Unlock Your Motivation: A Simple Framework for Managing Dopamine and Achieving Your Goals (Guest Article By WDWP #12)

Mar 20, 2023 | Guest Articles

Do you struggle with maintaining motivation and drive towards your goals? Perhaps you have experienced the high of accomplishment, only to fall into a slump shortly after. In this guest article by Gregory Esman (Wolf Pup #12), he presents a simple framework for dopamine management and how you can put up your own bumpers in place to potentially help you unlock your motivation and achieve your goals.

I was watching this talk between Dr. Andrew Huberman and Tim Bilyeu about dopamine, because I myself have a dopamine problem and wanted to further understand the neurotransmitter to then form my own solution. And I came to an interesting realization that helped me form a framework – Kind of like an action plan of sorts to help me get from where I am now to a more motivated, action-oriented place. Now Dr. Huberman said a lot, but he gave a few key examples that helped me catch on to how dopamine works:

He said:

  1. When you finish something, don’t have a big celebration. Really the best case scenario is if you just went onto the next thing, but understandably some people will want to celebrate, so if you do celebrate, just do something chill for a bit of time, then go onto the next thing
    • Meaning: Don’t toot your horn. Just pat yourself on the back lightly and move on.
      1. In other words, be careful not to release your stores of dopamine. Keep celebration low, so that you don’t release your levels of dopamine, and just go onto the next thing to further build up those same levels of dopamine.
      2. This taught me that the game is to constantly build up your dopamine and structure things in a way where you do not release it (or much of it).
      3. CCA Teaches: Next Play. “No matter what happens, go on to whatever you need to move onto next”. “Ok, you fumbled the ball. Whatever, next play, let’s go”. “Ok, you won the championship, now lets go to practice for next year. Next play, let’s go”. Get the essence?
    • Same idea here. Next play is all about how fast you can pick yourself up and move on. Dr. Huberman says the faster you do this, with the least amount of celebration, the better (from the standpoint of building dopamine).
  2. When you release your built up dopamine, you enter an area of low dopamine, which manifests itself in low drive and low motivation for a period of time until your dopamine levels start building up again.
    • Meaning:
      • You are not addicted to dopamine. You are addicted to the release of dopamine and perhaps keeping your dopamine levels low.
        1. Meaning if your dopamine levels reach a level higher than what you’re used to, you start feeling weird, and you look for a way to release the levels hence bring them back to levels you are used to.
      • High levels of dopamine are relatively better than low dopamine.
        1. I always thought that my problem was all the YouTube and gaming and such created high dopamine and that was the issue for my lack of motivation and work ethic. But that is not the issue. As we know gaming, YouTube, sex, all that – It releases dopamine. But how I took that was “Dopamine releases into your body”. What it actually seems to mean is that “your stores of dopamine release and reset”. Meaning your dopamine levels go from where they were to a relatively lower level.
        2. When you enter that relatively lower level of dopamine, your drive, motivation, and etc plummet (for a period of time until dopamine
          starts to build back up again).

And this all brought me to a natural understanding of the playing field.

The game: Keep dopamine high. The strategy: Mediate the times and the amount by which you release your dopamine and implement times in your day to day routine that build up on the reserves.

You know the saying “always be closing?”.

“Always be building your dopamine” lol.

All this lead me to the framework:

Understanding Dopamine

  • No release (of dopamine).
    • Builds higher drive + motivation.
  • Release (of dopamine).
    • Drop in dopamine. Reset per se. Lesser drive. Lesser motivation for a period of time.
  • ∴ Dopamine is something you want to structure how you do things around in a way that is constantly building it up if your motivation is low and you want it to increase.

Which means the general method of operation of people with higher drive / motivation is something like this:

  • No big celebrations.
  • Generally quick “Next Plays”.
  • Dopamine from effort / with effort.
  • Highly limit instances of dopamine release / amount of dopamine release.
  • Have instances where you constantly build dopamine.

Which then opens the playbook, or framework, to increasing your own motivation / drive as something like this:

  • At success / end of something.
    • Small celebration. Very chill.
    • Then fairly quickly move onto the next thing.
  • Think of finishing tasks as normal + expected. Normalize it to the point that you don’t feel the need to do anything either than just move on (next play).
  • Gaming, social media, porn, youtube, etc, don’t have a place here because they release dopamine. Remember we’re trying to keep it building.
  • Implement dopamine detoxes into your every day life.
    • Ex. 1hr after waking up, no tech. No music. Just do a dopamine detox during this time.
      • Ps. Dr. Jeff Spencer mentions that high performers start their day in a specific way. Meditation. Journaling. Sitting still. Going for a walk. This point above opens up the door for what Dr. Jeff Spencer talks about.
      • Also opening up the blinds to let the sun in when you wake up will help set up your circadian rhythm which will help you wake up at the same time every day.
    • Ex. 1hr before bed, no tech. No blue light. Etc. Just wind down.
      • Ps. People who have a method of operation to sleep well mention to cut the tech 1hr before bed. This point above opens up the door to these good habits, which will improve your sleep.

Result: Higher motivation + drive = more accomplished = more attained.

But. There is a tradeoff.

Any of you had a parent who just couldn’t stop? Who never celebrated their successes and just went to the next thing?

This may have manifested in them pushing you to not stop and never celebrating your own successes. You may not have felt like you were enough or like none of your accomplishments were good enough.

The tradeoff is this:

People who follow this framework will attain a higher level of dopamine. They will experience a higher drive but also the intention to keep their dopamine levels high. This creates a new normal. A new average, where if their dopamine levels dip lower than what they are used to, they will feel weird and will feel the need to bring them back up again.

Those parents who couldn’t stop working. Those people who never really celebrated their successes.

Well… They are addicts, too. And when those dopamine levels lower, they need to get another hit to bring them back up again.

Here’s the thing. The above is a framework to increase your own drive and motivation, but it is also the framework to become a workaholic, if taken to the extreme. These people are addicted to keeping dopamine high, and in the most extreme cases, put this as a priority above most everything else.

In the next section we will explore the inverse of the above, and what we will find out is that the inverse has its own set of problems. They are addicts, too. Porn. Drugs. Sex. Addicts addicted to the release of dopamine, or in other words, keeping dopamine low when it gets too high.

The Inverse

What’s interesting is I came to this research because I have an addictive personality. Gaming. YouTube for hours. My phone. Sometimes I can’t put it down. As a result my motivation and drive were extremely low. What I was surprised to find is that no matter which way you look, whether it be high dopamine, or low dopamine, people on both spectrums are addicts.

You can imagine my reaction when, comically put, my solution to increasing my drive and motivation is also littered with addicts, except of a different kind. Too much oxygen can kill you too, they say. In the interest of furthering our understanding, let’s explore the other side of dopamine.

A Framework For Becoming The More Traditional Definition Of An Addict

The general method of operation of people with lower drive / motivation is something like:

  • Huge celebrations.
  • Very slow “Next Plays.”
  • Dopamine before effort / without effort.
  • Prioritize instances of dopamine release over other things.
  • Have instances where you constantly release dopamine.

Which then opens the playbook, or framework, to decreasing your own motivation / drive as something like this:

  • At success / end of something.
    • Celebrate to the max! You deserve it!
    • Generally you don’t move onto the next thing quick at all.
  • Think of finishing tasks as “Amazing” or “An accomplishment”. Create that perception until you feel weird not celebrating whenever you accomplish something.
  • Phone, Social Media, Porn, Movies, Drugs. Are things you do quite often because they release dopamine.
  • You probably have times throughout your day where you release dopamine in your every day life.
    • Ex. First thing you do when you wake up.
      • You go on your phone. You smoke. Etc.
    • Ex. When you go to bed.
      • You go watch YouTube or play on your phone until you fall asleep. Etc.
    • Ex. During breaks
      • You’re on your phone. You smoke. You do drugs. Etc.

Result: Lower motivation + drive = less accomplished = less attained.

The tradeoff is that there is a higher drive to keep your dopamine levels low. It starts to feel weird when it is high, so sometimes you even have to stop what you’re doing to bring the levels back to the average you are used to.

But as Dr. Huberman said – When you release your dopamine, your motivation and drive lower too.

And so you can see why the inverse is fairly destructive.

So, which of the two frameworks do you find yourself closer to?

The workaholic, or the addict?

Just this may provide some interesting insights into your life.

Me personally, I am coming from “the inverse”; The addict. There comes a point where I need to do a dopamine detox. Quit all phone usage for two days and reset. But not only is this not easily repeatable, but it isn’t actually as helpful as if I kept my dopamine levels in check to begin with. I do not want to keep cycling from my life being so chaotic that I have to pull back to rigid means to reset myself (we naturally cycle from chaos to rigidity and back).

I do not want huge jumps from one ideal to the next. Instead I want to keep the highs and the lows a little lower than usual, and create a more normalized way of living that still incorporates those dopamine detoxes, which helps me keep my levels higher, but at the same time does not let me get to the chaotic extreme of requiring a full 2 day reset.

This Is Why I Personally Boiled Down My Framework To This:

1. Practice next play. Celebrations small, or none, and move on.


Before, I would have been stuck on this for an hour. Look at all those reactions! And Doc wanted to make it into an article. Soooo coooool! Now, I made a conscious effort to “next play” myself quick from it, and my resulting action was:

While previously I would have been like “Omg yeah sure, thanks Doc!”

This time I simply said “Absolutely” and closed Discord without really feeling the need to keep watching to see if more people react. Before I would have kept watching to see if more reactions rolled in.

2. Chill with things that create a dopamine release

Manifestation: This is a general idea that touches on the above point, but from a different angle.

Do less of the things that release my dopamine, because I am tryna keep it high. A.K.A. Do less things I am addicted to. Reality is I’ll need to release dopamine in other ways and I’ll just probably end up cleaning the house… Again… So no downsides there.

This isn’t fully stopping. This is simply doing less of them. Matched with the point below I should be able to keep at a healthy level where I don’t just go face first into tech after a few days.

By the way, here’s a business idea for those of you who like building stuff. Hire a bunch of lazy-ass kids who are on their phones the entire day and make a handyman / cleaning company out of that. Those kids will be some of the best workers you would’ve worked with, considering there is a no electronics rule during company time. Literally just have them leave their phones at home. They’ll find ways to get their dopamine release. It’ll just be in more productive ways.

3. Implement dopamine detoxes in my every day life

Manifestation: Chill 1hr after waking + 1hr before bed.

This is my effort to create lower highs within the chaos / rigidity space. I am incorporating those dopamine detoxes in my life daily, when I wake up, and before I go to bed. Not only will this improve my quality of sleep but will also give way to incorporate some of Dr. Jeff Spencer’s teachings about mornings, help me set up my circadian rhythm and overall get to enjoy more productivity, more hours in the day, and better sleep.

As a result I shouldn’t need to resort to a fully rigid schedule where I need to take two days off. Instead, I just have a little morning routine and hangout for an hour before bed. I could argue these are both result of a forcing function to do what I already wanted to do. Sleep has been an issue for me because I just do not go to sleep (because I’m on my phone). So having that 1hr chill time before bed would have been something I would have done already.

The Framework / Useful Forcing Functions Coming From These 3 Principles:

  1. Practice next play. Celebrations small, or none, and move on.
    • I get to practice restraint. And an interesting thing happens when you practice restraint. People come to you. So as a side effect you’ll probably attract more opportunities.
  2. Chill with things that create a dopamine release.
    • This just generally helps me keep the main goal in mind. The manifestation of this is that I am now motivated to not do things that release dopamine.
    • I bite my nails for example. This would help me think twice about doing that.
  3. Implement dopamine detoxes in every day life.
    • I can adopt the “no tech 1hr before bed” as a way to improve my sleep.
    • I can adopt the “no tech 1hr after waking”.
      • This opens the door wide open to incorporate Dr. Jeff Spencer’s teachings about morning routines
      • Also lets me let in morning sun to set up my circadian rhythm.
    • This gives me a great excuse to wash my dishes before eating.
      • Dopamine with effort type thing.
    • Or do your laundry.
    • Or clean stuff.
    • Or do the rest of the stuff your wife is always pissed at you for.
    • Because your goal is to incorporate dopamine detoxes into your every day life

And so with the principle saying “incorporate dopamine detoxes into your every day life”, you can find different ways to do that, and all of a sudden, you found a pretty good reason to do all that stuff you really didn’t have a reason to do previously.

TGA. Saving marriages one article at a time… Apparently.


Follow Greg on Twitter

Read other guest articles by Greg Wolf Pup #12:

Can you build a life out of things you enjoy?

Why having a longer time preference is king

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