Stimuli, consciousness, rewards and a successful life2022-02-26

The single most important distinction in life is to distinguish between an opportunity to be seized and a temptation to be resisted.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

A stimulus registers in consciousness, and leads to dopamine release, if it is new and/or if it is more intense or fits a goal. Individuals can lead more interesting, more “alive”, lives by pursuing novelty, by pursuing intensity, or by pursuing significance.

Winners in the game of life lead primary lives of purpose by ratcheting up intensity, going deep, becoming the best at something important. They use with caution and moderation occasional increased novelty and secondary life forays into less important things, going wide mostly to expand and advance their trajectory, as well as for rest and recreation.

Successful and resilient individuals have a “hard” tap (difficult to keep open, closes quickly) for rewarding neurotransmitters (dopamine, endorphins), but when it does open it releases a strong flow. They need to keep ratcheting up intensity or novelty, to open the tap. Since the effect is strong, they learn that it is worth waiting for, so they are adept at delayed gratification. Less successful and more fragile individuals have an “easy” tap (easy to keep open, closes slowly) for rewarding neurotransmitters, and when it opens it releases a weak flow. That is why they do not need much ratcheting up of intensity or novelty, to open the tap. Since the effect is weak, they need it all the time, so they are inclined to instant gratification. With aging, the amount of dopamine produced and released decreases for both scenarios, leading to decreased drive and decreased hedonia.

Being selective and deliberate about what stimuli one is exposed to and what activities one does become even more important in this digital age. The place to start taking control is by having an examined life, reflecting on your daily feelings and thoughts, journaling your activities and addictions. Our Life x Mind app provides a place to do that.

Live. Happier. Longer.