Do you have a “chemical dependency?” You might not like the answer you find below.
I just got back from Seattle, Washington and have to confess I was “high as a kite” the entire time. As you might know, Washington (along with Colorado) was the first state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Although I did get “doped” up during my stay, marijuana was not how I got my “high” (but hopefully now I have your attention!) I didn’t need to visit one of the many “dispensaries” around the Seattle area because I am aware how to dispense the chemicals I need to get “high.” And as you will learn, this awareness could be the most important thing to positively change your life.
“What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.” Abraham Maslow
You and I have an addictive nature. Whether you like that or not, you have no choice. Your ability to become “hooked” has been hardwired into you. Not convinced? Let me explain your cravings using two chemicals you’ve surely heard of: Endorphins and Dopamine.
I first heard about endorphins because of their connection to a “runner’s high.” At the time, I imagined endorphins led to some euphoric “experience” reserved only for endurance athletes. Because I never liked running more than 100 meters, I dismissed endorphins as a drug I would never get my hands on (especially by way of my feet!) That was until I found other ways to get my “fix” from this powerful chemical.
Endorphins are your body’s way to mask or lessen pain. Endorphins are great for covering up pain during physical situations (like fight or flight or an injury). This allows you to access abilities that might not have been available if pain was present. In addition to combat or injury (both of which I have experienced endorphins’ power), exercise and laughing are other ways to use this chemical to get a “high.”
Dopamine is another chemical with which you may be familiar by name, but much less by function. Dopamine is released by a number of different mechanisms throughout your day. Prehistorically, dopamine was released to keep you moving forward during a learning process or physical task. By getting a “hit” of dopamine as you completed elements of a task, you kept pushing further. For activities like hunting and gathering, this dopamine rush was essential to insure you didn’t give up. Unfortunately, today’s tasks and the way you get your dopamine has changed. Yes, you still rely on “hits” to get through your day, but many of these dopamine dispensers are things you should give up.
“Whether you have a problem in your life or not depends upon your own attitude, your own understanding.” Shunryu Suzuki
Just like the idea of an addiction or “high” isn’t always negative, the release of endorphins and dopamine isn’t always positive. Because of our nature, these chemicals can force us to develop a dependency on them. For instance, you can develop a dependency on working out to produce endorphins. If I miss a couple days of working out, I can feel a definite “craving” that needs to be satisfied. Too much working out to satisfy this “habit,” however, can lead to an overuse injury or overtraining (which I also know of first-hand.) You can release dopamine by crossing something off your “to-do” list. Another common way to get the “rush” of dopamine is by eating. Like working out, it is good to stay productive and fed, but overdoing either one can also lead to problems.
Speaking of problems, dopamine has a darker side. Alcohol and drugs release it too. So does gambling and other behaviors that can lead to less positive consequences. Some ways you access dopamine are not as obvious as eating or drinking. The following questions may explain how dopamine is influencing you more secretly than you think.
Would you get uncomfortable if you lost your phone for a few days? Do you text when you drive? Do you refresh your phone to check your social media for “likes?” If you answered “yes” to those questions, you have dopamine to thank for that addiction. And yes, being hooked on your phone is an addiction just like drinking or working out.
A “like” on social media or the buzz of a phone is now how many people get their “buzz” from dopamine. If you have gone back to check your comments on a Facebook or Instagram photo or keep a “streak” alive on Snapchat, you know what I am talking about. The same dopamine rush that used to come with completion of a big task or hunt now also comes with completing a season of shows on Netflix or hunting down items you may not necessarily need or be able to afford. Video games and the “gamification” of your apps have been designed to hit you with dopamine too.
Have I made you uncomfortable yet? Good, and I get it. If you like your TV or video games for an occasional “high,” isn’t that ok? I am not the judge here. Ask yourself these two questions to judge how you are spending your important resources of time, energy and money:
Does my “high” contribute or consume?
Does my “high” construct or destruct?
In Seattle, I constantly accessed endorphins and dopamine. I finished reading two books on the plane (which got me more miles toward my frequent flyer status), completed 5 blogs for an upcoming project, had two important meetings, got two workouts, explored new areas of the Pike’s Place Market and did a walking tour of the Tacoma area. All those constructive actions happened around my main reason to be there: presenting for over 100 coaches and trainers.
“Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.” Warren Buffett
I didn’t write that list above to impress you, but to impress upon you the list tells me (and you) where I get my “high.” And because I have performed contributing and constructive behaviors like writing, reading, speaking and training for so long, they have become habits that would be tough to break (this weekly email is proof too!)
Your habits either contribute or consume. If your habits consume your money, energy or time without a benefit, it is time to take a look at changing those habits to something more positive. And you can do that by deciding where you get your next dopamine shot! You won’t be able to stop the fact your body will release and crave dopamine. You are able to control, however, the actions you repeat to get it. And those actions lead to your addictions.
“Your addictions will be as negative or positive as the actions you choose to repeatedly take.” Martin Rooney
The word addiction usually has a negative connotation, but I think of it as neutral. Dopamine is not negative either. Your choices where you get your dopamine (and hence build your habits) will be what leads to either positive or negative addictions. Need examples? Here is a quick list of negative or positive ways to get your dopamine release:
5 Negative Choices
5 Positive Choices
Learning A New Skill
(Note: The second list is considered positive as long as they continue to produce a positive outcome in your life. Do not forget any positive habit done to excess can lead to them becoming negative.)
Another way to identify positive “highs” is they don’t get followed by “lows.” After Seattle, I had no hang over. I was energized because I had helped more people and due to that rush, I only craved more of the chemicals that stimulated that energy.
You have a chemical dependency. You were designed to seek a “high.” My purpose is to give you insight to make sure that high is positive. If you can recognize where you are getting your “fix” you can fix your life.
The actions you choose to produce your release of chemicals will decide your habits. And those habits will lead to addictions that will decide your life.
So when it comes to your next action, choose wisely.
Yours in Strength,