I must admit — I love the dopamine rush that an accomplished task delivers.
I saw how that rush grew out of control for a client of mine, Ian (a fabricated name). Ian grew up in a very religious family attending religious schools. His brilliance only made matters worse; school and life were boring. For a challenge, he took up chess and excelled at it but became bored with chess. He ran out of competitors who challenged him — until he discovered video games.
The adrenal and cortisol rushes from the challenges and then the wins’ dopamine fueled him to play more. Each achievement satisfaction was shorter and less satisfying, driving Ian to play more. He knew he was trapped but could not stop playing until he found stronger stimulants: drugs. The right combination of drugs gave him superpowers that fed his success.
Ian came to me after a few stints in treatment. While he knew he could go back into treatment and survive the detox, this time he wanted to address the drivers of his addiction journey. It meant traveling back to his first addiction — the dopamine rush that was the escape from his unpleasant childhood.
Our dopamine journey may be different than Ian’s, but most have not sacrificed the immediate rush for long-term satisfaction. To look at life from a neurochemical perspective: when we cannot get enough serotonin and oxytocin, we search for another experience — other neurotransmitters. For us, the distraction and connection to the mini-high of achievement becomes our go-to backup. This is particularly true for men, given how we receive reinforcement for achievement.
We initially experience the chemical positive reinforcement for achieving, then we seek out and may receive the emotional reinforcement. We learn two ways to focus on achieving as the way to happiness.
Don’t get me wrong – I am all for achieving, yet when we do not have connection and we replace it with the high of achievement, we live a limited life. We run from one rush to the next. When the neurochemical highs are insufficient, we often seek out drug highs.
There is no better explanation of dopamine allurement than Andrew Huberman, Ph.D., and his Huberman Lab podcast on dopamine.
So, how do you back yourself out of this? As Huberman and others say, focus less on outward goals and more on feelings of well-being for what we have as well as for our internal experience. That can be hard to do when you are in a chronically elevated stress (survival) state. We are hardwired to have an outward, immediate focus when our bodies are up-regulated.
You have your secret weapon in the ROC Formula (slow down to Relax, Open up to be vulnerable, and risk Connection) and the opportunity to connect to another authentic man where you can co-regulate each other to a down-regulated state.
The sweet spot for all the neurotransmitters is the flow experience, where you are alert, focused, relaxed, and connected AS you perform. The critical shift is that pleasure is less about the achievement of your goal and more about the experience of going for it.
I don’t know about you, but some of my deeper flow states are in my groups when the whole group is focused on supporting a man dropping down into places he has not visited since he was a kid. If you have seen me lead a Healing Journey at one of our retreats, you have seen me in my deepest flow state. If someone drew my blood at that moment, all those neurotransmitters would be high. Personally, that high beats any high I have had from drugs in high school or college.
-What are your go-to dopamine triggers? Where do you go to get the rush or possibly the escape of dopamine?
-The positive use of dopamine aside, what is your dopamine achievement focus avoiding? What DON’T you want to feel or do?
-What is one dopamine achievement pattern that is a distraction from creating what you really want?addictionEVRYMANI am Enoughmens groupsMens Health
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