How To Trick Your Brain Into Liking Hard Things
Have you ever wondered why it’s so easy for other people to be productive?Have you ever felt motivated to do certain things, only to have that drive dry out within a few days? Have you ever felt discouraged or frustrated when the people around you discuss their goals and how they’ve read 75 books and wrote 9 on top of maintaining a healthy body? Meanwhile, you’re still struggling with the third chapter of the book you’ve been trying to read for the last 2 months?
If you’ve answered yes to all of those, you’re in the right place. In an article written by Lisa Feldman Barrett for The New York Times, she says that you tend to feel tired and frustrated when you increase activity in your brain.
For instance, consider the last time you took a math test or pushed your physical limits. How did you feel? Hard work often makes you feel bad in the moment; you often think to yourself, “I’m never doing this again. It’s way too hard.”
Instead of challenging your brain, you start doing the things that make you feel comfortable or things that are easy. Then you wonder why you’re incapable of focusing on your work daily. You’ve trained your brain to like comfort, but discomfort is when growth happens.
Identifying the Root of the Problem
How often do you check Instagram? Or Twitter? Is it easy? Do you feel like it requires a ton of effort? Probably not. I can sit on Instagram for hours. I’ll refresh the feed multiple times despite seeing everything there is to see on the platform.
When it comes to doing other things, such as reading or writing — I struggle. I find that I can’t focus, I zone out, or even just get tired.
I was frustrated. Why is it that the people I look up to always seem so driven and motivated to work on their business or read 100+ books per year? Meanwhile, I was struggling to just finish one. What was I missing? How do I make doing difficult things, such as working on my business, easy?
The answer came to me in a YouTube video: dopamine. Dopamine is what makes you desire things. It’s what makes you reach for your phone with sleepy eyes first thing in the morning to check Facebook. It boosts your mood, motivation, and attention.
I quickly realized that my dopamine receptors were out of whack. The reason behind why I was feeling unmotivated to work wasn’t because I was lazy (maybe a little), but it was mainly because I had developed an extremely high dopamine tolerance.
Simple things like reading or writing didn’t provide me with the same dopamine level as other things such as watching TV, scrolling through Instagram, etc. Your brain doesn’t care that the levels of dopamine that you’re consuming could be damaging to you; it just wants more and more.
What’s wrong with having too much dopamine?
Our bodies have a biological system called Homeostasis; this means our bodies like to keep an internal physical and chemical balance. Whenever an imbalance occurs, our bodies will adapt to it.
Basically, when your brain gets used to having high dopamine levels, those levels become your new normal, which forces you to create a dopamine tolerance. Doing day-to-day life things will inevitably become impossible for you to do. On top of that, reading, writing, working, or improving yourself could be even more challenging.
Ever wonder why you can’t stop watching Netflix when you know you have work to do? Ever wonder why it’s impossible for drug addicts to quit? Speaking of which, in an article written in Healthline,
Certain drugs may interact with dopamine in a way that becomes habit-forming. Nicotine, alcohol, or other drugs with addictive qualities activate the dopamine cycle. These substances can cause a quicker, far more intense dopamine rush than you’d get from those double chocolate chip cookies. It’s such a powerful rush that you’re left wanting more — and soon.
As a habit forms, the brain responds by toning down the dopamine. Now you need more of the substance to get to that same pleasure level. Overactivation also affects dopamine receptors in a way that makes you lose interest in other things. That can make you act more compulsively. You’re less and less able to resist using these substances.
This can apply to essentially any type of addiction — video games, pornography, social media, etc. Once your dopamine tolerance gets high, you’re unable to do the things that don’t provide you with the same kind of rush.
I felt helpless when I began putting the puzzle pieces together. I felt like I didn’t have any control over my mind nor body. I wanted a change, and I wanted it quickly.
With that being said, here are a few strategies I’ve been utilizing to balance out my dopamine levels and essentially trick my brain into enjoying hard things again.
Cut All Social Media 1x per Week
Every morning when I wake up, I go on Instagram. I check the feed, go to the bathroom, brush my teeth, check Instagram, make coffee, check Instagram, sit down to work, check Instagram, start writing, check Instagram mid-sentence — well, you get it.
Writing was not as fun as Instagram. YouTube videos were dull. When I read, I thought about what new photos would pop up on my Instagram feed. If the book was made into a film, I’d stalk the actors on Instagram.
When you get a social media notification, your brain sends a chemical messenger called dopamine along a reward pathway, which makes you feel good. Dopamine is associated with food, exercise, love, sex, gambling, drugs … and now, social media. When rewards are delivered randomly (as with a slot machine or a positive interaction on social media), and checking for the reward is easy, the dopamine-triggering behavior becomes a habit.
Social media addiction involves broken reward pathways in our brains. Social media provides immediate rewards — in the form of attention from your network — for minimal effort through a quick thumb tap. Therefore, the brain rewires itself, making you desire likes, retweets, emoji applause, and so on. Five to 10% of internet users are psychologically addicted and can’t control how much time they spend online.
Brain scans of social media addicts are similar to those of drug-dependent brains: There is a clear change in the regions of the brain that control emotions, attention, and decision making.
Conclusion? Too much social media will alter your brain chemistry. I never considered this before; I was always unaware of my use of social media. I used excuses like, “everybody else is on it, and they’re fine…” or, “I need it for my business.”
I get it. Cutting it out is hard, and there are tons of benefits to social media. You can use it to network, connect with family members, promote your business, amongst many other things.
The problem is we’re oblivious to the negative effects that come with the platform, and while cutting it out completely isn’t an option, limiting it is.
How you can apply this:
You can go about this in two ways.
Option 1: You can do it cold turkey and do a hard and brutal detox, essentially eliminating everything fun out of your day. You can’t get on any social media, no phone usage at all, no TV, no music, no internet. Remove all sources of external pleasure out of your day.
Things you can do: meditate, journal, take a walk, drink your water, eat a healthy meal (no junk food).
You’re going to starve yourself of all the things you find exciting, and in turn, it’ll make the less exciting stuff — fun again.
Option 2: Pick 1 day of the week and refrain from one of your high-dopamine behaviors. For me, this is not going on Instagram every single Monday.
The easiest way to do this is deleting the app from your phone, write “No IG today” on a sticky-note, and put it somewhere that you’ll constantly see it. Or you could even have an accountability partner for this. Your first day will be challenging, but the more you do it, the easier it’ll become.
Consider the Costs of Inaction
When you’re trying to motivate yourself to do something, you usually think about what you will gain from it.
For example, when I’m pumping myself up to go to the gym, I tell myself that exercising is good for me. I’ve been sitting all day, and my body needs to move, and usually, I remind myself that if I work out, I can have something sweet (that always gets me).
However, something I’ve started doing is considering the repercussions of not doing the things I’m supposed to do. If I don’t exercise and take care of myself, my health will deteriorate. If I don’t eat well, I won’t think clearly. I’ll feel sluggish. If I skip a workout, I’ll feel like crap the rest of the week. If I don’t work on my business, I won’t succeed.
By considering the repercussions of not doing the things you need to do, whether that be in your personal life (like working on your relationships, taking care of your health) or even your work life (staying up to date on projects, showing up on time), you’re developing a focus on the potential losses you might experience.
In turn, increasing your drive to get things done.
How you can apply this:
Psychologist Ana Sofia Batista says that goals are made of two parts: the things you want and the things you don’t want.
Keeping the things that you don’t want in mind (failing, not having incredible connections in your life, not being able to support yourself, not going after your dreams) can be an incredibly powerful motivation mechanism for you.
I practice this daily. When I get into a negative mindset and want to give up, I go for a walk and consider what I could potentially be giving up if I don’t apply myself daily.
It’s a brutal mechanism, but it’s powerful.
It took me a while to accept that something as minor as social media could affect not only my work ethic but also my ability to take on challenges.
It’s frustrating to think that you have so little control over your mind, but gaining that self-awareness is the first step in turning the tables.
It’s not going to be easy, but if you want to see a drastic and positive change in your life, you’re going to have to go out of your comfort zone and cut out the things that hinder you.
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