I used to think being a self-disciplined workhorse who got things done and ripped through obstacles was a matter of nature. You either had it or you didn’t.
Eventually, that was proven wrong and then I thought that it was all about “habits”, which it most certainly is…but there’s a deeper dimension at play.
Here’s what I mean:
Everyone is born with a certain neurochemical “soup” at birth.
This is determined by genetics, the chemical environment in the mother’s womb, so many factors.
After that, it’s all about nurture and the environment the child grows up in.
The brain’s neurochemistry changes throughout life because the brain is plastic, but it always changes in response to a stimulus.
When it comes to creating favorable outcomes, I’ve learned that we need to be interested in a chemical called dopamine.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter responsible for motivation.
It is indeed responsible mainly for motivation, but also for focus, drive, concentration, working memory, and a whole laundry list of other actions.
If you’re low in dopamine, you’ll lack energy throughout the day, procrastinate, have sleep problems, and fail to have the ability to concentrate.
Dopamine deficiency shows itself in mental health disorders such as ADD and ADHD, depression, and various addictions.
Basically, adequate dopamine levels are the difference between being a functional human being vs. being a complete mess.
It’s the reason why some people are more motivated than others and seemingly have boundless amounts of mental energy.
Everyone has a resting threshold of dopamine that they require to feel motivated, move about, get things done, etc.
It is an inverse relationship, meaning a lower threshold leads to better results and visa-versa.
What are some things that increase this threshold?
Three big things that spike dopamine are food, sex, and drugs.
Cocaine spikes dopamine through the roof by 400%,
Smoking cigarettes raises it by 200%.
Other things such as excessive shopping, super stimulating foods, watching Internet porn, video games, caffeine, all raise dopamine.
If your dopamine levels are elevated on a consistent basis, your brain will prune away the receptors used to utilize dopamine.
This means, you need more dopamine to experience the same level of pleasure as before.
Doesn’t this sound like…addiction to you?
How does this relate to self-discipline?
Most of the things we want in life require consistent actions taken over a long period of time.
These actions that we take offer little to no reward in the short term.
If your dopamine threshold is very high, you’ll always be hunting for dopamine in the form of quick fixes.
If you’re working on a project and you have a high dopamine threshold, you’ll need to distract yourself constantly in order to stay motivated and on track.
Texting, surfing the Internet, checking email, watching a quick show on TV, all of these things distract from finishing that project.
And of course, the more interruptions you have during a project – the worse it will be. It takes an average of 10 minutes to refocus on an activity after you finish.
You will find it harder to be self-disciplined because you require large amounts of stimulation to feel satisfactory, something grinding away on projects does not inherently provide.
Many of the things that spike dopamine to absurd levels are nowhere to be found in the natural world and these things make real life seem bland.
As a result, you just sort of “tune out” of life.
Think of the stereotypical video gamer porn addict that lives in his parent’s basement and has no job.
He’s seemingly unmotivated and uninterested in daily living because he already has everything he “needs”. Why bother go out into the real world when every great sensation is available at the click of a button?
So are you motivated? Are you focused? Are you self-disciplined?
To be completely honest, it’s not your decision. It’s a consequence of your neurochemical hormones.
And you need to get that back on the right track.
If you need to realign your neurochemistry, take a “fast” from playing video games, watching YouTube, etc, for at least 30 days.
Also, supplement with (check with your doctor first) , , and . These will give you the spark you need to start reconstructing your brain chemistry.
But it takes…time.
If your brain is not working properly, you have a snowball’s chance in hell of ever being self-disciplined.
Start with that first.