Why Too Much of A Good Thing Can Be Bad
I just finished reading the book Dopamine Nation, by Dr. Ann Lembke. It’s about how our modern society is full of addictive pleasures that hijack our brain’s reward system and make us unhappy in the long run.
Dopamine is a chemical messenger that signals pleasure and motivation in our brain. It helps us learn and survive, but it can also lead us to overindulge in things that give us a quick dopamine rush, like drugs, alcohol, sugar, porn, social media, gambling and so on.
The problem is that when we flood our brain with too much dopamine, we become less sensitive to it and need more and more to feel good. Too much dopamine leads to people having a harder and harder time experiencing pleasure from the things they used to enjoy. And on the flip side, with so much access to things that make us feel good, people become less able to handle the difficulties in life and the discomfort that comes with them.
It's so easy to escape discomfort now, we don’t need to ever feel sad, or bored, or angry, or frustrated, or stressed, or anything else remotely uncomfortable. We can just pick up our phones and check our social media feed, play a game, or watch Netflix to get that shot of dopamine.
The solution, Dr. Lembke says, is not to avoid pleasure altogether, but to find a healthy balance between pain and pleasure. By limiting our access to addictive stimuli and practicing moderation and abstinence when necessary, and embracing healthy forms of pain, like exercise, meditation, or other actions moving us toward our goals, we can reset dopamine sensitivity and regain our ability to enjoy life more fully.
One of the main messages of Dopamine Nation is that we need to embrace healthy forms of pain in order to grow and thrive. Pain is not something we should avoid or numb with addictive pleasures. Pain is a signal that tells us something is wrong or needs to change. Pain is also a challenge that helps us develop new skills and abilities.
When we face pain head-on, we learn to cope with it and overcome it. We also learn to appreciate pleasure more when we experience it in moderation and contrast. This way, we create a positive feedback loop between pain and pleasure that leads to growth and happiness.
However, facing pain is not easy. It requires courage, discipline and resilience. It requires stepping out of our comfort zone and trying new things. It requires accepting failure and feedback as opportunities for improvement.
This is where growth coaching comes in. It helps us learn how to accept our negative thoughts and feelings without judging them or letting them control us. It also teaches us how to act in accordance with our values and goals even when they are difficult or scary.
By practicing these intentional behaviors, we can develop psychological flexibility which is the ability to adapt our thoughts and behaviors to better align with our situation. This way, we can face discomfort with confidence and curiosity instead of fear.
The ability to face discomfort and work toward our values and goals is what leads to growth and ultimately, a more satisfying life.