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Episode 18 — Marshalling Dopamine to Let You Accomplish Hard Tasks

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About this episode

Are you at the mercy of your brain chemistry? You can actually (and rather simply) impact your own brain chemistry without the use of drugs or substances, just by installing certain behaviors. Once you do that, the accomplishments start rolling in. Join us as we discuss how you can make your brain be your servant rather than your master.

Hosted by Dr. Nick Oswald featuring Kenneth Vogt of Vera Claritas.

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Marshalling

This is an automated transcript and may not be 100% accurate.

Intro/Outro: (00:09)
This is The Happy Scientist podcast. Each episode is designed to make you more focused, more productive, and more satisfied in the lab. You can find us online at bitesizebio.com/happyscientist. Your hosts are Kenneth Vogt, founder of the executive coaching firm, Vera Claritas, and Dr. Nick Oswald, PhD by a scientist and founder of Bitesize Bio.

Nick Oswald: (00:39)
Hello and welcome to the happy scientist podcast from Bitesize Bio. If you want to become a happier, healthier, and more productive scientist, you are in the right place. I am Nick Oswald the founder of bite-sized bio.com. And with me is the driving force of this podcast, Mr. Kenneth Vogt. I have worked with Ken for over seven years now with him as my business mentor and colleague, and I knew his expertise could help researchers like you. So we decided to start a podcast together. In these sessions we’ll hear mostly from Ken on principles that will shape you for a happier and more successful career. Along the way I’ll pitch in with points from my personal experience as a scientist, and from working with Ken. And today, we will be talking about how you can marshal dopamine to help you to accomplish hard tasks. So let’s bring in the man himself. Kenneth, how are you today?

Kenneth Vogt: (01:30)
I’m doing great. How are you?

Nick Oswald: (01:32)
I’m good. Thank You. Dopamine is pumping.

Kenneth Vogt: (01:35)
That’s right. You’re not. I actually got excited about this as I was looking into this topic and I started looking at studies with rats and mice around dopamine. And let me tell you folks, this might be day to day work for the rest of you, but not for me. I’m not a bioscientist. So it was quite fascinating though, and also quite instructive because you start to see, you start to see some patterns of how it is we do what we do. You know, we’re, we’re walking around in this body with this brain and it’s, it has a certain method of functionality. It works in a certain way. And so if you want to get certain results, then you take certain actions, the same thing you would do with any, any machine. You know, a machine works a certain way. You don’t fight the way it works.

Kenneth Vogt: (02:27)
You work with the way it works. And sometimes you can take great advantage of that. You know, I think about something like a, a combustion engine, you know, explosions sound like a bad idea, but, but if you can harness those explosions, all of a sudden you’ve got an internal combustion engine and you can drive on the freeway. So it’s the same kind of thing with this. So we’re going to look at what you can, what is happening to you that you find yourself doing things that just aren’t helping you at all. They’re just useless things. And yet you you’re drawn to them and you just keep doing them over and over and over. So it might be things like, like surfing the net or playing video games or, or checking, checking your phone every five minutes or, or more frequently, it could be things like eating junk food, or just laying on a couch or any number of things that you know, are not serving you.

Kenneth Vogt: (03:24)
Uh, and, and yet you just can’t seem to stop. And we’ve all done this where you pop up and go, where did the three hours go? I, all I did was wanted to watch one YouTube video and all of a sudden you’re, you’re on your 50th video and you don’t know what happened. Well, what happened was dopamine kept getting released. You got a little hit of pleasure every time from, from something simple. And you say, well, why can’t I get that from stuff that’s that I need to do? Why can’t I get that from taking out the trash? Why can’t I get that from writing that paper? Why can’t I get that from showing up early for work or, or whatever it is that you need to do? And, and the point is that you can, there, there are ways to take your, take your brain and program it so that it will get that, that pleasure, that happy feeling, that desirable feeling from things that you really want to get done, things that are valuable to you, and you see, that’s the thing about it. You know, your, your brain is actually pretty stupid. It just, it it’s not considering the future. It doesn’t think about your plans. It doesn’t, it doesn’t have any, any concept any more than your pets do than just what’s right in front of it. Is this making me happy or is this making me unhappy? That’s all it knows. And, and that’s what it’s going to operate in.

Nick Oswald: (04:54)
So you’re saying programmed ourselves to do these, these bad things. And that’s why,

Kenneth Vogt: (04:59)
Well, and I will even say that you didn’t even program yourself. You just allowed yourself to be programmed now. And in many cases, this, it just happened by accident. You know, it’s just, you know, you, you found out that watching TV is fine. Uh, and in other cases, you’ve actually been controlled by, by, you know, the commercial system advertising has gotten very, very, very good at connecting your pleasure centers. And the same thing is happening with, with, um, you know, app design and video game design and all that other stuff. Now that is not to say that this is a bad thing. You know, when you see a package of food and there’s a beautiful picture on it, that’s very appealing and you go, wow. Yeah, it looks good. I think I want to eat that and you eat it. And it is in fact, good.

Kenneth Vogt: (05:47)
Well, that’s not bad. You know, it didn’t, it didn’t trick you, it, it, but it did pass you. And, and now we’ve had a bunch of paths grooved into our brains and they’re in place. And for, for many of us, we’re finding this, just getting to be a real barrier. We realized I’m a slave to my phone, for instance, or I’m checking email every 10 minutes. It, I just, I just can’t seem to turn it off. And so there are reasons why that’s happening and more importantly, there’s ways to turn that around and relatively quickly.

Nick Oswald: (06:22)
It’s quite interesting when you, we, you know, when you say, it’s almost like it’s becoming more and more difficult to not get pulled into this, because as you kind of touched on there, if you look at how apps are designed now, then they really do parallel, deliberately parallel that kind of biology to make, to compel you, to get sucked into the behaviour of whatever the app designer wants you to do, which really, when you think about it, especially in the context of kids but productive adults as well, you know, we need to do stuff. So other than check Instagram or, or whatever, every day or every five minutes,

Kenneth Vogt: (07:00)
No, it all comes down to this. This was a, an evolutionary advantage. If, if we had some way of recognizing behaviors that that caused good things to happen right away, where you got an immediate benefit, that’s good news. And so that’s, you know, that’s what it means all about dopamine. Did they call it the pleasure, you know, the pleasure hormone, but it’s not really about pleasure it, what it does is dopamine manufacturers desire. It, it, it tells you, this is something you want to do again and again, and again and again. So talking about some of those studies that I was looking at, there was an interesting rat study where they implanted electrode in their brains of these rats. And what they would do is they would stimulate, they would hit those dopamine receptors. Whenever the rat did something you wanted to do. So they gave it a simple task of just pulling a lever.

Kenneth Vogt: (07:56)
And every time they pulled the lever, they get a little jolt of what would have happened if dopamine hit and they, what they found, what these rats would do is they would just sit there and pull that lever to pull it, pull it, pull it, pull it, pull it, they wouldn’t eat, they wouldn’t drink. They wouldn’t mate. They would just pull that lever until they fell over in exhaustion. And, and they wouldn’t, they wouldn’t even bother to eat, even if they were, even though there would have been other biological signals telling them they’re hungry, they’re thirsty. No, that, that dopamine thing was, was all powerful. It led them. Now, if they, if they would put food in their mouths, yeah, they would, they would, they would chew and swallow, but if they had to go get it, Nope, they would just starve. And it, I joke, I used to tell is that I, I’ve never been one to be very into video games, which might seem a little out of character for a computer science guy. But, um, the reason was because I felt like one day somebody was going to find me, start this in front of a screen. Cause I knew I would just be sucked in. It would be, it would be too compelling for me. I just, I wouldn’t stop. And, and sometimes we find that out after the fact, you know, we, we, we did it.

Nick Oswald: (09:18)
I remember that study from, uh, pharmacology university its interesting. Because when you, you know, you, you’re talking about this being the basis for why you do things that don’t serve you, if you like by accident, this whole thing is that is the basis for serious life-threatening, uh, addiction.

Kenneth Vogt: (09:38)
Right? Exactly. Yeah. We’ll talk a bit about addiction as we’re going along here, but I realized that could be a loaded word. I mean, a lot of people you say, Hey, you’re addicted to your phone, they’ll take offense and anyone who’s listening, please. We mean no offense by any of this addiction is a serious matter. And, and I’m not, I don’t want to downplay, uh, addictions that are truly life-threatening. But the fact is you can have nine life-threatening addictions and they’re still life harming and they will at least get in your way.

Nick Oswald: (10:10)
And the main mechanism is just the same though. That’s the, that’s the thing.

Kenneth Vogt: (10:14)
Well, and now you look at the other side of this and you say, well, you know what? I can see dopamine is just a problem. Maybe we shouldn’t shouldn’t have it. Well, they also, they also did a study where they blocked the dopamine centers. And what happened then is the rats to stop doing everything. I mean, they just, they just wouldn’t, they just stopped . They wouldn’t go on living is basically what happens. So we need dopamine. It’s important. But now, now that we know that it’s like, okay, well, what can I do? How can I make this brain that works a certain way and take advantage of that and make use of that so that it will drive me to do things that I, that are highly beneficial to me, not just in the short-term, but at my choosing, not, not biologically, um, uh, advantageous, but, but thoughtfully advantageous. One of the things…

Nick Oswald: (11:09)
I like where this is going, because really interesting when you think about it, that way, that of dopamine, dopamine, minds, and desires, not thing that you just have to, you know, I think we often think of, you know, addictions as we’re calling them here, minor addictions to your phone and so on. It’s just something that you, you kind of fight against and that, but you’re going to be addicted to something that’s the bottom line. And so choosing degrees, it’s about what you want. So what do you want to be addicted to? And then, and then, uh, and then reprogram. So I, I hope you’re going to tell us how to reprogram.

Kenneth Vogt: (11:46)
Oh yes, Absolutely. And when you think about this too, I mean, obviously there’s some addictions that are, are really awful, you know, if addicted to crack or you’re addicted to heroin, I mean, it’s, it’s, life-threatening, um, uh, other people are addicted to alcohol and for some of them it’s, life-threatening for some of them, it’s just life altering. Some people are addicted to chocolate and it’s, and it’s, it’s making them fat and other people that are addicted to chocolate and it’s not really impacting their life at all. Um, you know, other than they keep seeking out chocolate that, so there’s obviously degrees here and you know, where, where on that continuum, you make the slash for it’s now an addiction. I don’t know. And it doesn’t really matter. We’re going to use this for positive things. Now, um, one of the things that’s interesting about this is that, so, so when you look at this now, think of it as dopamine is not just about pleasure, but it’s about, it’s about forward-thinking desire.

Kenneth Vogt: (12:41)
It’s, I mean, it’s making you want to do something more. Well, it comes down to, um, what you believe is going to come next. That’s, that’s the interesting thing about it. So sometimes we find ourselves driven to do things, because we think when you, at least our brain thinks, it’s going to turn out positively for us. And yet it doesn’t turn out positively and intellectually. We may know that already. We already know that I really don’t need that piece of cake. That piece of cake is not going to do me any good. It’s going straight to my hips. Um, you know, I, and yet your brain is going, I want it, I wanted, I want it, I want it. It can’t stop. So it’s going to taste so good. Yeah, exactly. There’s that immediate gratification. I, you know, it, it’s, it’s a pleasant experience from the moment you put the fork in your mouth.

Kenneth Vogt: (13:33)
In fact, it might be before that, just smelling it might be enough. So it’s funny to think about this, but don’t mean it’s actually focused on the future, just the very short-term future. So we can see that as an advantage here, because most of us, if we have goals, if we have have objectives they’re, they’re probably more long term. And the, and the more long-term things aren’t going to be ultimately more beneficial. You know, the, if you want to lose 30 pounds, you don’t, you’re not going to lose that in the next five minutes, but you know that, Hey, if I will stick to a routine for the, for the next two months or three months, I can do this. And if you don’t have the dopamine to help you, you’re not going to get it done. It’s not going to happen. Now, the other thing about this is, is that these damaging the potential damaging impacts just don’t feed into the equation at all.

Kenneth Vogt: (14:30)
So the fact that, uh, if I drink myself stupid, I’ll have a hangover the next day, just dopamine doesn’t get involved in being concerned about hangovers. So it just doesn’t work that way. So you have to take charge of that and you have to control this a little bit. Now, here, here’s the next problem with it. So now got all right, we understand that the, that the brain is going to cannot use dopamine to drive short term short term desires. Well, when you get a hit of dopamine, it’s a little, a little pleasurable feeling and you’ll get it from anything that’s useful. I mean, if you’re, if you’re thirsty and you take, you take a drink of water, there’ll be, there’ll be a small hit of dopamine. Now, obviously that’s only so much pleasure. You might get more pleasure if that was your favorite, favorite beverage than if it were just water and you might get, you know, even more pleasure if it’s, if it’s, you know, a specialty thing that you rarely get new, really.

Kenneth Vogt: (15:31)
Um, but if you keep doing that, the body operates on homeostasis, that isn’t likes to keep things the same. And that’s why you’ll do things. Like if you start to get warm, your body will sweat then, try to bring you back down to the normal temperature. Or if you get cold, it’ll make you shiver to try and get you up to, to the normal temperature. It wants to be in that, that happy zone. And you can see from addictions that, you know, serious addictions that we know things about, like about opiates or nicotine or, or amphetamines or crack, or, I mean, anything like that, it creates a neurochemical reaction that significantly increases the amount of dopamine it’s released. So you can see why people get addicted to these things because they immediately get this just rush of, of, Oh my God, this is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

Kenneth Vogt: (16:33)
The problem is that because of that homeostasis, um, standard that, that your body and brain have, it starts to be not enough. You’re going to need more and more and more. There’s a, so the same amount of dopamine doesn’t get the same result because now see that sees it as normal. You normally have this much dopamine firing off in your system. Well, if I need something, if I want to have a change, I need more and I need more and I need more. And that’s why people, when they get addicted to things will make terrible decisions. Even it, even if they know it’s a bad decision, because that, that desire factor just can’t be stopped. It becomes all important. They don’t worry about it any more. I don’t care. I don’t care about tomorrow. All I care about is that fix today. And, and wow, it happens obviously on a grand scale when somebody has a, you know, detrimental, uh, serious addiction like that, it also happens on a smaller scale with other things. And it’s why you will find yourself there. I wanted to play one round of Mario Kart, and now it’s four hours later. What happened? You know, uh it’s because you kept getting, you kept getting that dopamine and it’s and you needed more. You wanted more, you got you. It’s like I had a little bit, I need more, I need more. I gotta, I gotta, I gotta feed that more deeply. So

Nick Oswald: (18:04)
It’s really important here at this point to look at, to kind of, for me anyway, you know, and looking at this, it’s really important to state that how, just how important this is in, in, in my life and your life. Everyone’s done that, that literally whatever you’re addicted to and, you know, small smally and the addiction, wherever you’re addicted to is literally what’s running your life and that as the result you’re getting. And so, you know, understanding that, and then being able to improve that, that will literally change. Doesn’t just, it’s not just a case of make you work better, or they’ll make you be able to exercise more and eat less or something literally transformed your life.

Kenneth Vogt: (18:53)
Right. And we all know people like this, people that they never miss going to the gym, or they never leave the lab unless it’s clean. And I mean, they, they just have certain habits that, that it seems like they, they never turn off. Do you think, how do you do that when you’re, when you’re dead tired, and yet you still do it. It’s because they’ve got that dopamine system wired in. And they, that, that hit of dopamine is worth it, man, it’s, it’s, it’s better than satisfying my desire for sleep. It’s better than, you know, stopping to get something to eat. I mean, whatever it is, it’ll be the thing. And so if you we’re all addicted, we need to face it. We all are addicts. Let’s just make sure we’re addicted to things that are serving us, and that will get us good long-term results. And let’s root out the things that are not getting us good long-term results.

Nick Oswald: (19:48)
And unless, unless you’re a super performing human being, a human being, which do exist, yeah, I’ve done something like this to, you know, look to the lights in this way to move themselves towards that. And why should a super, super performing human being, then it will be something that, you know, some things that you’re doing, that, that you can reprogram to get better results.

Kenneth Vogt: (20:09)
Absolutely. You can always take it up a notch too. Even these super performing people, they, they have a habit and you think I could have a better habit. And so they move it up to the next level. I read about one interesting study and I learned something, I didn’t know. Now this might be common knowledge to all of you by a scientist out there, but there is a, a, um, a strain of mice that is that’s used for research that is naturally high in dopamine. And it allows them to do some interesting studies with them. So, uh, they’re, they’re very triggerable and so they can get quick results to see, see what’s happening with that. So if you think about this now with yourself, now, we’ve already talked about how homeostasis starts to get in your way about dopamine and you end up needing more and more and more just to be satisfied.

Kenneth Vogt: (21:01)
And that’s, what’s got you trapped in a cycle. So imagine now what happens if you, if you flip that around, what, if you go on a dopamine fast where you route out of your, out of your, your daily routine, everything that creates dopamine now at the start of this, that’s going to sound horrible. Like, didn’t we just talk about how this is all about. It creates desire. I like desire. Desire feels good. It does feel good that I’m not taking away from that. But I, and I’m not talking about doing this for a long period of time. I’m talking about something you do for a day. That’s it get on a dopamine fast? What will happen is you will reset how much dope, how much dopamine you need to have that pleasant feeling. And you will find that you will get that pleasant feeling from a wider variety of things, because, you know, you actually do get pleasure from doing some of the things that you find highly valuable.

Kenneth Vogt: (22:05)
You just don’t get as much pleasure from that. As much as much of that, that motivation as you do from doing other things that are not that productive, you might think I hate answering email. You actually don’t hate answering email. You love having email answered. So, but it’s not as much fun as, you know, checking the text messages every five minutes. Well, let’s, let’s get, but it’s fun enough. So if you, if there’s an absence of these, of these negative things that are addictive to you, then whatever dopamine you get feels good. So I give you an example of a couple of things that happened in my life. I did something where I, I was off sugar for, for 60 days and it reset my, my reaction was sugar. Now, like everybody who likes sugar. Yeah. You get a little, little dopamine hit when you have sugar.

Kenneth Vogt: (23:07)
And you know, the more sugar you have, the more you get, but you get to the point where you need more sugar to get a dopamine hit. So after not having sugar for 60 days, I had a piece of red pepper just to, you know, just the red pepper. It was so sweet. I almost could need it. It tasted to me like sugar had been heaped on it because I, I reset that dopamine, um, that dopamine response. And so I was able to have a totally different experience. Lettuce tasted sweet, uh, you know, things you wouldn’t have. Wouldn’t associate with sweetness tasted sweet to me because I had a, you know, I had a connection of sweet and, and pleasure already wired into me so that the same thing can happen with anything else you do, or another time. But many, many years ago, I used to really be into wine, and, and I was having better and better wine.

Kenneth Vogt: (24:04)
And I got to the point where I’d had a, I had a bottle of wine that costs a hundred dollars and I’m talking about 30 years ago. And I was like, you know, this could be better. And I thought, wait a minute, I’m having a hundred dollars bottle of wine. You know, it would just be a $250 bottle of wine now, whatever, and I’m not enjoying it because I’ve only been having great wine and I’ve been having it all the time and, you know, and having a two or three times a week. And I, and I ruined something that was a positive experience for me and I, what I did is I just stopped drinking wine for six months. So I could reset my palette and still be able to enjoy a $20 bottle of wine. So it’s the same kind of thing with this.

Kenneth Vogt: (24:49)
So now we’re going to talk about two ways that, that you can hit the dopamine reset button for yourself. That will open up the open up the opportunity for you to get that same dopamine response from harder things. But things you have to do not just have to do the things you really want to do, but they’re not going to be easy, but you know, they have longterm benefit for you. So the first thing you’ve got to do is you just gotta, you gotta have this total dopamine fast. And to do that, you gotta start by, you got catalog for yourself. What are the stimulants for dopamine for you? You gotta figure it out, you know? Cause, cause I can’t tell you what things you get pleasure from, but you know, you know what, where you’re spending your time too. So, you know, if it’s not obvious to you that, Oh, I don’t think I get pleasure from checking my phone.

Kenneth Vogt: (25:41)
Well, do you do it a hundred times a day then? Yes you do. Now I know you may. And this is a one of those things where like, you don’t have to tell me about it. You don’t have to tell Nick about it. This is just between you and you and you. But when you recognize it’s something keeps, keeps calling. You keeps compelling, you keeps impelling, you that’s one of those things and you got to root it out. So make a list of those things. And it could be checking your phone could be checking your email. It could be surfing the web. It could be watching YouTube videos. It could be watching TV. It could be Netflix. It could be anything, you know, and I’m just, it might be music. It, it might be video games. It could be social media. Um, anything that you find yourself compelled to keep doing, maybe for some people you’re going to find, Hey, it’s cooking.

Kenneth Vogt: (26:32)
I guess I keep finding myself being compelled to make more stuff and make more stuff. And the refrigerator is full, but I’m still making more stuff. You don’t look for patterns like that in your life. You know, I’m rearranging my sock drawer for the third time, you know? Okay. I see a pattern here of something that I keep making. I gave him the neat and things up, right. Or I’m, I’m cleaning every day. Something that could, that needs to be cleaned once a week. You know, uh, the look for everything that you can find once you’ve got that list, get the priorities in mind. What’s really, really put having an impact on you. Now, when I say priorities, I mean, you might check your phone a hundred times today, but it doesn’t really take that much of your time. But if you’re checking your email, which means reading emails and doing that every 10 minutes and you’re rereading emails and rereading emails, okay, now that’s a bigger problem. So look for the thing that’s really having the impacts on you. Look and look at those things.

Nick Oswald: (27:29)
Would you agree that even those, those small things of, uh, of, I know that’s a habit that I really have is checking emails a lot and it’s not that I’m going to, um, I’m going to read all the emails or would that kind of be a rabbit hole. You get pulled down until you get, you know, you were, you didn’t have a, um, you didn’t intend to, but you get sucked into a situation. But even that distraction, cost of routinely checking, it breaks your focus on the important things.

Kenneth Vogt: (28:03)
Yes, that’s definitely true. If you’re, if you’re, if your continuity is being broken by something, it’s, that’s a problem. Now you may find too that maybe you’re thinking, you know, it’s not that compelling to me, although I do it a lot. And what it is is the other side, what is it you’re avoiding? What is it you’re using that little thing to, to replace. So you’re, there’s some you’re afraid of, and that’s, that’s a different reaction, but you’re, you are picking that thing because it does give you a little bit of that dopamine hit. So whether that, like you say, it’s just the distraction of just peeking at email or something important might come in and, and, Oh, by the way, that’s, that’s another thing that is something to take note up. Um, your brain will pay attention to known pleasures. I know if I eat chocolate, I’m going to enjoy it.

Kenneth Vogt: (28:52)
But what it really likes is surprise benefits. So that’s what it’ll compel you to look for a text message. Maybe there’s something important. You know, that’s why you’ll look for an email. Oh, maybe maybe a sale came in, maybe, uh, you know, maybe, uh, something, something good happened. Maybe I got a positive response somewhere. So the looking for that, maybe something positive is very compelling. So you’ll notice you can get out, get caught up in that. So not after you’ve done this and you realize, okay, here are the, here are the stimulants that things that, that stimulate me with with potential desire. Okay? Now there’s two approaches we can take. The first approach is I want you to take an entire day 24 hours where you cut yourself off from all of that stuff. And I mean, all of it, all of it, you put your, you turn your phone off, you turn your computer off.

Kenneth Vogt: (29:54)
You don’t engage in any of it. No music, no junk food, no social media, no internet, no anything. Now the first thing that’s going to happen to you is you are going to be bored. Now I’ll bet you that for most of your life, you have your boredom as an emergency. It is the end of the world. Boredom, um, is it seems like it’s just not acceptable. And it feels like something I can’t survive. Well, you can, it’s not that big a deal. And in fact, boredom can be used. It can use to propel you to do things that you don’t normally find pleasurable. But now because you’re bored, well, maybe doing my taxes isnt going to be so bad. Maybe now cleaning the garage. Yeah. Okay. Let’s do that. Cause I’m bored. Maybe, you know, it, it’s a task you’ve been avoiding in the lab and you’ve got, you know what, I’m going to do it.

Kenneth Vogt: (30:59)
And I’m not, I’m not being distracted by checking emails. I’m not being distracted by, by, you know, being on the internet. Okay. I can do this. And what you will find then is as you’ve, as you’ve basically, you’re starving yourself of dopamine. Now, when you start doing these other things, these things that really, that you really want to get done that are important to you. You’re going to find out, Hey, I’m getting a little pleasure from this. And I, and I want to be clear. You’re going to get a little pleasure from it. It’s not going to be like, Oh, this feels just like, you know, playing video games. No, it won’t feel just like, but in that moment, because you, because you have the lack of it a little bit is going to feel good and it will be enough. It will be enough to keep you going.

Kenneth Vogt: (31:48)
And it’ll be enough to help you set some new habits. So just to give you some examples of things you might do in a situation like that, maybe you’ve got a paper that you’ve been stalling on writing. You got the data, but you need to write it up and you just haven’t done it. Well now, Hey, I’m not being distracted, but I’m not answering the phone. I’m not answering. I’m not, I’m not responding to emails and texts. I’m not doing anything else. I can do this. I can put my focus on. Maybe you’ve got some important papers you need to read. Well, now’s the time to do that. And maybe, maybe it’s just time to do some, some cleaning, decluttering, you know, getting, getting your, your work area in, in better order. Well, this is the time to do that. Maybe you need some more input in your life and needs.

Kenneth Vogt: (32:33)
There’s maybe there’s some courses or seminars you need to, to sign up for or attend. Um, okay, this is the time to do that. Maybe you need to get some exercise. This is the, this is when you can install that. And so what are you allowed to do when you’re on the dopamine fast? Well, your body’s do anything except your your stimulant list. So you might walk, you might meditate, contemplate. However you want to, you do your things. Maybe you want to write in a journal to think about it. Now, when I say, write in a journal, a dummy, don’t turn your computer on and start typing on it. Cause you know what will happen next? You’ll be, you’ll be on the internet and you’ll be in email. And so actually, write, you know, just to do it by hand. So this works and it, it changes.

Kenneth Vogt: (33:22)
It changes things for you. If you, if you have the experience of doing this some kind of fast like this, and then pay attention to what these, these high value tasks do for you, how they feel, how they feel different. Because before they might’ve felt like just drudgery, but now it’s like, well, since I was bored, I’m not. So it’s not so much drudgery. You might’ve felt fear. I’m afraid to start this project, but now that I’m not distracted by other things, I can go, wait a minute. What is this project really about? What are really need to do? What’s my first step. And that’s not so scary. So if you’ve been suffering from that fear about getting certain things done, or if you’ve been up and weighed down by the drudgery of it, this is your way out. This, this will make you have a different experience with these things.

Kenneth Vogt: (34:14)
And you’ll start installing new habits and guess what? You’ll start having patterns and how of getting that dopamine from these things that are good for you that have long-term benefit for you. Now, you may look at this and say, I, this sounds great, but I just cut myself off from every stimulant I in one day I can’t do it. I can’t not answer my email. I can’t not look at my phone. It’s it’s. I mean, even if I did it on the weekend, I mean, I’ve got kids, I got things going on. I get that. I can’t ignore. All right. Maybe you can’t do that. So here’s a second approach. I remember we made that stimulant list. I want you to look for the thing that was, is the most compelling. The one that is the most in the way say, okay, one day a week, I want you to cut that one thing out. Just that one thing, it’s got to be an important thing. It’s gotta be a big thing, but, and it needs to be every week, you know, it’s gotta be every Sunday. This is the case. Every Sunday, the computer is off. End of story. And the same thing will happen. You’ll find that, that, that fast thing, even though this is only a partial fast, we’ll still make more important things to you sweeter. You’ll you’ll enjoy them. You’ll enjoy them more.

Kenneth Vogt: (35:35)
So now another thing you can do with either way is what about this? How about if you have a reward system, what have you figured out? Okay, there’s a, there’s a high dopamine activity thing that I got already. I know what it is and I’m not going to do it, but I’m going to make the deal with myself that on my, on my day, where I’m fasting, I’m going to, I’m going to use that as a reward. In other words, if I do the things that I should do, the things that have long-term benefit to me for an appropriate period of time, I’ll reward myself, with a certain amount of time of this high dopamine activity. Now I’m assuming that this is an activity that is not detrimental. Do you know what I mean? If, if you’re an alcoholic, the answer here is not, Oh, I get to take a drink because I worked hard today.

Kenneth Vogt: (36:26)
That’s not what we’re talking about, but I’m talking about if, if it’s a situation where I know I waste too much time looking at YouTube, well, here’s the deal. If I do two hours of this important work today, I will reward myself with, you know, 15 minutes or 30 minutes of YouTube time. And here’s the other thing it’s not, I put in two hours of work. Oh, well, I get to go to YouTube. It’s like, no, you put into our source of work. And at the end of the day, you can have 15 minutes of YouTube. You put in four hours of work. Well, now you can have 30 minutes of YouTube at the end of the day. So whatever it is that it’s like, okay, I’m going to, I’m going to get this reward. I don’t get it until 6:00 PM, no matter what, but it’s up to me, how much reward I get because I do, I, did I get two hours of the useful work done or did I get six hours of the useful work that it’s up to me?

Kenneth Vogt: (37:27)
And then when it comes time to, for reward time, you got to set an alarm for yourself and you got to live with it. And I tell you what, when the alarm goes off, it’s gonna hurt. It’s gonna hurt. I don’t want to stop. I’m feeling so good. Dopamine is flowing, it’s like, you gotta do it. You gotta do it. And you know, it’s a matter, it’s a matter of self discipline. And here’s, here’s how you beat that. And I think we’ve talked about this before. It’s as a decision versus a choice here, this is not a choice anymore. It’s not a choice. Whether or not you will be the alarm. The choice was made when you set the alarm. That’s done. So now it’s decision time. Am I going to honor myself or not? No, I I’m. I am hopeful that most of us will SUSE on ourselves that, that we’ve got enough going on enough. Self-respect that, that’s what we’re going to care about.

Kenneth Vogt: (38:23)
So another, another thing I want to add into this as something to think about if we’ve done this right? But if you allow dopamine to decide what you’re going to do today, the order of your tasks for the day, you’re going to make a bunch of months of poor choices on any given day. You know what you need to get done, figure out what’s the hardest thing you need to do. What’s the most demanding thing. What’s the thing that in fact, the thing you least want to do, do that first today, do that first. Now I realized that, well, today I got to go get a root canal while the appointments at two o’clock. I can’t do that at first thing today. All right. So I’m not talking about things like that, but you know, the, on your list of to-dos for today, what’s the hardest. So at this point, before you set some, dopamines the signals off from doing other things that you would get more pleasure from, immediate pleasure from do the hard thing, do that hard thing and get it over with, and I promise you, you will still get your dopamine hit. You will be that the relief that comes from finishing a hard or, or, um, distasteful activity, one that you don’t really want to do, but you know, is useful to you. It’s worth it.

Nick Oswald: (39:37)
That’s definitely a good one. So a couple of things that occurred to me that Ken, um, one is the, uh, is that when you were talking about, um, when you’re talking about reinstalling, um, or, you know, using the book, the boredom to propel you to, towards the things that you you want to do. So suddenly they become more appealing. One thing that that might help with that is what we’ve talked about before is in slowing down and allowing yourself the time and the attention it takes for you to register. The pleasure of that actually comes from that task. Because a lot of the times we just, we just zip through tasks and, or zip through activities, and don’t really take it know, take the time to register the pleasure that the dopamine is giving us.

Kenneth Vogt: (40:29)
Yeah. It said, take time to smell the roses thing. That’s a, that’s a great point.

Nick Oswald: (40:33)
But even the roses, can even be in writing that paper, you know, paper can, you know, cleaning your workstation, doing exercise, that there’s some, you know, even if it’s not your number one choice of, uh, of, uh, dopamine stimulant it, there are still, you know, there are still some pleasure to not. And so if you pay attention to that, it will amplify it.

Kenneth Vogt: (40:55)
Yeah, absolutely. So, yeah. So the there’s two parts to this. You would, what you’re discussing there is, is the quality of the pleasure, but pleasure is pleasure. Dopamine is it’s just a molecule. It doesn’t there. There’s not a, there’s not a super dopamine. It’s just one thing.

Nick Oswald: (41:14)
Sure. But, well, in my thinking, the more you register the pleasure of the more, um, you know, that’s going to create a feedback loop that will make it easier for you to install that as a, as a habit that you like. Right?

Kenneth Vogt: (41:26)
Yeah. I think you’re making a different point that than, than I’m reaching for what I agree with what you’re saying. And on top of that, any pleasure is pleasure. So don’t discount the fact that you just finished writing a report and saying, well, I don’t like writing reports. Don’t you feel good about that? You can feel good about being done and feel good about it, and we’ll allow that to be, yeah. Now the other side of this, that, um, the, so we have the, the, the dopamine pleasure and desire side, the other side is, is the guilty pleasure stuff. So, um, there are things that, like I say, they’re guilty pleasures versus things that are damaging habits. So if like, you know, if you laughingly say I’m addicted to chocolate and you have chocolate more than the average person, and it’s not giving you diabetes, you know, okay, it’s a guilty pleasure.

Kenneth Vogt: (42:23)
And perhaps it’s making you carry a few more pounds than, than you. Then you have to, you may look that guy. Yeah. Okay. That’s a trade off. I’m willing to accept, but there are other situations where like, no, my blood sugar is at 300. I cannot do this. I can’t, I just can’t do it. So, you know, recognize the difference between the guilty pleasures and the damaging habits, and then use this method, you know, put yourself on the fast. Now I’ve, I’ve known some folks that were adult onset diabetics, and the notion of having a sugar fast just makes them sad. You know, you gotta get, you gotta get past that. You can’t just go, Oh, I wouldn’t like that. Well, I’m, I’m here to tell you, nobody likes fasting. I don’t care what kind of fast you’re doing. You’re doing a food fast or liquid fast, or you’re doing a habit fast like this.

Kenneth Vogt: (43:18)
Nobody likes that. However, if, if you’re a little more forward thinking, you can go, I see the benefit of this. And you’ll get to where it’s not so much that you enjoy the fast, but you so enjoy the results that you’ll do it. And it’s why you will get up early in the morning and go to the gym or go run you. Don’t, nobody likes getting up before they have to. You’d like to sleep another half, hour or an hour. Sure. But you do, because you know that, I know I’m going to feel good after this, this run is over our fact that I might feel good, five minutes into this run. I might feel good. Just getting out of bed. All right, I’m up. I’m doing it. You know? So give yourself that chance, get past that. And don’t, don’t be sitting there laying in bed going, should I get up or shouldn’t I get up? That’s not the answer. You know, if you’ve already decided, if you’ve already made this choice that you’re going to do this, it’s just decision times. Are you going to honor yourself in that? You know?

Nick Oswald: (44:19)
So that, that is the elephant in the room here. The reason why people don’t do this and generally, and is that the fast is painful. Sure. Which is the exact opposite of continuing to eat. The chocolate gives you the, the, um, and it gives you the pleasure, fast gives you pain. And so that is why most of the world stays in that stay stuck.

Kenneth Vogt: (44:47)
Well, and you realize too, how little pain it takes for somebody to give up. When you start to realize, you know what, it’s not that bad. It’s not that bad. It’s, it’s not a knife in my heart. You know, I, I’m not racked with pain over this. It’s just like, ah, that’s mildly annoying. So start seeing the level and going, you know what? I am willing to take a little bit of discomfort for, for big time. Long-term benefits.

Nick Oswald: (45:14)
I mean, I have done, I haven’t done this. I’m going to actually, I have done a, uh, a fast, a water fast for, um, five days and the food afterwards tastes amazing. And so you thinking the rest in 3d with all, definitely all of the different kinds of stimuli that will be quite interesting.

Kenneth Vogt: (45:37)
Yeah. And you can see, you can apply this in all kinds of ways in, in, in your work and your life is there’s lots of ways to go with it. So here’s one of the thing to think about too, just to, as a helper, look for things that are catalysts, what is it that’s causing you to mindlessly fall into a dopamine inducing short-term pleasure mode. And it might be, it might be a device. It might be a phone or a, or a smartwatch or a computer. It could be a vending machine. It could be a bar restaurant. It could be your television. It could be watching the news. It could be certain people there. These things are triggers for what happens, you know, like I never go out and get drunk and stupid, except when I’m with Bob. Okay. Bob, is your trigger stay away from that? You know? Uh, or it’s like, it’s too easy that if that vending machine wasn’t calling my name all the time, I would need candy bars, you know? Alright. Or if that, if, if I would walk a different way to work, I wouldn’t go past the same, the same cafe where I get my, my triple slurp latte with, with syrup, you know?

Nick Oswald: (46:54)
And what about, what about calculus that are a bit more complicated? Like, uh, people who have, uh, you know, eat foods, junk food in as an emotional response, for example.

Kenneth Vogt: (47:07)
Yeah. There, there, again, w th whatever it is got to get the catalyst out. So like for the junk food, obviously get out of your house and I’m here to tell you too many people do this go, you know? Well, as soon as I eat those, these three bags of potato chips, that’s, it’s over no, give yourself the pleasure of crushing those potato chips and putting them in the trashcan. Yes. You wasted some money, feel that pain. This is, this is the cost that you had to pay. It’s good for you to recognize that this came at a cost and now I’ve, now I’m invested. I just threw away $8 worth of potato chips, you know? So, uh, you know, now, now you, you can stick with it. And now when you have that non-thinking, Oh, I think I want to grab a snack. Oh yeah.

Kenneth Vogt: (47:56)
Or I don’t have any potato chips. Let me grab a carrot. You know, let me have a piece of celery. Let me have an Apple. And I’m not saying to completely deprive yourself. It’s not like, no, I can only have a glass of warm water. If I, if I have a desire for, for junk food, like no, you know, give yourself something, you know, but, but make it better. You don’t have, and, and reward yourself with things. You might listen to that and carrott or celery, how dull was that , well, get some, get some berries. Oh yeah. That’s a lot more expensive. Yeah. You’re worth it. It’s not that much more expensive either. You know, you can, you can make a little bit of investment in yourself to make this stuff easier for you, better for you.

Nick Oswald: (48:38)
Well, for a the price of a beer or a coffee, you can, uh, you can buy a fair amount of berries. So

Kenneth Vogt: (48:43)
That’s a fact, and you don’t, you know, what you like, you know, maybe it’s figs, maybe, maybe, maybe you really do like a banana, you know, well, fine, whatever you like me, it’s a handful of nuts, you know, some something healthy and healthier, but I mean, those are just some examples, you know, you might say, well, how am I going to ever get the pleasure from watching, you know, watching a video? Well, I don’t know, pick up a book and start reading. Reading can be pretty compelling too. And I mean, and I don’t just mean tactical reading, get yourself a novel, you know, read some fiction, sometimes get read for enjoyment. Sometimes, sometimes he’s like, I have so much technical stuff to read. I, I can’t even envision reading for pleasure start envisioning it.

Nick Oswald: (49:30)
So I would say, I do know people who use, who read to excess, read access,excess read for pleasure to excess

Kenneth Vogt: (49:38)
Again, you know, if that’s one of your triggers, that’s the thing you stay away from.

Nick Oswald: (49:42)
I think that, I think that, um, that, that for a lot of people reading has this kind of, um, hallowed status that, you know, there’s no, there’s never too much, but I just, just thought I would throw that in there.

Kenneth Vogt: (49:58)
That’s true. That trashy novel is really not edifying you too much.

Nick Oswald: (50:02)
It’s just the same as watching a YouTube video or worse, So you can get quite some very, uh, useful YouTube videos. You can watch. Sure. Well, the YouTube addict don’t do it.

Kenneth Vogt: (50:12)
Yeah. Well, that’s it. I think you’ve made, you’re making a very good point there that, you know, when it’s, it’s an addiction for you, you know, what, what would be perfectly safe for me might be detrimental to you and vice versa. So, you know, come on. Know, yourself, it’s, it’s, it’s a good thing.

Nick Oswald: (50:31)
Yeah. And so, so one thing you might have mentioned this by, I didn’t catch it, but okay. If I’m going to do this denying all stimulants thing how long for

Kenneth Vogt: (50:42)
I’m talking just 24 hours just the day and watch the difference. And it’s the kind of thing where you can just monitor yourself and see how often do I need to do this for you? You know, you might need to do it once a year. You might need to do it once, once a quarter, you might need to do it once a month, but, you know, you’ll, you’ll see what it is. If you, if you don’t want to do the full-on thing, well, then just do something weekly where I’m going to, I’m turning off the computer every Sunday, or I’m, I’m not using my phone every Saturday or, uh, you know, on whatever it turns out to be, you know, I’m, I’m on, I don’t answer emails on Fridays end of story, and we just leave it at that. Um, and then just make sure you do it every week and then pay attention, pay attention to what things start to feel better to you.

Nick Oswald: (51:35)
Okay. And you think that by doing that for that total detox for 24 hours, that will make a difference.

Kenneth Vogt: (51:42)
Absolutely. Make a difference. Now how long it sticks, you know, is it comes down to how addicted you are to things. So, but you’ll, but what we’re trying to do here is to give you the F to see the difference. It’ll be enough for you to realize something is not the same. I can do something right now. Something long-term that I’ve been, I’ve been procrastinating on for a long time that I could not do yesterday. What changed? And this is what’s changed. Nice. And once you’ve, once you get that experience, so you’re going to look at this and go, Oh, that was good. That was, that was worth it. And now all of a sudden you’d be going. I think I’m going to do this all the time. And there are people like that. It’s almost like a joke that, that, that only, only the rich and famous can afford to not have a cell phone, right. Because they have an assistant and they have a cell phone. Um, but you know, they can be free of that kind of thing.

Nick Oswald: (52:34)
It was only a decade ago that I didn’t have a cell phone. That seems weird.

Kenneth Vogt: (52:41)
Isn’t it Something? To wrap this all up dopamine is a fact of life. So make sure you get it from things that are benefiting you rather than from things that don’t benefit you or even harm you. So that, that was our message for today. Anything you want to add, Nick?

Nick Oswald: (52:58)
No, I think, I mean, other than I’m definitely giving this a go. Uh, I think that it’s, uh, it’s really nice to get down to, um, you know, to, to touch on the science behind this. Uh, I’m sure we’ve simplified the mechanisms and, and everything. There’ll be some new that normal way more about this than we are, but as a basic model for looking at this and applying it, and that’s really, as we’ve said before, that’s really what we’re talking about in these podcasts is basic models that you can manipulate to, um, in a good way to, um, to change things to, towards the way that you want them to be. So as a basic model that I think this is really powerful and it kind of almost personifies what the driving force is and allows you to, uh, to then choose how you want to direct that, um, passion.

Nick Oswald: (53:50)
So, um, yeah, this is, this has been really useful. And so thank you for that. So, um, one, before we head off, um, just to remind you that, uh, everyone that we can, you can find all the episodes for this podcast. Uh, bitesizebio.com/thehappy scientist or one word. Um, you can, if you haven’t done so already, please pay particular attention to episodes one to nine. Those are the kind of foundational concepts that we talk about a lot during this, um, these podcasts and that kind of give you some really, uh, useful frameworks for viewing what’s going on in your world and how your world works. Uh, and then you can also, if you, if you enjoy this, if you think that if this is, this can help you to become a happy scientist, that these concepts then come and join us, uh, at, uh, facebook.com/thehappyscientistclub. Uh, and they will be covering these concepts in different ways, with different exercises and so on. Um, and, uh, I think you’ll get a lot of it. I should say that this isn’t won’t necessarily make you become a happier scientist. Maybe you already are, and you just want to become a happier one. So that’s covers all pieces. So again, Ken, thank you very much for, uh, another great episode here. Thank you, Nick. And, uh, we’ll see you all next time. All right, bye now,

Intro/Outro: (55:21)
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