Dopamine: Friend or Foe? – Part 2

Last time I explained that dopamine is the reward drug the brain produces when we do something that promotes our life or reproduction and that getting this drug is the reason we do many things.  I also mentioned how this drug could be harnessed to make effective life choices based on how much dopamine the results of our decisions will produce.

The question is, though, what about goals we resist?  What about goals that will give us a better life, but we don't do because we don't feel excited about them.  Maybe other people enjoy them, but we don't.  How can we harness dopamine to work for us in these situations?

I recently read a book about the physiological changes Wall Street traders have called: “The Hour Between Dog and Wolf” by John Coates.  Among other interesting insights, he discusses the main reason we and other animals have a brain.  We may use our brains to understand this world and make decisions, but in the end, our brain is designed to “plan and execute physical movement.” 

Other life forms like plants and trees may have consciousness, but they more or less stay in one place and passively receive energy/reproduce so they don't need to think about how to go out and get them.  Animals, on the other hand, actively work for food and reproduction.  This requires that we make choices about how to go out and acquire them and our brains are designed to do just that.  Want to move around?  Brain.  No need to move around?  No brain.

Descartes should have said, “I think, therefore I do.”

So, how does this fit in with dopamine?  We know that dopamine is released when we experience stimuli like food, winning and sex but researchers have also found that dopamine also motivates us to go out and search for these experiences.  They found that dopamine is released not only upon experiencing them but also before and in anticipation of experiencing them. 

It goes like this: you feel pleasure (dopamine) when you eat chocolate cake. Mary’s Bakery has a fabulous chocolate cake and you know that if you go Mary’s and have her yummy chocolate cake you will feel good.  Already, at that moment of thinking about Mary’s cake, you start feeling a little excited.  You can imagine how it feels to eat one of her cakes and were you to decide to go get one, it would be a piece of cake to go, right?  (Pun intended).  In other words, you’d be highly motivated to go.  This is your brain producing dopamine in anticipation of the experience of eating Mary’s fabulous cake in order to get you to go out and have that experience.

However, do you know that Mary is going to have cake today?  You assume she will, right?  What if Mary got sick or ran out of ingredients or aliens stole all her cakes?  You can’t know for certain that you will get the experience you desire but what matters here what you think will happen.  You imagine it’s going to be cake heaven at Mary’s so your brain starts producing dopamine in anticipation of that experience and you soon find yourself on the way. 

Dopamine drives us to get out and do things.  Dopamine = motivation.

So, let’s use this knowledge to our advantage.  Pretend you want to get fit but really hate working out.  You know you should, but don't like it for whatever reason.  For you, exercise ≠ dopamine.  In order to get yourself excited to work out, let’s use your imagination to trick your brain into thinking that exercise will feel good.

You can do this by imagining how great your life will be with a fit body.  Imagine the compliments you will get from people, the excitement of looking at toned muscles in the mirror, the joy of flexibility, the camaraderie of working with others or the solitude of being able to be alone.  Imagine how you will feel after a workout: the calm, the relaxed muscle feeling and/or the sense of accomplishment.

Imagining these results and enjoying how that feels will start to release dopamine.  You might even feel a bit of interest to exercise.  Just as imagining the experience of Mary’s chocolate cake gets you excited, this way of imagining the benefits of exercise will start producing dopamine and the desire to have that experience.

Now, in order to get enough motivation to actually make it happen, you need to practice this technique.  You need to do it often and consistently so that you can strengthen the idea in your brain that exercise = dopamine.  Do it morning and night, after eating, after work, when you turn the lights on in your room, etc. Sooner or later, you will find yourself kind of interested in doing some kind of exercise, and actually taking the necessary steps to get fit.

I use this technique with my clients to get them excited and ready to achieve goals they resist.  Together we come up with a vision that gets them excited to achieve their goal.  Once they have the vision, they practice it frequently and soon naturally find themselves doing what they didn't want to do before.  On top of that, there’s no forcing it because their brain naturally motivates them to do it by producing a motivator drug: dopamine.  Their brain has been reprogrammed to think necessary goal = produce dopamine.

Aren’t drugs great?

Try it out and let me know how it works.  If you have trouble, find a guide who can help you use your imagination to trick your brain into using dopamine to achieve your dreams.  Give it a shot.  It can’t hurt and it just might work.

You, the Supertanker – part 2.

Last time I made the metaphor that your life is like a supertanker going full speed and that it takes time to change course.  Continuing the metaphor, what would it be like if you went to change course and nothing happened?  What would happen if the ship’s parts were stuck or no matter how much you turned the wheel, you kept heading towards a rocky shoal?  That would be a nightmare, right?

Well, I have bad news for you: this is kind of how it is when it comes to making course corrections in our lives.  Have you ever tried to make an important change in your life only to find yourself back where you started?  You try to lose weight, get fit, be a better leader or improve your finances but no matter how hard you try, everything seems to stay the same?  If your life were a ship, it might feel like your steering mechanism is frozen.

That’s because it is frozen.  Our subconscious – the part of us that manages the myriad of habits and programs that move us through our life – is doing what it is designed to do: keep things “normal.”  That is to say that our subconscious habits, thoughts and actions are designed to keep us from making changes to our life.  Our subconscious is so good at it’s job that even if we try hard to break a lifestyle or habit, it will keep things just as they are, or, even worse, if we start seeing some success in our new endeavor, it will rearrange things so that we fall back into the old lifestyle or habit – even if it is harmful to us – because that is what it knows.

Do you always have seconds at dinner?  You probably feel dissatisfied if you can’t go back for more.  Think your staff is incompetent?  Perhaps you only seem to notice instances when they made mistakes.  Think you’ll never get rich?  It’s difficult to do when you always have to have the latest tech gadget.  Program your subconscious to do and think a certain way and it will show you the results you tell it to.

Sure, we may want to lose weight, be a better leader or make more money, but the subconscious has other plans: keep things the same.  Anything that is not what you are used to is conveniently ignored or sabotaged.  Consciously trying to change habits and thoughts is like trying to get out and push a ship with your bare hands.  It takes so much focus and discipline that most of us give up after a short, valiant effort.

No wonder people get depressed.

So, the question is, if we are programmed to stay on the course that we have followed for so long, how can we get out of that rut?  A ship’s captain would call a repair team and get them to replace/fix the malfunctioning parts, right?  Who says we can’t do the same with our subconscious?  Our subconscious got programmed to act the way it does in the first place, are we so inflexible that we can’t reprogram it for a better way?

This is exactly what a good guide can do for you.  Instead of trying to make conscious changes, a good guide helps reprogram underlying habits that stop us from the kind of life we dream about.  A good guide can help you change the way you think about and perceive things so you can naturally change course.

So, rather than trying to force yourself to not go for seconds at dinner, why not reprogram your satiation gauge to need less food?  When changing your leadership style, instead of forcing yourself to act unnaturally, why not adjust your engine output to guide your team in a more balanced way?  If you are trying to be more efficient with your budget, why not replace your fun-o-meter with one that allows you to enjoy entertainment that is less expensive but still satisfying?

By reprogramming your subconscious, you naturally change your habits and perspectives.  It can be so effective that you will forget why you used to do things differently.  You will soon find that you don't even need to turn the wheel to move away from the rocky shoals because your ship itself will automatically course correct.  It will automatically steer you away from the life you had into the life you want because that is what it now knows.

Sounds better than getting out to push, doesn't it?

Next time learn how dopamine will drive your life if you don't drive it.

How I Do It

Just like you, when I meet people, they ask me what I do.  After I explain that I do motivation training and talk about the great results my clients get, they often ask how I do it.  In reply, I ask them if they have ever tried Sumo (or Roller Derby or Curling).  They look at me rather befuddled and say: “No, Why do you ask?” 

I then say: “My work is kind of like Sumo.  It is something that, even if you have heard of it, you probably haven’t tried it.  And, like Sumo, no matter how much I explain it to you, you won’t get it.”  I’m sure this isn’t terribly satisfying, but it’s the best I can do, and, though I do explain my techniques, they still don't “get it.” 

Let me explain.

In my previous post, I described that I work with clients to achieve their goals.  I also presented the idea that my work draws what they need from within themselves – thus making it natural and easy to integrate into their lives.

How I do it is less clear because my work is a lot like a sport.  Knowing the organization, rules and some techniques help, but no matter how much study we might do, we won’t get it until we try.

Consultants, coaches and talk therapists have it easier because we innately understand how they work.  We understand that they give advice or ideas to help clients achieve their goals.  If you read my last post, however, you may recall that I avoid giving clients advice.  This doesn't mean that I’m against advice, it’s just that advice can be helpful only if the receiver is ready to accept it.

What I do, on the other hand, does not rely on giving advice so I have the unusual challenge of having to explain a unique kind of success training.

So, how do I work?  Clients do exercises – kind of like sports.  They stand up and move around the session space.  They physically take the position of the many aspects of themselves and others as a way to get different perspectives on what they are looking to improve.  They give themselves advice that they can accept.  They envision their dream, make plans for it, find out why it may fail and come up with solutions to those concerns. 

Clients take the perspective of their own clients and customers to understand what those relationships need.  They rework negative thinking and come up with new ideas that empower and embolden them to take the next steps on their path to success.

That’s how I work: I get clients to literally take new perspectives and thought processes.  I do this so they can give themselves the advice they need – which may include what consultants, coaches or talk therapists may have already told them – but, because they give it to themselves, they are able to accept and integrate it into their lives. 

My techniques get past their filters that stop them from listening to advice others may give them so they can internalize helpful thinking, beliefs and habits.  Clients naturally find themselves doing the things they need to do and they are doing it so naturally that they forget why they couldn't do it before.  This is what I call “motivation.”  Doing something you want to do – not forcing yourself to do something you have to do. 

If you could somehow find naturally yourself taking the chances you needed to start that career or business you’ve always wanted, do you think you might be able to succeed?  Or, if you could effortlessly follow your fitness plans, do you think you might be able to build a body you can be happy about?  What if you lost interest in foods that are fattening?  Do you think you might start losing weight?  What about money: if you really, truly thought that you could make lots of money easily, do you think you might find that you have more money?

I suspect you would and, because of the results I’ve had with many clients over the years, I can confidently say you would, too.

So, as in Sumo, even though you haven’t tried it, you can study my techniques and get an intellectual understanding of what you could achieve but eventually you will have to try it in order to really “get” it to become the yokozuna (Sumo grand champion) of your life.

Tune in next time and find out why I may not, however, be the best for you.

What I Do

Have you ever told a friend or family member about something you wanted to achieve?  How did it go?  Did they give you encouragement or advice?  I hope they didn't say: “That’s impossible!  You can’t do that.”

Whether they are supportive or discouraging, others often share advice.  Sometimes it’s useful and sometimes it isn’t; but in the end, whether we listen to it or not is up to us.  This is the way most of us work to improve our lives: gather information, evaluate effectiveness and implement the best plan. 

The problem is that it doesn't usually go so smoothly.

Let’s say you decide to lose weight and read an article where an expert tells you to give up your morning donut and vanilla latte.  Sounds reasonable, right?  There are lots of calories in that combo and taking that off your plate will really help.  The problem is that you LOVE your vanilla latte and donut.  It makes your mornings bearable.

Do you think you are going to follow this expert’s advice?  My guess is that most of us would valiantly try only to abandon it as soon as we had “bad” morning and “needed” our treat again.  I know I would.

This is also the way most therapists, coaches and consultants work.  They use suggestions as a way to induce change.  It goes something like this: you have a goal and doing X, Y and Z will get you there.  They provide you with reasonable and rational suggestions to move you forward and it is your job to implement them. 

The problem is that very little of our decision-making is rational. Most of our decisions are irrational and subconscious.  You might be getting great suggestions, but most of them will be difficult to implement unless your irrational mind agrees.  Rationally, it’s a no-brainer that giving up so many calories will help you lose weight, but your irrational mind – which is like a child – doesn't care: it wants what it wants and it wants it now.  It takes a LOT of mental discipline to make the irrational mind do something it doesn’t want.

Think of it like an iceberg.  What is the best way to move one?  Considering that 90% of an iceberg is underwater, pushing the above-water part might get some movement, but mostly it will just rotate the iceberg around in the same spot.  Pushing the underwater part, however, moves the top as well.

We are like that iceberg.  Our rational mind is the small part above the water and the rest is our subconscious.  It’s easy to rationally decide something, but it takes a lot of work get anywhere with it.  Move your subconscious, however, and your conscious experience effortlessly goes with it.

This is where I do my work: on the level of the irrational, or subconscious mind.  To achieve their goals, I do my best not to tell clients what to do or how to do it.  Instead, I help them work with their subconscious mind to propel them in the direction they desire. 

Working with me, clients come up with their own ideas, perspectives and excitement of how and what to do to get where they want to go.  This really makes a difference because what they decide comes from that irrational mind and, like I said before, when the irrational mind wants something, it’s hard to stop. 

Would you be able to do that thing you’ve always dreamed about if it felt fun instead of scary?  How would your company function if your staff loved coming to work?  Could you lose weight if a salad sounded more satisfying than the vanilla latte and donut?  You can push to make these things happen, but it’s much easier if your subconscious helps.

This is what I do: I provide an experience that allows clients to coordinate their conscious and subconscious goals.  Whether it is losing weight, getting fit, finding that dream job or reorganizing a company; getting the subconscious mind on board makes it much easier to achieve your dreams.

So, how do I accomplish this?  What do I do to get the subconscious working with you?  Next time I will explain it using sumo, roller derby and curling.