Dopamine and It's Effect on Decision Making

Today on episode 9 we are talking Dopamine and how we can use this natural response inside our brain for kicking ass. We also cover how marketers exploit our dopamine responses followed by a couple of ways you can harness it for good, but also things to note about the downside.

All come with real life strategies so you can actually use this information to benefit.


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Full Transcription Below:

Ladies and Gentlemen, Learn Share Grow, Episode 9.

Today we are talking about Dopamine and its effects on how we make certain decisions.

This is willpower week. The first week I introduced you to will, want and won’t power. Then we covered off some stuff about how you can recharge your willpower and how you can start building the muscle of willpower. Then we started getting around some decision making effects of the willpower principles, and today we’re going to be talking about dopamine and its effects on the decisions that we make.

So first of all, if we were to define dopamine, it’s actually a neurotransmitter in the brain and what its main role is, is to create anticipation. It tells the brain to pay attention because a reward is coming. What I need you to realise, first thing off the bat, is that dopamine gives us the anticipation and the promise of reward but what it doesn’t actually do, is give us that reward – it’s all about the excitement of the reward.

We can see this – if I zoom in – welcome everyone - we can see this on Christmas morning – and you can see my amazing graphics here. Christmas morning as you can see here, it’s about 8 o’clock, or 7 o’clock and little Timmy there, is quite excited for those beautifully wrapped presents, the dopamine is running heavily through his system with the excitement of opening these presents.

But then what we see afterwards, after the dopamine has cleared up and he’s got his little console and his toy truck he’s not as happy because the dopamine has cleared up and he’s already received the reward, and the anticipation, the excitement of Christmas morning has all of a sudden gone. This is the job of dopamine.

The second example I want to share with you over here on the right hand side, is some research that was conducted back in the 1927 by Ivan Pavlov. Ivan was a researcher and he had a couple of dogs. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of Pavlov’s Dog Theory, but basically, he noticed that when he provided food they would salivate. So from that point, he discovered that he could bring the food out and when he rang a bell the dogs would still salivate.

So at the top you’ve got a dog plus food equals saliva, then what he realises is a dog plus food plus when he rang a bell when the food was ready they would salivate and he eventually trained them to have a dog plus the bell, no food the situation, and they would again, salivate because the bell creates the trigger to tell the dog that food is coming and the dopamine release begins -so the anticipation and excitement by the dog the dopamine releases so it will happen.

The ways that we can start to mitigate how much damage and start to be aware of the triggers is when you look at your life, start looking at how you respond to an alcohol trigger, how you respond to a food trigger.

Are you actually more excited about the promise of food, the promise of the reward, or are you actually looking forward to enjoying the food?

Another big one, a huge one, is both Facebook and email notifications. I turned all mine off because just by hearing that ‘ding’ that we’re all familiar with, the noises, and that’s actually why Facebook made the noises, it creates excitement, the dopamine release comes and, we’re trying to perform our work and then without knowing it, all of a sudden we’re checking our notifications on Facebook because our body’s telling us that there’s a reward over on Facebook – it’s bringing up the dopamine levels and saying ‘there’s a reward waiting for us over on Facebook’ so we click on that notification and there’s a nice little 1 in the globe there, so we just need to be aware.

A strategy around this is that I want you to try to look at, when you start forming these patterns, you start noticing that every time you start feeling a certain way when the notification comes, I want you to – before you check the notification – how you’re feeling and then I want you to check it afterwards. If there’s a major discrepancy we can start to pick up and realise, and train our brain yeah sure, a Facebook notification, or an email notification, or we saw an advertisement on TV for a nice burger went off. But how do we feel after we’ve checked that email or how do we feel after we’ve had that burger? Was it exciting and did it live up to the reward we thought it would be? So it’s mainly about awareness when we’re using dopamine type triggers.

The next thing I want to talk about is dopamine marketing. So companies have done a ton of research into the psychology behind our decision making and they’ve realised just how important dopamine levels are and what I’m going to show you at the end is ways that you can start playing detective because what some crazy, sneaky companies have been doing is, if you walk past a bakery for example, you’ll generally smell the smell of bread and bakery items like donuts, you know, all these nice flavours.

If you notice Subway for example, is a prime example, whenever you walk past a Subway it always smells the same and there’s a specific reason for this - companies like that employ marketing companies behind them, it’s a scent company – so they’ve paid to have scents that they push out into the world a particular smell and that creates a response, raises your dopamine and you think, hmm, that smells like cake, or fairy floss, or fresh bread – gives you the response that I’m going to get that reward if I go in and eat those delicious foods and that’s going to end up happy - and obviously the sales of the company are going up.

So just be aware of the smells that you’re bringing in when you pass certain shops.

The second thing I want you to be aware of, is the free sample you get when you walk into Coles or Woolworth’s or one of the shopping centres. The way it works is, yes we get something for free, and that’s a major benefit.

The shopping companies have worked this out so when we do get that something for free and generally this free stuff is when we first walk into the store, because all of a sudden, we go into this crazy reward seeking mode where we start to crave certain behaviours and we start looking for the rewards all around the store. Eventually, what we’re going to find is that after they give you that free sample, you’re going to have more stuff at the end of your shopping day – more stuff in your trolley, so just be careful of that.

And the third thing that I want you to look at is when they have the 2 for 1 or the save, or whatever sale they might be having, you need to start looking at why you’re actually making that decision, are you addicted, because they’ve found studies that you’re actually addicted to the process of saving money.

Are you actually addicted to that or are you experiencing a bargain and actually purchasing an item that you wanted to purchase. It’s very popular now for shops to have 2 for $5 and then when you look at it the actual item is only $3 each but the way they market it and the dopamine release inside of you because of this marketing it raises its levels because you think you’re getting a bargain but really, do you actually need an extra bunch of kale for example.

I just want you to be aware of these things and realise that these marketing companies and these large scale organisations, and even smaller ones, are playing these tricks to lure you in under the premise that it facilitates the immediate gratification principle.

So whenever you start doing these things it starts messing with your brain and the dopamine levels rise and it tells you that you need to fix this right now, I need a reward. So what you need to do is I want you to start playing detective and start noticing these certain smells or sounds, or how certain things feel in a shop, I want you to be that detective and ask what are they trying to achieve, what do I really want, what’s my why. We’ve talked about that all week and it’s really important.

The third topic I want to talk about here today, in regards to dopamine, is yes it’s got a good side, but like anything, it also has a bad side. So the good side, and how you can maximise yourself and your results with dopamine is they’ve found particular ways to, I guess, hack the system.

So if you have the example of using it to your advantage when you’ve been trying to put something off – if you compare what you’ve been trying to put off, with a reward based system then you can start to become really productive.

Say for example, you’ve been putting off this certain paperwork, you didn’t want to do your tax return – if you take that paperwork into a positive environment, say a cafe or somewhere nice and you start doing it on the beach, the dopamine levels are going to rise and you’ll start to use it to your advantage rather than being taken advantage of.

The second thing you might like to do, and I’ve done it in my life, is start listening to audio books when you’re walking your dog, so not only are you learning yourself, but you’re also walking your dog so you’re feeling good and getting out there – the walk is good for your dog and you’re feeding your brain.

They actually found that with one lady who was putting off cleaning up one of the rooms in her house – we all have this problem, we have this junk room – and when the facilitator looked at her behaviour they asked why are you putting this off and what sort of rewards and triggers can we implement to help you.

They found out she was deeply in love with Christmas – the Christmas carols, the sounds and the smells of Christmas so to help her get through this process, and this is in the middle of June, they put on some Christmas carols, they lit some lights and actually put some tinsel around the room and that got her in the mood and then slowly she started using the increased dopamine levels by using the strategy of getting in the mood for Christmas and using that happiness to then start to do the thing that she actually needed to get done.

The bad side of dopamine release is that when you start manipulating it you need to be aware of the carrot and the stick syndrome.

So like I said at the start, it gives the promise of a reward but it’s not actually the reward itself. So you need to be careful around why you’re craving certain things, ask your why. So if you’re dieting for the sake of dieting or to achieve an extrinsic result it’s not going to be as gratifying as if you’re doing it for intrinsic reasons like health, or you want to live longer for your kids, that sort of thing, so it’s a bit higher level, but that’s what you need to be aware of, don’t get stuck into just going after the reward all the time – start thinking of the bigger reason, the why behind it.

Some strategies around this is to practise mindfulness. A lot of the time, they’ve found that people eating junk food actually just enjoy the rush and the dopamine levels on the way to the shopping centre or the way to the drive through – that was the exciting part – and after they ate the pizza or went shopping they didn’t feel as good.

So what I want you to do, is next time you’re really feeling the squeeze and you feel like your willpower is about to give up, I want you to enjoy that item. Let’s take the example of eating a burger – I want you to stop and eat that burger. If you normally woof it down in 5 minutes and feel guilty afterwards, I want you to take 10 minutes and enjoy every single bite and realise what are the flavours I’m experiencing while I’m eating this, what smells am I experiencing, is my environment right? I want you to take the time and ask yourself at the end, am I enjoying this process and am I having a good time and would I do this again.

Or are you just doing it because of the excitement and after it’s done you’re thinking what else, when’s the next time I can cheat on my diet. It’s a lot about mindfulness that afterwards you feel bad. I want you to cut it out, you’ve experienced it, you know it’s bad so this can help raise your level of awareness to stop that behaviour next time it comes around – I want you to try to remember what the feeling was like.

If it feels good then there’s nothing, there’s no bad foods or bad behaviour that can’t be built into a plan so if you believe you’re spending too much and there’s some guilt around that, it’s probably because you’re doing too much of something. So let’s start looking at areas where you can build it in.

You can use it as a reward which will motivate you even more to take action by exhibiting certain behaviour so we can always build a plan around what you actually want to get done.

There’s nothing off limits.

It’s about mitigating the damage that certain things do and build it into our plan. Things that we need to realise this week – I want you to start to raise your awareness around what triggers you, whether it be that email ding or the Facebook notification sound going off, or whether it be an advertisement on TV – just be a bit more aware of the triggers that get those dopamine levels and raise that excitement. The second thing I want you to do is start realise what you feel like after you’ve completed that task. Was it as good as what you expected?

The third thing I want you to do, is to have a look and start playing that detective role around what you think marketers have been doing to you, whether that be when you’re walking past a Subway shop or when you’re in the shopping centre next and start smelling certain behaviours – I know Myers is a big one with their real perfume smells – they will spray perfume outside the shop to lure the girls in to buy those certain fragrances and help you spend money.

So I just want you to be more aware and you will start to have a feeling of empowerment and awareness when that happens. You’ll start to feel that you are back in control – you’ll know why they’re doing it and that will help you stop the behaviour and get back to that why you’re actually doing it in the first place – what is your want.

The fourth thing is, dopamine is necessary. Without it, there was a case where a man had an accident and then all of a sudden he had zero desire for anything else in life and he was reported to be suicidal and he actually hated his life because he had no dopamine levels at all. So it is necessary and without it, we wouldn’t crave a reward. So what you need to raise your awareness with this week is when we choose, are we choosing a fulfilling reward such as getting towards our end goal or are we choosing an empty reward which is ungratifying, it never ends and it’s just a cycle that goes around and around and around which is what a lot of crash dieters exhibit because they are always looking for that next hit of dopamine.

So in a way, it’s more powerful than a drug.

That’s just a few things that I want you to be aware of.

If you need some more information - there’s no questions at the moment – if you’ve got any questions just jump over there and leave a message in the chat box or down below after this video’s finished.

Willpower is one of the most powerful things that we can learn to embrace and start to manipulate to get the best out of ourselves. It all just takes a little bit of awareness on the scientific reasonings and the inner workings of our brain and why we do certain things.

Tomorrow I’m going to be sharing the most useful resource, as far as books, that I’ve ever found on the power of willpower and our willpower instinct – I’ll be sharing that with you – and I’ve got a big announcement tomorrow which I will leave for tomorrow – it’s going to be a way for us all to share the information besides these videos of course.

I appreciate your support 100%. If you think this video is useful I’d greatly appreciate if you would subscribe, there’s a subscribe button up the top. Also if you can tag and share with friends that you think would benefit from the information that I’ve provided today, it’s obviously hugely beneficial.

Thank you for watching. Any questions to [email protected] or jump on my website I’ll catch you all tomorrow when I’ll be going over some resources and I’m going to provide that worksheet, and of course, the big competition.

So thanks for watching – I’ll catch you all next time. Ciao.