Lay off the Dope


Dopamine that is…

Dopamine is a hormone produced in the brain.  It acts as a neurotransmitter which flows through your nervous system carrying messages between cells.  It also plays a big part in how we feel pleasure and helps us to focus and find things interesting.

Psychologically, because it is so closely linked to pleasure, dopamine has been linked to addiction and other destructive behaviors.  That pleasure you feel when you find something you really enjoy, isn’t always the thing itself, it’s the dopamine your brain releases in response.  And that good feeling dopamine is what leads to addictions of all types.  Couple that with the relaxation the comes from a hit of THC or the surge of adrenalin that comes from snorting cocaine and you have a potentially lethal combination.

In recent years, psychologist have also linked dopamine to other pleasurable behaviors.  One study showed a marked increase in dopamine every time young people received a new email, text message or social media notification.  No wonder our phones have become like appendages.

Because dopamine is so closely linked to anti-social smart phone addiction and destructive hedonistic behavior there has been a trend in recent years for some to experiment with a dopamine fast.  By cutting down on anything that brings pleasure, (food, sex, alcohol, social media) it is believed that you can reset your brain to better appreciate the little things.

This isn’t just trendy pseudo-science that millennials have adopted to help cut down on smart phone usage, its roots are a longstanding practice in addiction psychology.  Psychologist have been using dopamine fasting as treatment for drug and alcohol addiction for decades.  The mere anticipation of pleasure releases dopamine and creates a wanting in people, which then leads to compulsive behavior.  By removing the circumstances that trigger this wanting you can gradually bring down the desire and eventually reset the brain to find pleasure in other ways.  That’s why alcoholics stay out of bars, it’s the physical location itself that triggers the wanting and breaks the willpower to stay clean.

Why am I telling you this?

We live in a world where dopamine releasing behaviors are everywhere.  It’s not just drug addicts who are addicted to dopamine.  Smart phone and video game addiction are just as pervasive, if not more so.

In a report published in the American Economic Review, the journal of the American Economic Association, researchers found that deactivating social media accounts four weeks prior to the 2018 midterm elections resulted in subjects increase in socialization with friends and family, decrease in political polarization and an increase in overall subjective well-being.  But it wasn’t without difficulties, subjects reported classic symptoms of withdrawal in the first week, including depression and anxiety.  Even certain sounds, like the random chime of a bell or a vibration, triggered intense desire to go check their phones.

I began to notice some of these symptoms in myself about a year ago.  That’s when I imposed my own version of a dopamine fast.  I call it, taking a smart phone sabbath.  Once a week, for a month, I turned off my phone for 24 hours from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday to mirror the Jewish day of rest.  The results, though far from scientific, were remarkable.  The first few hours were the hardest but after I got over my initial urge to check my phone every few minutes, I found myself able to truly relax and unplug for the first time in years.  After that first month I stopped physically turning the phone off but now I am able to ignore it for several hours with no ill effects.

I am rarely on my phone after about 7:00 pm on weekdays or from Friday night to Monday morning.  When I start to feel the phone is controlling me, instead of the other way around, I turn it off altogether and go about my life.

These devices were originally designed to help us, not control us.  Lay off the dop(amine), and life your life.

 

Why I’m Seeing a Shrink


It’s true but technically she’s called a psycho-therapist.

I decided to make an appointment with her because I sensed my life was starting to go off the rails a few weeks back.  I was sleeping in longer, having trouble concentrating and feeling a general sense of dread and malaise.  I woke up one morning and rather than go to the gym as I had planned, sat nearly catatonic in my kitchen for 45 minutes, unable to move.

I honestly think that everyone, at one time or another should see a shrink, or at least some type of counselor to help gain some perspective and keep their life on track.  Your friends are too close, and mentors tend to be too distant and focused on just one niche of your life.  When things start to go off the rails, you need to take a holistic approach under the guidance of a professional.  It helps too if they share at least some of your personal values.  In my case I sought out a counselor who also shares my faith so that there wouldn’t be any spiritual conflict.

High octane entrepreneur types like me tend to ignore the signs and end up crashing with spectacular speed and maximum destruction.  I didn’t want that to be me!  So how did I know it was time to see a shrink?  After I broke out of my catatonic state that morning I did a survey of my life and found at least seven signs that I was headed for a crash.

 1 – My Gym Bag was dusty

I had gotten up that morning fully planning to go to the gym but I hadn’t made it there in 5 days and the longer I waited the worse it got.  Physical health is paramount to mental health and when your commitment to exercise starts to slip that should be the first sign that you are about to go off the rails.

2 – I was self medicating

Junk food is my Achilles heel.  It’s not the worst vice there is, I’ve never self medicated with drugs or alcohol but mindlessly eating potato chips and cookies still only provides temporary relief and is not a cure for anything.

3- I had a squirrel brain

I was struggling to stay present even when there was nothing pressing going on, constantly checking social media, and email trying to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

4 – While at the same time I was ignoring important things

Leaving people hanging, not responding to questions or requests for information that were going to take more than a few minutes to answer.  Completely avoiding tasks that were going to be hard and possibly stressful.  Screening calls from colleagues and clients and ignoring emails.

5 – I hadn’t taken any time off in over a year

Not even a long weekend.  I was working 6 days a week and thinking about work 18+ hours a day.  It was exhausting.

6 – I had a short fuse

The gap between action and reaction was almost non-existent.  I wasn’t taking time to thoughtfully respond to anyone.  I was just snapping back as quickly as I could.

7 – I was snarky

I mean, I was resentful of other people’s joy.  Seeing pictures of vacations, family fun times and other relaxing moments on Facebook and Instagram was making me angry and I couldn’t look away.

 

So that’s when I sought out a shrink.

I now have professional help to give me perspective and get me back on track.  If you see yourself in any of the things I described above, please do the world a favor and seek help too.  There is no shame in admitting that you can’t do it on your own.  Your mental health is too important to leave unattended and your friends and mentors, while an important part of maintaining balance, aren’t qualified to fix you when you are broken.

 

 

 

 

Either Way, You Win


Live as if you’re going to die tomorrow.  Learn as if you’re going to live forever. – Mahatma Gandhi

I recently told a business associate that I tend to read a book a week.

To say that they were impressed is a bit of an understatement.  Shocked is more like it.  How on earth can anyone find time to read a book a week?

Well to be perfectly honest it’s not exactly a book a week.  More like 50 pages a day.  That works out to between 250 and 350 pages every seven days.  We aren’t talking about War & Peace here.  Or Adam Smith’s 900 page opus, The Wealth of Nations. I’ve found that the average hard cover non-fiction book on just about any topic runs between 200 and 400 pages.  50 pages a day therefore is about a book a week.

I have learned that in order to be successful in life and business you need to be a life long learner. The world is changing so rapidly that we need to be constantly learning new things to keep up.  My chosen field of work, the financial services industry, is no exception.  But when you strip it all down just about every business is a people business.  And I can’t seem to get away from spirituality either.

I read everything I can get my hands on that even remotely applies to these areas.  My bookshelf is lined with the latest and classic works of, Business Management, Personal Finance, Sales Theory, Marketing, Behavioral Economics, Philosophy, Psychology, Spirituality, and Theology.

Where do I find the time?  It’s not that hard to read 50 pages in a day.  Unless the typeset is super small it takes me a about an hour.  Turn off the TV for an hour and you’re there – it’s that easy.

An hour a day is all it takes to read a book a week and be a life long learner.

Charlie “Tremendous” Jones was in the Life Insurance business, in the 1960s.  He was a top associate by the time he was 23 years old and in 1965 he founded Life Management Services and all but invented the Life Coaching industry.  Millions of people have read his books and attended his seminars on navigating life’s most challenging situations.  Most people know him for his famous inspirational quote:

You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.

Nothing has a bigger impact on your life than what you learn from books and people.  That’s why I really like that quote from Gandhi as well.  If I continue learning at the pace of a book a week, and I live forever, I will eventually know everything there is to know.

That’s my plan.

But the first half of the Gandhi quote is important as well.  It’s important to live for today, don’t put things off, enjoy each moment as it comes and be content in whatever your circumstance.  Tomorrow might not come so live for today but if you do wake up in the morning, keep learning and make every day better than the last.  You can’t go wrong.

Live today or die tomorrow – either way you win!

How do you live for today and learn for tomorrow?  Tell me in the comments below.

The Will of the Introvert


Willed introversion, in fact, is one of the classic implements of creative genius and can be employed as a deliberate device.  It drives the psychic energies into depth and activates the lost continent of unconscious infantile and archetypal images.  The result, of course, may be a disintegration of consciousness more or less complete but on the other hand, if the personality is able to absorb and integrate the new forces, there will be experienced an almost super-human degree of self-consciousness and masterful control.  – Joseph Campbell;  The Hero with A Thousand Faces

I’m an introvert who loves and is fascinated by people.  A bit of an oxymoron?  I don’t think so.

The perfect Saturday for me consists of working out at the gym, (where I can observe people but no one talks to me), reading a good book, writing a little and drinking copious amounts of coffee.  I sometimes go to the library or sit in a coffee shop so I can do all of these things at the same time but still without the need to actually interact with anyone.   My day job requires me to interact with people continually, either in person or on the phone so by the weekend I’m ready for a little quite time.

Lately I’ve been reading Joseph Campbell’s 1949 classic study of comparative mythology “The Hero with A Thousand Faces.”  The basic thesis of the book, as I’ve been able to extract it thus far, is that almost all myth and legend share some major thematic similarities that speak to the core of human psychology.  These themes include what Campbell calls The Hero’s Adventure; Departure, Initiation and Return and The Cosmogonic Cycle; Emanations, The “Virgin” Birth, and Transformation.

Admittedly I haven’t gotten very far into the book – I’m only on page 56 – so this isn’t meant to be an in-depth review or study of Campbell’s work by any means but his description of what he called “willed introversion” caught my attention.   So much so that I wanted to take a pause from reading and explore the concept here in a bit more detail.

Campbell introduces the “willed introvert” in the chapter on how some hero’s initially refuse their calling, ignore the promptings of God or the gods and fail to depart on their adventure.  Jonah, from the Old Testament book of the same name is a perfect example of one who refused his call and became a willful introvert.

The willed introvert can also be someone who is compelled to withdraw by an antagonistic force that is there to prevent the hero from embarking on their journey.  Both Sleeping Beauty and Snow White were put to sleep by jealous witches who feared the result if either of these two heroines were allowed to fulfill their destinies.

But regardless of whether or not the refusal and subsequent introversion is a result of the eventual hero’s choice or forced upon them, the results tend to be the same.  By withdrawing from the world and pulling away from their call the hero is able to learn a valuable lesson which aids in the completion of their appointed task.  They are able to approach things with more clarity of thought, more creativity and more energy than they would have if they had chosen or been able to embark on their task straight away.

Recent psychological research on personality types has begun to scientifically prove much of the same things we have always known through the myths and legends of old.  Introversion and introspection, whether natural, chosen or forced upon us leads to higher Emotional Intelligence (EQ), more empathy and makes us better at planning our next move than our more extroverted friends.  As a result, contrary to the old school out-going and gregarious techniques we thought would help us “get ahead” it’s actually introverts and the people who are capable of slowing down long enough to see the world in more detail and nuance, who tend to rule the world.

So, as early as 1949 Joseph Campbell was on to something that the myths of legends of old have known for centuries.  Sometimes heroes need time to contemplate and plan and taking a pause before moving forward can make us better and more successful.

Lauren C. Sheil is a serial entrepreneur who has been in business for over 25 years. His latest book “Meekoethics: What Happens When Life Gets Messy and the Rules Aren’t Enough” is available on Amazon.com.

He can be reached at themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com or by calling 613-295-4141.

 

Save