I’m a secret fan of self-publishing. As an avid reader of Enid Blyton, at the age of five, I imagined myself crafting something as ethereal as The Magic Faraway Tree. Today, as a mother, I am longing for my maths-minded daughter to read it too. Even if she did, I doubt she would immerse herself using the same degree of escapism as I used to. Bear with me here, I will eventually detail why my childhood love for Enid Blyton relates to ways to boost dopamine production.
Digressing in the first paragraph? Well, that’s how powerful Enid Blyton and her words are for me. She inspired me to want to write during my itty-bitty primary school years. Then J.K. Rowling came along and seriously stimulated my writing desire.
As a freelance copywriter, I produce words daily. While I enjoy all my work and the learning experiences that come with them, I also crave the opportunity to write something that I would choose to write.
That’s where the love for self-publishing comes in. I can put pen to paper, revel in the research, tweak it, and then send it out there for the world to enjoy. While doing so I am not seeking the validation of a publisher, an editor, or a hit list. I’m not attempting to bestow anything magical and new on the Universe’s population. Instead, I am letting the passions that bubble inside me make their way through my brain and into the e-readers of a few people a month. It feels weirdly satisfying. If you can’t quite connect with that idea, try reading (or even better, listening to) Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic.
My latest creation, The Independent Girlfriend, focuses on ways to produce dopamine in one section. If you read it (and I promise it isn’t entirely rubbish) you’ll see why.
As I sent The Independent Girlfriend into the big bad world of Amazon’s KDP using my self-publishing pseudonym, I began to focus on ways to produce dopamine as a whole. As a copywriter in Wales, I work my actual arse off to achieve all the treats I want, the holidays I long for, and the nutritious meals I like to indulge in.
And so, I decided to become a bit more mindful about ways to produce dopamine. If you’re ready to do the same, try the following:
First of all, what is dopamine and why do you need to make more of it if you’rea freelance copywriter?
In simple terms, dopamine is a neurotransmitter. In addition to making you feel good, balancing it correctly means you’ll become more productive. It enhances your focus, boosts your memory, and provides motivation. Oh, and it sends signals to your muscles telling them to move.
Dopamine is produced throughout several areas of your brain, with the biggest being the substantia nigra. When it’s time for it to be released, that’s the hypothalamus’s job. And, it isn’t just us humans who depend on dopamine too. Studies show that lizards are dopamine producers and that they have been for millions of years.
Dopamine very much dictates how we behave
As a neurotransmitter that’s central to your emotional responses, dopamine dictates how we behave. Getting enough of it feeds our reward centres, which is why it feels so good to complete a run or have an amazing date. When there’s an imbalance, we may have a disproportionate response to something that somebody says. It makes us competitive, impulsive, and it drives us towards the things we want.
With all of that in mind, I’m hoping you can see why you need to find ways to produce more dopamine. Fortunately, the ones I’m about to describe are neither difficult nor out of your reach.
One of the easiest ways to produce dopamine is through caffeine
For those who decry speedy dopamine boosts, this statement won’t prove popular. However, caffeine is one of the most natural and accessible ways to produce dopamine we can all access. When you taper it correctly, it’ll have a resoundingly positive impact on your day.
As I may have mentioned before, my caffeine hit of choice comes from coffee. I buy the beans from Amazon, grind them diligently, let them stew for four minutes, and indulge as I feel my energy levels rise. Alongside meditation, yoga, and a decent breakfast, it’s a crucial part of my morning routine.
I won’t deny, though, that you can fall into the trap of becoming a caffeine abuser. When that happens, it stops acting as your friend and has a negative effect on dopamine production. Therefore, I want you to consider the following caffeine-drinking life hacks:
Bring yourself back to life by combining caffeine with a nap
Whether you’re a freelance copywriter or you work on an outstation just left of the Falkland Islands, you’re probably familiar with the soul-crunching experience that is working after minimal sleep. My most recent bout of jetlag provided me with four days straight of that experience. Fortunately, I have friendly editors.
If you’re facing a working day that has the clouds of tiredness hanging over it, and you can nap somewhere, try the following:
- Drink a cup of coffee. A decent one. Not instant dried stuff that makes you want to gag.
- Take a nap for 20 to 30 minutes.
- Get up and be productive.
Power napping during the minutes it takes for your caffeine to kick in means you’ll encounter its dopamine-boosting effects at the same time as feeling refreshed. If you struggle to powernap, consider meditating. If meditation isn’t for you, try just resting your eyes and relaxing. Still not sold on the idea? Well, I have no more suggestions because you are just plain stubborn. Go be a mule.
Drink water before caffeine if coffee is a part of your morning routine
While we slumber at night, our bodies continue to work hard to make sure we’re there to rise from our beds in the morning. During that period, our hearts are pumping hard. As blood bypasses the kidneys, all of its clever little nephrons will begin collecting waste, giving us an impressive urge to pee first thing in the morning.
As a part of that process, we wake up mildly dehydrated. Our brain cells are a tad sluggish and the best thing we can do for them is treat them to a dose of water. Whether you keep a glass that’s chilled with ice by your bed or you rush to grab a bottle of Highland Spring from your fridge, please prioritise water before caffeine.
Why do you need to do this? You’re priming your brain for its dopamine hit. You’re also nourishing every cell in your body with the substance they need to survive. Water is your friend, so chug some as you grind those coffee beans.
Make sure you time your caffeine consumption correctly
Whether you insist on drinking Jasmine Green Tea as my partner does or you prefer the coffee beans from a packet adorned by a stubborn mule, timing your caffeine consumption correctly is crucial.
I’m going to go ahead and suggest that you revolve your caffeine consumption around your cortisol production. Famously known as a ‘stress-hormone’, cortisol is also a great motivator. It’s at its highest around 20 to 30 minutes after you get out of bed and will slump slowly after that. To prevent the slump from affecting your productivity, save your caffeine hit for 90 minutes after you exit your boudoir.
And, as I love to repeat throughout my posts, remember that caffeine has a half-life of about six hours. A good night’s rest is as central to being productive and maintaining your dopamine levels as anything you do throughout the day. You know your own body better than anybody else, so if you’re aware that drinking coffee after a certain point is a route to disaster, prioritise your sleep instead.
Treat yourself to a new type of music each the day
As one of the more relaxing ways to produce more dopamine, listening to a new type of music each day is both easy and free.
If you’re sat there thinking “But hold on a moment, I love to listen to 22 by Taylor Swift seven times over”, that’s okay too. One study from McGill University found that listening to music that you love also boosts dopamine production.
But, I do have my reasons for suggesting that you switch things up a little. Here are three ways to add music to your dopamine-boosting regime:
One of the easiest ways to produce more dopamine using music is by choosing tunes that make you happy
As Christopher Bergland correctly identifies, not all music is universally happy. I have a friend called Jim who is happiest when he is listening to Radiohead. Me? I begin falling into a pit of despair.
If you must listen to music that’s familiar to you, create a playlist of the tunes that make you happy. Blast them during your usual morning routine and those productivity-enhancing neurotransmitters will start flowing in.
Head to YouTube and find a playlist of soothing sounds that you haven’t listened to before
Througough 2018, one of the statistics I frequently read was that video would take up 80% of Internet consumption. Much of that comes from YouTube (not just adult sites) and while I was in Orlando recently I discovered it is a haven for relaxing yoga and meditation music.
If you’re going to try listening to something new, try searching for relaxing meditation music, energising yoga music, or Tibetan monk music. Play it gently in the background as you work. If it’s irritating you, remember what I mentioned about the happiness factor above. Switch to something else.
But why am I emphasising trying a new form of music when the McGill University study said that your favourite tunes do the trick? That’s because there’s plenty of evidence suggesting that novelty also enhances dopamine production. Listening to music is a passive activity, so if you can achieve that novelty passively, you’re producing extra dopamine in a super-productive way.
Add the more relaxing forms of music to your meditation practice
That’s if you do practice meditation, of course. If you don’t, give it some serious consideration. Much of it is now secular (if the religious element at all bothers you) and with corporations worldwide using it to lower employee stress levels, it’s also proving effective in terms of living a happier life.
As a quick note, please try binge listening to the 10% Happier podcast by Dan Harris. It’s awesome.
Anyway, one study has found that both meditating and yoga regulate the neurotransmitters that make us happier. As you may have guessed, one of them is dopamine. Throw meditation and your newly discovered music together and you’ll amplify your production.
Of the best ways to produce more dopamine, there’s exercise
I bet you were wondering when the whole exercise thing was coming, weren’t you? Exercise might not generate sensations of pleasure while you’re doing it, but have you noticed the rush you feel after?
If you can’t remember feeling that rush recently, blast out 10 minutes of HIIT, sit down, and observe your feelings. Sure, you’ll be sweaty. But those endorphins will be rocking around all over your body too.
If you’re already a keen exerciser, then good for you! Carry on with what you’re doing. If not, here are three ways to produce more dopamine using exercise:
Brace yourself, here comes the HIIT
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) isn’t just an exercise fad that’ll fade away like the dodgy aerobics videos delivered by lycra-adorned instructors in the 80s.
In case you’re not familiar with how it works, I’ll give a quick description. You engage in quick bursts of cardio where you give it your absolute all. Then, there’s a recovery period. The recovery period may be active, but it’s gentler.
If you’re yet to try HIIT and you’re not ready to venture into the public realm, try a Jillian Michaels DVD. When I needed to ditch a couple of dozen kilos, her fitness routines and exercise plans partially carried me through. Today, I let a lady called Olga shout instructions at me while she blasts early-2000s dance music. No, I cannot hear Olga over the sound of Darude and Sash.
As this article published at the Forbes website explains, HIIT might feel tough at the time but your brain will thank you for it. First, it encourages nootropic effects, including more dopamine production. Oh, and it’ll enlarge your hippocampus, which means having more memory.
It’s also an excellent way to boost your energy levels overall. Yes, it seems crazy that expending energy with that much enthusiasm also boosts it, but it’s very much true.
It’s time for you to start trying yoga
Have I mentioned that I once trained with an orthopaedic surgeon who said her clients who practised yoga had the easiest recoveries? There could be a lot of other factors at play there, but it resonated with me and encouraged me to incorporate it into my daily routine.
For a while, my commitment to yoga was on and off. Over the last two months, it has become an almost daily practice. As one study shows, engaging in a specific form of yoga (called Yoga Nidra) boosts dopamine levels by up to 60-percent.
Generally, though, when you’re using yoga to produce more dopamine you’re engaging in another form of meditation. If you focus, correctly, that is. Don’t set yourself up for failure by loudly stating “Right, I am going to do this for one hour a day every day.” Start small. Give yourself a 10-minute a day goal, then when that feels easy, add on five more minutes. Feeling easier again? You know what to do.
Finding ways to produce more dopamine isn’t hard. It also conveys the benefits of being more productive, feeling happier, and finding it easier to engage in the world around you. Don’t write your attempts off as another fad. Make them a habit and the way your life unfolds will change dramatically.
A little honesty note: Like many of my posts, there’s probably the occasional affiliate link in here. Don’t worry, I’m not into false selling. It’s my way of making residual income from my blog, using products I’ve legitimately found useful or drawn love from x