Technology made our lives more comfortable but brought with it a new set of problems. Dopamine Fasting 3.0 offers an effective way to solve these problems.
Excessive consumption of modern inventions such as internet porn, social media, video games, online gambling, shopping, and junk food wreaks havoc on our productivity, makes us fat, broke and unhealthy, increases our anxiety levels, and erodes our social skills.
Scientists discovered that all of these modern inventions are potentially addictive1,2,3,4,5,6 just like alcohol 7, cigarettes8, and drugs9; using the same neurological pathway in the brain that’s responsible for feelings of pleasure which is fired up by a hormone and neurotransmitter called dopamine.
All of these activities make you feel good at the moment (via dopamine), but they destroy you in the long run. It’s crucial to note that dopamine is responsible for all sorts of pleasure in life, not necessarily limited to potentially destructive activities.
The History of Dopamine Fasting
Thousands of people around the world started to practice dopamine fasting to shield their brains against the bombardment of dopamine that modern life exerts on them.
Early practitioners of dopamine fasting took a day off of all pleasurable activities: No food, no exercise, no music, no smartphones, no internet, no social contact, no gambling, no shopping, no reading books, no porn, no sex, no alcohol, no cigarettes, no drugs, no nothing for a day.
Their goal was to get their brains’ dopamine baseline lower to undo bad habits, allow time for self-reflection, and bolster personal happiness10.
Dopamine Fasting 2.0
In August 2019, Dr. Cameron Sepah came up with a new version of dopamine fasting, which he called “Dopamine Fasting 2.0”.
Dr. Sepah describes Dopamine Fasting 2.0 as an evidence-based technique to manage addictive behaviors, by restricting them to specific periods of time and practicing fasting from impulsively engaging in them, in order to regain behavioral flexibility.
The previous version of dopamine fasting was about avoiding all pleasurable activities but Dr. Sepah correctly pointed out that the goal is not to reduce dopamine but to reduce impulsive behavior.
Dopamine Fasting 2.0 focuses on specific behaviors that are problematic for you instead of avoiding all stimulation. Dr. Sepah states that “we ARE NOT fasting from dopamine itself, but from impulsive behaviors reinforced by it.”
Impulsive behaviors he lists as problematic (if done in extreme) are emotional eating, internet/gaming, gambling/shopping, porn/masturbation, thrill/novelty seeking and recreational drugs.
He then introduces fasting and feasting schedules (both of which are flexible) where you don’t engage in problematic behaviors during fasting periods and engage in them during feasting periods.
Introducing Dopamine Fasting 3.0
Dopamine Fasting 3.0 is my approach to dopamine fasting, which I also believe to be a core component of a broader framework of self-improvement for men.
My goal is not to poke a hole in the idea of dopamine fasting or Dr. Sepah’s version of Dopamine Fasting 2.0.
I will rather extend the idea of dopamine fasting and integrate it into a broader self-improvement framework, hence the name Dopamine Fasting 3.0.
How Dopamine Fasting 3.0 Is Different?
Practitioners of the earliest version of dopamine fasting remove all sources of exogenous pleasure (dopamine) from life. Fasting lasts usually for a day. This includes not having sex, not talking to other human beings, not exercising, not eating food, not carrying a phone, etc. which I find unnecessary, if not disruptive.
Dr. Sepah correctly identified that dopamine by itself isn’t the enemy and introduced a different type of dopamine fasting which he calls Dopamine Fasting 2.0, targets impulsive behaviors (emotional eating, internet/gaming, gambling/shopping, porn/masturbation, thrill/novelty seeking and recreational drugs) and sets up periods of fasting and feasting for these activities.
Dopamine Fasting 3.0 is different from the first version as it doesn’t banish earned sources of dopamine at all. Sex, social contact, nutritious food, exercise, and adventure are all fine and encouraged. Even games and smartphones are allowed, provided that they’re used for the right purposes.
Dopamine Fasting 3.0 is different from Dr. Sepah’s version of 2.0 as it not only doesn’t involve a feasting period but it’s also supported by a framework for useful habits to permanently stick and become a new way of living a productive and happy life.
Dopamine Fasting 3.0 advocates fasting from resources of unearned dopamine. It aims at switching dopamine resources from unearned resources to earned resources. Confused? Don’t be. All of it is explained below. Keep reading.
Dopamine Is NOT the Enemy. Unearned Dopamine Is.
Dopamine Fasting 3.0 makes a distinction between earned and unearned dopamine where earned dopamine is good and encouraged and unearned dopamine is bad and discouraged.
I use the term “dopamine fasting” as it’s the established phrase but a phrase that better expresses Dopamine Fasting 3.0 would be “unearned dopamine fast” or “avoiding unearned dopamine” or something like that. You are not fasting from dopamine itself but rather from unearned sources of dopamine.
In order to understand Dopamine Fasting 3.0, let’s first look at the purpose of dopamine-induced reward mechanism in our brains and clarify the distinction between unearned dopamine and earned dopamine.
Understanding the Vital Role of Dopamine in Human Life
As we’ve established above, dopamine is the hormone and neurotransmitter most commonly associated with pleasure, reward, and motivation.
Nature intended dopamine to reward you for your accomplishments in life. For example; work hard -> make money -> your brain releases dopamine -> you feel good and rewarded. This is perfectly fine and encouraged. This is the way nature intended dopamine which is to motivate you to succeed in real life.
Dopamine is not bad by itself when you utilize it the way nature intended it. It only becomes a problem when you trick your brain into rewarding you without real-life achievement.
Resources and Benefits of Earned (Good) Dopamine
Like all other living things, we humans are biological machines of survival and reproduction. Nothing more, nothing less.
Here’s how dopamine is essential to our survival and reproduction:
Your brain rewards you with dopamine when you…
- Eat food because you need calories to survive,
- Have sex because sex is the only way for reproduction hence the continuation of the species and the transfer of your genes to the next generation,
- Outcompete other human beings and win because this ensures the survival and reproduction of the strongest genes,
- Gain social approval because social approval improves your chances of both survival and reproduction,
- Experience novelty because novelty contributes to diversity and improves risk-taking abilities which in turn contributes to competitive advantage,
- Exercise because you are becoming healthier which is obviously good for survival and also reproduction. The fitter you are the healthier you will be and you’ll improve your chances of attracting a desirable member of the opposite sex.
Utilized for the right purposes, dopamine is not the enemy. It’s one of our greatest allies for succeeding in life. It’s a weapon of survival and reproduction. The point of the dopamine-fueled reward mechanism in our brain is to ensure our survival and reproduction.
If there was no feeling of reward and pleasure for consuming food we would forget to eat and our species would be long extinct.
If there was no feeling of reward and pleasure for having sex we would not bother having sex and our species would be long extinct.
If there was no reward for competing with other human beings we would violate the rule of the survival of the fittest, our species would go weak, get outcompeted by other species and we would be long extinct, etc…
I call all of these as resources of “earned dopamine” because you have to WORK for them.
- Eating nutritious food is hard when the world is filled to the brim with delicious junk foods that provide easy calories,
- Having sex is hard since it’s requires risk-taking and effort to attract a worthy member of the opposite sex to the point of consenting to have sex with you,
- Competing and winning is hard when it’s done in real life where it matters and has real consequences,
- Making money is hard since money usually comes after a grueling process of hard work and perseverance,
- Regular exercise is hard, especially in the dizzying pace of modern life,
- Experiencing novelty is hard since it’s hard to take risks or access the time and resources to explore the world on your own,
- Gaining social approval is hard since it requires discipline and hard work to gain status, develop social skills and become an admired member of the society,
As you can see, there’s nothing wrong with dopamine as long as you earn it. Life is supposed to be hard if you’re doing it right. Dopamine is only bad when you circumvent the process and get rewarded without earning it.
Resources of Unearned (Bad) Dopamine
Modern life came with its comforts that make our lives better but it also introduced addictive distractions that are detrimental to our well-being (especially when we fail to exercise moderation).
It doesn’t help that human beings have a tendency to avoid pain and seek pleasure which exacerbates the problem of easy pleasures that are enjoyable in the short run but detrimental to our well-being in the long run.
Here are the cardinal resources of unearned dopamine which short-circuit your brain’s reward mechanism by tricking it into releasing dopamine without having to earn it:
- Eating junk food tricks your brain into believing that you are doing something good for your survival (eating calories) when in reality you are overconsuming easy calories that severely lack nutritional value.
- Watching porn tricks your brain into believing that sex is imminent or even happening when in reality you are far from having sex and the naked woman you see on the screen is actually not in your room and not having sex with you.
- Playing video games tricks your brain into believing that you are outcompeting your rivals and gaining survival advantage over other human beings when in reality your video-game related achievements don’t translate into real-life achievements where it counts.
- Receiving likes and upvotes on social media tricks your brain into believing that you gained social approval when in reality you are gaining the approval of people whose approval doesn’t matter and doesn’t rank you higher in the real-life social hierarchy.
- Watching TV, movies, or TV series tricks your brain into believing that you are experiencing novelty or having an adventure when in reality you are sitting on your ass, staring at a box and doing nothing to advance your standing in life.
- Impulsive shopping tricks your brain into believing that you are improving your status in society when in reality you are only feigning status and other people don’t care about you anyway and you are making yourself poorer in the process.
- Gambling tricks your brain into believing that you are competing with other human beings and working to make money when in reality you depend purely on luck, not on your competitive skills.
- Alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs alter your perceived reality by chemically manipulating your brain circuitry when in reality nothing in your life is changing at all and you are worse off after the effects of the drug wear out.
Dangers of Unearned (Bad) Dopamine
When done in excess (which is a bar too easy to cross)…
- Eating junk food makes you fat, lethargic and lazy. It robs you of your chance to eat nutritional food and stay in shape.
- Watching porn makes you depressed, celibate and anti-social. It kills your desire to meet women and have sex in real life.
- Playing video games saps your desire to compete and win in real life where it matters. Also, lots of people fail at school or work due to wasting inordinate amounts of time playing video games.
- Social media likes and upvotes rob you of your desire to gain real-life social approval and dampen your ability to develop social skills and beneficial connections.
- Watching TV, movies, or TV series robs you of your desire to take risks, pursue novelty, explore new ways of living and experience the excitement of adventure.
- Impulsive shopping makes you buy things that you don’t need, puts you in debt and makes you poor.
- Gambling causes you to lose your time and money for the simple reason that the house always wins.
- Alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs make you sick, weak, lazy, poor and dumb.
You get the point. Dopamine is only bad when you don’t earn it. It’s bad when you circumvent the due process and trick your brain into thinking that you are gaining the upper hand in life when in reality you aren’t.
Earned dopamine is good. It’s required. It motivates you to succeed in life, stay alive and reproduce.
Unearned dopamine is bad. It defeats the purpose of the reward system in your brain. It makes you shoot yourself in the food. It robs you of the motivation to succeed in real life.
Dopamine Fasting 3.0 Schedule
Dopamine Fasting 3.0 is to engage in activities where you earn your dopamine and avoid activities where you don’t earn your dopamine.
All sources of earned dopamine are good for you and they are encouraged while all sources of unearned dopamine are bad for you and they are discouraged.
Here’s the schedule: Try Dopamine Fasting 3.0 for 30 days and see for yourself how your life will improve.
Say no to sources of unearned dopamine for the next 30 days. No junk food, porn, video games, social media, TV, movies, impulsive shopping, gambling, alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs for 30 days.
I am aware that quitting alcohol, drugs or cigarettes could require professional help but if you are not addicted to them to the point of requiring professional help then quit them for 30 days and see how you feel.
By denying yourself sources of unearned dopamine, you’ll train your brain to earn your dopamine. The fasting part is related to the difficulty of obtaining earned dopamine since achievements aren’t easy to come by. They require effort and due process on your part.
The goal of Dopamine Fasting 3.0 is to rewire your brain to utilize dopamine the way nature intended and get you motivated to succeed in real life where it matters.
You can relax some of the rules after 30 days for recreational purposes but not too much.
How to Make Dopamine Fasting 3.0 A Resounding Success
Realize That It’s Not Hard
Don’t be discouraged if Dopamine Fasting 3.0 seems too hard to do as it requires you to stop doing some of your favorite activities.
Think of it this way, most sources of unearned dopamine (junk food, porn, video games, social media, TV, movies, and shopping) are recent inventions.
Your ancestors lived without them for centuries and they succeeded to survive and reproduce, otherwise, you wouldn’t be here reading this article now.
It’s not as hard as you think. Don’t hesitate to take the plunge.
Make it harder to access the resources of unearned dopamine. Introduce friction 11.
If you don’t keep junk food at home, you’ll be less likely to consume it as you have to go out and buy it before you can eat it. Similarly, if you don’t have booze in the fridge, you’ll be less likely to drink it.
Install a website blocker to your computer to avoid opening time-waster sites such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and all of the porn and news sites. Delete these apps from your phone or at least turn their notifications off.
It’s been a long time since I last played video games but they should be preventable from playing through some blocker programs or something like that. Or just go ahead and delete games from your computer and smartphone.
Cancel your TV or Netflix subscriptions or at least freeze them for a while if you can.
If these recommendations don’t cut it for you think of other ways to introduce friction to access the resources of unearned dopamine. The goal is to make it as hard as possible to access them.
Supplement Your Plan with Potentially Dopamine Earning Activities
Unearned sources of dopamine trick your brain into believing that you scored legitimate achievements which in turn helped you gain survival and reproduction advantage over others when in reality you didn’t.
Replace these useless (or downright harmful) activities with activities that benefit you.
- Replace watching porn with meeting real women in real life and having actual sex. The ability to pick up women is a great skill that will serve you for life.
- Replace posting on social media with socializing in real life. Developing social skills is great and will also serve you for life.
- Replace playing video games or gambling with competing with others in real life such as in business environments. Real-life achievements provide better and lasting pleasure which also reflects positively on your bank account. Playing games with physical participants is also fine as it promotes the development of social skills.
- Replace watching TV, movies or TV series with building an exciting life. Write your own story instead of watching other people’s stories. Live your own life instead of living vicariously through other heroes.
- Make regular exercise a part of your daily routine. Exercise makes you feel good and has numerous real-life benefits.
Supplementing dopamine fasting with real-life activities that compel you to earn your dopamine is crucial because this is the only way to permanently shake off your unhealthy addictions. This is why I spared dopamine fasting only one chapter in my book How to Be a Superior Man and supported it with 8 other chapters because for dopamine fasting to take hold until you permanently rewire your brain for lifetime success, it’s better to supplement it with a robust self-improvement framework.
Confused? Let me give you an example:
7 years ago I attempted to quit drinking but I had no other plan in place so I just replaced drinking with playing video games. I lasted 3,5 months without a drink not because I missed drinking too much but because quitting the drink did nothing to improve my life. My life continued to suck because I did nothing to change it for the better. Fast forward 3 years when I took another stab at quitting the drink and this time it was a resounding success because I was also building a business at the moment and I had no time to waste with drinking and hangovers.
People resort to unearned sources of dopamine such as internet porn, social media, video games, online gambling, shopping, junk food, alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs in order to escape from a life that sucks on multiple fronts. If you build a life that rocks, you won’t need to escape from it.
This is why I recommend supporting dopamine fasting with goal setting, exercise, diet, and other relevant components to make it work. The goal is not to eradicate pleasure from your life but to live a life where you earn your pleasures by real-life achievements and build a life that’s worth living.
You Are Not Sacrificing Anything
Always remember that you are NOT sacrificing anything by giving up on unearned resources of dopamine.
Sacrifice, by definition, is relinquishing something of higher importance in favor of something else lower in importance. By giving up on potentially harmful activities in favor of potentially beneficial activities, you are doing the literal opposite of sacrifice.
Be sure to read:
- How to Be a Superior Man, Chapter 7: Develop Rock-Solid Self-Control (By Utilizing Dopamine The Way Nature Intended)
- How To Quit Playing Video Games
- How To Stop Watching Porn
- 24 Ways to Get Rid of the Victim Mentality and Adopt a Victor Mentality
- 10 Unrealistic Expectations About Life That Will Destroy You
- Internal or External Locus of Control: Which Do You Have?
- How Food Addiction Works (and What to Do About It)
- Neuroscience of Internet Pornography Addiction: A Review and Update. Behavioral Sciences. Todd Love, Christian Laier, Matthias Brand, Linda Hatch, and Raju Hajela. Andrew Doan, Academic Editor
- Dopamine, Smartphones & You: A battle for your time. Trevor Haynes. Harvard University
- How the Brain Gets Addicted to Gambling. Scientific American.
- Video Games Can Activate the Brain’s Pleasure Circuits. David J Linden Ph.D.
- Shopping, Dopamine, and Anticipation. Susan Weinschenk Ph.D.
- Alcohol and Dopamine. Author: Amy Keller, RN, BSN, Medical Reviewer: Ashraf Ali, MD
- Smokers’ Brains Change in Response to High Levels of Nicotine. Mayo Clinic.
- Dopamine in Drug Abuse and Addiction. JAMA Neurology. Nora D. Volkow, MD; Joanna S. Fowler, PhD; Gene-Jack Wang, MD; et al.
- Wikipedia entry on Dopamine Fasting
- Dr. Cameron Sepah offers scientific proof for this: Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)-based technique called “stimulus control.”