Is Dopamine Fasting the New Productivity Fad in Silicon Valley?

When James Sinka, the co-founder, and CEO of SleepWell.ai initiates his dopamine fasting, he severs all ties from the world. He cuts down all his meal plans to zero, he totally ignores his phone or any other gadget with a screen, he minimizes socializing to a bare minimum. In fact, he doesn’t even make eye contact with the people in his surroundings and when asked he responds back with the following: 

“I am lucky that I have supportive friends, family, and partner. I tell them ahead of time: ‘I’m booking 17 November for dopamine fast; I’m sorry, you won’t hear from me. It’s not that I don’t love you, it’s that I have to do this thing for myself. Originally that was a little ridiculous but now they’re used to it. They’ll laugh it off and get it.”

The idea is to minimize the brain’s capability to develop dopamine by cutting down activities that increase them. Eating food, having sex, consuming alcohol, interacting through social media, using technology, socializing with people, etc. Some believe that when an individual cuts down on all such activities, it automatically resets their brain and makes them more productive in their everyday lives. 

Sinka who is currently 24 isn’t the only one who is following this trend. Dopamine fasting has become quite the productivity fad in Silicon Valley. It is trending and has made the frontline as a new wellness initiative. But has the concept resurfaced from the past or has it been recently innovated? Is there any science-backed theory to prove it? All such questions have led me to explore this new productivity fad. 

So without further ado, let us take a delve and understand about Dopamine Fasting more deeply. 

How the Dopamine Fasting Works

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter. Also known as the pleasure chemical, it makes us feel motivated to do things. Dopamine release is triggered in the human body by a series of unexpected events. 

Since every human body and mind works differently, hence the dopamine release works differently.

However, the triggers for dopamine release are generally constant among the global population. 

People at Silicon Valley believe that dopamine fasting has overstimulated the brain with quick hits. These quick hits usually come from checking up on social media, doing some other activity on the phone, consuming food or getting in a conversation with people within your surroundings. So, if a person can cut down on such pleasurable activities, it can decrease the dopamine levels in the brain. 

As a result, when a proponent keeps a fast and after it ends, they can enjoy them more and feel better. 

According to Sinka, the mind becomes numb to dopamine hits and develop tolerance the same way as someone who is trying to create tolerance against cocaine. 

 “You’re trying to undo that built tolerance. That allows you to reflect and to look at the bigger picture, to reassess. When you start to re-engage all those different stimuli, they’re more engaging than they originally were.”

says James Sinka. 

Dr. Cameron Sepah, a psychologist residing in the United States who commonly treats people working in Silicon Valley claims that dopamine fasting is a behavioral therapy to harness stimulus control. 

The idea is to remove the triggers for dopamine release from the routine so people shouldn’t waste them in short-bursts. Not only it optimizes performance but it also has increased health benefits. 

“Given the always-on, high-stress nature of their jobs, they are prone to addictive behaviors to suppress stress and negative emotions,” 

Says Cameron Sepah. 

So what about people who have their entire careers depending on social media?

Such a person cannot entirely avoid social media since most of his/her business dealing are conducted on platforms. It will be complete career suicide for that person. Hence, Cameron suggests that these individuals must take small abstention programs rather than going on complete dopamine fast. A fast worth a day where the person pre-informs his clients is a great way to start and rebalance. 

What are the Results? 

Cameron further concluded that the results of dopamine fasting were remarkably positive. He saw mood improvements, increased capability to focus, higher motivation and above all, great productivity. 

Also, people at Silicon Valley who followed and performed the Dopamine fasting observed that they had more free time on their clock. They could now take out hours from their schedule to plan ahead. 

Dopamine fasting also had a positive impact on their lifestyle and they also saw a positive change in their behaviors. When asked how Sinka feels about Dopamine fasting and how does he really keep it? 

He says, 

“A dopamine fast for me is just a synthesis of other types of fasting I’ve done in my life, aggregated together for a multiplicative benefit,” 

During his Dopamine Fast, Sinka focuses on three different areas. He reduces contact with the environment, he inspects his behavior, and he tracks & measures his chemical high.

He stops listening to music, he doesn’t speak to anyone and he does not use any electronics. He also stops eating and avoids consuming drugs & supplements. He also avoids artificial lights as well. 

How does he manage it? He says, 

“It is difficult and restrictive but at the end of the day, it is well worth it.”

So is Dopamine Fasting Just a Fad? 

While many held the belief that Dopamine Fasting is a great stress killer and can upscale your productivity, many still believe that it is just a fad that is short-lived and will eventually get nerfed. 

Joshua Berke, a professor of neurology and psychiatry at the University of California claims that dopamine has no definite relationship with the hormones that produce pleasure or happiness. He further states that there is no evidence at all that if one stops using smart technology or stops interacting with people can experience a reduced level of dopamine within their respective brains. 

Dr. Amy Milton who is currently employed as a senior lecturer in psychology at the neuroscience division at Downing College, Cambridge echoes a similar view. She says that she is unsure that it has anything to do with the dopamine system, it’s more of a reset by taking a look at what habits you’ve developed. The whole process stimulates the brain to help the person to break himself out of habit.

To her, the dopamine fasting is a technique which was once adopted by the Great Buddha, commonly known as the Vipassana meditation. The technique dates back to more than 2,500 years or more. 

The Vipassana meditators used to perform this meditation in order to abstain from killing, sexual activity, stealing, speaking falsely or consuming intoxicants. It rebranded itself in the “tech bro” life.  

In the End…

I believe what Sinka is doing right now is a modern take on Vipassana meditation and has given it new terminology. One way or the other, the method is making Sinka’s life better and engaging every day. 

Have you considered Dopamine Fasting or encountered such a fasting method to enhance productivity? If you’ve kindly please feel free to share your experience and let us know what you feel. 

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