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HOT TOPIC How I hacked my dopamine to train and reward desired work behaviors and halt procrastination

Bekit

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I've been meaning to post this for a while now, thinking it might help other people. I'm also curious to know if other people have experimented with anything similar to this and gotten similar results.

This thread finally prompted me to write this down.

I invented a method for myself that has been extremely successful at building momentum and wins in getting work done.

This was born out of necessity. Failure to act has been my biggest downfall all my life.

Part 1: The Problem
I have skills, knowledge, and intelligence, but then I don't put them to use. I let myself pursue mindless distractions instead of work. I procrastinate. I get off track. I go into la-la-land. I engage in behaviors that are detrimental to my own best interest. Even while I'm seeing myself do it (and hating it), I don't find anything inside myself that gets me to actually change.

In other words, left to myself, in my natural state, I'm a walking, dysfunctional disaster. It's hard to believe that I've made it this far. Just a few small tweaks in some of the situations I've lived through, and I would probably be a homeless addict instead of someone on an upward trajectory towards the fastlane.
  • I know I need to hustle, but I don't.
  • I know I need to get moving, but I put if off, "just a little longer."
  • I know I need to engage and take action, but I let fear and inaction paralyze me.
OK, so the question arises, HOW DO I GET LEVERAGE OVER MYSELF TO DO THE THINGS THAT CONTRIBUTE TO REACHING MY GOALS?

Because my goals are big, beautiful, amazing things.

And there's every reason why I should be able to reach them if I just put in consistent effort.

But that's the problem.

Where do I get the leverage over myself to exert that effort?

Well, to start with, here's what I've tried that has NOT worked.

1. Kicking myself doesn't work. NO amount of beating myself up, threatening myself, or setting up punishments for myself has ever worked. I've experimented with hardcore punishments, like depriving myself of food for an entire day if I don't do the thing I've set myself to do. And I've ruthlessly carried it out, too. But apparently, even hunger isn't big enough to scare me. I have never been able to terrorize myself, abuse myself, or shame myself into doing what I know I need to do.

2. Logic doesn't work. The threat of being homeless and starving if I don't get myself into gear is a logical thing, but it carries no leverage with it. Focusing on logic will increase my frustration with myself, but it won't make me behave any differently.

3. Pep talks and hype don't work. NO amount of emotional speeches, motivational content, or working myself up into a frenzy of positive optimism has ever worked. I get myself into this amazing, exhilarated frame of mind...and I expect that finally, THIS time, I'll finally rise up and DO the thing - and then something inside me always gets the better of me and I'm just like, "Nah. Why bother? I'm going to go on surfing the web for just a little longer."

4. Routine and structure only work to an extent. When I have managed to get myself into a very predictable routine, with lots of structure and accountability, I have tended to perform better. But the trouble is, that structure and routine has only ever come from an outside source. When it's up to ME to create that structure and routine for myself, I'm beating my head against a wall of futility. I'm like a tree trying to pull itself up by the roots. Because the nature of the problem is precisely that I'm lacking in the very self-discipline and self-governance that is prerequisite to creating that structure and regimen. And outside sources of structure and accountability can only go so far, because at the end of the day, YOU have to exercise your own internal locus of control. And where is that going to come from? Inside yourself. But where do you get that if it's missing? For me, this has been a perpetual cycle of defeat.

5. Examining my belief system hasn't worked. This issue, admittedly, has a lot to do with mindset and beliefs, but even when I have gotten my mindset and beliefs to be as healthy as I could possibly get them, it still didn't make a difference in my ACTION TAKING. Beliefs lead to action, so if your beliefs are false and your mindset is unhelpful, then they definitely need a makeover. But I had the advantage of being raised with principles that took me a long way: Take responsibility for your actions. Don't say, "I can't." I am responsible for my own choices. I don't let other people's actions dictate my response. But still, I find myself in this maddening bondage to dilly-dallying, self-sabotage, and procrastination.

6. Caffeine has only worked to a certain extent. I have experimented with a few things that boost the brain's executive function, the part of me that decides, "I'm going to do this now," and then actually carry it out. The main thing that has worked for me has been caffeine. When I'm on caffeine, I can actually decide to do something, and then DO it. But that effect is temporary, because as soon as I've had coffee for a few days and my body becomes addicted to it, it stops working.

OK, what gives? What else is left to try?

Does anybody relate to this?

Giving up is not an option. There has got to be a way to figure this out. So I keep trying.

This year, I embarked on a new experiment. And this one thing has been the most effective method I have ever used on myself to actually get somewhere with myself.

It all started with an offhand comment my sister made about dog training, which I then implemented into a method of training myself.

And my results have been amazing.

I'm going to explain it in the next post.
 

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PizzaOnTheRoof

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Please for the love of god continue this post man!
 
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Bekit

Bekit

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Part 2: The Conditions That Led to Trying This Solution

My sister is a gifted dog trainer. When we were growing up, she had a natural instinct for how to train our border collie to do unusual things. I mean, I know border collies are smart, but she had our dog doing things like loading and unloading the dryer, opening doorknobs, and even reading words written on flashcards.

One time, I remember her saying, "It's easy to teach anything to a dog. All you have to do is break it down so that each successive step is something that the dog thinks is easy and fun to do."

Hmmm.

That comment came into my mind in my most recent bout with my brain.

The internal struggle was fierce.

I desperately needed my brain to perform on command. I was working as a copywriter for an internet marketer, and I was burning out. I had been working for months at a breakneck pace. It was the kind of pace that I could have typically kept up for two weeks, with lots of extra coffee, and I had kept it up for a year. Unsustainable, really.

I did not have the luxury of succumbing to writers block. I needed to crank out copy.

And every day, my brain was like, "Nope." "Nope." "Not gonna write." "Not gonna show up to work today." "You can't make me."

I was going downhill little by little.

I was developing anxiety, something I had never experienced before, and it was interfering more and more with my work.

There were days when I thought I was going to permanently lose the ability to write anything at all.

Instead of just sitting down to work diligently and produce a day's work in 8 hours, I found myself resorting to YouTube, Quora, The Fastlane Forum, and just surfing the web.

"I just can't work right now," I would tell myself. "I need to just go and do this other thing, just real quick." "I need to rest my brain for a minute." "I need just a little bit of pleasure, and then maybe I'll feel ready to dive into work."

The problem was, my work tolerance got shorter and shorter, and my "rest breaks" got longer and longer.

It got to the point where the slightest difficulty at work would turn into a 2-hour detour, or a 6-hour detour, where I was consuming mindless entertainment instead of working.

The whole time I was doing this, I had an awareness of what I was doing, which produced a low-grade dread. The running narrative in my head was, "You're off track. You need to stop this. You need to get back to work. You're not doing yourself any favors. In fact, you hate this. You should stop." But I would continue, zombie-like, and tell myself that I couldn't stop. Or, I would switch to a browser tab that had some copy task on it, and I would instantly crumble under the weight of it. "I just can't face that right now," I would say to myself. "I just need to recover strength a little longer." So the internal battle would go on and on.

This inevitably pushed my work later and later, until I was working until midnight, 1 AM, or 2 AM to get my work done, simply because I hadn't been diligent during the "work hours" portion of the day.

Then I would wake up tired the next morning and have another fierce (but losing) battle with myself, where instead of starting to work early, with focus and determination, I just meandered through the meadow of la-la land for hours before I could prevail on myself to actually work.

In this way, my regular employment was swallowing up all my waking hours, leaving me no time for my fastlane hustle. I knew that I was just plain WASTING TIME with nothing to show for it. I was disgusted with this, but I kept doing it.

It was as if I could not force myself to do what I knew was in my best interest.

I loathed myself for this.

If only I could stop being lazy.

If only I could get my circadian rhythm sorted out.

If only I could actually ENGAGE MY BRAIN IN WORK when it was time to work.

If only I could get enough mastery over myself to be productive.

What was wrong with me, anyway? I NEVER used to have an appetite for mindless entertainment. Why did I even want to do this?

Essentially, I was behaving like an addict. I kept turning to my "drug," even when everything in my system KNEW that it was going to hurt me.

I was watching myself become more and more dysfunctional by the day, and I felt powerless to stop it.

And it was at that juncture that my sister's comment from long ago popped into my head.

"All you have to do is make the dog think that each step is easy and fun."

And that comment merged in my head with the thought, "This is a dopamine issue."

Suddenly, I saw a way to gamify the desired behavior (= work) in a way that would give me a dopamine hit for doing it.

My hypothesis was this:

I'm pursuing dopamine "rewards" when I seek out all this mindless entertainment. I'm feeding a continual dopamine drip, all day long. And I've become addicted to it. But my dopamine pathway is currently VERY unhelpful. My brain feels rewarded for something that is OBJECTIVELY HARMFUL to my success.

So here's what I bet I can do:

I think I can hack my dopamine pathway. I'm going to contrive an "artificial" dopamine hit again and again and again for the DESIRED behavior.

And my guess is that since dopamine is a real thing that really affects my brain, even though I'm artificially contriving this dopamine hit, it's going to forge a new pathway.

And sooner or later, I'm going to feel NATURALLY rewarded for the good behaviors that I want to instill in myself.


So let the game begin!

Armed with my new idea, I went through the house and gathered up my supplies for the game:
  1. A tablespoon or two of chocolate chips
  2. A piece of string
  3. A small eye-screw
  4. Ten small beads
  5. A violin
How I played this "game" was almost laughably, pathetically ridiculous if anyone saw me. Fortunately, I was working from home, so no one did. And I didn't know if it was going to work.

But I smiled and determined to have fun, even if it was silly.

I didn't have anything to lose.

(Continued in the next post.)
 

Andy Black

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Following, because you write so well @Bekit, and because I'm intrigued by the list of items too!

Also... I log into the forum, Facebook, and recently YouTube multiple times a day - but I'm typically in and out. I consider it part of what I do to figure out those platforms so I can produce better. I'm curious how and why it's different for others that they end up over consuming.
 

Jaden Jones

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Im just waiting for the..."To find out what I did with the items, just send $9.95 to the following address"
Its so well written, would almost be worth it lol
 
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Bekit

Bekit

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Im just waiting for the..."To find out what I did with the items, just send $9.95 to the following address"
Its so well written, would almost be worth it lol
YES. My sales letter is worth its salt.

Actually, the price is going to be $199.95.

.

.

.

.

Just kidding, I'm typing out the next post at the moment.
 

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Bekit

Bekit

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Part 3. How the game works

The concept for this game comes from the dog training world. Hat tip to my talented dog trainer sister and Karen Pryor. Here is a starter article on clicker training: https://www.clickertraining.com/15tips

The basic gist of it is, the trainer clicks a clicker when the dog performs the desired behavior, even when the dog accidentally does something close to the desired behavior. The trainer rewards with a treat after the click. Very quickly, the dog's brain associates the sound of the click with the feeling of reward. (There's the first step of the dopamine connection.)

I had looked into using clicker training for kids at one point when I was working in the schools, and in the human context, it's called TAGteach. This article provides a good overview of how TAGteach works. https://www.clickertraining.com/node/3323

TAGteach starts with the same clicker method, but it expands upon it so that you can eventually chain desired behaviors together. The article above gives the example of a 6-step morning routine.

Roman's teacher had articulated a 6-step drop-off process. Each morning the students were to:
  1. take their homework folders out of their backpacks
  2. place their homework folders in the basket
  3. put their lunch kits in the small cubby
  4. hang their backpacks up in the large cubby
  5. hang up their jackets
  6. sit at their desks to begin their desk work
The process of dropping off Roman at school occurred in an extremely distracting environment. Roman's parents and teacher tried to keep him on task with the morning routine. However, he wandered off task to chat with a friend, look at something interesting, or start playing. The goal was to have Roman walk into the classroom and complete all six tasks independently—with zero reminders from his parents or teacher.
At first, you tag the behaviors individually. Later, as the individual behaviors become easy, you gradually clump the behaviors together and tag only the successful completion of the entire chain of behaviors.

One tool that facilitates this process is an item called a "TAGulator" (a string of 10 beads, woven in a certain way to record "clicks"). Here is an article that covers the construction and use of the TAGulator:

Putting it all together

Here's how I constructed the game using the "props" I had collected.
  1. A tablespoon or two of chocolate chips
  2. A piece of string
  3. A small eye-screw
  4. Ten small beads
  5. A violin
1. The chocolate chips were my "treat." I have always had a sweet tooth, so I knew that eating one chocolate chip would give me a tiny dopamine hit.

2, 3, and 4. These were my supplies to construct my TAGulator. I screwed the eye-screw into a wooden stand where I set up my computer and hung the string and the beads from it.
26925

Pulling a bead down is an important part of the process, especially once you start chaining behaviors together. While I liked the idea of chocolate chip rewards, I certainly didn't want this game to cost me rotten teeth and 10 pounds of added fat.

The idea is, you start by rewarding yourself every time you pull down a bead. But eventually, you progress to the point where you reward yourself only at the 10th bead. Then you reset the TAGulator and start over with another batch of 10 good behaviors. So rewards come thickly at the beginning and then you continue to reinforce your established patterns at a slower rate.

5. The violin was my "clicker." I didn't have a proper Karen Pryor clicker, so I just looked for something I had in the house that would make a single, pleasing auditory "ding." I set the violin on a table near my desk and plucked the G string each time I wanted to "TAG" a good behavior. You could use anything that makes a noise, such as a small bell or a pen that has a nice click. I am sensitive to sounds and wanted a sound that I would look forward to.

The auditory component of this is not to be missed. Hearing the sound is an important part of forming the association in your brain. It's kind of like the Pavlov's dog effect. You get to the point where the sound alone causes you to salivate. You're harnessing multiple pathways in your brain to stimulate and reinforce the connection.


The Game Begins

In this game, you are both the trainer and the trainee.

Filling both of these roles for me was not difficult. I was already "divided against myself" in my behaviors, as my better judgment struggled against my procrastination and self-indulgence.

But making it into a game gave the "better judgment" side of me just enough leverage to beguile and intrigue the "self-indulgent" side of me into participating.

I set the timer on my phone for one minute.

"I am going to work with diligence and focus until the timer goes off," I stated aloud.

Don't judge.

I was truly that bad. That's how big of a remedial approach I had to give myself.

Hopefully most people reading this won't have to start off THAT small.

But I had to find a way to start with wins.

Like my sister said, "Make each step easy and fun to take."

OK, so one minute it was.

And I succeeded in working for that full minute until the timer went off.

The Celebration

The timer rang. I had successfully worked for ONE FULL MINUTE!

Now it was time to artificially contrive for my brain to get a dopamine hit. This was my method, and it became a ritual that I performed every time in the following way:
  1. I gave the G-string of the violin one nice, loud, resonant pluck.
  2. I physically clapped my hands, smiled, and excitedly exclaimed, "YAAAAAY!" out loud (I warned you this was silly) - but see Ann Cuddy's Ted Talk for the reasons behind this.
  3. I briefly extended my arms up into a victorious "V" pose (again, see Ann Cuddy - though I only held this momentarily, not for two minutes). It felt good to just stretch my arms up that way.
    1. Side thought: Beginning the Dopamine Hacking Game Session with a nice 2-minute power pose might make the whole game even more effective.
  4. I ate one chocolate chip. While I ate it, I focused on really tasting how delicious and enjoyable it was. I smiled and ate it with gusto. I did not let this become stale or old or boring. I actively enjoyed each and every chocolate chip in order to produce as big of a dopamine reward as I could.
  5. I pulled down one bead from my TAGulator.
The celebration ritual didn't take more than 15-20 seconds per time, so (A) it wasn't taking up NEARLY as much time as my excursions into la-la-land and (B) I considered it an investment in my continued success. It felt like winning, even if it was silly. It was effective at helping me to accumulate some wins and momentum.

Early rounds of the game

Round 1: I did five one-minute timers in a row, as described above.

I would work for one minute, celebrate with my 5-step ritual, and then work for one more minute.

One minute was VERY easy. It almost felt too easy, but I wanted to establish a reliable dopamine pathway early with lots of repetition. My goal was for my brain to associate "working with diligence and focus" with a feeling of being rewarded. I wanted to get to the point where my brain WANTED to work instead of having to fight against myself in order to coerce myself to work.

Round 2: I did five two-minute timers in a row.

Still very easy. As long as it stayed easy to perform, I knew I could safely move up to a "harder" level. And as soon as it threatened to get boring if I continued to keep it at that easy of a level, I increased the time.

Round 3. I did five three-minute timers in a row.

Still very easy.

Round 4. I did 10 five-minute timers in a row.

I was still consuming one chocolate chip and celebrating with the 5-step ritual for each 5-minute timer.

It was still very easy.

Round 5. I tried a 15-minute timer.

WOMP, WOMMMPPPPPP.

Failure.

Somewhere along the 15 minute journey, I forgot that I was supposed to be focusing on work.

By the time the timer rang, I was off on some bunny trail or other.

Caught me.

OK, so I learned that 15 minutes was too long.

And I needed rewards to come thick and fast at this early stage. After all, this was only my first day.

So I reset the timer to the last point where I had been successful. 5 minutes.

For the rest of that day, in 5 minute increments, I stated aloud that I would work with diligence and focus. I set my timer. I worked. And I celebrated each win as if it was the winning touchdown at the Super Bowl.

At the end of my work day, I felt GOOD.

I didn't feel like a disgusting, dysfunctional idiot who couldn't get my act together. I felt like I was going to get somewhere with this.

It was working.

I was winning all day instead of losing.

I was making progress and gaining momentum instead of deteriorating.

I had actually found leverage that got the procrastinating part of me to willingly engage and participate.

But would it work again the next day? Or would I be bored and cynical by morning?

Day 2 - The Game Continues To Deliver

On Day 2, I gave myself 5 minute timers all day long.

Every 5 minutes, I celebrated and pulled down one bead.

Every 10 beads, I took a longer break and gave myself a bigger reward. I got up from my desk, moved around, and did something fun for 10 minutes.

I also switched things up and didn't do pure chocolate chips. I mixed salted almonds and chocolate chips together. Each time I earned a reward, I could pick either one almond or one chocolate chip. Either way, I savored it as I ate it as if it was the yummiest thing in the world.

Day 3 - Good Things are Still Happening

I was surprised by Day 3 that I hadn't lost interest in this game.

I also knew for a fact that I was not "out of the woods."

If I tried to go back to "just working normally," I would be off the rails, lickety-split.

So I continued with 5-minute timers.

I didn't yet sense ANY sort of "automatic connection" happening. There was no interior satisfaction or inner association of work with reward yet.

So I just continued. I wanted to give the experiment a good-faith effort.

Week 1 - Nothing Has Ever Worked This Long

The whole week went by, and I was continually amazed that the game hadn't stopped working.

Always before, anything that I would ever try would work for a short time and then I would get bored, lose interest, and the whole thing would fizzle out.

Not this time.

I sensed that I was hot on the trail of using my dopamine in my favor rather than just being at the mercy of it working against me.

(Continued in part 4 - Upgrading the game)
 
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Bekit

Bekit

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It's similar to Pomodoros, but the difference is in the training and rewards. I had successfully done Pomodoros in the past, as well as an even better method I had found, which was Work Cycles (by Sebastian Marshall at Ultraworking). But this particular method was at a time where my work performance had deteriorated to the point where I wasn't able to do even a single pomodoro.

I think the method worked, not because it was just "shorter pomodoros," but because of the way that the training was able to incentivize me to adopt a new behavior and stop doing an undesired one.

The desired behavior in this model can be anything that you've struggled to do (not just timed performance). Maybe it's that you get yourself to work out consistently. Maybe it's that you get yourself to keep your house tidy. Maybe it's that you train yourself to be on time. Maybe it's that you implement a morning routine.

The point is not "shorten the time of your work sessions," but "train a new behavior in small increments where each step is easy and fun to do." I just chose a timed work session because it was something with a binary outcome. Either I performed the behavior or I didn't. It was easy to tell and easy to measure that my progress was sticking. And it was easy to gradually increase the difficulty.
 

Bertram

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I've been meaning to post this for a while now, thinking it might help other people. I'm also curious to know if other people have experimented with anything similar to this and gotten similar results.

This thread finally prompted me to write this down.

I invented a method for myself that has been extremely successful at building momentum and wins in getting work done.

This was born out of necessity. Failure to act has been my biggest downfall all my life.

Part 1: The Problem
I have skills, knowledge, and intelligence, but then I don't put them to use. I let myself pursue mindless distractions instead of work. I procrastinate. I get off track. I go into la-la-land. I engage in behaviors that are detrimental to my own best interest. Even while I'm seeing myself do it (and hating it), I don't find anything inside myself that gets me to actually change.

In other words, left to myself, in my natural state, I'm a walking, dysfunctional disaster. It's hard to believe that I've made it this far. Just a few small tweaks in some of the situations I've lived through, and I would probably be a homeless addict instead of someone on an upward trajectory towards the fastlane.
  • I know I need to hustle, but I don't.
  • I know I need to get moving, but I put if off, "just a little longer."
  • I know I need to engage and take action, but I let fear and inaction paralyze me.
OK, so the question arises, HOW DO I GET LEVERAGE OVER MYSELF TO DO THE THINGS THAT CONTRIBUTE TO REACHING MY GOALS?

Because my goals are big, beautiful, amazing things.

And there's every reason why I should be able to reach them if I just put in consistent effort.

But that's the problem.

Where do I get the leverage over myself to exert that effort?

Well, to start with, here's what I've tried that has NOT worked.

1. Kicking myself doesn't work. NO amount of beating myself up, threatening myself, or setting up punishments for myself has ever worked. I've experimented with hardcore punishments, like depriving myself of food for an entire day if I don't do the thing I've set myself to do. And I've ruthlessly carried it out, too. But apparently, even hunger isn't big enough to scare me. I have never been able to terrorize myself, abuse myself, or shame myself into doing what I know I need to do.

2. Logic doesn't work. The threat of being homeless and starving if I don't get myself into gear is a logical thing, but it carries no leverage with it. Focusing on logic will increase my frustration with myself, but it won't make me behave any differently.

3. Pep talks and hype don't work. NO amount of emotional speeches, motivational content, or working myself up into a frenzy of positive optimism has ever worked. I get myself into this amazing, exhilarated frame of mind...and I expect that finally, THIS time, I'll finally rise up and DO the thing - and then something inside me always gets the better of me and I'm just like, "Nah. Why bother? I'm going to go on surfing the web for just a little longer."

4. Routine and structure only work to an extent. When I have managed to get myself into a very predictable routine, with lots of structure and accountability, I have tended to perform better. But the trouble is, that structure and routine has only ever come from an outside source. When it's up to ME to create that structure and routine for myself, I'm beating my head against a wall of futility. I'm like a tree trying to pull itself up by the roots. Because the nature of the problem is precisely that I'm lacking in the very self-discipline and self-governance that is prerequisite to creating that structure and regimen. And outside sources of structure and accountability can only go so far, because at the end of the day, YOU have to exercise your own internal locus of control. And where is that going to come from? Inside yourself. But where do you get that if it's missing? For me, this has been a perpetual cycle of defeat.

5. Examining my belief system hasn't worked. This issue, admittedly, has a lot to do with mindset and beliefs, but even when I have gotten my mindset and beliefs to be as healthy as I could possibly get them, it still didn't make a difference in my ACTION TAKING. Beliefs lead to action, so if your beliefs are false and your mindset is unhelpful, then they definitely need a makeover. But I had the advantage of being raised with principles that took me a long way: Take responsibility for your actions. Don't say, "I can't." I am responsible for my own choices. I don't let other people's actions dictate my response. But still, I find myself in this maddening bondage to dilly-dallying, self-sabotage, and procrastination.

6. Caffeine has only worked to a certain extent. I have experimented with a few things that boost the brain's executive function, the part of me that decides, "I'm going to do this now," and then actually carry it out. The main thing that has worked for me has been caffeine. When I'm on caffeine, I can actually decide to do something, and then DO it. But that effect is temporary, because as soon as I've had coffee for a few days and my body becomes addicted to it, it stops working.

OK, what gives? What else is left to try?

Does anybody relate to this?

Giving up is not an option. There has got to be a way to figure this out. So I keep trying.

This year, I embarked on a new experiment. And this one thing has been the most effective method I have ever used on myself to actually get somewhere with myself.

It all started with an offhand comment my sister made about dog training, which I then implemented into a method of training myself.

And my results have been amazing.

I'm going to explain it in the next post.
This is a fun read.
Part 3. How the game works

The concept for this game comes from the dog training world. Hat tip to my talented dog trainer sister and Karen Pryor. Here is a starter article on clicker training: https://www.clickertraining.com/15tips

The basic gist of it is, the trainer clicks a clicker when the dog performs the desired behavior, even when the dog accidentally does something close to the desired behavior. The trainer rewards with a treat after the click. Very quickly, the dog's brain associates the sound of the click with the feeling of reward. (There's the first step of the dopamine connection.)

I had looked into using clicker training for kids at one point when I was working in the schools, and in the human context, it's called TAGteach. This article provides a good overview of how TAGteach works. https://www.clickertraining.com/node/3323

TAGteach starts with the same clicker method, but it expands upon it so that you can eventually chain desired behaviors together. The article above gives the example of a 6-step morning routine.



At first, you tag the behaviors individually. Later, as the individual behaviors become easy, you gradually clump the behaviors together and tag only the successful completion of the entire chain of behaviors.

One tool that facilitates this process is an item called a "TAGulator" (a string of 10 beads, woven in a certain way to record "clicks"). Here is an article that covers the construction and use of the TAGulator:

Putting it all together

Here's how I constructed the game using the "props" I had collected.
  1. A tablespoon or two of chocolate chips
  2. A piece of string
  3. A small eye-screw
  4. Ten small beads
  5. A violin
1. The chocolate chips were my "treat." I have always had a sweet tooth, so I knew that eating one chocolate chip would give me a tiny dopamine hit.

2, 3, and 4. These were my supplies to construct my TAGulator. I screwed the eye-screw into a wooden stand where I set up my computer and hung the string and the beads from it.
View attachment 26925

Pulling a bead down is an important part of the process, especially once you start chaining behaviors together. While I liked the idea of chocolate chip rewards, I certainly didn't want this game to cost me rotten teeth and 10 pounds of added fat.

The idea is, you start by rewarding yourself every time you pull down a bead. But eventually, you progress to the point where you reward yourself only at the 10th bead. Then you reset the TAGulator and start over with another batch of 10 good behaviors. So rewards come thickly at the beginning and then you continue to reinforce your established patterns at a slower rate.

5. The violin was my "clicker." I didn't have a proper Karen Pryor clicker, so I just looked for something I had in the house that would make a single, pleasing auditory "ding." I set the violin on a table near my desk and plucked the G string each time I wanted to "TAG" a good behavior. You could use anything that makes a noise, such as a small bell or a pen that has a nice click. I am sensitive to sounds and wanted a sound that I would look forward to.

The auditory component of this is not to be missed. Hearing the sound is an important part of forming the association in your brain. It's kind of like the Pavlov's dog effect. You get to the point where the sound alone causes you to salivate. You're harnessing multiple pathways in your brain to stimulate and reinforce the connection.


The Game Begins

In this game, you are both the trainer and the trainee.

Filling both of these roles for me was not difficult. I was already "divided against myself" in my behaviors, as my better judgment struggled against my procrastination and self-indulgence.

But making it into a game gave the "better judgment" side of me just enough leverage to beguile and intrigue the "self-indulgent" side of me into participating.

I set the timer on my phone for one minute.

"I am going to work with diligence and focus until the timer goes off," I stated aloud.

Don't judge.

I was truly that bad. That's how big of a remedial approach I had to give myself.

Hopefully most people reading this won't have to start off THAT small.

But I had to find a way to start with wins.

Like my sister said, "Make each step easy and fun to take."

OK, so one minute it was.

And I succeeded in working for that full minute until the timer went off.

The Celebration

The timer rang. I had successfully worked for ONE FULL MINUTE!

Now it was time to artificially contrive for my brain to get a dopamine hit. This was my method, and it became a ritual that I performed every time in the following way:
  1. I gave the G-string of the violin one nice, loud, resonant pluck.
  2. I physically clapped my hands, smiled, and excitedly exclaimed, "YAAAAAY!" out loud (I warned you this was silly) - but see Ann Cuddy's Ted Talk for the reasons behind this.
  3. I briefly extended my arms up into a victorious "V" pose (again, see Ann Cuddy - though I only held this momentarily, not for two minutes). It felt good to just stretch my arms up that way.
    1. Side thought: Beginning the Dopamine Hacking Game Session with a nice 2-minute power pose might make the whole game even more effective.
  4. I ate one chocolate chip. While I ate it, I focused on really tasting how delicious and enjoyable it was. I smiled and ate it with gusto. I did not let this become stale or old or boring. I actively enjoyed each and every chocolate chip in order to produce as big of a dopamine reward as I could.
  5. I pulled down one bead from my TAGulator.
The celebration ritual didn't take more than 15-20 seconds per time, so (A) it wasn't taking up NEARLY as much time as my excursions into la-la-land and (B) I considered it an investment in my continued success. It felt like winning, even if it was silly. It was effective at helping me to accumulate some wins and momentum.

Early rounds of the game

Round 1: I did five one-minute timers in a row, as described above.

I would work for one minute, celebrate with my 5-step ritual, and then work for one more minute.

One minute was VERY easy. It almost felt too easy, but I wanted to establish a reliable dopamine pathway early with lots of repetition. My goal was for my brain to associate "working with diligence and focus" with a feeling of being rewarded. I wanted to get to the point where my brain WANTED to work instead of having to fight against myself in order to coerce myself to work.

Round 2: I did five two-minute timers in a row.

Still very easy. As long as it stayed easy to perform, I knew I could safely move up to a "harder" level. And as soon as it threatened to get boring if I continued to keep it at that easy of a level, I increased the time.

Round 3. I did five three-minute timers in a row.

Still very easy.

Round 4. I did 10 five-minute timers in a row.

I was still consuming one chocolate chip and celebrating with the 5-step ritual for each 5-minute timer.

It was still very easy.

Round 5. I tried a 15-minute timer.

WOMP, WOMMMPPPPPP.

Failure.

Somewhere along the 15 minute journey, I forgot that I was supposed to be focusing on work.

By the time the timer rang, I was off on some bunny trail or other.

Caught me.

OK, so I learned that 15 minutes was too long.

And I needed rewards to come thick and fast at this early stage. After all, this was only my first day.

So I reset the timer to the last point where I had been successful. 5 minutes.

For the rest of that day, in 5 minute increments, I stated aloud that I would work with diligence and focus. I set my timer. I worked. And I celebrated each win as if it was the winning touchdown at the Super Bowl.

At the end of my work day, I felt GOOD.

I didn't feel like a disgusting, dysfunctional idiot who couldn't get my act together. I felt like I was going to get somewhere with this.

It was working.

I was winning all day instead of losing.

I was making progress and gaining momentum instead of deteriorating.

I had actually found leverage that got the procrastinating part of me to willingly engage and participate.

But would it work again the next day? Or would I be bored and cynical by morning?

Day 2 - The Game Continues To Deliver

On Day 2, I gave myself 5 minute timers all day long.

Every 5 minutes, I celebrated and pulled down one bead.

Every 10 beads, I took a longer break and gave myself a bigger reward. I got up from my desk, moved around, and did something fun for 10 minutes.

I also switched things up and didn't do pure chocolate chips. I mixed salted almonds and chocolate chips together. Each time I earned a reward, I could pick either one almond or one chocolate chip. Either way, I savored it as I ate it as if it was the yummiest thing in the world.

Day 3 - Good Things are Still Happening

I was surprised by Day 3 that I hadn't lost interest in this game.

I also knew for a fact that I was not "out of the woods."

If I tried to go back to "just working normally," I would be off the rails, lickety-split.

So I continued with 5-minute timers.

I didn't yet sense ANY sort of "automatic connection" happening. There was no interior satisfaction or inner association of work with reward yet.

So I just continued. I wanted to give the experiment a good-faith effort.

Week 1 - Nothing Has Ever Worked This Long

The whole week went by, and I was continually amazed that the game hadn't stopped working.

Always before, anything that I would ever try would work for a short time and then I would get bored, lose interest, and the whole thing would fizzle out.

Not this time.

I sensed that I was hot on the trail of using my dopamine in my favor rather than just being at the mercy of it working against me.

(Continued in part 4 - Upgrading the game)
This is so much fun to read.
What's really working most powerfully here is that you break the task down to small steps you can succeed by.
The food reward makes it a game that might eventually challenge you with boredom.
The ritual sensations provide a sensory feedback loop to keep you on task. The intuition is just great.
Have a look at Nir Eyal's solutions to distractibility here:

 
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Danny Sullivan

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That's why, after reading Atomic Habits by James Clear, i put up a big daily calender up in my working space and mark every bad (red marker) and good (green / blue marker) habit on it.

The motivation behind this is to cut every bad behaviour from occuring "on your list" day by day and enforce / strenghten the good ones.

I'm doing this for training since 2015 to keep track of progress and keep me pushing, but it never crossed my mind to use this overall for work and personal habits until earlier this year.

With this "system" in place i stopped the excessive use of social media and just use it "as part of the game" like 15-30 minutes a day, integrated waking up at 5.00 o'clock, doing a 15 minute sport morning routine, taking a 5-6 minute cold shower, reading while enjoying breakfast and jumping into work around 7.30 to 8.00 before heading to my slowlane job.

You can even set the quality of your work apart by marking it. Have you been doing "busy" work or were you actually productive? Busy works gets a green / blue W and a red B, productive work gets a green / blue W and a green / blue P. A good question to divide those two is: "Does it move the needle?", id est "Does it provide measurable benefits?" or am i just wasting time doing nonsense?

Guess what. There's hardly any red's on my calender and a lot of blue's and green's. Standing infront of it every day and beeing able to add more blue's and green's on a daily basis is rewarding.

Best of luck to you and your endeavours!
 

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Routine and structure only work to an extent. When I have managed to get myself into a very predictable routine, with lots of structure and accountability, I have tended to perform better. But the trouble is, that structure and routine has only ever come from an outside source. When it's up to ME to create that structure and routine for myself, I'm beating my head against a wall of futility.
Interestingly enough, this is exactly what Barkley suggests:

View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnlw2RQUjWQ


Since ADHD is basically impulsivity, it makes people only care about the present. Punishments that are far off? 'Who cares... i'll deal with that when it comes.' This is why we wait until the last minute for EVERYTHING. We need immediate consequences and immediate rewards.
 

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I've been meaning to post this for a while now, thinking it might help other people. I'm also curious to know if other people have experimented with anything similar to this and gotten similar results.

This thread finally prompted me to write this down.

I invented a method for myself that has been extremely successful at building momentum and wins in getting work done.

This was born out of necessity. Failure to act has been my biggest downfall all my life.

Part 1: The Problem
I have skills, knowledge, and intelligence, but then I don't put them to use. I let myself pursue mindless distractions instead of work. I procrastinate. I get off track. I go into la-la-land. I engage in behaviors that are detrimental to my own best interest. Even while I'm seeing myself do it (and hating it), I don't find anything inside myself that gets me to actually change.

In other words, left to myself, in my natural state, I'm a walking, dysfunctional disaster. It's hard to believe that I've made it this far. Just a few small tweaks in some of the situations I've lived through, and I would probably be a homeless addict instead of someone on an upward trajectory towards the fastlane.
  • I know I need to hustle, but I don't.
  • I know I need to get moving, but I put if off, "just a little longer."
  • I know I need to engage and take action, but I let fear and inaction paralyze me.
OK, so the question arises, HOW DO I GET LEVERAGE OVER MYSELF TO DO THE THINGS THAT CONTRIBUTE TO REACHING MY GOALS?

Because my goals are big, beautiful, amazing things.

And there's every reason why I should be able to reach them if I just put in consistent effort.

But that's the problem.

Where do I get the leverage over myself to exert that effort?

Well, to start with, here's what I've tried that has NOT worked.

1. Kicking myself doesn't work. NO amount of beating myself up, threatening myself, or setting up punishments for myself has ever worked. I've experimented with hardcore punishments, like depriving myself of food for an entire day if I don't do the thing I've set myself to do. And I've ruthlessly carried it out, too. But apparently, even hunger isn't big enough to scare me. I have never been able to terrorize myself, abuse myself, or shame myself into doing what I know I need to do.

2. Logic doesn't work. The threat of being homeless and starving if I don't get myself into gear is a logical thing, but it carries no leverage with it. Focusing on logic will increase my frustration with myself, but it won't make me behave any differently.

3. Pep talks and hype don't work. NO amount of emotional speeches, motivational content, or working myself up into a frenzy of positive optimism has ever worked. I get myself into this amazing, exhilarated frame of mind...and I expect that finally, THIS time, I'll finally rise up and DO the thing - and then something inside me always gets the better of me and I'm just like, "Nah. Why bother? I'm going to go on surfing the web for just a little longer."

4. Routine and structure only work to an extent. When I have managed to get myself into a very predictable routine, with lots of structure and accountability, I have tended to perform better. But the trouble is, that structure and routine has only ever come from an outside source. When it's up to ME to create that structure and routine for myself, I'm beating my head against a wall of futility. I'm like a tree trying to pull itself up by the roots. Because the nature of the problem is precisely that I'm lacking in the very self-discipline and self-governance that is prerequisite to creating that structure and regimen. And outside sources of structure and accountability can only go so far, because at the end of the day, YOU have to exercise your own internal locus of control. And where is that going to come from? Inside yourself. But where do you get that if it's missing? For me, this has been a perpetual cycle of defeat.

5. Examining my belief system hasn't worked. This issue, admittedly, has a lot to do with mindset and beliefs, but even when I have gotten my mindset and beliefs to be as healthy as I could possibly get them, it still didn't make a difference in my ACTION TAKING. Beliefs lead to action, so if your beliefs are false and your mindset is unhelpful, then they definitely need a makeover. But I had the advantage of being raised with principles that took me a long way: Take responsibility for your actions. Don't say, "I can't." I am responsible for my own choices. I don't let other people's actions dictate my response. But still, I find myself in this maddening bondage to dilly-dallying, self-sabotage, and procrastination.

6. Caffeine has only worked to a certain extent. I have experimented with a few things that boost the brain's executive function, the part of me that decides, "I'm going to do this now," and then actually carry it out. The main thing that has worked for me has been caffeine. When I'm on caffeine, I can actually decide to do something, and then DO it. But that effect is temporary, because as soon as I've had coffee for a few days and my body becomes addicted to it, it stops working.

OK, what gives? What else is left to try?

Does anybody relate to this?

Giving up is not an option. There has got to be a way to figure this out. So I keep trying.

This year, I embarked on a new experiment. And this one thing has been the most effective method I have ever used on myself to actually get somewhere with myself.

It all started with an offhand comment my sister made about dog training, which I then implemented into a method of training myself.

And my results have been amazing.

I'm going to explain it in the next post.
Hey ,
I was dating a girl recently who had adhd, her sister as well. This is her story and I cannot say more than what she told me:

Before they were diagnosed and treated, she and her sister were inhibited by inaction as well. This is a typical characteristic apparently, and when she was diagnosed a few years her sister (who was treated earlier) told to feel bad about this as it is a side effect of the condition. She explained that she wanted to get up and do something but almost felt paralyzed to the spot and really had to force herself to do this. Her sister was a lot worse.

Once diagnosed in her mid-20s she was prescribed dex-amphetamine and apparently it changed her life.

Upon probing her, (I am always fascinated with the origins of health problems) on what could have caused it, she revealed her years of addictive online co-op computer gaming and lengths of time in front of the screen at one time.

Personally I tend to get this response too and I had it a lot more in the past. Especially with things I do not want to do. I have improved a lot since stopping smoking weed 6 years ago, and cutting out all the gaming. But, there are somethings like clothes washing, opening bills and gardening that need to reach critical mass before I start the task.
The more I just bite the bullet and jump in the stronger I feel and maybe this is also helped by a dopamine and cortisol restricted lifestyle. Although there is progress, I still find it really hard sometimes.

I see one as the easy pill (dex-amphetamine), or the hard pill (exercising grit). Many be a combination could work?
I could take the easy pill, but that would involve picking up the phone and actually making an appointment with a doctor :playful: (really that is probably the only thing holding me back).

good luck
 

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ChrisV

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My sister is a gifted dog trainer. When we were growing up, she had a natural instinct for how to train our border collie to do unusual things. I mean, I know border collies are smart, but she had our dog doing things like loading and unloading the dryer, opening doorknobs, and even reading words written on flashcards.

One time, I remember her saying, "It's easy to teach anything to a dog. All you have to do is break it down so that each successive step is something that the dog thinks is easy and fun to do."

Hmmm.

That comment came into my mind in my most recent bout with my brain.
This is a really interesting approach. The part of the brain that makes us uniquely human is the prefrontal cortex. In ADHD (or any self-control issue really,) this area isn't working nearly to the extent it should be. So the solution? Train yourself the same way you would any organism without a highly developed prefrontal cortex. Use the limbic system instead.

Armed with my new idea, I went through the house and gathered up my supplies for the game:
  1. A tablespoon or two of chocolate chips
  2. A piece of string
  3. A small eye-screw
  4. Ten small beads
  5. A violin
This is brilliant.

I have no idea where this is going... that list of items is so random.
:rofl:

Dope thread. If and when @MJ DeMarco ever gets the rep system back, I owe you some.
 

ChrisV

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Going back to my first post, about increased accountability, I wanted to give a shoutout to @LightHouse who uses a similar method with his clients.


This is a brilliant strategy for anyone with Self-Control issues. If your own Self-Control neural mechanism aren't working, like we were discussing in my other thread, use someone else's. Or set it up in a way that it doesn't matter. Setting it up that way bypasses the need for executive function and uses different brain structures to achieve the same result. Humans have a strong desire to avoid shame. So setting it up that way is essentially like a prosthetic prefrontal cortex, where the desire to avoid shame steps in for the PFC. It's like a blind person uses a cane, and taps the ground with it, essentially giving him echolocation like a bat.

(Btw, it's really fascinating how canes for the blind work)


Basically you tap the cane to the ground then the sound waves come back and depending on the time and location of the signals you can tell what objects are nearby.

But I digress. The point is, if you're weak in one area, strategically capitalize on your strengths in order to compensate for those deficits.

Another thing I see people do is write things down. Since Self-Control and Working Memory go hand-in-hand, Working Memory often is affected. Sticky Notes, iPhone note taking apps, notebooks. The notebooks becomes your prosthetic working memory.
 

Primeperiwinkle

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Attempting this is where the magic lives. Every single thing about this resonates.

You’re so awesome, Bekit . I love your writing. #violinsuperhero #chocolate #yasssss

Now come set up my system!!

Oh wait. I forgot I have questions. Lol.

Are the beads necessary? It seems like restringing them every 10th time would be annoying to me.

I don’t understand the dopamine thing. Does this mean I will have to read that stupid long Dopamine thread?

Does whining about dopamine somehow release dopamine?
Does getting into an argument?
Does sex?
Does sugar?
Obvi texting does.. and gaming.. and online forum stuff. Huh.

Do I just need to do my own research cuz I’m clearly not able to rub your feet through this computer to bribe you into telling me more?!?

Is it totes ok if I talk this whole thing out because .. maybe it is a belief system problem.. I’m still trying that option!!

*pout

I want cuddles now. I am not a little dopamine needing robot!! I am a multifaceted person!!

Imma drink my latte and consider this more..

Babe? I’m so ridiculously proud of you. This took balls. For realz. This is dedication and commitment to overcome your own crap.
 
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Bertram

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"I don’t understand the dopamine thing. Does this mean I will have to read that stupid long Dopamine thread?"

That went off the rails a few days back.

Your talk about dopamine like it is a pleasure chemical. It isn't. Dopamine actually is always related to restricting neurotransmission. Your model here makes more sense if you use "endorphin" instead. Also goals and habit formation involve different dopamine circuits and different brain areas. No need at all to use or misue it here.

Dopamine explained nicely:
 
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"I don’t understand the dopamine thing. Does this mean I will have to read that stupid long Dopamine thread?"

That went off the rails a few days back.

Your talk about dopamine like it is synonymous with endorphin. DopaMine actually is always related to restricting neurotransmission. Your model here makes more sense if you use endorphin instead.
Ok so I obviously have very rudimentary knowledge about all this. I've gotten this far through feeling in the dark, but more precise knowledge would definitely benefit me.

What is the difference between dopamine and endorphin?

I thought dopamine was an endorphin. Well, more properly, I thought dopamine was a neurotransmitter, and I thought "endorphins" were a different word for neurotransmitters.

I've never heard that dopamine has a restricting function. What does that mean or what are the mechanics of it? My understanding was that dopamine is released to create a feeling of reward and pleasure.

I would love to actually look into this deeper if I am off track.
 

Bertram

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Dopamine has opposing effects in different brain areas including lowering the desire to work:

Your work does not need the validation of trendy science.
 

ChrisV

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Ok so I obviously have very rudimentary knowledge about all this. I've gotten this far through feeling in the dark, but more precise knowledge would definitely benefit me.

What is the difference between dopamine and endorphin?

I thought dopamine was an endorphin. Well, more properly, I thought dopamine was a neurotransmitter, and I thought "endorphins" were a different word for neurotransmitters.

I've never heard that dopamine has a restricting function. What does that mean or what are the mechanics of it? My understanding was that dopamine is released to create a feeling of reward and pleasure.

I would love to actually look into this deeper if I am off track.
The current hypothesis is that dopamine is involved in "wanting" while endorphin (enkephalin technically) is involved in "liking"



They may sound like the same thing, but they're not. "Wanting" is prior to receiving a reward, "liking" is after a reward is attained. Dissecting components of reward: ‘liking’, ‘wanting’, and learning

That appears to be the link to motivation.

A brief history of the reward controversy.
 

Bertram

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Ok so I obviously have very rudimentary knowledge about all this. I've gotten this far through feeling in the dark, but more precise knowledge would definitely benefit me.

What is the difference between dopamine and endorphin?

I thought dopamine was an endorphin. Well, more properly, I thought dopamine was a neurotransmitter, and I thought "endorphins" were a different word for neurotransmitters.

I've never heard that dopamine has a restricting function. What does that mean or what are the mechanics of it? My understanding was that dopamine is released to create a feeling of reward and pleasure.

I would love to actually look into this deeper if I am off track.
Shhh... we need to speak very quietly around here .... see #26 here for user friendly info. No, the d-word is an inhibitor. Endorphin is more useful.

Your intuition effectively created a sensory feedback loop to prevent restlessness due to low stimulation.
Working online poses that risk compared to working with printouts.
 

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