“I have no idea what happened to me. But something is terribly wrong. I’ve wondered if I had cancer or some horrible disease that’s turned me into what I am. But after six months of testing, with every specialist known to man, my cardiologist said, ‘I was fine’ and sent me to you.”
His accomplishments were numerous and as he continued, I sensed he was wrestling for the right words.
“Maybe I’m just getting old, but something is really wrong. I’ve been successful in my field, and my kids are all amazing adults. So, I guess I’ve done something right.”
He paused in thought and continued.
“I’ve quit drinking, but my wife says I’m a dry drunk. I still take Adderall for my ADD, and that used to give me a boost. But I’m tired all the time and could take a nap anytime of the day every day.”
I admired his openness, but he seemed a bit detached from his vulnerability.
“I’m sure I’m agitated way too much too often. My wife says they named the ‘Grumpy Old Men’ movie after me. I don’t really do anything meaningful anymore. And my wife tells me I’ve become “a chaos-producing, half-dead, shell of a man … who’s fading away!”
Although the words sounded hopeless, what I was sensing was not hopelessness and so I wondered aloud and said, “That’s a lot to consider, but you don’t really sound sad or hopeless?”
With a half grin, he commented, “I guess I’m just annoyed. And a bit anxious?”
I waited with intrigue, because again he seemed quite disconnected from what seemed to be a very disappointing existence.
He continued, “I’m annoyed, because my wife says that this is just my choice for not being willing to take a look at dopamine and how it could help me.”
With no change in expression, I chuckled inwardly saying to myself, (Somehow my name must’ve gotten out as the one to send a husband to, when you’re at the end of your rope with him.)
Nevertheless, I welcomed the opportunity.
He continued, “And I’m anxious because I don’t know what she means when she says that if I’m just going to be a 250-pound ‘sack of nothing’, that she doesn’t want to be around me.”
I asked him if he even knew what dopamine was, and why she thought that might apply to him?
His response told me that even if he was a 250-pound ‘sack of nothing’, that at least the sack was a funny nothing, “I know it’s that happy juice that supposedly fuels up the Champion that’s dead inside me … but … can supposedly make me become something great-in spite of myself.”
I laughed heartily, “Well I can certainly see how you could pull that definition up, if your wife is a Champion.”
“Yep! She’s one of those! And she wants me to fuel up on dopamine!”
I asked if I could briefly explain the concept of the Champion and dopamine?
“Your Champion is the one you were born to be: a priceless, precious, innocent dreamer … buried beneath the pain, the shame, and messaging and beliefs about you and your life … installed on the hard drive of your mind, heart, and spirit. Those things on your hard drive that appear to have silenced the wonder of this Champion within.”
“You could call dopamine the fuel of the Champion. It’s a chemical produced in our brain that acts as a neurotransmitter (transmitting messages from the brain to our bodies) a neurohormone (affecting our emotions) and a neuromodulator (sharpening the senses, such as sight and smell). Results of too much or too little dopamine are undesirable. However, it becomes the reward system and creates motivation when ‘balanced’. And balance is the key. The goal for all of us pursuing a Champion style life.”
I could tell this was intriguing to him, so I went on.
“I’m assuming she wants you to gain some of the great benefits that come with balanced dopamine levels such as:
- Helps increase our bone strength and density
- Reduces depression
- Assists with ADHD/ADD
- Increases motivation
- Relieves fatigue
- Stabilizes weight
- Regulates appetite
- Helps form deeper bonds in relationships
- Relieves nausea
- Motivates us
- Increases our memory
- Helps us learn and improve cognitive function
- Promotes attention and focus
- Increases creativity
- Improves sleep
- Helps with Parkinson symptoms
- Relieves some lupus symptoms
- Relieves pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis
- Increases libido
- Promotes emotional and mental stability
- The list goes on”
I told him if he wanted optimal dopamine levels, I could share what I share with my clients to help them accomplish that.
I wasn’t quite sure he was all that interested, but I hope you, as a reader, will be! Because truly the benefits to our health, our lifestyle, and the quality of our life are amazing!
What healing gift the science to optimal brain health has become and is becoming. Just a few short years ago, we knew nothing about the power of healthy dopamine levels in our brain and how it can change us. Now we know how and what to do to be able to live a full and abundant life
“Dopamine does many things but one of the more important things dopamine does is set the threshold for us to pursue specific goals. In that sense, dopamine is like a currency; all actions (and procrastination too) ‘SPEND’’ dopamine. Choose your actions wisely and toggle action and rest.”
Dr. Andrew Huberman
Professor of Neurobiology
1. THEY AVOID DOPAMINE DEPLETERS
Champions avoid dopamine depleters, because they’re aware of some of the negative consequences of low levels of dopamine which are…
- Muscle stiffness
- Joint pain
- Lack of motivation
- Unpredictable moods (with irritability)
- Lack of focus
- Lowered self-worth
- Changes in eating habits
- Sugar cravings
- Low libido
- Many more
Therefore, Champions are committed to keeping dopamine levels optimum, and are willing to avoid what depletes them. They devote themselves to learning and teaching themselves how to guard it.
“As long as it doesn’t include news, sports, weather and playing golf … I’m sure I’ll be okay!” I’m guessing he felt my energy drop by the look on his face and his slumping body language, as I reflected on his comment.
Here are some of those things that champions avoid when they’re dedicated to optimal levels of dopamine and its great benefits.
Although sad to have to disappoint him, his comments guided my starting point.
- Champions are aware that over exposure to news outlets depletes dopamine levels, and programs our brains to respond to negative input with a sense of reward, creating and reinforcing streams of negativity
Champions have read the research on how news outlets reprogram our brains for negativity by using the dopamine response in our brains to addict us to viewing. They literally create drama!
When disturbing things are played repetitively with intriguing snippets, we get a dopamine surge or hit, as we re-experience the revolving repetitive wow factors.
Then we sit spellbound until we see it again. All while the broadcasts are using perfect visual, auditory, and kinesthetic stimuli to keep us wanting, needing more.
Not to mention how it keeps us searching for the next negative or horrifying thing to reward our brains. The reprogramming is astounding. And disturbing.
“I suppose that’s why I can never get up once I start watching?”
“Very possible,” I responded.
Then as I was preparing to move on he blurted out, “And I’m sure my Champion wife would say that’s why I’m so negative and irritable?”
I responded with a question, “Does she say that about you?”
“YES,” he blurted out with a classic eye roll and sigh!
“She could be right.” … clearly not the answer he wanted.
- Champions avoid, minimize, limit exposure to stress
Clearly, stress eats away at dopamine. And it’s a real problem. In the United States’ adult population:
- 77% of adults experience stress that affects health and…
- 73% experience stress that challenges their mental health
“Well, my wife says I stress her out. So, is that my problem or hers,” he asked, hoping for validation?
“If you’re creating stress that affects her, own your part, and change it. Her responsibility is to manage the stress you impose upon her,” I commented.
“What if she does that by eliminating her stressor?”
I smirked as I commented, “You’ll be in deep trouble and wish you had managed your dopamine is my guess!”
Clearly, he was disappointed that I’d not let him off the hook, but obviously began to take what I was sharing about dopamine more seriously.
- Champions are aware that trauma can destroy dopamine balance. Therefore, they avoid it or if they experience it, they seek to resolve it immediately.
Trauma of any sort interferes with dopamine. Trauma can be resolved! Champions know this and waste no time taking care of it. If you would like more information on trauma resolution, click here.
- Champions are aware that medical conditions can destroy dopamine modulation, and therefore, they do their best to resolve them, and/or avoid them:
- Bipolar disorder
- Anxiety disorders
None of us would choose any of these. However, Champions know that just “trying to cope” with any of these can totally dismantle healthy dopamine levels. Therefore, they’re very proactive in resolving them when possible, and working with their physicians to avoid any medications that would interfere with dopamine balance (particularly ADHD medications).
- Champions are acutely aware that substance abuse (recreational drugs, alcohol, nicotine, prescription drugs, sugar) temporarily flood the brain with dopamine (which feels good in the moment) but quickly becomes addictive. Therefore, they’re always proactive in addressing any addictive processes.
The buzz sensation that comes with all of these entices us to go for even more of the rush. Thus, the addictive process begins. Eventually, it can lead to dopamine burn out.
“I guess this is what my wife was referring to when she said, ‘You’re just a junkie. You quit drinking and started smoking cigars. You’re cutting down on those and now you’re in the line at the Dairy Queen daily for your chocolate dipped ice cream cone. It’ll just be something else ‘until’ you decide to step up and address your issues!’”
“WOW! That was quite a mouthful,” I responded with a laugh!
“I guess you’re saying she’s right,” he asked with a worried expression?
I responded, “I don’t know enough to say if she’s right, but…what do you think?”
With a guilty nod yes, he conceded.
- Champions know that overuse of caffeine can hinder or throw off efforts to program yourself for optimal dopamine release. Therefore, they limit caffeine intake to a cup or two of coffee daily.
“Now you’re going to mess with my coffee drinking too,” he moaned?
“I’m not messing with anything, just giving you facts.”
He rolled his eyes and said he knew he needed to cut back. “Anything to get that dopamine going,” he commented!
- Champions are aware that social media has major impact on the dopamine levels of everyone and changes our perception of connection. Therefore, they enjoy, but limit social media intake.
Research reveals that both Facebook and Instagram spike dopamine production. Further research reveals self-worth correlates to the numbers of likes and shares accomplished.
Another study indicated that social media creates an increased need for dopamine. The result of overconsumption of social media is cognitive decline. In this study, brain scans revealed actual brain cell atrophy… or…death to brain function.
Interestingly enough, the former VP of User Growth at Facebook addressed the Stanford University student body about exploiting consumer behavior… “I feel tremendous guilt. The short-term dopamine-driven feedback loops that we’ve created, are destroying how society works.”
In his talk, his hope was that looking at the underlying science might give us pause the next time we feel a buzz in our pocket, (that would normally interrupt almost any intimate moment) to check our status, or who just liked us.
Research reveals that the average social media follower touches their device 2600 times daily. The average marriage couple exchanges touch 3 times daily. Perhaps that should give us heartfelt cause for … pause?
A serious pause!
A Cleveland Clinic study confirmed an increase in insecurity and anxiety as a result of social media scrolling. Researcher Dr. Lembke says “social media has become a way of ‘drugifying’ (drugging/doping) human connection.”
Not only that, but we’re no longer willing to work for reward.
Dr. Andrew Huberman also says,
“Too much pleasure experienced too often, without a prior requirement for any effort to achieve that pleasure, then dopamine is terrible for us. It lowers our baseline level of dopamine and the potency of ALL experiences.”
And then we wonder what happened to the ‘work ethic’.
Champions are dedicated to connecting to those we love and care about … beyond digital communication! And they’re willing to work for the rewards!
2. Champions know that they can actively train their brains for optimal dopamine release and are devoted to that training.
“I finally get it. I’ve gotta do this. I really have become a chaos-creating sack of nothing. I never wanted to be that. But over time it just happened! If there’s a way out of all of this with training my brain for healthy dopamine release, I’m ALL IN,” my client declared!
There’s no rocket science here. But it’s so simple, many are not willing to devote themselves to it. Their unhealed soul tangles have created a more complex search, creating inner questioning about the simplicity of this bankable, guaranteed, process. ‘You got the power’ is really truth.
Most of us are accustomed to big dopamine dumps and love the experience. That feeling when we pick up our brand-new car off the showroom floor; when our team wins the championship game, or when we get a raise or promotion. It’s a wonderful feeling.
But after those “high” feelings wash all over us and we’re feeling like we could conquer the world … the crash comes. Everyone hates the crash.
Suddenly, life is ‘just’ being life again. Back to the grind … (And we often just feel like innocent victims being marched back to the grind … when actually…IT’S OUR CHOICE!?
We typically live from high to high with crash to crash in the ‘betweens’. Unless, of course, we enter an addictive process to keep the dopamine flowing at peak levels, eventually resulting in serious addiction, along with…dopamine burnout.
So how do we train our brain differently? By learning to celebrate efforts made and progress achieved.
When I was learning this process, I had a condo on the beach in Galveston. I would work five stress-filled weeks and take the sixth week off. I’d push myself, push myself, push myself … then when the 6th week arrived and I could smell the fresh salty air, hear the seagulls, and watch the waves wash ashore … the dopamine release was-incredible.
The week was magical, as I basked in dopamine. Well, it was magical for about three or four days. Then the dread that my days were half over brought the crash that lasted for six weeks.
I decided to celebrate every week that I was one week closer. I set little celebrations in play. Week one – a special meal out. Week two – a new beach outfit, etc. I loved the little celebrations.
At week six, I loved arriving at the beach. The sound of seagulls and children laughing still delighted me. But there was no crash on day three or four. As a matter of fact, there were no crashes at all.
Then I’d do a few unplanned celebrations!
One time, it was a stressful week, so I asked a friend of mine who owned a plane to fly us some place fun for lunch. He surprised me by inviting another one of my friends and flew us off to Austin for a UT game. I LOVED THAT!
I’m a big believer in annual goals.
I set them every year.
But I also have celebration points along the way.
It’s the way we can all manage dopamine optimization.
Don’t forget … the benefits are massive. The list of benefits is long. But some of my favorites are, boosted self-confidence, energizer bunny vitality, determination that never quits, creativity that transforms, peace of mind and deep joy that brings that… AHHHHH … great fulfillment!
My client set up a health plan to lose 40 pounds and reduce medications for blood pressure and diabetes (type 2) with the assistance of his physician.
We set a mini reward system in place for various mile-markers.
He’s halfway to his goals, and just took his wife on a cruise to celebrate the halfway mark.
Begin to train your brain and get all the lifestyle and health benefits that our dopamine was and is meant to give us!
3. CHAMPIONS STUDY LIFESTYLE CHANGES AND HEALTHY THINGS THAT INCREASE DOPAMINE RELEASE NATURALLY
“Telling yourself that (exercise, fasting, etc) is good for you, will reinforce the extent, to which it’s good for you-at a chemical level.”
Dr. Andrew Huberman
Champions follow health and lifestyle habits that support dopamine production.
- They eat protein rich foods (turkey, beef, chicken, eggs, dry soy, legumes, etc.)
Our bodies use amino acids to make protein. Tyrosine and phenylalanine found in protein rich foods become building blocks for more dopamine. The result? An increase in deep thinking, executive function, and sharper memory.
- Regular exercise has been shown to boost dopamine levels, making Champions ‘devoted’ to consistent exercise.
Walking has shown to be one of the top dopamine producers. However, some have seized the power of walking 10 – 12 minutes, then doing something to increase heart rate (stairs, hills, short run) for 2-3 minutes.
This intermittence increases dopamine and does additional brain training.
- Research has shown that those who increase their daily exposure to sunlight, had the highest density of dopamine in their brains.
Of course, Champions do this with caution. Avoiding the most damaging hours of sun and using appropriate sunscreen.
- Adequate sleep increases dopamine levels.
Champions have goals of at least 7 hours of sleep daily. However, they also know that it’s not just “any sleep” that increases dopamine. But the quality of that sleep.
Therefore, they follow guidelines that promote quality rest like…
No screentime an hour before bedtime.
Meditation or prayer.
- They supplement with nutraceuticals that might aid in dopamine production.
Supplements like L-Phenylalanine, a precursor to tyrosine that becomes dopamine, Omega 3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) can assist in dopamine production.
Months after first encountering the client whose story I’m sharing this week, came in quite pensive one day and shared, “Dr. Neecie, do you know why dopamine is so important?”
Although I could’ve answered him for the remaining 45 minutes of the session, I was intrigued to hear his response and said, “I’d love to hear your perspective on it first.”
With a grin of sported delight that he’d come in with answers I’d love to hear … he responded, “I believe it saved my marriage, and one other thing you never told me…”
I waited while he searched for just the right words.
“Well, I guess you could say it gave me a quality of life I never knew was even possible. I wake up in a good mood. I enjoy my life. My wife and I laugh and are having fun and enjoying our time together. Things are hot in the bedroom again too. I feel productive and successful. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt that way in my whole life. There’s just something about it that’s beyond what most of us even hope for.”
I acknowledged and validated all he shared, feeling truly blessed to see such a great results in him.
But he wasn’t finished.
“I’ve thought about the Champion thing since I’m doing so well. I’m ready to start that journey too. I guess I’m doing all of this in the wrong order, but…will it still work?”
I laughed at his thinking that he’d done things in the wrong order and then shared.
“I don’t think the order matters my friend. I think the outcome is this:
Love your life.
Let the best parts of you shine forth.
Have an intimate connection in your marriage.
Enjoy wonderful family times.
Make a difference.
Go to bed at night fulfilled.
Then pass all of that on!
…The order does NOT matter.”
The same is true for you, my friend. Whether you’ve found your Champion and now you want to make lifestyle changes to increase dopamine, or whether you’re optimizing dopamine and you’re ready to resurrect your Champion…
The ‘ultimate’ goal is …
A rich life
Becoming and doing all you were created to be and do
Live life to the max, deeply fulfilled…deeply grateful!
“Success is loving life and daring to live it.”
Dr. Maya Angelou
Loving life! That’s my hope, my wish, my prayer for you!
High-5’s and Hugs!