How to grow more confident - stop abusing your reward system
Life is full of wonder. Especially for kids. Remember that time? So much to explore, so much to experience. Days filled with new discoveries. The smallest details evoked amazement! All experiences in your life felt like a beautiful melody. Every tiny feature a sonorous note within a grand harmony.
There were first times experiences. The first time I rolled down a grassy hill was exhilarating. Refreshing! Scoring my first hockey goal was astounding! Man ow man, the first time eating pizza, just like the Ninja Turtles, amazing! I wish I could relive that!
But,… life doesn’t feel like that anymore. What happened? Things still look the same but are not that interesting anymore. As you grow up,… everything grows bland. Boring. Monotonous.
Sure partially because of exposure. The repetitive nature of grown-up life doesn’t help. Hooray for cubicles,…
Living an anxious existence is not what I imagined as a kid! I want to feel, I want to live. Shrug off this blanket of numbness.
I found out the hard way, that what I use to ease the suffering, causes it. Let me share my hard earned lessons.
First, let’s step back a bit again. So imagine your youth again. In all its pristine nuance and as a subtle melody played on a piano. High, low, hard soft, fast slow. A variety of subtle contrasts. Buildups, climaxes, bridges, and pauses.
Your experience of the song is fueled by small bites of dopamine. Small drips of your feel good hormone. Your evolutionary incentive to act beneficial to yourself and family.
To fight. To fuck. To discover. To invest in yourself and your tribe (social life). A complex system, that suits a purpose. Designed to take risks and make the most of a scarcity situation. Even motivating you to seek out friends after periods of solitude.
But what do we do in modern society? With all the wealth and possibilities available to us? We don’t play an elaborate melody. WE-SLAM-ALL-THE-KEYS-AT-ONCE. We binge on our basic needs. Injecting a huge dose of dopamine in our reward system.
Enormously satisfying! Amazing! For a very short time at least. But there is no contrast, no melody, and no rhythm. Just POOF! Instant satisfaction. As all the strings try to stabilize, you can’t experience any satisfaction. So, BAMN! You slam all the keys again! And again! And Again!
A dopamine addiction is born.
When you stop for a sec, in hope of finding your melody again, anxiety looms. You are intimidated by the gaping silence, the isolating numbness that follows. Feeling like a lost soul in a huge hostile world.
Choose your poison of plenty
There are numerous ways people misuse their complex dopamine system.
Consumption of loads of sugar, salt or fat. Or more obvious, abusing drugs and alcohol.
Infinite swiping through Tinder. Resulting in an endless streak of first dates and hook ups. Never committing, always looking for someone more ‘perfect’.
Or a more extreme problem. Internet porn addiction. Fapping for hours. Looking at infinite girls/guys. Going to further extremes, to find that ‘sublime’ moment of porn extacy.
Over communicating through shallow chats or mails. Always anticipating new messages. While saying or hearing little of value.
To name a few.
All very satisfying behavior in the moment. But numbing your senses. You crave that next massive hit. Without it, you feel anxious. Uncomfortable. Disconnected.
Don’t get me wrong.
The underlying urges and behaviors are okay. I believe they are all morally sound and natural. The problem is, your body and mind are not made to handle such abundance available to us. You literally overload your system.
The cherry on top
Adding to this is an extra layer.
Besides always wanting to feel good. You need to display your well being to a massive 'tribe'. Using the elaborate social media system you are hooked into.
You make sure everybody knows you are having fun. Feeling miserable and numbed. Instead of actually living! Sedated by the hormone that is supposed to motivate you.
Let’s make one thing clear. It’s not your fault! You are not weak, stupid or a bad person. Don’t blame yourself! Humanity somehow constructed a fucked up system.
But it is time to overcome it. To grow up and disengage. To reset – so you can hear the intricate melodies of life again.
To truly live.
Go form long-term planning of your career, dreams, and family. Delving into the knowledge of books. Acquiring wisdom through training and experience. Committing to deep romantic and sexual relationships. Connecting to people through activity and profound conversations.
So where do we start?
1. Identify your binging
Reflection time! You probably have an idea of what substance or behavior you overuse. But if not, take some time to reflect.
Don’t feel ashamed. Your body and mind have evolved to crave certain substances and behaviors. You can now just do it too much. Identify these excesses for yourself.
I’ll go first.
I used to binge on porn, games, fast food, cigarettes and weed. These I have waned of over time. But I’m still coming to terms with exorbitant internet use. As well as excessive drinking habits. Those are hard challenges for me. But working on it!
Most of these behaviors grew on me during adolescence. Escalating quickly from dipping my toes to being lost at sea.
For you, it may be any of these. Hopefully less, haha! But maybe you have different behaviors were you numb yourself. Compulsive working or shopping. Couponing or bingeing series. Whatever it is. Figure it out.
Be honest. Does it really make you feel better? Or are you just injecting some numbing ‘sensation’ in yourself?
There is a difference in enjoying a drink once in awhile. Or getting wasted >3 times a week. You don’t need to quit pleasures you enjoy in moderation.
Once you identified your compulsion, move on to the next step.
2. Choose one
Don’t try to solve everything at once. Pick one. And learn to detach yourself from that addiction. You may be totally motivated to turn your life around in one fell swoop. But fat chance you will crash and burn.
So choose ONE problem to tackle.
I can’t stress this enough. You’ll find it hard enough stopping one of your dopamine dealers. Without becoming more dependent on any of your other indulgences.
3. Commit and believe
If you are going to change your behavior. Commit.
Take the time to write out and promise yourself to try for at least 90 days. Tell your hamster and your friends, or even put money on the line. Become dedicated to this cause. Find a way to commit to such a challenge.
Furthermore, start believing you can change! Because… well you can!
Your beliefs change how you SEE the world. If you can convince yourself you can change, you will notice more possibilities, take on challenges and grow.
Doesn’t sound rational? It isn’t, but your brain is not some wishy-washy straightforward machine. It doesn’t work as you hoped it would. Just convince yourself you can develop – it helps to have yourself on the team.
4. Expect trial and error
Odds are you won’t succeed the first time. That’s cool. As long as you get up and try again. Stick to your commitment.
Expect failure and plan for it. Don’t be discouraged. It’s part of the growth process.
As you fail, you have a chance to learn. You are fighting your own nature and nurture. Literally overcoming yourself. It is not surprising it takes effort. Anyone who has tried something hard can testify. But don’t be disheartened, you can do this!
5. Analyze, deduce and interrupt your habit loops
Your repetitive behaviors are habits. Habits consist of 3 distinct parts.
Cues can be any internal or external event. The cue triggers the action. Which in turn gives you your dopamine dump. Training neural pathways, getting stronger every time you do it. Just like a groove that water cuts in rock, getting deeper every time water pours through.
So the more often you go through the habit cycle, the easier it gets.
For a long time, I had a few hidden triggers. When I felt bored (not even horny) I would hit me up some porn. When I felt stressed, I smoked a few cigarettes. A recipe for disaster.
This flight in ‘satisfying’ behavior made me miserable. Not my proudest years. I was able to effectively quit, only when I recognized that boredom and stress triggered my behavior.
Learn to be more self-aware. Watch and learn. Discover your cues and consecutive actions. Write them down in a notebook. What do you feel? What do you crave? Why? Stay actively aware of what happens to you.
As you recognize your cues, you can cultivate a mental pause when triggered.
Use this pause between cue and action, to be mindful as things happen. Feel what the cue sets in motion. How you crave satisfaction from your personal happiness tap.
Starting from this awareness, you stop and change the action that follows your cue. This is hard and takes willpower, but it can be done.
So: Experience cue – “hey I know this triggers [drinking/smoking/fapping/swiping]” – PAUSE – Experience urges – choose a new action.
In time you will develop a new behavior, as you untrain the original behavior.
6. Curate your streams
This reconditioning of yourself is hard. So prepare as much as possible. In moments of ‘soberness’, actively curate your reach to your cues and rewards.
Want to limit your addiction to internet based abuse:
Block distracting sites through your host file (windows)
Use Reddit NSFW blocker to stop sexy distractions
Install k9 to block porn or other ‘distracting’ sites
or more moderately use the Facebook News Feed Eradicator
Clean your inbox by deleting newsletters subscriptions in one fell swoop
Similar action can be taken for whatever challenge you face.
Don’t keep any booze, cigarettes or fast food in the house. Transfer enough money to your savings account so you can’t have a shopping spree.
Uninstall Skyrim,… I still miss you A_ela!_
7. Stay Vigilant
Over time you can slowly rid yourself of your compulsions. You got to keep vigilant, though. Believe me, for someone who has quit some devastating behaviors, there is always temptation waiting to lure me back in.
Modern Sirens chanting to bait you back to cliffs of your demise.
That one cigarette won’t matter.
A few glimpses at PornHub are okay.
In theory, these isolated actions don’t matter. But this is just your addict voice speaking, trying to seduce you. To fall back into your old habits.
It is a slippery slope. Once, becomes twice, 10 times, 20,…
For me, as probably for you, it is a dangerous path to follow. So be cautious. Don’t give in to the temptation that easily again.
Let’s get started
So,… easy peasy right? Nope, this is hard. It will take some time to revive your senses. So you are open to the refined melodies of life again. You might first go through a dip of more numbness. Be prepared for that. It’s part of the process. Push through. Afterwards, you can feel again. Live again!
Although rediscovering your melody of life, may feel a bit awkward at first.
I am also facing new challenges. Trying to create a more healthy balance in my life. My trial is getting my excessive internet use in check.
But I am sure that this too will bring a more colorful palette of experiences back in my life.
So I ask you, be honest, tell yourself how you blast your senses with stimuli. And how you can create a more healthy relationship to these urges. Let’s face our challenges together.
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