
This will create a positive feedback loop.
The more you succeed, the more inspired you’ll be to keep succeeding.
The more disciplined you become, the more you’ll want to maintain it.
That’s the power of positive momentum.
You can even gamify your life for success by tying both reward systems together.
Allow yourself to experience short-term pleasure after doing something that makes your long-term results better.
- Sure, go out for drinks with your friends, but do it to celebrate a week of productive work.
- Give yourself a tasty treat after a workout.
- Let yourself watch TV as a reward for being focused throughout the day.
You’re not much different from Pavlov’s dog.
You can condition yourself to be more productive by tying your reward systems together.
The future belongs to the focused
People being more distracted than ever makes it that much easier for focused people to compete against them.
With the rise of technology, especially artificial intelligence, it’s becoming more important to do work that can’t be easily replicated. Work that’s difficult to replicate takes focus and the ability to stretch your thinking skills.
You can get on the other side of the dopamine equation.
Instead of having a short attention span, you can learn how to hook other people’s attention to build a business, create content, and form a tribe of people who follow your lead.
You can use the same tools that distract other people to your advantage by being the creator instead of the consumer.
You can become addicted to the right dopamine sources, making you ten times as productive as an average person in society.
The dopamine rush lifestyle isn’t going anywhere. If anything, these tools to steal your attention and rob you of focus will become even more powerful.
I am reminded of this quote from Naval Ravikant:
Fight the good fight.
It won’t be easy, but this is a war worth fighting.
It can mean the difference between a life you love and a life you hate.
How you navigate the modern world matters more than ever, and the consequences are dire.
Whatever level of willpower you have inside of you, use it with all your might. Become a valiant soldier in the war for your own future.