Why I Starve My Brain

Think about this: what’s the very first thing people do when they break up with their significant other?

They go drinking.

Why do they do this? Why is this the ritual that our culture has adopted to heal a broken heart?

Because going out drinking and partying releases dopamine, the “feel good” chemical in our brains.

It is the fastest and easiest way to temporarily relieve pain, sadness, and discomfort.

Alcohol is one way to do this:
  • Porn
  • Drugs
  • Alcohol
  • Sex
  • TV
  • Online shopping
  • Movies
  • Video games
  • Junk food
  • Social media
  • Money

There is no shortage of ways to get a dopamine hit right at our fingertips 24/7.

But dopamine is almost comically easy to abuse.

When they feel insecure, sad, unfulfilled, helpless, or angry, they give themselves a dopamine hit.

They eat shitty food, look at porn, buy stuff online, have sex, watch TV, play video games, or smoke some weed.

People call it “relaxing after a long day” or tell themselves that they “deserve it.”

But the reality is that all of these things release dopamine.

We use these as a mask for the pain that we experience in our lives so we don’t have to deal with it directly.

But here’s the problem: our brains get spoiled on dopamine.

It is a crutch and after a while, we have no other mechanism to deal with our pain.

So we get stuck repeating the behaviors.

If you want to cut back on drinking, drugs, junk food, porn, video games, or watching so much TV…

Then this article is for you.

I’m going to give you a powerful tool that I have personally used to break negative habits.

And it all starts with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Your Brain is Spoiled

Do you remember Veruca Salt? She’s the spoiled little brat in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

In the original 1971 version of the movie, she sings a song called “I Want It Now!”

Check out a couple lines from that song.

I want a party with room fulls of laughter / Ten thousand tons of ice cream / And if I don't get the things I am after / I'm going to scream!

This is me. This is you. This is the frantic cry of all addictions.

Our brains have been designed over millions of years of evolution to reward us when we:

  • Discover a problem
  • Find a solution
  • Chase it
  • Acquire it

That’s a survival instinct. When we successfully get something we want, our brains automatically release dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter.

Dopamine release is the reason why our species has survived.

When our hunter/gatherer ancestors found a patch of berries or a clean source of water, they got a dopamine hit.

Dopamine ensured they would remember where the spot was and come back to it because they felt good.

But when it is abused, our brains get spoiled, like Veruca Salt.

When a child wants something, they chase it by asking their parents for it.

When they get it, they get a hit of dopamine.

So they keep doing it. And doing it. And doing it. Because we are hardwired to do this.

When they are told “no”, they are denied that dopamine hit and they freak out.

You’ve probably witnessed this in person.

But that same shit happens to you and me.

Look at that lyrics from Veruca’s song again.

I want a party with room fulls of laughter / Ten thousand tons of ice cream

Change “ten thousand tons of ice cream” to any of the things you might be abusing.

If you’ve been in a cycle of partying, spending too much money or time online, watching too much TV, eating too much shitty food, it’s time to go on a dopamine fast.

This is the absolute best way that I have found to break bad habits that are holding me back. It is incredibly effective.

But I have to warn you.

This will cause you some discomfort.

Remember that screaming, spoiled child? Your brain is going to be screaming at you when you deprive it of dopamine.

But you will also have the opportunity to confront your pain, deal with it, and discover a way forward.

It will release you from your dopamine addiction and allow you to start doing the things that you actually want.

How to Go On a Dopamine Fast

Here’s what this dopamine fast will entail.

Time Period

You pick a day. This will sort of be like a holiday, but kind of the opposite in that you don’t get to do anything that you want to do.

A dopamine fast lasts from the time you wake up until you go to bed that night.

It is a full day.

What You Can Do

I’ll start with the things you can do.

  • Go on walks
  • Meditate
  • Drink water
  • Light exercise
  • Write with a pen and paper

What You Cannot Do

  • No eating or drinking anything with calories (This is a fast. No juice, smoothie, shakes, coffee, tea etc)
  • No phone or texting (except for emergencies)
  • No internet (watching videos, social media, browsing, etc)
  • No TV or movies ( Netflix, DVDs, documentaries)
  • No substances (alcohol, weed, cigarettes, caffeine)
  • No video games
  • No music
  • No hanging out with anyone
  • No talking with anyone (except for emergencies)
  • No masturbating
  • No reading books (fiction or nonfiction)

Why Does This Work?

So how does this work for your brain and why would anyone do this?

The problem with dopamine, like other drugs, is that it is subject to the law of diminishing returns.

Let’s go back to our spoiled child.

Imagine that, at first, the child demands a single sliver of chocolate.

The parent caves in and breaks off a small corner of a chocolate bar for them.

The next time, the child wants more--they want half the chocolate bar. The parent caves in again.

Eventually, the child can demand an entire box of king-size candy bars and get it.

At that point, if you wanted to motivate that child with a reward, you wouldn’t be able to offer them a sliver of chocolate.

That’s like nothing to them at that point. They can get a box of big ass chocolate bars whenever they want.

They ain’t doin’ shit for a little piece of chocolate.

It works the same way with your brain.

Exercise is good for you. But it's painful and the dopamine payoff is not that big because the reward of exercise comes much later from doing it consistently over a long period of time.

If your brain is accustomed to getting massive dopamine rushes for doing easy, comfortable things like watching an entire season of Breaking Bad while ordering 3 pizzas on Uber Eats, drinking a 12-pack of beer, and taking breaks to masturbate to porn…

It is going to be very, very difficult for you to motivate yourself to go to the gym.

Your brain just does not give a fuck because the dopamine payoff is delayed and much smaller.

If you want to write a book, launch a business, start a YouTube channel or a podcast, learn a language...

Those are hard things to do and all of them become exponentially less likely and more challenging because your brain is trained to get large amounts of instant dopamine for almost every other activity that you do.

But when you fast from dopamine, you give your brain the chance to reset.

Your brain (and you) learn to go without dopamine for an extended period of time.

You learn to do things without the need for a dopamine hit.

When you starve your brain of dopamine, it realizes that the only way for it to get that dopamine, is to do what you really want.

It becomes much easier to exercise and go to the gym because your brain doesn’t need such a big payoff.

But perhaps even more importantly, it gives you the chance to address the reasons you are seeking such high levels of dopamine in the first place.

And that’s where the writing comes in.

Why You MUST Write During a Dopamine Fast

No one goes through life without pain. It is simply a fact of existing that you will suffer in some way.

Maybe it’s from your parents, your childhood, friends, a toxic relationship, or just some random shit that fucked you over through no fault of your own.

We all get hurt and have pain.

When we get hurt we have two choices: we can confront it, or we can run from it.

It’s fight or flight.

Most commonly, we choose to self-medicate ourselves with pleasure.

We hide from the pain with dopamine because that is easier and less terrifying than facing it head-on.

But this is temporary and it also cripples you.

Remember how I said dopamine was like a crutch.

Did you know that some people tear the ACL in their knees but never get it fixed?

It’s true. You really only need your ACL if you’re doing athletic, side-to-side movements.

You can live a perfectly normal life and walk pretty much the same without the use of your ACL.

But if it comes time to run, you are totally fucked.

You can ignore your pain for only so long until it totally cripples you and prevents you from doing all the cool shit you want to do.

With a dopamine fast, you cannot run from your pain because there is nothing you can mask it with.

The only thing you can do is to deal with it.

Writing is a very powerful and effective way to confront your pain, look it in the eyes, and conquer it.

What to Write During a Dopamine Fast

Writing is such a powerful tool for dealing with pain because you can lay out your thoughts, organize them, and focus in on the source of your pain, shame, rejection, fear, or helplessness.

You can figure out the source, find out why you’re feeling this pain, and develop a plan of action to overcome it.

Here are some questions to think about and write down. Spend as much time as you need on each of these. Remember, you have all day and you don’t really have anything else to do.

1. What is the source of my pain?
Is it physical? Where is it coming from? Is it emotional? Describe your pain in as much detail as you can. Maybe it’s depression, anxiety, shame, rejection, or anger. Write everything down. Dig deeply into all the nuances of your pain.

2. Why do I feel this way?
It’s important that you don’t pass the blame onto something else. A lot of times we get tempted to place the blame for our pain on other people, our genetics, or chemicals.

I can tell you from personal experience and talking with other people that it is almost always the case that we are in control of the source of our pain.

The source is almost always something that we are in control of.

Write down all of the things that you may have been doing to cause this pain.

3. How can I fix it?
Write down maybe 1 to 3 concrete things that you can start doing tomorrow to address the things that you’ve been doing that cause you pain.

These should be actual, real things that you can do tomorrow to get you at least a couple steps closer to fixing the cause of your pain.

4. What would my life look like in 5 years if I did not do these things?
Write down what your life would be like if you did none of these things for the next 5 years. Assume the absolute worst case scenario and really get into it. Describe it in as much detail as possible. Remember, you have all day.

5. What would my life look like in 5 years if I did these things?
Write down what your life would look like if you did do these 1-3 things. Assume the absolute best possible scenario. Again, get into it and really describe every single detail of how your life would be like if you did everything that you wrote down.

Like I said, take as much time as you need for each of these.

This is important because when you complete this, you will have a detailed roadmap of where you are going and what your future might look like.

Your next steps forward will be crystal clear and that is incredibly empowering.

When you wake up the next day, you will have a plan of action to change your life and you will feel incredibly motivated to actualize it.

I’ll be posting a video soon about my experience with dopamine fasting. If you’ve done one, let me know in the comments what happened and how it worked for you.

That’s all.

Live Like a Lion,

Mike