Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in the brain’s reward system. It’s released when we experience something pleasurable, such as eating a delicious meal or receiving a compliment. However, our brains can become desensitized to dopamine over time, requiring larger and more frequent doses of pleasure to achieve the same level of satisfaction.
Dopamine fasting aims to reset this system by temporarily abstaining from all pleasurable activities, including social media, video games, sex, and even food.
The practice of dopamine fasting down-regulates the dopamine receptors in your brain’s pleasure centers, so they calm down and crave fewer hits. This practice is a way of calming the mind and allowing yourself to focus on the things that really matter.
This self-imposed period of abstinence from all things pleasurable is said to reset the brain’s reward system, increase focus and productivity, and even improve mental health.
There are various prescriptions to this fast, one method involving actual fasting: For a a period of time, usually 24 hours, abstain from stimulations that produce dopamine, which include eating or drinking anything except for water, using social media, consuming media, listening to music, or having sex.
You can meditate, journal, paint, exercise, or connect with nature. That’s it. No phone, no computer, no music, no television, and no junk food. No human interaction except for yourself.
Or, you can try a Dopamine Detox. Pick one compulsive behavior you want to cut down on and start small. Intermittent fasting is a great option, as it promotes increased focus, relaxation, and clear thinking. Digital detox is another option. Put your phone in a drawer for a few hours.
Based on an accepted cognitive behavioral therapy technique called stimulus control, Dopamine fasting can be seen as making an intentional choice not to indulge in compulsive behaviors. Instead of checking your phone or stress eating, you become more mindful of those behaviors and can break a negative cycle of mindless reaching for of dopamine.
But does it really work? The evidence is mixed. While some proponents of dopamine fasting report increased focus and productivity, others argue that it reinforces the idea that pleasure is inherently bad or sinful. They also point out that it’s not a substitute for addressing the underlying issues that may be causing a lack of focus or productivity.
Pleasure is a natural and essential part of life and if you start to feel less of it, perhaps a fast might help strike a balance between indulgence and self-discipline, which is the sweet spot to get the most pleasure out of life.