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Doing something difficult is…well…difficult! Challenges in life can either be new things you encounter along the way or tackling a problem that has been around a while.
Breaking established habits is one of the hardest things to do. Entrenched behaviour patterns require a thoughtful and considered approach, which sounds hard in itself!
Doing something gradually is more palatable, but it’s so easy to put it all off for another day or just not see a quick improvement and lose incentive. However, jumping off the cliff edge presents challenges, including plucking up enough courage.
Dopamine is the ‘happiness hormone’ or the ‘reward chemical.’ It’s the body’s motivator for change. Understanding how dopamine works is the key to being able to do hard things.
Let’s learn more!
Dopamine is a chemical messenger which influences the nervous system and the brain. Dopamine is a naturally occurring substance within the human body.
Dopamine is made in the brain. The amino acid, Tyrosine, is first changed to a substance called dopa, and then dopa is converted into dopamine.
Dopamine is a big player when it comes to influencing your mood. Dopamine is a happiness booster linked to another hormone, serotonin, affecting how you feel.
Life’s challenges and mental health disorders are connected to a lack of dopamine. Severe conditions like Parkinson’s Disease are attributed to low dopamine levels.
Dopamine influences essential processes within the body. These include:-
Dopamine also affects your behaviour, mood, motivation, the ability to concentrate and sleep. It’s no surprise that dopamine is often linked to mental health challenges like anxiety, depression, and other disorders.
Schizophrenia is caused by too much dopamine in the brain, and this causes delusions and hallucinations. Too little dopamine can result in a lack of motivation and desire.
Drug misuse like cocaine usage results in a surge of dopamine in the brain, which is why that high can be so desirable. But substance abuse also raises the dopamine threshold, meaning you need to take more to get the same pleasure.
Ironically, drug misuse can also adversely impact dopamine production, meaning your body will make less of it.
In certain medical situations, doctors will use prescription dopamine called Inotropin to treat low blood pressure, poor blood flow to vital organs and inadequate cardiac performance. Dopamine can become a lifesaver.
If dopamine is so essential to the nervous system, then why not take it artificially if naturally occurring dopamine levels are low in the body?
Taking dopamine in prescription form has many side effects, like a faster heart rate, respiratory compromise, headaches and nausea and vomiting. Exercise is the best way to naturally and safely increase dopamine levels in the brain.
People who smoke cigarettes will experience reduced levels of brain dopamine. These will bounce back after you kick the habit, but with lowered motivation and desire, it can be hard to summon up the will to do it – a bit of a vicious circle.
Hard things are complex, and it is human nature always to take the easy road if possible. Dopamine gives you the motivation to get up and do stuff and make changes.
The human brain prioritizes things that deliver lots of dopamine, like eating chocolate and smoking. It works on a reward basis, and even destructive behaviours can provide rewards to the human brain.
If you get less dopamine from something, your brain won’t crave it as there are no rewards, or they are too small to make it worthwhile. The brain will always prioritize high dopamine-producing activities.
The body does try to impose some balance via a process called homeostasis. This helps the body adjust to imbalances and also generates tolerance, often called dopamine tolerance.
The body will always prioritize those activities which offer the most significant dopamine rewards. If you want to tackle the challenge of doing something complicated like quitting smoking or losing weight, it is imperative to understand this.
Getting used to doing hard things requires change. It means changing what can be entrenched patterns of behaviour, probably at a time when you have little motivation to do so.
Here are ten helpful tips to help you get used to doing hard things. You can apply these techniques to any sort of desired change in behaviour. Each suggestion considers how the human brain works and dopamine’s role in this process.
These ten tips work in harmony. No one point is necessarily a life-changer, and some will help you more than others. It’s worth trying all of them to see what makes the most difference for you.
There are two ways to tackle the challenge of doing something hard.
One way is a savage dopamine detox where you simply throw away the cigarettes or avoid addictive tech like mobile phones, laptops, or video games.
Some people just don’t have the self-control to wean themselves off gradually and prefer to go cold turkey.
Many of you will find Dopamine Detox just too extreme; if it’s just too hard, then make the change more gradual.
Start to scale down cigarette smoking; vaping is an alternative for some people. Limit the time spent on technology, drink less, cut out all those naughty calories like chocolate and crisps from your diet.
Another way to introduce gradual change is to set aside one day a week to resist that particular high dopamine behaviour. This will slowly improve your motivation and open up your mind to other things you might not have enjoyed before.
Here’s a simple idea—associate pain with stagnant behaviour.
That could be the cost to your wallet and perhaps even the cost to your health. Change the pain for pleasure, the pleasure you will enjoy by changing your behaviour.
Replace your activity with some exercise and lose those extra kilos. Now you can fit into those designer jeans and improve your mental and physical health.
If you switch from cigarette smoking to vaping, you will find that vaping is convenient and will suddenly create lots of extra time in your day. Time previously wasted on smoke breaks, when you could be reading or focused on more important things.
Is it really as simple as emptying the house of chocolate and replacing those gaps with healthy foods and snacks? Yes, it can be. Are you really going to be bothered to walk to the shop in the rain to get your favourite sweet treat?
Sometimes, even a slight difference can be enough, as humans inherently and naturally attempt to get the most reward out of the least activity.
It can be hard to summon up the will to impose self-discipline, so it is okay to help yourself out as much as possible. No one on a diet wants to open a cupboard and be faced with wall-to-wall chocolate or be the only one on the smoking break without a cigarette.
A habit is constructed of a trigger or cue followed by a response or behaviour and then a reward.
Figuring out the trigger can help you modify the bad habit or behaviour you want to change.
Many established pathways to successful weight loss or giving up drinking or smoking involve the support of a third party, either a counsellor or a designated buddy or within a group of people in the same situation as you.
Mutual support can be beneficial as you feel you are not struggling alone. Take a friend along on the journey with you – you can inspire each other. Reach out to online friends with a weekly post; those ‘likes’ and comments will give you a real boost.
Random acts can be hit and miss and rarely survive long term. If you intend to make changes, be exceptionally organized and routine in what you are doing.
Work out when you will suffer from reduced motivation or cravings in the day or the week. Are there set patterns you have established which will be hard to break, like taking a cigarette break at work with friends?
Try and re-order the routine into something more beneficial. You really want to see your friends at work, so join them with a vape pen. Losing the cigarette and the time out might be just too hard at the outset.
Dopamine levels reduce naturally in the body towards the end of the day, so consider this when planning to make changes. Motivation is often better or easier first thing in the morning.
Remember to build some flexibility into the routine, as rigid or brittle frameworks won’t last. You might want to pick the same day each week, but it may not always be possible.
Replace your bad dopamine release with something that is good for your health and can release plenty of dopamine in the brain – exercise!
It’s much easier to tackle something hard if you can replace the dopamine you are no longer getting with dopamine from another good source.
The mental health benefits of vigorous exercise need no introduction, but it has to be aerobic exercise, which raises the heart rate.
Do something social, like joining a dance club where you can learn a new skill and socialize at the same time if the gym is not for you. Make exercise fun.
You are what you eat! Dopamine originates from an amino acid called tyrosine. Amino acids are primarily found in protein sources, not carbs or sugar.
Tyrosine and another amino acid, phenylalanine — also crucial in dopamine production — naturally occur in turkey, beef, eggs, and dairy. If you don’t eat meat, then legumes are another rich source of protein.
If you can stick to your guns, you will undoubtedly need a big pat on the back. Even better, link a reward to the effort you have made to do something hard or give something up.
How about putting aside the money you would have spent on snacks or alcohol to buy yourself something nice at the end of the month? It turns your sacrifice into a positive with a direct link between the effort you have made and a good outcome.
A good habit will eventually reward itself. Ditching chocolate will have tangible health results and is its own reward every time you look in the mirror. Small steps forward should always be recognized, as rewards encourage you to keep going.
Make the reward pretty immediate; a holiday next year from the proceeds of all the money you haven’t spent on cigarettes is not going to cut it.
Just make sure your reward is not a total binge out on what you have deprived yourself of in the first place. Otherwise, it really will be back to square one!
Doing something hard is just not as simple as reading a list of tips and tricks and then winning the battle – if only it were that easy!
Understanding how the brain works and then picking up some established and proven techniques means you have already taken that crucial first step on the pathway to success.
The great benefit of learning how to do something challenging is that these are valuable life skills transferable to other situations and can even help others.
Got something else you need to tackle? You’ve done it before, and you can do it again!
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