- Creating a Dopamine Environment
- Motivation defined
- Motivation is all in our heads
- Dopamine’s impact on organizational performance
- Rally behind purpose
- Promote growth and development
- Creating a dopamine environment
- The neuroscience of motivation—and how it can change your life
- Motivation: It’s all in your head
- The Vroom expectancy motivation theory
- The keys to motivation
- Using the science of motivation to improve employee motivation.
- Dopamine regulates the motivation to act, study shows
- Dopamine: New theory integrates its role in learning, motivation
- Is ‘dopamine fasting’ Silicon Valley’s new productivity fad?
Creating a Dopamine Environment
It baffles me.
Why is it that I can get my teenage son to mow the lawn, but I can’t entice him to clean up his room? And why is he diligent about doing his homework, but not so much about making sure his basketball uniform is clean for practice? Or take my ultra-fit girlfriend who exercises religiously every day and hasn’t indulged in a piece of cake in years, compared to my other girlfriend who can’t seem to find the motivation to lose those 10 pounds she’s been complaining about for five years.
We all know how hard it is to get stuff done when we feel unmotivated. For instance, there are times when I need to make dinner for my family, but the couch feels so much better.
Many call a lack of motivation laziness and procrastination. Whatever we call it, the fact is when motivation isn’t present, we simply can’t get things done.
Although the more interesting question to me is why is motivation sometimes there and sometimes not?
Motivation is what fuels our ability to act. It’s an impulse we feel that’s driven by internal and external factors that stimulate our desire and energize us to move toward a goal.
The only way we can really “see” motivation in others is by their behaviors. We know the role it plays in our ability to get things done—we rely on it to propel us forward.
And in organizations, it is the special sauce that improves performance.
Over the years, influential thought leaders have created different types of motivation theories that attempt to explain why people do what they do. While somewhat helpful, these have not traditionally given us the insight we need to create and sustain a highly motivated workforce.
For example, for years organizations believed compensation to be the primary motivator; however, we know now that this is not always the case. In fact, the link between money, motivation, and performance can be quite complex.
Current thinking tells us that factors such as growth, development, and the level of autonomy in our jobs help us feel inspired toward a purpose, and that these are what drive us to perform.
Duke psychology professor and behavioral economist Dan Ariely says that to feel inspired, we need to feel we’re contributing and that our efforts have meaning. In fact, many of his studies prove that the more challenging the work, the more motivated one is due to a sense of accomplishment.
Whichever theory you subscribe to, understanding what motivates people requires us to get inside their heads (literally).
Motivation is all in our heads
The cause of motivation (or lack of it) is due to our brain anatomy and chemistry. Until recently, we didn’t really understand the science behind what guides our behavioral energy and direction. Neuroscience provides additional insight into understanding how motivation works.
To keep it simple, we all have these things called neurotransmitters in our brains that act as communicators to the rest of our bodies. They tell our hearts to beat and lungs to breathe. We tend to talk mainly about four neurotransmitters—serotonin, oxytocin, endorphins, and dopamine—because they are known as the “happy chemicals.” And when we’re feeling good, we tend to be more motivated.
But even more significant is the impact that dopamine in particular has on our motivation. When dopamine is released in our brain, it prompts us to respond: either to achieve something “good” or avoid something “bad.
Vanderbilt University researchers were some of the first brain scientists to provide insight into the relationship between dopamine and motivation.
They found that the “go-getters” (those typically willing to work hard for rewards) had higher levels of dopamine in the area of the brain associated with reward and motivation, while those we refer to as “slackers” (those not as willing to work hard for a reward) had high levels of dopamine in the area of the brain associated with emotion and risk perception. In other words, one group was motivated to work hard while the other was motivated to stay away from the hard work due to both the levels of dopamine AND where the dopamine was located in their brains.
Neuroscience also tells us that dopamine spikes right before we obtain a reward because we anticipate something important is about to happen. This signal helps us make decisions on how hard we want to work toward something.
So, all together, this means we need to figure out how to increase the dopamine in the parts of our brain that decide a goal is worth the work to obtain it.
If we can do this, we’ll successfully motivate people to perform at optimal levels!
Dopamine’s impact on organizational performance
Creating a dopamine environment requires us to think holistically about all the factors that impact performance. This means starting with individuals and ensuring they feel alignment with their roles, with their relationships, with the organization they are members of, and with the community they live in. All these factors work together to create a positive working environment.
When I think about factors these and the environment they create, I remember back to my very first job graduate school. Upon reflection, I now understand that my skillset did not really align with the expectations of the role.
While I tried hard to do a good job, to be honest, I’m not sure my heart was really into it. It was challenging to see whether my efforts created value. Also fueling these feelings of disconnect with the role itself were the relationships I had with my manager and fellow team members.
Because everyone on the team had been hired internally except me, they had difficulty trusting my ability to perform. And it didn’t help that my manager boasted about my academic background when the rest of the team had grown up in the organization.
This was an organization that placed high value on growth through the ranks. Trust was derived from seniority with the company. This tribe- culture made it challenging to feel motivated.
Combine all these factors—having the necessary knowledge and skills to do the job, the job design itself, associated relationships across the team, corporate culture—and it was not really a dopamine-fueled environment! To truly create a dopamine environment, organizations need to consider all these performance factors and ensure they are aligned. Here are a few suggestions:
Rally behind purpose
“People can be inspired to meet stretch goals and tackle impossible challenges, if they care about the outcome.” — Elizabeth Moss Kanter, Professor at Harvard Business School
Uniting behind a purpose, when everyone feels a connection from the work they do to something larger, generates an unbelievable sense of commitment. Think about TOMS, the shoe company that promotes a buy-one-give-one model.
They use profit as a catalyst rather than an objective to drive engagement across the organization.
This desire to give transcends throughout the organization, helping align people to the work they are doing and giving them a reason to go the extra mile every day. It keeps them motivated!
Promote growth and development
It is human nature to want to improve ourselves. When we feel stagnant, we’re less motivated to stay engaged. Hence, organizations should focus not only on what employees must do, but also on what they can do.
This means individuals must be given opportunities to work on stretch assignments that excite them and promise the right mix of not-too-hard and not-too-easy.
We need to ensure they are provided with the right level of support to be successful.
This may include ideas such as:
- Being paired with a mentor who excels in the skill the individual is working on
- Creating a continuous feedback culture where all feedback is valued and encouraged, and where people feel comfortable giving feedback in different directions when needed
- Implementing a performance management process that promotes development over management and goal pursuit over goal achievement
Creating a dopamine environment
Labeling ourselves and others as “go-getters” or “slackers” is not productive. Instead, we should focus on how to increase the dopamine in the parts of our brains that decide a goal is worth the work to obtain it.
This means helping organizations foster dopamine environments by examining all the factors that impact an individual’s performance.
Once the performance factors are aligned, your organization will be equipped to reach its full potential.
Want to learn more about the neuroscience of motivation and human performance? Check out some of our favorite books:
Want to chat with Elise about motivation? Give us a call at (859) 415-1000 or drop us a line in the form at the bottom of this page, and we’ll connect you with her.
The neuroscience of motivation—and how it can change your life
Whether you’re an entrepreneur, freelancer, or manager, there’s no underestimating the power of motivation.
Motivation is what energizes, maintains, and controls your behavior against internal and external forces. The type of motivation in different situations can help you excel. The type of motivation can prevent you from being at your best. The type of motivation can even effect productivity.
Internal motivation is the type that can effect your being tired or sick, etc. External motivations are forces such as email, Netflix, people popping in your office, maybe the weather, etc.
Kimberly Schaufenbuel is the program director at The University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill. Schaufenbuel's UNC Executive Development white paper has given insight into motivation in the workplace. She states, “We did not understand the core science behind these practices,» (of employee motivation).
One of the biggest breakthroughs has been because of the advances in the field of neuroscience. As well, Kimberly Schaufenbuel's studies explain the «technological advances in functional magnetic imaging (fMRI).”
The importance of study into processes of executive and employee development and the technology of the imagining cannot be overstated. «We’re finally able to understand the workings of the brain. We are beginning to see the physical link these and other management practices have to the brain.”
Motivation: It’s all in your head
Motivation is more than just willpower. It’s actually in your head. As Dean Griffiths, the Founder & CEO of Energy Fusion, explains:
Within our brains we have an emotionally sensitive switching station, called the amygdala, which lies deep within the limbic system.
In the absence of high stress or fear, the amygdala directs incoming information to the prefrontal cortex (PFC).
The PFC’s role then is to turn that information into long-term memory or process it through the cognitive and emotional control networks of the higher functions within our brain. That then allow us to either respond or to ignore it.
Griffiths adds that “this reflective response cannot take place during a high-stress emotional state which blocks this flow of information. The situations of frustration or boredom are associated with a high stress state within the amygdala.”
Vanderbilt University conducted a study where scientists mapped the brains of both “go-getters” and “slackers.” The study showed that those who were «willing to work hard for rewards had higher dopamine levels. The dopamine was in the striatum and PFC, which are both linked to motivation and reward.”
With «slackers,» however, dopamine was only found in the anterior insula. This area of the brain is associated with emotion and risk perception.“
Our motivation levels are related to our perceived difficulty of a task and the perceived rewards that come from completing that task.” This means that when there are low rewards, the motivation to power through a task is going to be lower.»
If the perceived difficulty of a task suddenly increases during a period of low motivation, our motivation level will then drop even further.” This will eventually lead to “a downward spiral in motivational level unless we do something to override this.”
The Vroom expectancy motivation theory
So, how can we override these reactions? That’s where something called «the Expectancy Theory» comes into play.
Developed by Victor Harold Vroom, a business school professor at the Yale School of Management. “Vroom's expectancy theory assumes that behavior results from conscious choices. Untrue, Vroom believed these alternatives only purpose is to maximize pleasure and to minimize pain.”
Vroom also believed that “individual factors such as personality, skills, knowledge, experience and abilities,” were factors. Vroom mentions three variables — expectancy, instrumentality, and valence.
Expectancy is having the right tools or skills. Instrumentality is the clear understanding of the relationship between performance and outcomes. And, valence is the importance that the individual places upon the expected outcome.
Dean Griffiths, CEO of Energy Fusion says “people are most motivated if they believe that they will receive a desired reward.» Individuals are the least motivated if they don’t want the reward or they don’t believe that their efforts will result in the reward.”
The keys to motivation
Simply put, when the reward is greater, then you’re going to be more motivated. This concept is much better understood in the world today. But, how can you achieve high motivation that for those tedious or repetitive tasks?
Set achievable goals:
For starters, you could make the task less difficult by breaking the task into smaller tasks. For example, if you’re a freelancer and assigned the project of writing an eBook, break that down in chapters. Don't focus on the entire eBook.
Your other option would be to increase the rewards after completing a task. Maybe when you complete a chapter or two of the eBook you reward yourself by going to dinner with friends instead of ordering a pizza.
In short, set achievable goals that are easily attainable. When you see the light at the end of the tunnel, you’re more ly to keep driving forward until you’ve reached it.
Train your brain:
Besides setting achievable goals, you can also train your brain.
As Geoffrey James states in an article for Inc.com, “when you encounter a difficult situation, your brain reacts differently when you say, «I am…,» as opposed to «I feel…’”
James cites management coach Jon Pratlett who explains:
«Research suggests that when our brain's fight/flight response is activated and we become aware of it, saying to ourselves 'I am angry,' 'I'm frustrated,' or 'I'm sad' is only ly to perpetuate the threat response.»
This is because whenever you say «I am» you're actually making a statement about your identity.
This implies “the permanence of that emotion. In other words you're saying to yourself, «This feeling is who I am.»Instead, you should “characterize your emotion as something you feel.”
Saying, «I feel…» rather than «I am…» is more ly to result in:
«…a measurable shift in blood flow AWAY from the fight/flight centre and major muscle groups. And, a shift TOWARD the prefrontal cortex (PFC). The PFC is «the very part of the brain that cultivates witnessing, empathy, and problem-solving.»
To train your brain to become motivated, you would say “I am motivated” as opposed to “I feel motivated” because it makes it a part of your identity.
Using the science of motivation to improve employee motivation.
The above is all well and good if you’re a solopreneur, but what if you’re in charge of team? How can you motivate them?
You first need to familiarize yourself with the four behavioral drivers:
- Drive to acquire. This relates to the acquisition of status for immediate gratification. A reward system could fulfill this drive.
- Drive to defend. This is where a threat triggers someone to become active. Focusing on the cause of the threat instead of the reaction. To reduce the drive to defend, you can provide training.
- Drive to bond. This drive allows -minded people with similar interests to work well together. Foster this drive through feedback, support, and coaching.
- Drive to learn. This fulfills the natural desire to make sense of the world around you. Tasks should be defined so that they highlight its meaning and how it contributes to the big picture.
You can also use David Rock’s SCARF model to further understand how the brain responds to perceived threats and rewards.
Rock’s model, “a job should not be viewed as a business transaction. Do the work and get paid. Rather, think of the job as a part of a social system. Here the brain is rewarded (or punished) how well the business environment is meeting an employee’s need. For instance the employees need for status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness.”
- Status relates to a person’s relative importance to others, so provide feedback that aid the recipient’s status. Avoid feedback that threatens it.
- Certainty is about being able to predict the future. Help your brain conserve energy by providing clear instructions.
- Autonomy provides a sense of control over events. More autonomy means less stress for your team.
- Relatedness is the sense of connection and safety with others (the brain perceives a friend versus a foe). Foster a culture of teamwork to increase relatedness.
- Fairness is the perception of being treated justly. Treat your team with dignity and respect. Also make sure that they are compensated fairly and have job security.
John Rampton is serial entrepreneur who now focuses on helping people to build amazing products and services that scale. He is founder of the online payments company Due.
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Dopamine regulates the motivation to act, study shows
The widespread belief that dopamine regulates pleasure could go down in history with the latest research results on the role of this neurotransmitter. Researchers have proved that it regulates motivation, causing individuals to initiate and persevere to obtain something either positive or negative.
The neuroscience journal Neuron publishes an article by researchers at the Universitat Jaume I of Castellón that reviews the prevailing theory on dopamine and poses a major paradigm shift with applications in diseases related to lack of motivation and mental fatigue and depression, Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, etc. and diseases where there is excessive motivation and persistence as in the case of addictions.
«It was believed that dopamine regulated pleasure and reward and that we release it when we obtain something that satisfies us, but in fact the latest scientific evidence shows that this neurotransmitter acts before that, it actually encourages us to act. In other words, dopamine is released in order to achieve something good or to avoid something evil,» explains Mercè Correa.
Studies had shown that dopamine is released by pleasurable sensations but also by stress, pain or loss. These research results however had been skewed to only highlight the positive influence, according to Correa.
The new article is a review of the paradigm the data from several investigations, including those conducted over the past two decades by the Castellón group in collaboration with the John Salamone of the University of Connecticut (USA), on the role of dopamine in the motivated behaviour in animals.
The level of dopamine depends on individuals, so some people are more persistent than others to achieve a goal. «Dopamine leads to maintain the level of activity to achieve what is intended.
This in principle is positive, however, it will always depend on the stimuli that are sought: whether the goal is to be a good student or to abuse of drugs» says Correa.
High levels of dopamine could also explain the behaviour of the so-called sensation seekers as they are more motivated to act.
Application for depression and addiction
To know the neurobiological parameters that make people be motivated by something is important to many areas such as work, education or health.
Dopamine is now seen as a core neurotransmitter to address symptoms such as the lack of energy that occurs in diseases such as depression. «Depressed people do not feel doing anything and that's because of low dopamine levels,» explains Correa.
Lack of energy and motivation is also related to other syndromes with mental fatigue such as Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis or fibromyalgia, among others.
In the opposite case, dopamine may be involved in addictive behaviour problems, leading to an attitude of compulsive perseverance. In this sense, Correa indicates that dopamine antagonists which have been applied so far in addiction problems probably have not worked because of inadequate treatments a misunderstanding of the function of dopamine.
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- John D. Salamone, Mercè Correa. The Mysterious Motivational Functions of Mesolimbic Dopamine. Neuron, 2012; 76 (3): 470 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2012.10.021
Dopamine: New theory integrates its role in learning, motivation
ANN ARBOR—If you’ve ever felt lackadaisical to start a new project, focus on imagining the joy of completing it, say University of Michigan researchers.
Both are a function of dopamine, which explains the motivation to start and the satisfaction of finishing work, they say.
In a new study, U-M researchers Arif Hamid and Joshua Berke, professor of psychology and biomedical engineering, argue that dopamine levels continuously signal how good or valuable the current situation is regarding obtaining a reward. This message helps people decide how vigorously to work toward a goal, while also allowing themselves to learn from mistakes.
“We provide a new theoretical account for how dopamine affects learning (what to do later) and motivation (getting fired up to go now) simultaneously,” said study lead author Hamid, U-M neuroscience doctoral student.
For many years, researchers have known that dopamine is important for arousal, movement, mood and executing activities with haste and vigor.
Aspects of these normal dopamine functions are highlighted in disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease and depression.
Drugs that elevate brain dopamine levels, cocaine or amphetamines, produce euphoric feelings of well-being, in addition to heightened arousal and attention.
Aside from affecting immediate mood and behavior, dopamine also produces changes in the brain that are persistent, sometimes lasting a lifetime.
“This is basically how we stamp in memories of what the smell of cookies or the McDonald’s sign mean: predictors of delicious, calorie rich rewards,” Hamid said.
Abrupt dopamine increases when a person perceives stimuli that predict rewards is a dominant mechanism of reward learning within the brain—a concept similar to Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov’s dog hearing the bell and salivating at a response to stimuli, he said.
Hamid said the precise mechanism of how a neurotransmitter can achieve both invigorating and learning functions is counterintuitive, and many decades of neuropsychological research has attempted to resolve exactly how.
One theory, spearheaded by U-M psychologists Kent Berridge and Terry Robinson, suggests that dopamine invigorates actions toward desired goals. For example, rats with almost no brain dopamine will not retrieve food a few inches away while they’re starving.
Another theory suggests dopamine is a “teaching signal,” a coach who tells his player “good job” or “bad job” to encourage a future reward. In the current study, U-M researchers describe those dopamine fluctuations as a continuous cheer to motivate, with brief moments of criticism.
They measured dopamine levels in rats while they performed a decision-making task, and compared it with how motivated the rats were and how much they learned. They also increased dopamine levels to artificially motivate the rats and repeatedly made them learn to perform actions that did not produce rewards.
The findings appear in the current issue of Nature Neuroscience.
The study’s other authors include Jeffrey Pettibone, Omar Mabrouk, Vaughn Hetrick, Robert Schmidt, Caitlin Vander Weele, Robert Kennedy and Brandon Aragona.
The work was supported by grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (DA032259, DA007281), National Institute of Mental Health (MH093888, MH101697), National Institute on Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NS078435, NS076401) and National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (EB003320). R.S. was supported by the BrainLinks-BrainTools Cluster of Excellence funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG grant number EXC1086).
- Arif Hamid
- Joshua Berke
- Nature Neuroscience
Is ‘dopamine fasting’ Silicon Valley’s new productivity fad?
When James Sinka starts his dopamine fast, he cuts himself off from as many external stimuli as possible. He’ll stop eating, instead only drinking water to stay hydrated. He’ll ignore his phone, laptop screen and other tech devices. And he’ll try and avoid interacting with people as much as possible – including making eye contact.
“I’m lucky to have extremely supportive friends, family and partners,” says the Silicon Valley-based technology entrepreneur.
“I tell them ahead of time: ‘I’m booking 17 November for a dopamine fast; I’m sorry, you won’t hear from me. It’s not that I don’t love you, it’s that I have to do this thing for myself.
Originally that was a little ridiculous but now they’re used to it. They’ll laugh it off and get it.”
Sinka, 24, is one of a growing number of people in the tech hub adopting dopamine fasting. It’s the latest fad to emerge in the future-facing region known for embracing new wellness initiatives. But is a dopamine fast just a rebranded form of ancient meditation? And is there any science to back the theory up?
'Restrictive but worth it’
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter – or chemical brain messenger – linked to how we feel motivation to do things. It has often incorrectly been called the “pleasure chemical”.
“Dopamine release can be triggered by a range of external stimuli, especially unexpected salient events,” says Joshua Berke, a professor of neurology and psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco. “These could range from sudden unpleasant loud noises to stimuli that, through prior experience, have become associated with reward.”
Silicon Valley is the epicenter of dopamine fasting, where other fad 'wellness' trends have originated – much to our fascination (Credit: Alamy)
Proponents of dopamine fasting believe that we have become overstimulated by quick ‘hits’ of dopamine from things social media, technology and food.
They say that by deliberately avoiding these common stimulants – which we see as pleasurable activities – we can decrease the amount of dopamine in our brain.
Then, after the fast, when we re-engage with these stimulants, we enjoy them more and our lives feel better.
Sinka believes that regular quick ‘hits’ of dopamine make us “become numb to it in the same way someone who consumes cocaine develops a tolerance”. “You’re trying to undo that built tolerance. That allows you to reflect and to look at the bigger picture, to reassess. When you start to re-engage all those different stimuli, they’re more engaging than they originally were.”
Dr Cameron Sepah, a psychologist who treats many people in the Silicon Valley area, says dopamine fasting is a behavioural therapy technique called ‘stimulus control’ that can help addicts by removing triggers to use. He refined it as a way of optimising the health and performance of the CEOs and venture capitalists he works with.
“Given the always-on, high-stress nature of their jobs, they are prone to addictive behaviours to suppress stress and negative emotions,” he explains.
But abstaining entirely from things social media and technology would be career suicide, so instead he suggests short-term abstention to rebalance their lives.
He says his patients report improvements in mood, ability to focus and productivity – giving them more free time for other healthy behaviours.
Sinka remembers his first – accidental – food fast as a child; being sick for three days and then finally feeling well enough to bite into a peach.
“It felt absolutely incredible and the reward feeling of food was phenomenal – it stuck in my mind.” He dabbled in intermittent food fasting at university and now builds the practice into his monthly routine.
He steps away from technology regularly, and in the last year has done a dopamine fast every quarter.
Put down that phone: it's one of the many stimuli you'll have to give up if you're going to try dopamine fasting (Credit: Alamy)
“A dopamine fast for me is just a synthesis of other types of fasting I’ve done in my life, aggregated together for a multiplicative benefit,” he says.
When he fasts, he focuses on reducing stimuli from three different areas: the environment, his behaviour and chemical highs. He doesn’t listen to music, use electronics or speak to anyone. He’ll avoid artificial light where possible, stop eating and avoid drugs or supplements.
The hardest part is finding time to do it given his work-related demands. “That means, don’t take any phone calls, no meetings with investors, reschedule client support meetings with other people in the company,” he explains. But he believes fasting is an investment worth making. “It’s difficult and restrictive, but the benefits are worth it,” he says.
Fad or rebranded meditation?
But not everyone is as convinced of the value of dopamine fasting, or its perceived benefits. “Note that dopamine does not have a straightforward relationship to ‘pleasure’ or ‘happiness’,” explains Berke. He says he is “not aware of any evidence at all” for the claim made by fasters that avoiding technology and food can reduce dopamine levels in the brain.
“This is a fad, not a controlled study,” he says. “It certainly sounds plausible that taking a break from obsessively checking your social media account and partying every night is good for you. [It’s] just unly to have much to do with dopamine per se.”
“By definition it can be relaxing to take a break from exciting or stressful activities, and quite sensible too,” he adds. “But that’s not the same as declining to have a conversation with a friend because you’re on a ‘dopamine fast’.”
Dr Amy Milton, a senior lecturer in psychology and Ferreras-Willetts fellow in neuroscience at Downing College, Cambridge, echoes this view. “I’m not sure it’s doing anything to the dopamine system, or resetting it as people doing it say it is,” she says, “which is not to say it’s a bad idea to occasionally look at the habits you’ve got and do it.”
It also sounds uncannily another method of maintaining wellbeing that has been around for many years: Vipassana meditation, one of the two core tenets of Buddhist meditation, which dates back more than 2,500 years.
Vipassana meditators are asked “to abstain from killing, stealing, sexual activity, speaking falsely and intoxicants” before meditating.
The latter requirement – to avoid intoxication, which many take as not just alcohol or drugs, but artificial additives contained in food – plus the drive for asceticism makes people draw parallels between the two. Some commentators suggest dopamine fasting is simply Vipassana meditation rebranded as a “tech bro” lifehack.
“There is this idea of rebranding things,” says Dan Lyons, technology journalist, author and screenwriter for HBO TV series Silicon Valley. “Last year it was microdosing: this whole idea that it’s really productive. It’s : ‘I’ve heard of that: you took one hit of weed and got high but not so high you couldn’t work’. People in the 1960s were talking about doing this to improve their minds.”
Silicon Valley is known for originating and popularising other fads, such as meal-replacement drinks for workers who are 'too busy to eat' (Credit: Alamy)
Public infatuation with Silicon Valley trends – and our perception that entrepreneurs there are on the cutting edge of development – can also mean we’re more interested in, and perhaps credulous of, wellness initiatives that emerge there, even if experts say the science is unproven. But Lyons is a sceptic.
“Somehow we all buy into this notion that these people are smarter than the rest of us,” he says. “That they live in the future, that they see around corners – all these clichés. We buy into it and they sell it… If this fad were taking place in the auto industry in Detroit right now, would any of us be paying attention?”
Sexism may also play a role. “Look at the ridicule Gwyneth Paltrow gets – and rightly so – for Goop and all these crazy things,” says Lyons. “Some of it is because these are rich, white men.”
Sinka believes that what he’s doing is a modern take on Vipassana meditation, adapted for the 21st Century tech-dominated world. He says critics mock what they don’t understand, but for him dopamine fasting makes everyday things more engaging again.
“Every day we’re overcrowded, overstimulated, drowning in the noise of these things, and we’re now able to take a step back, reflect and re-engage in a way we want to, not in a way we’ve been trained.”
Just maybe don’t call it dopamine fasting, argue some of the experts. Milton, who describes it as “interesting idea”, suggests that the real benefits may come from feeling that you are in control.
“We being in control of our environment and what we do. If you feel you’ve gained control over your behaviours and are taking positive steps to deal with things that are problematic, that will make you feel better,” she says.