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Stimulant Junkie Childhood
I find that I am usually lacking the motivation to learn, to do my homework, to do my job, even to write blog article posts. But just recently I’ve been studying about neurology and I made the connection that maybe, just maybe I didn’t have enough dopamine to motivate me. As a child, I used to play Video games non-stop. That gave an astounding amount of stimulation to me. But now for a few years, I stopped playing video games thinking that it was a waste of time. I was wrong.
When I stopped playing video games, there were serious repercussions that I experienced. But I never understood how deeply my brain was imprinted by the games that I played. My brain needed games. It needed abnormally high amounts of stimulation. Regular tasks that I found boring, but had to do, became more boring . And if you aren’t interested in the subject that you are learning, you won’t learn it. You won’t retain it. But I found that I could quickly learn with terrifying speed about what really interested me. It’s scary actually. My brain has been wired from my adolescence to be a stimulant junkie.
Now I will tell you the hacks that I have found that will give you the will power to learn, whether you are a stimulant junkie or not.
To an extent, Dopamine can be equated as Motivation; and Motivation comes from what captures our interest. But what bores us does not provide enough dopamine for us to continue the task at hand. But this can be amended by artificially providing Dopamine. An example would be listening to music while working. For me, initiating almost any boring task is impossible without some music to go along.
Fast paced music strongly stimulates the brain, especially the Amygdala (?) that controls our emotions. The more pleasure derived from the music, the more dopamine is available in the brain to motivate you and improve focus. I found that music can become a distraction after a period of time, and I stop listening. But the motivation to do work persists for a short time, and the dopamine or desire to do work didn’t vanish the second I stopped listening to the music. Also I found that listening to the same music again & again became boring, and didn’t give me the dopamine high I was looking for. That shows that novelty is something that interests & motivates humans beings. Currently, Soundcloud is my go-to for chasing that music “high”.
Note that when performing work that requires deep thought and analysis, it is better not to listen to music for the majority of the work. Examples of work that requires deep thought & analysis includes article writing, brainstorming, mathematics, & reading. If you listen to music while doing work, you essentially cutting off the voice in your head and entering a type of “reactionary” mode that requires less forethought. And therefore you are interacting with your work much less. This makes music useful for speeding up and perhaps enjoying dull and repetitive tasks, but extremely bad for learning. For learning, it is essential that we interact, have a dialogue, muse & ponder about the task or subject. A more specific example is reading while listening to music. You’ll find that you will end up reading faster, but retain less. That’s because you are not actively engaged in understand what the book was conveying, but more likely taking the first contextual meaning that hits you. In contrast, reading in a silent environment allows you to have an internal dialogue with the book you are reading. In your mind you may re-intact or imagine scenes from the book, get stuck on one idea and muse about it, or feel as if someone is reading the book straight to you. To reiterate, The level of interaction dictates how much we learn, and listening to music takes away from that interaction.
Edit: I found that a good alternative to music is to introduce a white noise generator in your workplace, like this one that I personally use dialed down to the lowest fan setting. I find that white noise has a calming effect on me, extremely less distracting than music, while making me very comfortable on the task that I am completing. The recording of the sound of rain also works pretty well; I actually like it more than just pure white noise.
The environment that we work in strongly affects our work ethic, productivity, and output. That’s why many students like to visit the library to get working on their projects. The library acts as a barrier to distractions that may surface at home or through social media. Social media & distractions serve as a multi-tasking example, and as humans we are inept at multi-tasking. What we call “multi-tasking” is actually switching through tasks rapidly. Multi-tasking should be eliminated in favor of developing focus on the task at hand. Distractions only serve to break & weaken our focus.
Another way the environment affects our motivation is because as human beings, we tend to copy those whom we are around the most. For example, parents strongly imprint their behaviors and doings to their children, so children copy their parents. Likewise, Children are heavily influenced by the groups they follow in schools or gangs. And we can manipulate this copycat human nature by surrounding ourselves with people whom we want to be like. We want to be productive and positively motivated, so we should surround ourselves with people that are like that. And those kind of people can be mostly found in libraries.
Also, our motivation is strongly tied to our energy levels. So keeping energy levels high is of utmost importance. One factor to consider is the amount & type of ambient lighting that we work in. A straight up example is that a bright lit room keeps us awake more so than a Dark room. And the level of our wakefulness determines how much energy our brain has to work with; you can’t work while asleep. Darkness in general puts the brain to sleep. From personal experience, I had to sit in a dark classroom with overhead projector showing footage of a video we had to watch to learn about Software QA Testing. The problem I found as the class continued was that I kept falling asleep while watching the video-lesson. And when I did have my eyes open, I didn’t digest what was being taught. To reiterate, a room with good lighting is inducive for learning, and a dark room inducive for falling sleep.
Of course, there are other methods for artificially & naturally keeping energy levels up to motivate. Like stimulants & quality sleep.
Honestly, the only stimulants that I’ve ever used is Coffee and Chocolate. The funny thing is that coffee ends up distracting me to erotic thoughts, and what I call chocolate is actually 100% cacao. Deliciously bitter.
As an aside, let me just say that when taking anything internally as a short or long term nootropic, make sure that your digestive system doesn’t take a hit. What I mean is that if you end up getting an upset stomach from whatever you ate, the cons of a distressed stomach often always outweighs the benefits. You can’t get work done while sitting on the toilet. So taking into account food sensitivities is important to maintain productivity. The reason I mention this is from personal experience; if I don’t prepare my coffee exactly right, I may suffer from an upset stomach. Which obviously affects my productivity in the end.
Back to point, stimulants like coffee & Cocoa have limits to how well they work. Like any other stimulant, what comes up must come down. But the difference between coffee and harder drugs is that coffee does not damage the brain. If anything, there are scientific case studies showing that coffee lowers the risk of Parkinson’s & Alzheimer’s diseases. Note that in Parkinson’s, dopamine producing cells are destroyed by the disease. To contrast, Meth eats the fat & muscle off of the bones of a user’s body, and destroys the dopamine receptors in Brain. We need dopamine receptors in our brain to receive dopamine to become motivated; Meth destroys a user’s motivation!
Now, our body does develop a tolerance to coffee, and to other stimulants to that extent. With coffee, the more you take the less effective the caffeine is. Our body develops a tolerance against stimulant drugs to maintain homeostasis (balance) in the body. So what I’ve found to work for me is to limit myself to 1 cup of coffee a day, only during the mornings so that the caffeine does not disrupt the quality of my sleep; and Coffee works best in combination with another stimulus. Like music.
Power of Habit
Habits are hard to break. When a person thinks of an common addictions, most of the time it is drinking coffee or smoking a cigarette. And you know how hard it is to break a smoking habit, right? So what if the same was true for studying?
You can establish a habit for studying by studying same day, at the same time, and in the same environment. You need to keep as “same” as possible so that when you go to study, you automatically know unconsciously what you need to do. But if can not motivate yourself to study for long periods of time, then…
Start by timing yourself to do 10 minutes of work with pure focus. Then when you finish, relax a bit and reward yourself. This “break” locks your studying into a habit, because you find reward by studying.
Now when you get back to studying, slowly increase the time you study with pure focus. Let’s say 11 minutes. And so you keep repeating this until you can work for an hour or more.
The key thing is to build a habit, to habituate yourself to study. Habits die hard.
Sleep is invaluable for resetting our brains dopamine levels. When we forgo sleep, we are actually increasing the levels of dopamine in our brain to keep us going. Perhaps that’s why we get most creative at night? But I believe the consequence of skipping sleep is that like caffeine, tolerance develops so that more dopamine is required to provide the same results. And the only way to get back to a balance is to sleep more. But there are many of us who keep skipping on sleep, and we slowly end up collecting a “sleep debt”. The lack of sleep accumulates, and starts to permanently change the brain; even damaging it in certain cases.
Also, sleep deprivation has been observed raise a person’s risk for depression. When we are happy, we are motivated to get things done. But when we are depressed, there is a tendency for us to curl up & stay in bed. Our drive is closely connected to our emotions; Haven’t you noticed that our drive to do things and the clarity of thought diminishes the more depressed you are? Depression is a by product of our brain lacking the neurotransmitters and restoration that comes with sleep. That’s why our brain try’s to make up lost nighttime sleep with daytime sleepiness & micro-naps that interferes with our work during the day.
So the simple way to boost our motivation to get things done is simply by sleeping better.
When I am studying a dry subject, I always feel out of juice after the first 30 minutes. And it gets worse and worse as time progresses. But just recently I’ve learned to take multiple breaks in between my studies in order to exercise; specifically high-intensity agility training like Ping-Pong, although its usually just me playing against the wall.
Regardless, I’ve found that any form of exercise sharpens my thinking such that when I go back to my studies I feel wide awake and receptive to the task at hand, instead of falling asleep. That’s because the blood rushes away from the pre-frontal cortex while we exercise, but almost immediately falls back to the pre-frontal cortex when we stop exercising. This means that the time after you exercise is the best time to learn, and with the oxygen rich blood flooding back to your pre-frontal cortex you’ll find your focus and concentration is enhanced. And from personal experience, I do find that I am most productive after a good workout.
In the long run Exercise also helps with learning, because it is one of the most potent stimulators of BDNF (brain derived neurotropic factor) and neurogenesis. [link] BDNF specifically helps the survival of the brain’s neurons. BDNF is also active in the hippocampus, meaning that it helps us learn new thing and retain what we have learned.