You know that game you play on your cell phone? You get frustrated that it’s so hard or that you can’t win but you play it anyway, don’t you? Do you know why you play the game? Because you get to celebrate and win every day.
Whenever you have a positive, rewarding stimulus (like winning a game, or sex, or even a tasty meal) your brain releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine. It enhances the anticipation of pleasure. This causes us to do more of this pleasurable activity. In fact, dopamine’s nickname is the “feel good” neurotransmitter.
Dopamine helps with movement and has other functions as well, but brain science is complex so I’ll spare you the nitty-gritty details.
If you would like more detailed explanations you can read watch the short version in this youtube video. Or read this University Health News article.
The downside of dopamine is that it is also released for some people when they drink alcohol or take drugs. This is part of the reason addiction is very difficult to treat.
Hack Your Body
You can “hack” your body and help motivate yourself by triggering the release of dopamine. If you celebrate even the small wins, you will release a bit of dopamine and win every day.
How do you do it? Pick three things you accomplished each day. You got out of bed, got dressed, and fed yourself—give yourself a dopamine hit by celebrating what you did.
Ah, but you say—if I reward myself every day for jobs done, I’ll go broke (or get fat). Rewards don’t have to cost you calories or money. Let me give you an example.
My Rewards Hack
This weekend I finished the edits on Fellowship and sent it to the proofreader on time. Yay! My body doesn’t need any extra calories and my budget has little room for extras so how to celebrate?
At first, I lazed around. Nice, but not terribly rewarding somehow.
I’d been planning to write a post about rewards and dopamine. When I sat down to write today’s post, I realized I already had a calorie-free and cost-free way to reward myself.
I have a Pinterest board where I collect things for my “fantasy home and garden.”
The rules for my fantasy home and garden virtual shopping trip is—cost is no object. It requires over-the-top, let’s-have-fun items. So today I went shopping.
Robby the Robot
Seven feet tall, Robby is “created from the same blueprints, molds, and templates used to create the original movie-prop costume.” He is pre-programmed. He’ll rotate his head, spin his gyro stabilizers, and twirl his scanners. Various lights will flash exactly as seen in the film. He can deliver his most famous lines from the movie in that distinctive “Robby the Robot” voice. You can even project your own voice or connect him to your home theater system. Wouldn’t he be fun at a party?
$100,000 / year
This would be a double duty job. No house cleaning for me! And someone to help my husband with meals and activities of daily living when I’m out of town. I plan on lots of book signing tours (if you’re going to dream…) I’ll take two Rosie the Robots, please.
A Private Chef
$100,000,000 (est.) / year
Nutritious, well-prepared meals served to us every day? Now, I wouldn’t want Gordon Ramsey, though he may be a perfectly nice man in person. I’ll take one Emeril Lagasse, please. He’ll come in a prepare one or two meals a day—What’s not to love?
I love my neighborhood so I’d want rebuild on our lot. It would be a larger, more luxurious house with a basement apartment for my live-in house cleaner. But I’m having a hard time deciding if I’d want a palace or an ultra-modern, Jetson home.
Five Person Exploration Submarine
This baby sub comes with “comprehensive training.” It can descend to a depth of 656 feet and cruise at a maximum submerged speed of 2 1/2 knots (4 knots surface). I can’t wait to see the reefs and sea life around my private island!
A Private Island
Rangyai Island, Thailand is for sale now. It’s 110 acres in size. The island comes complete with fresh water, electric generator, and mobile signal. It’s only twenty minutes from Phuket International Airport. Or you can take a ten minute boat trip to the nearest town. (I gotta admit, the name of the closest city attracted me—but it’s not what you think. The way to pronounce Phuket is Poo-ket.)
The reality is, I can’t afford a single one of those things but it is nice to dream. For me, this virtual shopping trip cost nothing but fun. And that’s where the dopamine comes in.
If you’re feeling like this isn’t for you, you might want to read “You Have the Right to Feel Good About Yourself.”
Maybe a virtual shopping trip isn’t your thing. But I’ll bet you can find your own virtual reward. Perhaps you already know what yours is. Tell me how you hack your body’s dopamine hist and celebrate and win every day.