Tired of feeling burned out and unmotivated? You may have a dopamine deficiency. Here’s what you need to do to change it.
You wake up feeling like you want to sleep for another decade. You go to work and stare at your computer, willing your brain to work. You feel zero motivation to do anything. Maybe you need a sixth cup of coffee. Maybe you need a few minutes of celebrity gossip. Maybe you need a different job. Maybe you just need a nap.
You summon all your inner energy, fire up the computer, and open up the project of the day. It feels big. Too big.
Compare this to the guy who skips into work whistling, gets to work immediately, and spends a few hours cranking out work at a crazy pace.
What’s the difference?
It could be that he’s one of those semi-annoying people who is always happy. You know the type. Rain or shine, they’ve always got a smile on their face. You’re not like that.
But maybe his high levels are related to something different altogether: dopamine.
What Is Dopamine?
In simple terms, dopamine is a neurotransmitter that allows signals to relay through your brain. Think of it like a walkie-talkie that lets your brain cells talk to each other. Or electrical wires that connect your brain cells. Or a telegraph line if you’re a history buff.
Dopamine is crucial for enabling movement. When the parts of the brain that produce dopamine start to die, the body begins to lose it’s ability to function.
Bethany Brookshire puts it this way:
When the brain cells that make dopamine in this area start to die off, a person can have trouble initiating movement. It’s just one of the many symptoms ravaging people with Parkinson’s disease (a condition best known for uncontrollable tremors). To move normally, patients with Parkinson’s take a drug that lets them make more dopamine (or they get an implant that stimulates deep regions of the brain).
Dopamine is also the brain chemical that makes you feel good, which is why many call it “the happy hormone”.
When you receive or expect to receive a reward, your brain releases a bit of dopamine. When your favorite song comes blasting over the radio and you want to crank down the windows and sing at the top of your lungs, it’s because dopamine is at work.
The reward function of dopamine allows us to modify our behavior. When you take an action and then receive a dopamine hit, you want to do that action again. If you can connect dopamine release to positive actions, you can begin powerful habits.
But it goes even further than this. Research at Vanderbilt has indicated that people with high levels of dopamine are more willing to work toward goals. As David Salisbury notes:
Using a brain mapping technique called positron emission tomography (PET scan), the researchers found that “go-getters” who are willing to work hard for rewards had higher release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in areas of the brain known to play an important role in reward and motivation, the striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex. On the other hand, “slackers” who are less willing to work hard for a reward had high dopamine levels in another brain area that plays a role in emotion and risk perception, the anterior insula.
This brings us to two important points regarding motivation:
- If you boost your overall dopamine levels, you’ll be more motivated to work hard.
- If you can tie specific actions to dopamine release, you’ll want to do those actions again and again.
All this brings us to the question: how can you release more dopamine in your brain?
Here are 8 ways.
Get Proper Amounts Of Sleep
Sleep plays a huge role in the amount of dopamine in your brain. More sleep equals more dopamine, less sleep equals a dopamine deficit. This is why drugs that increase dopamine levels in your brain (cocaine, amphetamines, meth, etc.) increase your feelings of wakefulness.
Of course, they also ruin your life so that’s not an option.
Instead of taking illicit drugs, boost your motivation levels by getting the proper amount of sleep each night.
Eating something unhealthy like a chocolate bar can provide a temporary dopamine boost, but the effects are short lived and the expanding waistline isn’t worth the tradeoff.
A better solution is to eat foods high in tyrosine, which is the amino acid from which dopamine is created.
Foods like dairy, fish, poultry, apples, bananas, strawberries, avocados, beets, leafy greens, peanuts, and almonds are great sources of tyrosine. By eating properly, you can boost your overall dopamine levels in your brain.
Decrease Your Sugar Levels
In addition to intentionally eating healthy foods, you also should attempt to cut back on sugar. Because sugar follows the same path as alcohol and drugs, it can actually create sugar addiction.
The problem is that the brief dopamine boost created by sugar is followed by a crash, which leads to low motivation, fatigue, and the inability to focus.
Cut back on overall sugar levels and eat properly to sustain high dopamine levels.
Restrict Calories Regularly
This may seem counterintuitive, but maintaining a small calorie deficit can actually boost your overall dopamine levels. A recent study notes:
Here we show that chronic mild food restriction increases the burst firing of dopamine neurons in the substantia nigra. Dopamine neurons from food-restricted mice exhibited increased burst firing in vivo...Enhanced burst firing persisted after 10 d of free feeding following chronic food restriction but was not observed following a single overnight fast.
In other words, maintaining a small deficiency in your calories may increase the firing of your dopamine neurons. Obviously, you don’t want to do a crazy amount fasting, but if you’re looking for a small boost, try running a small calorie deficit.
Minimize Stress Levels
This may be difficult given your job, but high amounts of stress can kill your dopamine levels. If you regularly experience high amounts of stress, whether on the job or elsewhere, you’ll want to take specific actions to mitigate it.
Some simple ways to reduce stress are:
- Focusing on being present in the moment
- Deep breathing
- Listening to pleasant music
If you want to experience high levels of dopamine and motivation, don’t allow stress to go unchecked in your life.
Make To-Do Lists
This will appeal to those of you who are Type-A and love to get things done. It turns out that checking things off on your to-do list can provide a small boost in dopamine levels. This has a double benefit. First, the more you get done the happier you’ll feel. Second, you’ll be increasingly motivated as you get things done.
It’s a winning cycle.
Take Dopamine Increasing Supplements
Because dopamine is synthesized within the body, taking it directly won’t lead to higher dopamine levels. You can, however, take supplements that may help your produce more dopamine.
For example, L-Tyrosine is the amino acid from which dopamine is produced. When taken in supplement form, it gives your body more raw material from which to create dopamine.
Other supplements include:
- Gingko Biloba
Maintain Proper Magnesium Levels
If your body doesn’t have sufficient levels of magnesium, it can result in a dopamine deficiency. As Jami Cooley notes:
If you’ve been eating a diet heavy in junk foods or processed foods, you probably have a magnesium deficiency! Common symptoms include food cravings (salt or carbs), constipation, high blood pressure, rapid heartbeat or palpitations, muscle pains and spasms, fatigue, headaches, and depression symptoms such as mood swings, anxiety and irritability.
If you want to be happy and motivated, you absolutely have to maintain high dopamine levels. Low levels will make you feel like you want to crawl in bed and watch Netflix all day.
Fortunately, you don’t need to settle for feeling blah and unmotivated all the time. You can take direct control of the amount of dopamine in your brain and the levels of motivation you feel.
Eat right. Sleep well. Keep your body well supplemented. It’s not overly complicated. If you gulp down chocolate bars and Diet Coke all day, you’ll feel lousy. If you never exercise, you’ll feel a lack of motivation.
But if you make the right choices, you can seriously boost your dopamine levels and attack all your projects with increased motivation.
Now go get moving!