4 things to know about dopamine fasting, a big trend amongst tech CEOs right now

There seems to be no place hotter than life in the fasting lane. 

You’ve probably heard of (and admittedly tried and tested) intermittent fasting. It’s when you don’t eat or drink (bar water and black coffee) for the majority of hours in a day. The fast can range from 12 to even 18 hours, and the idea is that you burn more fat during this time, due to a drop in insulin levels. Like all fasts, it is centred around deprivation. 

Now, imagine depriving yourself of happiness. 

Dopamine fasting is the biggest buzzword to spring about Silicon Valley at the moment, according to various news sources. As outlined in The New York Times as “how to feel nothing now, in order to feel more later,” it comes as a direct response to the ever-increasing sensory overload we experience on a daily basis. The idea is that you deprive yourself of anything ‘exciting’, so that you can appreciate it more at a later time. It’s an intriguing concept, and very much in line with other buzzwords like digital detoxing, silent retreats, and selfcare

Whilst we’re always wary about trends that come up amongst tech CEOs (remember Elon Musk’s absolutely wild sleeping schedule?), we couldn’t help but be a little bit curious about this one. In a world where we are constantly bombarded with content (no pot calling kettle black here, just saying), we looked a little bit further into the concept.

Accompanied by David Clode’s images of coral, and not actual brains, find below our findings, and decide for yourself whether or not it’s a fair fast or a fluffy fad.

Dopamine Fasting
Image Credit: David Clode

Dopamine fasting is about depriving yourself of happiness (kind of)

Dopamine is often described as the ‘feel-good’ or ‘pleasure’ chemical, and plays a big role in motivation, and thereby often in happiness levels, too. It is triggered by external factors, or stimulation. 

Consider going to Disneyland every day for a year, compared to going to Disneyland only one day in the year. It is likely the latter would make you feel ‘happier’ because you haven’t developed a ‘tolerance’ towards it.

Dopamine Fasting

Under dopamine fasting, the idea is to cut back on this stimulation, spanning everything from delicious food and alcohol, over to sexual activity, social media, and in some extreme cases, even talking to people and having eye contact with them. Anything that could potentially ‘excite’ you, is to be avoided. The thought is that not engaging in these activities for some time will allow you to greater appreciate them later. It makes sense; consider going to Disneyland every day for a year compared to going to Disneyland only once in a year. It is likely the latter would make you feel ‘happier,’ because you haven’t developed a ‘tolerance’ towards it.

In that example, we’re also going to ignore the fact that Disneyland is supposed to be the happiest place on earth, though.

Dopamine Fasting
Image Credit: David Clode

Why it’s dope

The idea behind dopamine fasting is a fair one, especially now in times of being constantly online and reachable, and an ever-growing commercialism. On that note, and on that of rising stress levels and flailing mental health, it is also very linkable to self-awareness exercises, in the growing trend recently towards greater mindfulness

We already learned that a few hours in silence can do wonders for clarity in the mind, and for all those moments you just ‘want to get away from it all’, it does seem like an interesting short-term solution. It’s also relatively easy to do, which is something any and every millennial loves. 

Dopamine Fasting
Image Credit: David Clode

How it works

Just avoid everything. 

Don’t look at screens, don’t eat anything (or only eat things for pure nutritional value, not taste), do not listen to music, try to avoid touching or even looking at other people, and also communicate as little as possible. Aim for complete sensory deprivation. Consider yourself an iPhone that has gone into complete reset mode. You’re the empty apple on a blank screen.

Consider yourself an iPhone that has gone into complete reset mode. You’re the empty apple on a blank screen.

Dopamine Fasting as a Reset

In more scientific terms, the technique is linked to ‘stimulus control,’ and is often used to help drug addicts recover from drug abuse. Granted, being on Instagram a lot isn’t quite the same as a cocaine addiction (room for discussion, though), yet the concept lies along a similar tangent. 

Depriving yourself of certain environments can impact your behaviour, and thus impact your emotional well-being. If you’re always around your phone, you are more likely to browse through your social feed for hours. This can negatively affect your mental health. Put the phone away, and you may engage in other activities, and not be exposed to the potential harm of social media envy. The same goes for alcohol. Maybe if you don’t go for after-work drinks you won’t have hangovers and regrets the next day. Groundbreaking.

The technique is linked to ‘stimulus control,’ and is often used to help drug addicts recover from drug abuse.

Stimulus Control

This has raised talk amongst both those for and against dopamine fasting as something that is more about environment than about the actual feel-good chemical. Nevertheless, something about ‘dopamine fasting’ just had a bit of a catchier ring to it than ‘environment fasting’ or ‘behavioural discipline.’

Image Credit: David Clode

Why you should try it

For starters, it’s a relatively easy fast to test and try, and seems to be one that is more relevant now than ever. It connects very much to ideas of love and self love, too, and the sheer act of actively doing something to improve your mental health can already reap benefits. 

In an age where we are taking the approach of not being over- or under-online, but rather ‘medium online,’ there is a lot to be said about moderation, though. Isn’t that the conclusion that comes after most — if not all — fasts, anyway? Practice everything in moderation. Keep everything in good balance. Put the phone away, but don’t lose your job. Have a drink at dinner, but don’t have a drink for dinner. And lastly: go to Disneyland, but don’t move in.

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