“The cruelest prison of all is the prison of the mind.”
– Piri Thomas
Constantly, our minds are being bombarded by various products and behaviors that offer quick, dangerous boosts of pleasure. Where in the past man had to struggle for conquest, invention and success, many people are now enslaved to dopamine-releasing hedonistic treadmills – ever increasing our tolerance to pleasure and slowly but surely leading us down a path of inevitable addiction and depression. What will happen if we stop having fun?
I’ve written before on how we are essentially biological machines, guided not by some divine inspiration, but by neural transmitters and hormones. This realization holds various practically applicable gems in it – as it also implies that our mind can be transformed, massaged and overwritten by conscious thought and behavioral change.
You are trading away your life
One of the most dangerous aspects of our mind is precisely that it can be so easily manipulated – an aspect that is used throughout the world to sell products and keep you hooked. Almost every product on the market – either through advertising or through the use of the product itself – taps into your biological machinery in order to manipulate your behavior. The most targeted piece of equipment in your being are your dopamine receptors – one of the main drivers of our decision making process.
Think about what an average person does throughout the day. If you are like me, you see a vision in your head of people constantly looking at their phone, checking social media, and then going home, where they either watch TV all night or play video games.
As various companies, products and people fight for territory within your mind – they have become more and more effective in overloading your dopamine receptors. And you are loving it. In fact, each time they effectively trigger this part of your brain – you feel great, and want more of it!
However, it comes with a cost. It’s a trade. Your part of the trade is that you want to feel great, and your willing to trade this activation of your dopamine receptors for the two most common, but also most valuable, resources you have to offer – your time and your money.
What if there was a way to maximize the value of your time, and still feel great?
The Hedonistic Treadmill
Products nowadays are incredible, overwhelmingly effective in triggering your brain in unnatural ways. Think about internet pornography, for example. Having sex is like a nuclear bomb on your dopamine system. It’s the ultimate reward life gives you for your efforts. It is, however, very unnatural to overstimulate your brain with this 1-2-3 times a day.
In response, our bodies are designed by evolution in such a way that is always tries to maintain homeostasis – a sense of balance between your various neurotransmitters and hormones. In this case, it will dial down the sensitivity of your dopamine receptors as a response to the over stimulation – which means you will need more and more stimulant in order to feel great. Which, in turn, will require your to trade more time and money for the same effect.
This is called the Hedonistic Treadmill. Essentially, it means that our minds always return to a baseline of happiness – no matter the size of our achievements. Think about a man becoming incredible wealthy, yet still being as unhappy as he was when he was poor. Our body adapts to the new normal.
Great for any company trying to sell you a product, but doesn’t sound like such a good deal for you, right? In fact, it should remind you very much like a cocaine addict that begs and struggles every day to come up with enough resources for an ever increasing shot. In my view, it is one and the same – although at a more insidious scale. You are addicted.
At some point, there is no product on the market anymore that gives you a sufficiently high enough dopamine boost to stimulate your under-sensitive dopamine receptors to keep you interested. At this point, it will have highly negative consequences on your mental well-being. And like a drug addict exploding at his family when he is not able to get his shot, you will become agitated, experience anxiety and/or fall into a full depression.
So what happens if you step off the treadmill?
These were the same questions that some random guy in Nepal struggled with. You might have heard of him, his name was Gautama Buddha. He observed the futility of infinitely running on the hedonistic treadmill and the inevitable suffering that resulted from it. And so he did what any self-respecting scientist would do – he experimented.
At some point during his experimentation he practiced extreme asceticism; He ate just a single grain of rice every day, sat under a waterfall the whole day and essentially killed his body in order to achieve enlightenment. A worthy experiment, and I am glad he tried and wrote about this horrible trial – because his conclusion was that is was stupid and not the correct way to happiness. His conclusion – henceforth – was that the issue lies not in the body, but in the mind. And for the mind to work correctly, the body must be well-nourished and maintained.
In addition – throughout history it has become clear that extreme asceticism carries a similar risk as hedonism. As the mind of a ascetic monk or priest is robbed of regular dopamine infusions, their receptors become more sensitive and eventually react extremely strongly to desire. In time, this will also corrupt the mind, and make it very sensitive to the rush of a power trip.
The resulting theory – then – became that of the Middle Way. Neither extreme hedonism nor extreme asceticism are the correct path to take. The best approach is a perfect middle between the two extremes.
However, you are not an ascetic monk, but more like a fat, obese cocaine addict. And you need to go on a diet. You need to get off the hedonistic treadmill and rewire your brain to become less sensitive to pleasure.
You need to stop having fun.
What this will achieve is that your brain will reward you once more for the natural behavior of humankind. You will find deeper meaning and fulfillment from socializing with others, setting up business empires and creating fantastical pieces of art. Ultimately, you will experience a larger sense of freedom, and truly experience life in it’s full glory.
First, you need to go extreme and rewire your brain back to normality. I’d like to propose you take this challenge; For the duration of a month, design your life in such a way to avoid as much pleasure as possible and follow through, and be amazed by the positive effects this has on your mental health:
- Stop constantly looking at your phone and/or internet. Set a maximum amount of daily phone or mail ‘pick-ups’ for yourself at regular intervals, and stick to it. For example, only look at your phone messages at 9.00, 13.00 and 19.00.
- Stop looking at pornography altogether. Preferably, even stop masturbation during this time.
- No unnecessary sugar-loaded foods in your diet. Stop feeding on chocolate, soda and sweets.
- No video games
- No other major addictive substances like smoking and alcohol.
- Observe and eliminate any other addictive substances you encounter in your life.
And fill your days with:
- Being bored. Seriously. This will happen. Just sit and think, meditate or relax. Your mind will need time to adjust to the new reality.
- Walking outside. Appreciate the beauty of all things.
- Talking to people.
- Spending time on goals you are been postponing and inspire yourself.
I promise you, the results will be phenomenal. After this initial detox, decide for yourself what a healthy amount of pleasure is that you can live with and stick to your new “diet”. Take care not to relapse. Good luck, and let me know the results in the comments below.