Why you want to get doped up at work with dopamine?
Do you get doped up at work?
Normally the drug of choice in the office is caffeine. Heck, I’m the first to run for one when I need a stimulant, however, there’s a better booster in the building and it’s called dopamine. This happy neurochemical can’t be purchased at your local Starbucks but it can be produced in your head and for free! Once you find out how dopamine works and why it has been critical in our evolution you too will want to be doped up at work. In fact, your managers and leaders are going to insist. We all aim to avoid pain and seek pleasure, specifically in that order. Thankfully our intelligently designed biology loves to makes us feel good when we are surviving and even more so when we are thriving. Our brain self-produces hormones and neurochemicals depending on what it is responding to. For example, if by some fluke any of you are experiencing stress at work (this was a joke), then the hormone being triggered in the brain would be cortisol. Boooo. Too much cortisol is definitely not on our fun list.
Why is stress bad?
Individuals who have to deal with constant stress (a.k.a. chronic stress), and more so for constant acute stress, will automatically release heaps of cortisol. Sometimes these individuals place undue stress on themselves due to lack of coping skills or self-regulation practices. Constant cortisol overproduction burns away at your hippocampus like the Ozzie sun on fair skin. Damage to your hippocampus seriously affects memory, especially long-term and spatial, as well as, emotional regulation. There goes all your learning and development goals, burnt up along with your hippocampus… Sad fact: “Adults who have had that history of stress and have lost up to 25 percent of the volume of this critically important part of the brain are less able to form new memories.” Happy fact: There are 4 neurochemicals that are on our fun list and today we are exploring one of them in depth, Dopamine! We will talk a bit more about the other 3 later on in this blog but for now let’s keep focusing on our favorite dope, dopamine.
What is dopamine?
Dopamine is fondly known as the “Reward Molecule” as it is responsible for driving behaviours that attain desired outcomes and/or provide pleasure. Every time researchers study reward-seeking behaviours the result is the same, an increase in dopamine production in the brain. Many addictive drugs, such as cocaine act directly on the dopamine system. Cocaine inhibits the reuptake of dopamine and maintains them in the synaptic gap for longer durations. Sure it feels good but after prolonged use the brain adapts to the higher, artificially manufactured levels of dopamine and stops natural production. This ends up resulting in severe cravings, irritability and depression if addiction persists. Say no to blow and keep your nose clean. Thanks dad. At the office, dopamine is a top performer. This is why it’s our fav.
What do the experts have to say?
Professor of psychological sciences and Head of Behavioral Neuroscience Division at the University of Connecticut, John Salamone, is a longtime researcher of dopamine. Professor Salamone has this to say: “Low levels of dopamine make people and other animals less likely to work for things, so it has more to do with motivation and cost/benefit analyses than pleasure itself.” Professor Salamone is not alone in the motivation discussion when looking at dopamine. A little while ago I was fortunate enough to interview the very passionate and talented Dr. Loretta G. Breuning, founder of The Inner Mammal Institute, and subject matter expert on mammalian brain chemistry. In our videocast about The 4 Happy Chemicals in our Brains, as they relate back to our primate ancestors, I learn how Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin and Endorphin can help us at work. We also cover how nasty Cortisol can mess us up as well. Here is the videocast: >The 4 Happy Chemicals in our Brains Dr. Breuning describes the energetic reward of dopamine as that mental state of “I CAN get what I need” and/or “I got what I needed! Wooohooo!” It is the feel good feeling which motivates us to keep going, to keep engaging ourselves with effort and reach the finish line. When it comes to the corporate world, the “what I need” translates into the “work needs that I must do”. At a helicopter view, the brain triggers Dopamine when we perceive we are advancing in our survival. It is a powerful evolutionary process that has promoted our species to evolve into who we are today and who we will flourish into tomorrow. At a biological level, our neurones synapse or connect when dopamine rushes out. This effect feels great as we inherently understand it to mean that we are stepping closers to what we need/want and we create habits by expecting the same reward under similar conditions. So whether it is for pleasure or motivation, the result in the office is win-win. Happiness creates success and motivation gets work done!
Tips & Tricks to implement at work
To help increase your natural dopamine production make sure you are breaking your projects and goals into manageable tasks, chunks and/or deliverables. Mini goals that you CAN deliver so that you WILL receive your dopamine reward. I know this isn’t the first time you heard advice to create a task list. But I’m hoping this is the first time you understand the WHY it is important. That it is linked to our evolutionary biology and that you can empower yourself to do it yourself. I want to inspire you to take this seriously as it can and will affect your mental health. Rather than rant out a list of possible condition of dopamine deprivation, here is a simple excerpt from Scientific American to summarise my concern: “Dopamine could also be important in major depressive disorder. People with depression often exhibit reduced motivation, anhedonia (a decrease in pleasure from usually enjoyed things), sometimes motor decreases as well. All of these are linked with dopamine. So targeting the dopamine system is one of the ways in which we can look at potential mechanisms and treatments for depressive behaviours.”
Instead of throwing labels around like they are confetti; “She’s so depressed”, “He is probably going through a depression”. Why not reach out and ask a colleague how they are “advancing on their tasks?”. Offer to help get them started or show them a way to deliver with more ease if they are open to it. Share your own stories and co-develop together. Other people matter and sharing is caring when it comes to dope. Now, what happens if we get way too much constant dopamine? Well, let’s not do that because like my mom says, “too much of anything is not good for you”. Thanks Mom. But just in case we do want to avoid the complications of a “dopamine” hangover I have this tip to share that came to me via an influential blogger, Thai Nguyen, at The Utopian Life. He suggested to “create new goals before achieving your current one” to ensure a constant slow drip effect. True story, during the videocast, Dr. Breuning agreed that the above suggestion was a wise professional approach. Specifically to start your next goal while you are completing the one you are working on to ensure consistency in dopamine production. Ironically, I found out later that Thai received that suggestion from Dr. Breuning in an earlier encounter. Haha. Way to go Thai!
How can we create healthy professional habits of increasing dopamine on the job?
Well, repetition, repetition, repetition….. That’s how. Train your brain for progress, not perfection, and complete goals so you will stay motivated and feeling great at work. Oh, as for the other 3 neurochemicals to be aware; Oxytocin, Serotonin & Endorphine. Understanding what these neurochemicals do and how they can affect us at working is pretty important so we invite you to listen/watch our videocast The 4 Happy Chemicals in our Brain with Dr. Loretta Breuning. We will most likely create a follow-up blog on them too so stay subscribed. Here is a link to Loretta’s book for those who want to dive deeper into happy neurochemicals from a lens of mammalian brain research. Love this subject matter and would definitely encourage the read. At least the next time co-workers would say that, “it’s a zoo around here”, you can retort, “I know, that’s why I am reading this book”!
P.s. There are also studies which provide evidence that extroverted people, those who are really outgoing and uninhibited, have higher levels of dopamine than introverts. So if you would like to be more extroverted than that is just another reason to hop on the dopamine waggon and practice how to naturally get that neurochemical flowing. Extroversion is a good way of putting yourself out there to gain more opportunities in career life and in professional development.
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Much love, light and self regulation.
Always be Self Regulating