Podcast: Dopamine, Motivation, Politics and Coronavirus

How are you hanging there? While we shelter in place and social distance, some of us are struggling. We’re struggling emotionally; we’re struggling physically; we’re struggling financially. In all cases, schedules are thrown off and that makes things feel chaotic. It’s a mess and it’s hard to stay motivated for good habits in the midst of a mess.

Do we have an internal partner in amping up our motivation? Ryan has been on a mini-quest to hack his own brain through learning about the motivation molecule: dopamine.

Episode 24: Dopamine, Motivation and Politics

Listen, rate, subscribe: Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Spotify

Show Notes

I drew a lot of info from the following resources:

  • The Molecule of More: How a Single Chemical in Your Brain Drives Love, Sex, and Creativity―and Will Determine the Fate of the Human Race by Daniel Z. Lieberman and Michael E. Long
  • Diet Rehab by Dr. Mike Dow

Below is a show transcript…

  1. This is the Bad Ass Dad Pod
    1. Hey: how old are you?
      1. 58?
      2. 28?
      3. Somewhere in between?
      4. It doesn’t matter, because we’re living into our best selves no matter what age we are–our best years are NOT behind us!
    2. My name is Ryan Dunn
      1. 44 years old
      2. I’m a dad on three epic quests
      3. I want to become a bad ass physically by dunking a basketball
      4. I want to become a bad ass relationally by killing complacency.
      5. And I’m become a financial bad ass by getting my ass out of debt.
      6. I’m your lawful good podmaster
      7. Level 3 Relationship Ranger
      8. Level 3 Gym Warrior
      9. Level 1 Debt Mage
      10. Slayer of the dragon of undermotivation
      11. Questor of dopamine
      12. Fellow party member in questing for the holy awesome
      13. [MUSIC OUT]
    3. How is life in isolation treating you?
      1. We’re getting it done over here.
      2. I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to work from home… so my work continues… and so do my paychecks.
      3. Of course, my physical quest is sputtering a bit without access to a gym.
      4. I have developed a workout at home… or, at least, workout without a gym plan.
      5. If you care, it’s available on the website. It’s called Middle-aged jumpers plan for social distancing. That’s at thebadpod.com
      6. Relationally, I’ll tell you, it’s been up and down.
        1. We were hyper-focused on each other for a while… then last night, it was like no one could stand to be together. 
        2. We all went our separate ways.
        3. I suppose the pendulum of togetherness and space is always swinging back and forth.
        4. So we’ll probably just swing right back to being hyper-present with one another.
        5. How’s it going with your folk? Are you abiding well together? Are you sick of each other’s faces?
        6. I think it’s OK to admit that… admit that I love you but I don’t want to look at you for a while.
        7. I needed last night to just veg and listen to MY music on the turntable for a while, you know.
      7. Supposedly, music triggers a release of dopamine in our brains. Which we often equate with feelings of pleasure. In some cases, listening to music acts very similar to the response we might get from eating something sweet.
      8. It’s the dopamine that makes us want to keep listening to music.
        1. It’s what drives us to compulsively hit the repeat button 
        2. Dopamine drives us to seek after that reward of hearing an awesome hook.
  2. This episoe is about dopamine and motivation… it’s the dope on dopamine…
    1. BUT, before I get all scientific and nerd out on presenting all the research I’ve done,
    2. I wanted to simply outline a few practices for staying motivated in general in this time… this epoch… of being shut away or shut in and feeling, really, rather under-motivated
      1. I hear… or read… that a lot of folks just wanna binge watch stuff
      2. But not us, right?!
      3. We’re still getting it done!
    3. Therefore, we… or, at least, me… need some tips for staying motivated this season
    4. So behold… 8 tips I’m hanging on to stay motivated while sheltered in place.
    5. Ready?
      1. Tip one: Keep a schedule!
        1. I’ve still been getting up at the same time… I’ve been showering every day
        2. Signing on to work at a normal… since I am still working
        3. If you’re not… still recommend you keep a schedule… if for no other reason than to give yourself something to do besides worry about when you’re going to be able to get back to work.
        4. So schedule your meal times. Schedule time to prep your meal.
          1. Schedule a consistent workout time every time
          2. A consistent TV time every day…. all that.
      2. That being said, tip two is to throw something novel into your day as much as possible
        1. It doesn’t have to be crazy… 
        2. Just something different.
        3. Order some takeout on takeout Tuesday
        4. Ummmm… go to a new park you haven’t been to before. 
        5. Do a new run route. 
        6. Make a new food.
        7. Listen to a new podcast
        8. Drop a new review on this podcast… I couldn’t imagine something bringing you any more joy than leaving a few nice words about the Bad Ass Dad Pod on Apple Podcasts
        9. These ideas might seem like distractions… and they are…
        10. The point is to plan those distractions. Things are going to get pretty monotonous, so give yourself a break and do some planned new things.
      3. Set some boundaries around yourself
        1. Maybe you’re sequestered with others… like me.
        2. And maybe those others are very vocal and enjoy giving you a play-by-play on every activity that they’re doing throughout the day… also like me
        3. It’s OK to say… I need to work right now. You’ll need to distance from me for bit. I wil talk to you later.
        4. That ‘talk to you later’ part is important. Don’t shut them down without the carrot of opening them back up later.
        5. So, I’m taking a work break at 2:20. We’ll hang then, buddy!
      4. Let someone know your goals for the day.
        1. Tell a partner, a co-worker, or just broadcast them on social media.
        2. It’s been super-helpful in my work that my boss asks what my plans are each day.
        3. She never did that while I was in the office
        4. But I find the accountability NOW helpful in staying on task especially when I don’t think anyone will notice if I slack off a bit.
      5. Eat healthy
        1. Biggest challenge for me, right now.
        2. Because the pantry is just around the corner.
        3. And I don’t have a lot of people to talk to..
        4. Or a gym to escape to.
        5. So I get bored. And when I’m bored, I eat.
        6. I’m going to talk in a little about recognizing dopamine’s role in that felt need to eat and how I can redirect
        7. But for now, suffice it say that I’d likely be feeling better if I was consuming better stuff.
        8. Good news is…. I will soon have eaten us out of Fritos and angel food cake… so THEN I can only turn to blueberries and bananas, right?
      6. Make it a goal to do something nice for somebody somewhere.
        1. Really good feelings beget good feelings.
        2. So do something nice… even if it’s just listening to your [quote] new office mate who just wants to tell you about all the weapons available in his new video game.
        3. Or buying an extra packag of toilet for someone else… or for your local food pantry… cause they need it real bad.
      7. Remember, this is temporary.
        1. Post that up on the wall if you need.
        2. Make “This Too Shall Pass” part of your daily playlist..
        3. Just remember, this is real life… but it isn’t forever.
      8. And number 8… 
        1. Make lists, like this…
        2. Make lists about what you want to do
        3. Make lists about what you’re still enjoying and what you’re grateful
        4. Make lists about people you want to check upon…
    6. HOpe that’s semi-helpful. 
      1. If anything… it was helpful for me to list those reminders
      2. I feel 20% saner already.
      3. And am going to go ask my new office mate what his favorite weapon is in Doom Eternal as soon as this episode recording is done.
  3. NOW, as for this episode: I’ve been working an episode about dopamine for quite a while… 
    1. And I’ll tell you why… Because dopamine is a motivating neurochemical.
    2. And here I am on these quests, like to dunk a basketball and the like, and in need of lots of motivation.
    3. Because of that, I’ve been looking for ways to hack my own mind.
      1. I want to see if I can trick my mind into accepting that a tough workout is more desirable than a lounge on the couch.
      2. OR, trick it into accepting that refraining from eating a free donut is more beneficial than eating it and it’s three buddies.
      3. Learning that dopamine was the chemical that often produced the urge to “Just do it”, 
      4. I thought the way to hack my behavior and motivation might be offered through manipulating the chemical that drives our urges to “do it”… to consume… to plan and to take action
      5. So I’ve done a deep dive on dopamine. And found that the more I learned, the more I needed to learn.
      6. It was like each step of learning demanded that I take another in order to understand not only dopamine, but the complexities of the human mind and our urges and moods.
      7. I never did gain full competence on the topic. BUT, I’ve learned a lot of helpful stuff.
      8. What I discovered is that there are some ways I can manipulate my own behavior by understanding how dopamine affects my urges
      9. AND, I discovered some really revealing facts about how dopamine leads all of us to be the way we are. Super interesting stuff.
    4. So during this time when so many of us are separated from one another–as this episode is set to release on March 25, 2020–right in the middle of stay in place orders for coronavirus protection–during this time… when we feel perhaps a bit isolated, a bit undermotivated, and a bit blue… it might be a fair time to seek to hack our minds through an awareness of dopamine.
    5. I’ve changed my focus concerning dopamine.
      1. I’m no longer convinced it’s a good idea to manipulate dopamine.
      2. Instead, we’re going to recognize dopamine in action, how it affects our urges, and how we can use dopamine and its effects to our advantage.
    6. So let’s dive in!
  4. First, we gotta understand what dopamine is.
    1. Dopamine is a chemical messenger produced in the brain. When released, it triggers messages between nerve cells.
    2. Its release is triggered by surprises encountered in our environment. We get dopamine rushes from encountering surprises and the unexpected.
    3. In part, dopamine triggers in us a desire to seek out, plan for, and obtain beneficial rewards… Rewards that, at some point in our human development, were essential for our survival.
    4. Dopamine is not about pleasure. It’s key concern is human survival. It’s the driver of our animal brain. 
      1. It is about possibility and anticipation. 
      2. Therefore, it isn’t released when you have sex. It is released in order to drive you to have sex.
    5. Dopamine’s key task is to drive us into action. That’s why it is often aligned with motivation. AND dopamine CAN BE a helpful motivator. It can also be a negative motivator as it will often implant in us desires for rewards that aren’t actually beneficial to our well-being.
      1. And that is why it can be a bit dangerous to manipulate dopamine.
      2. As an example, many drugs are dopamine boosters. BUT, when they boost dopamine, they aren’t boosting it in a way that motivates us towards healthy action.
      3. Let’s take cigarettes and nicotine as a specific example.
        1. Nicotine is a dopamine booster. When we consume it, it triggers a large release of dopamine.
        2. That dopamine does it’s job… it triggers a desire to seek out, plan for, and obtain more rewards.
        3. The problem is that our brain has made a connection between the nicotine and the dopamine.
        4. So it assumes that nicotine is the reward it needs to seek out again and again.
        5. So consuming nicotine through a cigarette triggers a release of dopamine that leads to urges simply for more nicotine.
        6. And when we fulfill that urge, when we smoke a cigarette because it’s calming, the only part of our neuro-systems we’re actually calming is our dopamine-fueled urge to consume more nicotine.
        7. Weird, right?
      4. This same scenario plays out with a whole host of drugs–like cocaine and heroine.
      5. Dopamine manipulation can be a pathway to addiction because dopamine is a key communicator of our urges.
  5. How does dopamine drive our urges? 
    1. Well, we developed dopamine in our animal brain days as a way of urging forward our need to survive and thrive.
    2. Dopamine spurs us to reach for things that might help us survive, master our environment, and procreate.
      1. Like food.
      2. Dopamine is what inspires us to compulsively eat… because we need food to survive.
      3. Dopamine is also what inspires us to compulsively reach for a Snickers bar 
        1. Because that Snickers bar is loaded with calories.
        2. And dopamine developed in our animal brain days to secure our survival through the consumption of calories.
        3. So when we encounter that Snickers bar in our environment, dopamine floods on to scene to say “Our chances of surviving are really going to increase if we consume that high-calorie piece of food right there. So here’s the deal… it’s tasty. It’ll bring a cool rush of sweetness. You deserve it. Just eat it.”
    3. In that way, dopamine is concerned with our ongoing survival.
    4. Now, here’s what we need to understand… Dopamine extinguishes itself whenever it gets whatever it’s been longing for. 
      1. So when dopamine collides with reality, its chemical charge dissipates.
      2. The dopamine that says we need to eat a donut flees the scene of the crime as soon as we consume that donut.
      3. Buyer’s remorse is a great way to think about this.
        1. Dopamine drives us to buy a thrilling item… like, say, a pop-up camper we found advertised on Facebook Marketplace
        2. Dopamine suggests to us.. Or ME–because this is a true story–that we will thrive by having this pop up camper that only needs a little of work.
        3. So we go on the dopamine-induced ride and buy the camper.
        4. Once we… I… get it, the dopamine is out of there.
        5. And I’m left with a waning will to urgently complete the projects needed to get this camper back into action.
        6. And everytime I look in my garage I wonder about what I was thinking.
        7. I wasn’t thinking. Dopamine did it. At least, that’s my story… right now.
    5. Dopamine is a fickle, fickle partner.
    6. Dopamine will drive me to plan a new workout routine. But it won’t keep me committed to that routine once I’ve actually started it.
      1. In the same way, dopamine drove me to think about my wife constantly when we first met…
        1. The freckles on her cheeks…
        2. The curl of her hair
        3. The mighty-ness of her shoulders… because I do love a good shoulder
        4. and dopamine drove me to look forward to every little phone call from her.
      2. But, once it seemed clear we were committed to one another, you know, once I had that thing in the bag… dopamine dissipated, no longer driving me to be in this relationship–now it’s up to something else.
  6. Dopamine makes you desire what you don’t have. Drives you to seek new things. And that’s it… it cares about the pursuit only.
    1. It makes you long for something better. 
      1. To keep moving forward
      2. To keep advancing towards more comfortable existence and procreation.
    2. And dopamine rewards you when you obey it… and makes you suffer when you don’t.
      1. That’s what’s at play when we’re getting fidgety from not having some nicotine.
      2. Or why we can’t get the freakin’ leftover piece of pie off our mind and on to something else.
        1. Dopamine keeps kicking in to say: “We’ll survive better with those extra calories…maaan”
        2. “You need to consume that sweet, sugar-y thing, maaan”
        3. Of course, dopamine is merely a chemical… but for some reason I keep wanting to personify it as like, some kind of two-bit, hippy-holdover drug pusher
        4. “Hey brah… it’s your pally-pal dopamine… I got a new bud you should try. The Cozumel Gold is all good but you really gotta light up on this new October Colada Diesel I got, bro-ski.”
    3. So if dopamine is the sweet-talking pusher that convinces us to just say “aw heck” and go for it…
      1. Can we utilize it to motivate us to do the things we really want to do.. Can we get dopamine to motivate us to meet our goals?
      2. Can we push that weasel-ly little long-hair in a direction that we dictate?
      3. Can we manipulate our own release of dopamine to drive us to do the things we want to do? Can we reprogram dopamine release?
        1. Friends… uh, no…Not really.
          1. That’s millions of years of evolution at play
          2. I don’t have the time to wait that out and I bet you don’t either…
          3. Even if we don’t have to go to work every day right now.
        2. BUT, there is some goodness.. We can still use dopaminergic urges to our advantage.
          1. And we can do this in two ways:
          2. ONE: we can identify dopamine-driven urges and replace negative wants with positive reactions.
          3. And TWO: we can identify healthy stimulants that trigger dopamine and embed them into our goal-related activities.
      4. So let’s deal with that first… identify dopaminergic urges and replacing them with positive outcomes…
        1.  Here’s an example of a dopaminergic urge: 
          1. Someone has left half of a giant-sized Hershey’s bar in the refridgerator.
          2. You notice it there… but you;re just in the frdige to grab a little milk… which you do…
          3. You pour a bit in a glass… then open the fridge to put the milk back and notice the Hershey bar again…
          4. And you think “that would be good”
          5. But you put the milk away and go back to your computer to await your next Zoom meeting
          6. I know, this is very specifice… ANYWAYS…
          7. This is when dopey the pusher shows up…
            1. Saying, “hey maaaan… that chocolate bar’s there just for you…
            2. “It’s gonna get you feelin’ soooo good. You’re gonna get high from that sweetness, bro-tius!
            3. “That chocolate bar is gonna change your whole outlook on the world, maaaan.
            4. “It’s gonna get you groovin’… you’ll probably get laid because of that chocolate bar bud-ski…
            5. “It’s gonna get you bro-ing so hard, bro… And you deserve all that, .McBroBro..
          8. That’s dopamine coming with the heat…
            1. And that’s it’s job
            2. It’s job is to raise hell in pursuit of rewards
          9. So the choices before you are to sit there and feel the heat from dopey the pusher
            1. To eat the dang chocolate bar
            2. OR… to choose a third way… to swallow the blue pill… to enter into an alternate way of being
              1. And it begins with recognizing that dopamine isn’t all that specific
              2. At this point, it’s just crushing on getting a sweet blast
              3. It doesn’t have to be the chocolate bar…
              4. There are alternative foods and activities that will shut Dopey up.
              5. So what you do, is grab a handful of blueberries and eat those…
              6. After a moment, Dopey says “debt paid bro-ly… we’re all sqare… I’ll catch you next time…
              7. And he leaves… because that’s what dopamine does
              8. You can look Google lists of dopamine boosting foods… and any of them will suffice to fight off sugar cravings…
              9. NOW, that might raise a question…
              10. A question like: “If I want Dopey the Pusher to go away… why would I eat dopamine boosting foods?”
              11. This is where dopamine gets really complicated.
              12. In one sense, there are multiple kinds of dopamine…
                1. There’s Dopey the Pusher
                2. But there’s also control dopamine
                3. And control dopamine helps to usher in Here and Now chemicals like serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins
                4. Those guys are the foils to Dopey the Pusher…
                5. Dopey the Pusher says to keep questing, keep buying, keep searching…
                6. The hear and now chemicals say “we’re good with where we’re at… let’s tarry here, friend.”
              13. By the way, I’m getting a lot fo this dopamine info from a book called The Molecule of More by Dr. Daniel Z. Lieberman and Michael Long
              14. Soooo gooood… it’s going on the Badass Book List
              15. Yes, it’s a science book… but not a text book
              16. And it will trip your mind out! I’m going to drop some of the weird stuff that dopamine does to us later at the end… just because I found it so dang interesting… Check it out: Molecule of More.
              17. Dr. Mike Dow’s Diet Rehab is really good too
              18. It dives into dopamine and serotonin in our diets
              19. Really helpful information. 
        2. Alright, that aside… In essence, if we are Pavlov’s dogs, we can replace the objects of our desires. Dopamine is just the ringing bell that gets us worked up. 
        3. And there are many ways to satiate it.
    4. So trigger replacement is one way of dealing with dopamine
    5. The other thing we can do to use dopamine as a motivator is that We can also implant dopamine-inducing activities into old ways of being.
      1. Friends… dopamine likes sugar
      2. It also likes sex…
      3. And it also likes dominating… it likes winning
      4. So when we are on a short, winnable quest, dopamine is a big cheerleader
      5. It wants us to survive and thrive, remember… so it’s going to encourage us to dominate our environment and celebrate when that happens.
    6.  this is what happens in gamification.
      1. Gaming is a dopamine dream come true. 
      2. Because dopamine likes to search and win.
      3. So when we implant winable quests into everyday things…we are tricking dopamine into supporting our efforts for improvement.
      4. To-do lists are the most basic form of this…
        1. When we build a to-do list, dopamine kicks in to help us complete it.
        2. And it’s pleased when we check off items
      5. Similarly, when we set short-term goals for working out or getting out of debt… FOR EXAMPLE… dopamine cheers us towards conquering or owning those little victories.
      6. So gamify your goals and dopamine becomes your friend… that’s how dopamine becomes an extra helpful motivator.
  7. OK, you ready for some of the really weird stuff?
    1. Some of us have higher levels of dopamine than others–we’re more dopaminergic. I am probably on the dopaminergic side.
      1. Don’t feel left out low-dope folks… you likely have an abundance of chemicals flowing that keep you focused on the here and now–you’ve been boosted with serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins.
      2. Identifying this trait in humans reveals some really fascinating things… dopamine levels predict human behavior across a wide spectrum of activities…especially about politics…
    2. Dopaminergic people are more future-focused, more theoretical thinkers, they tend to be bit more altruistic… to an extent.
    3. Those who have higher levels of here and now chemicals tend to be more present-focused, they’re concrete thinkers, they’re generally more pragmatic.
    4. This gets pretty interesting when we start talking politics… because we see a relation between dopamine and politics.
      1. Think about those descriptions again… one group is future-focused, theoretical, and altruistic
      2. Another is more concrete thinking, present-focused and pragmatic
      3. The first group focuses on what is far off, feeling a connection in the grant beyond
      4. The second group focuses on that which is near, feeling deeply connected those who are immediately around it.
    5. Does it sound like I’m describing our American political parties?
    6. In essence, we have a dopamine party and a serotonin party.
    7. Which is crazy, because it implies that politics are not merely a matter of personal choice… politics are related to biology.
    8. These chemicals drive how we perceive and interact with the world.
    9. So we are biologically inclined to sympathize wiith conservative political thinking or liberal political thinking
    10. Therefore, the next time you might be feeling called to rip into someone’s political choices, remember that they are biologically compelled to view the world as they do.
    11. In essence, we probably need one another.
    12. So let me introduce this idea… and remember, this is coming from someone who is dopaminergic and definitely inclined to identify with liberal political ideologies…
      1. Perhaps, the best possible political candidate for a country that is being polarized by biological-influence world views might just be an extreme centrist.
      2. Someone who exemplifies a balance between a focus on the far off and a focus on the close by.
      3. The Molecule of More has a chapter on how dopamine affects politics.
      4. It’s the most enlightening thing I’ve read in a while. 
      5. Really convicting and challenging…. but also useful in feeling a sense of connection… or a bit of empathy… with those who do hold the same political worldview that I do.
      6. In the end, I understand the other side a little better… 
      7. And now you know… and that’s half the battle…
      8. [MUSIC IN}
  8. Alright then, did you learn something?
    1. Ready to trick out Dopey the Pusher and your motivation… to a a degree?
    2. In this deep dive into dopamine I feel like I understand our human nature a heck of a lot better.
    3. Just being able to identify a dopamine influenced urge is gonna help a ton in dealing with unhealthy urges… like eating out of boredom.
    4. So, really, I hope this helpful and entertaining.
    5. If you heard something of value you here, tell somebody about it…
    6. Easiest way is to leave a review on Apple Podcasts… but any podcast platform is appreciated.
    7. My name is Ryan Dunn, I write, produce, edit.
    8. Music is by Eyoelin
    9. There’s some exclusive content and helpful links over on the web site for this here podcast… the web address is thebadpod.com.
    10. I’ll be chatting at you again in a couple weeks.
    11. In the meantime, STAY HOME, stay safe.. and be well.
    12. OK Bye!

Published by RyanDunn

Ryan Dunn has a bunch of certificates on his desk. A few are awards for content production and marketing. Another marks his ordination as a minister. One says he’s earned a BA in English from the University of Iowa. The certificate next to that says he earned an MA in Christian Practice from Duke (with honors!). Ryan is most proud, though, of the things he’s created: The Compass Podcast, some deep content on RethinkChurch.org, a series of practical spiritual advice videos, a long-lasting marriage, and fantastic little boy. (He enjoyed A LOT of help on all of those projects, especially the last two.)

2 thoughts on “Podcast: Dopamine, Motivation, Politics and Coronavirus

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