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Dopamine’s role in how to overcome failure

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The pleasure chemical known as dopamine has been raising a lot of panic with posts on topics such as “dopamine detox” and “anti-dopamine parenting” flooding social media. The story of dopamine is far more complex than the brain messenger just being present when you experience pleasure. It helps you stay motivated and persistent meaning it’s crucial for following your dreams and achieving your goals. Read more about how dopamine benefits you and why you need to nourish it. 


Dopamine: just a pleasure chemical? 

Early experiments conducted before the year 1990 on rodents and later humans support the idea that dopamine produces feelings of pleasure[1]. Food, sex, drugs and social interactions help release dopamine in the brain, suggesting the pleasure chemical is indeed linked to the feel-good outcome. Further studies showed that dopamine causes the desire for something and the motivation to go get it rather than the enjoyment of it[2,3].


Dopamine and reward

Talia N. Lerner, an assistant professor of neuroscience at Northwestern University also believes dopamine teaches you to predict your needs and align your behaviour with those needs[4]. You could call that process adaptation, meaning the human race survived and developed because of dopamine. Being essential for learning, dopamine gets released regardless of whether the outcome of a situation is rewarding or disappointing as it’s the expectation of the outcome that boosts it[4]. Imagine sitting at a table playing poker. You’ve got a really good hand so you go all in expecting to win. That is when dopamine releases. So, regardless of whether you take home the money or lose it all, dopamine will still get released. It helps you update your expectations and potentially modify your behaviour for the future by reinforcing it[4]. Produce enough of it with its building block tyrosine and opt for brain feed’s supplement, the world's 1st natural 800mg dopamine booster capsule from fermented corn. Get 15% off your first order by using the code ‘NEW15’ at checkout.


Your friend, dopamine 

Dopamine’s role in motivation and learning has people worried that highly stimulating activities such as scrolling through social media and eating loads of sweets will hijack the brain’s reward system. They believe the so-called dopaminergic system will only respond to those specific activities instead of working for smaller, everyday rewards such as enjoying your time with your loved ones. This concern is partly based on the science of the dopamine system. For example, the use of cocaine induces a massive surge in dopamine which later causes the brain to shut down some brain parts where dopamine gets released[5]. This so-called tolerance means you’d need much more cocaine to achieve the same high the next time you take it. A psychiatrist from Stanford University and the author of Dopamine Nation Dr Anna Lembke hypothesised that video games and pornography build up a similar tolerance[6]. However, other scientists critiqued this idea and she later admitted there is a need for studies that could confirm or deny the theory. Even though some people clang to Dr Lembke’s words, Vijay Namboodiri, an assistant professor of neurology at the University of California, states that when someone starts playing video games they can still enjoy playing board games just as someone can eat candy and still enjoy fruit[4]. Therefore, doing a dopamine detox or resetting your dopamine system may be in vain. 


How to improve perseverance

A new study by researchers at Kyoto University’s Graduate School of Medicine revealed that dopamine helps you cope with disappointment[7]. After measuring dopamine activity in rats they discovered neurons that boost dopamine after a disappointing outcome. Wondering how to overcome failure? That’s easy. Just let dopamine do the work for you. This research shows dopamine levels increase following failure, enhancing motivation and pushing you to persevere. The newly identified neurons signal the brain to release more dopamine, forming a unique coping mechanism for maintaining motivation despite experiencing a lapse.


Dopamine’s role in achieving your goals

Let’s look at the truth behind dopamine and motivation. Imagine having a goal to eat healthier. You’re doing great for about two weeks when all of a sudden you get a takeaway urge after walking past a delicious-smelling Chinese restaurant. You give in to the urge, dopamine gets released, and you feel good about your decision for a while. Then the reality hits, leaving you feeling disappointed because your desire to eat something oily, salty and spicy has beaten your desire to stay healthy. So, how to overcome disappointment? Having enough dopamine produced in your body means that more dopamine can get released once you feel like you failed at your goal helping you persevere. Despite the failure and disappointment dopamine still boosts your motivation to achieve your goal[7]. It also hypes you up, makes you more confident in your abilities and more energetic. That is why dopamine is an essential brain messenger. 


Trust your body to take care of you if you’re taking care of it. Do what you love sensibly and let your body support you with feeling good.

 

References

[1] Wise, R. A. (1980). The dopamine synapse and the notion of ‘pleasure centers’ in the brain. Trends in Neurosciences, 3(4), 91–95.

[2] Schultz, W., Dayan, P., & Montague, P. R. (1997). A Neural Substrate of Prediction and Reward. Science, 275(5306), 1593–1599. 

[3] Berridge, K. C., Venier, I. L., & Robinson, T. E. (1989). Taste Reactivity Analysis of 6-Hydroxydopamine-Induced Aphagia: Implications for Arousal and Anhedonia Hypotheses of Dopamine Function. Behavioral Neuroscience, 103(1), 36–45. 

[4] Smith, D. G. (2023). We Have a Dopamine Problem. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/06/30/well/mind/dopamine-brain-behavior.html

[5] Hammer, R. P., Egilmez, Y., & Emmett-Oglesby, M. W. (1997). Neural mechanisms of tolerance to the effects of cocaine. Behavioural Brain Research, 84(1–2), 225–239. 

[6] Dopamine & Digital Addiction (2021). Singularity group. https://www.su.org/feedback-loop/dopamine-digital-addiction

[7] Ishino, S., Kamada, T., Sarpong, G., Kitano, J., Tsukasa, R., Mukohira, H., Sun, F., Li, Y., Kobayashi, K., Honda, N., Oishi, N., & Ogawa, M. (2023). Dopamine error signal to actively cope with lack of expected reward. Science Advances, 9, eade5420.

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