A few days ago I was feeling very anxious.
Instead of dealing with it intelligently, I cheated my way through the day with incessant dopamine fixes. I couldn’t help myself.
In his book “Guitar Zero” Gary Marcus cites neuroimaging research by Knutson and Cooper that found:
“new knowledge can bring the same sort of surge of dopamine one might get by ingesting crack cocaine.” 1
I falter and go for that dopamine fix more times a day than I’d like to confess.
I’m obsessed with learning, you see
When I discover a new skill, I dive into it as if nothing else existed. I want to get good as fast as I possibly can.
It’s incredibly rewarding to be good at something. You get a disproportionate amount of pleasure out of it.
As soon as I’m satisfied with my level, I move on to the next thing and tackle it with equal enthusiasm.
There are huge benefits to my obsessive nature. I’ve become good at a lot of very different activities, and great at learning fast.
Don’t let yourself be fooled, though. I’m painting a rosy picture so that I can have more fun destroying it.
I have a major weakness (that stems from this behavior).
Many of the smartest minds of our time are hard at work creating new ways to grab our attention. They are investing billions and billions of dollars for this very purpose.
Novelty is our Kryptonite.
The dopamine I get from “quick fix content” is so powerful and immediate, I’m often tricked into thinking it’s the right choice.
This is my addiction.
I wish I could explain to my body how much more we’d benefit from deep learning in the long run. It doesn’t seem to care.
Learning a real skill over a period of days, weeks, or months does not bring constant gratification. If it’s a skill worth learning, there will always be down days packed with frustration and doubt.
Quick fix content creates a succession of highs but no real progress over time.
Real learning is an erratic ride, yes, but as time goes by you get better and better and can reap the benefits for the rest of your life.
Easy learning feels amazing in the moment.
It feels like you’ve done something useful, and you get to ride the short but sweet dopamine train:
- 15 seconds of knowledge, beauty, or incredible feats on Instagram
- YouTube’s “you’ve been doing this wrong the whole time” videos
- Something to make your palms sweat in your Facebook feed
Sadly, I’ve noticed that the more time I spend on Facebook, Instagram, twitter, or youTube, the worse I feel the next morning.
Some people are capable of peeking only a few times a week. I’m not one of them.
I’m a dopamine addict. If I lie to myself in thinking I’m strong enough to control my addiction, it invariably creeps in over time and takes over.
As a result, I feel depleted, anxious, and the lack of mental clarity makes it almost impossible to do deep work and create value.
I’ve built walls to protect myself
I do not want to go cold turkey and get rid of anything that could trigger my addictive behavior.
I love technology. I thrive on it. I use it daily in my business.
My solution is to build systems and to use tools to prevent me from falling into the dopamine cycle, while still enjoying the benefits of YouTube, Instagram, or Twitter.
If you’ve ever found the quick fix content hard to resist, I hope you’ll steal a few of these techniques and join me in living a more deliberate life.
My 3 favorite tools:
- I use an app called Freedom on my computer to selectively block out all websites that could trigger my addiction. This removes the temptation of opening a tab — or 2, or 10 — and getting lost in a sea of dopamine.
- Kill News Feed hides my Facebook feed on Google Chrome. Zero temptation.If I happen to open Facebook, all I see is this:
(Thanks to Neville Medora) for introducing me to this life saver).
- Momentum hides my most viewed websites when I open a new tab on Chrome. Instead, it shows me a beautiful photo and asks what my main focus is for the day.
My 3 life-saving systems:
Some elements I can’t control with technology. So I’ve built systems I try to stick to. Here are my favorite 3:
- Airplane mode on my phone at 9pm (I set a daily reminder).
- In the morning, I only turn my phone on once my todo is prepared for the day (this prevents me from getting sucked into a reactive mode).
- I leave my computer charger at home when I work in coffee shops so that I have a time limit (Thank you, Noah Kagan).
When I just can’t seem to tear myself away from a quick fix cycle, I think of a conversation I had with my friend Andrew recently.
When I asked him what blogs he read, he answered: “none”.
When I asked why he told me:
“I’ve found that I get more from meditating 30 minutes than reading blogs for the same amount of time”.
I close my eyes, take a breath, and try and meditate.
Help me out
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