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The Story of How I Mastered My Brain Reward System

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The Story of How I Mastered My Brain Reward System

Brain Reward System

Brain Reward System is a network of brain structures known as the mesocorticolimbic circuit is in charge of positive-valenced emotions, especially those with pleasure at their core, associative learning (mainly positive reinforcement and classical conditioning), and incentive salience (e.g., “wanting”; desire or craving for a reward and motivation).

 A stimulus’s reward is its appealing and motivating quality that causes appetitive behaviour, also called approach behaviour and consummatory behaviour.  Whatever “may cause us to approach and consume it”—be it an object, an event, an action, or a situation—is, according to one definition, a pleasant stimulus.

 Positive reinforcers are pleasurable in operant training, but pleasant stimuli can also serve as negative reinforcers.

How Does the Brain Reward System Work? 

Various brain structures and neural pathways make up what is known as the reward system in neuroscience.

  •  These pathways are responsible for cognition related to rewards, such as associative learning.
  • Incentive salience encompasses the powerful drivers of motivation, including the desire for a reward and the experience of positively valenced emotions, like hedonic “liking” or pleasure-related emotions.
  • The “wanting” or want component of reward is widely described by a variety of terms, including appetitive, approach, preparation, instrumental, anticipatory, and seeking behaviour.  
  • Consummatory behaviour and taking behaviour are terms widely used to describe actions connected to the pleasure or “liking” aspect of rewards.
  • To name a few of rewards’ leading roles, we can look at their ability to elicit positively-valenced emotions, especially pleasure.
  •  Influence decision-making and induce approach behaviour (through the assignment of motivational salience to rewarding stimuli); and produce associative learning (i.e., classical conditioning and operant reinforcement).

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The Biological Basis of the Reward System: From Perception to Reinforcement of Behaviour

Brain Reward System

It is important to remember that although the reward system often promotes healthy habits (such as eating when hungry), it can be manipulated by substances or disorders to cause harmful behaviours, such as addiction.

1. Seeing an Encouraging Incentive:

The process starts when the brain detects anything that provides gratifying stimulation, whether it’s an exterior object or an internal idea.

The amygdala (which gives the input emotional weight) and the hippocampus (which provides context based on prior experiences) are two brain regions that process this sense.

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  1. The VTA (Ventral Tegmental Area) Calibration:

When the rewarding signal is recognized, the ventral tegmental area (VTA) is activated to release dopamine. While the specifics may differ, the VTA is involved in processing information from other brain regions in order to provide natural rewards.

Many abused substances directly stimulate the ventral tegmental area (VTA) to release more dopamine.

3. The Nucleus Accumbens (NAc) and Dopamine Transmission:

Following its release from the ventral tegmental area (VTA), dopamine makes its way to the NAc via the mesolimbic pathway.

Dopamine binds to surface receptors in the NAc and alters neuronal activity. Pleasure and reward result from this fundamental neurobiological event—a shift in neural activity.

4. Learning with Reinforcement and Behavioural Response:

  1. The prefrontal cortex is crucial for planning and decision-making. Evaluates the whole event after the pleasurable experience has ended. It establishes a link between the initial stimulus, the activity performed, and the pleasure experienced by the NAc.
  2. The prefrontal cortex and other regions involved in memory and behaviour get reward signals based on the strength of the pleasant response in the NAc.
  3. Because of the expectation of the reward, the individual is more likely to seek out or participate in that particular behaviour or context. Learned behaviours or habits develop over time as a result of repeated encounters.

5. Feedback’s Function:

The prefrontal cortex, the NAc, and the VTA are all parts of a continuous feedback loop. Over time, these loops assist in improving and modifying behaviours to maximize actions that seek rewards.

For example, the feedback loop can make it less appealing to seek out that particular reward in the future if it does not provide the desired pleasure.

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 Brain Circuits That Regulate Reward

Brain Reward System

The ventral tegmental area (VTA), situated in the middle of the brain, is the primary site of dopamine production.

After being generated in the ventral tegmental area (VTA), dopamine is transferred to various brain regions via several pathways; the most important of these are the mesolimbic and the mesocortical dopamine pathways.

Descending spinal cord dopamine route

  • The mesolimbic dopamine pathway is crucial to the brain’s reward system. Dopamine is definitely released in the ventral tegmental area. (VTA) in response to pleasurable experiences.
  • After passing through the mesolimbic pathway, this neurotransmitter is directed to a region known as the nucleus accumbens. 
  • An area in the ventral striatum known as the nucleus accumbens is involved in intricate circuits that include the amygdala and the hippocampus; it is very relevant to motivation and reward.
  • Dopamine levels in this area increase when the nucleus accumbens is activated. Basically, when the mesolimbic dopamine pathway is activated, it encourages us to do it again so we may experience the pleasurable sensation.
  • The experienced reward is attributed to feelings because the nucleus accumbens has circuits with the amygdala, an area of the limbic system linked to emotions.
  • For example, the amygdala plays a role in our sensations of pleasure and contentment following a satisfying meal.
  •  The nucleus accumbens’ connections to the hippocampus, a memory-related area, would facilitate the attribution of learning and memory to the reward.
  • Thus, following a satisfying meal, the hippocampus will help recall the source of the food and the pleasant feelings associated with it.
  • So, the coordinated efforts of all these brain regions reinforce the action of rewarding behaviours. Another less-discussed reward circuit is the mesocortical dopamine pathway.
  • Another route that begins at the VTA is this one. 
  • Dopamine is released in the (VTA) during pleasurable experiences and then goes straight to the cerebral cortex, most especially the frontal lobes, in the brain.
  • The frontal lobes are in charge of higher-level cognitive processes like reasoning, motivation, and planning. Therefore, activating this route brings about a conscious sense of pleasure and reward.

Timeless Explorations of Want and Compensation

Olds and Milner’s 1954 work on rat experiments to identify reward-related brain areas was a major accomplishment. After inserting electrodes into the rats’ brains at different locations, they put them in a “Skinner box.”

This apparatus consists of a little chamber that is used for training experiments on animals. It contains a lever. Whenever the rats pull the lever, they undergo gentle electrical stimulation of the brain.

The rats will repeatedly press the lever in order to experience the pleasant sensation since their studies showed that there are specific regions of the brain that respond positively to electrical stimulation.

To receive this electrical stimulation, one of the rats in the study pushed the lever 7,500 times in 12 hours.

 The septal region, located on the inferior medial surface of the frontal lobe and connected to various brain regions,

  •  including the thalamus,
  •  amygdala, 
  • and hippocampi, 
  • was the most prominent reward location when electrodes were implanted there.
  • After a while, the rats would occasionally opt to get the electric shock instead of eating.

The rats in a different, more relaxed experiment would consume enough food to be healthy, but they would waste most of their time pressing the level for stimulation.

Other researchers, including humans and primates (Heath, 1972; Sem-Jacobsen, 1976), obtained similar results in their studies.

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My Journey to Becoming an Expert in My Brain’s Reward System

Brain Reward System

A handful of months back, I discovered that I could not stop looking at my phone. Every day, I would get my desire fix from notifications, likes, and comments.

It was beautiful at first, but then I started to feel different. My drive waned, and I no longer found joy in the simplest of things. I was aware that a shift was necessary.

This is the story of my quest to comprehend and control dopamine, the chemical that gives us will and energy.

The Money of The Mind

  • Although it has a calming effect, dopamine has other uses as well. It is the money that the brain uses to drive us to do things.
  • Just like when someone calls your name to get your attention in a crowded restaurant, tonic transmission is the continual background conversation.
  • There was a phasic dopamine surge every time I received an Instagram notification, and I could not get enough.
  • Nootropics, low-cost nootropics. The moment has come to become an expert in your use.

Why The Ups and Downs Are Based on Science

  • Neuroscientist Andrew Huberman taught me that if you take in too much dopamine, your levels will drop below where they were before.
  • Just like on a rollercoaster, you will experience a high and then a low. Dynorphin, a chemical that produces pain, mediates this crash.
  • After a major victory or a very pleasurable experience, I realized why I felt so depressed. This realization was enlightening.

Dopamine Fasting: Embracing

Brain Reward System

I was captivated by the idea of dopamine fasting. Breaking away from things that make you feel good, like chocolate and social media, is a widespread practice in Silicon Valley.

The goal is to reset the brain’s reward system.

I figured I might as well give it a go in the hopes of rediscovering happiness in the little things in life.

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What I Learned About Dopamine Detox

While it is impossible to eliminate dopamine from the body completely (it is necessary for many processes), psychiatrist Dr. Tracey Marks says that excessive stimulation can be lessened.

  • I felt a connection to this concept.
  • The first thing I did was disconnect from technology for an entire day. 
  • I did not check my phone, social media, or email.
  •  It was challenging at first, but after a while, I felt clearheaded and at peace, which I had been missing for a long time.
My Four Most Effective Methods
  1. Prior to indulging in a pleasant activity, I started by performing something difficult. For instance, I would eat my favourite food when I finished a particularly challenging job assignment. Because of this, the reward felt even better.
  2. Avoidance Rule: I progressively cut back on activities that release a lot of dopamine. After four weeks, my account was reset. Importantly, I avoided stimuli like the sound of my phone’s notifications.
  3. According to the Rule of Barriers, I reduced engagement by erecting obstacles. No sugary food at home and time limits on social media were game-changers. Even though it was weird at first, it was worth it.
  4. Rule of Boredom: The turning point came when I accepted boredom. My best thoughts and most profound insights came when I just let my mind roam. At first, it made me feel uneasy, but eventually, it motivated me.
The Unforeseen Advantages

Improving my life was managing my dopamine levels.

I was able to concentrate better and get more done. Instead of being a master, social media evolved from a thoughtless habit.

Reading a book, taking a stroll, and having unplugged discussions are some of the most basic offline activities that delight me.

Valuable lessons learned on my path

Brain Reward System

  1. Digital Detox: Make it a habit to disconnect from electronic devices periodically. Lay low for a while—just an hour a day at first—and build up to more time. Indulge in enjoyable pursuits that do not involve technology at this time.
  2. Practice being fully present in the present moment. Take note of the little things going on around you, such as the way your clothing feels, the aroma of your coffee, and the noises around you. This will help you focus on the here and now and alleviate stress.
  3. Low-Level Cognitive Demand Tasks: Doodling and creating are two examples of mindless pursuits that can calm your nerves and clear your head.
People:
  1. Make an effort to spend quality time interacting with others.
  2. Engage in profound and significant discourse.
  3. Stay fully engaged by listening attentively. Your relationships will be strengthened, and your mood will be lifted.
The Daily Regimen I Follow
  • I established some guidelines for myself when I chose to begin my dopamine detox. At least once a week, I would give myself a whole day without using any electronic gadgets.
  • I imagined a world without email, texts, or social media. I also made an effort to avoid processed sweeteners and spent the day doing things slowly and deliberately.
  • Detoxing was difficult at first. The need to look at my phone was relentless. The digital world was silent, and it was deafening.
  • However, I persisted because I knew that the result would be to reset the reward system in my brain.
The Impact of Practising Mindfulness

I made an effort to be mindful throughout my detox days.

Immerse yourself in the tranquil symphony of the rustling leaves and the melodious birdsong. These were just two of the many sounds that I heard while spending time outside.

  • While making meals from scratch, I focused on the flavours, aromas, and textures of each ingredient. It was like preparing a state dinner or something; I was attempting to give my undivided attention to every last detail.
  • The act of doing laundry has taken on a new dimension. They became Marie Kondo-themed events. It washes fifty items instead of. Washing five to eight items at a time, I would give each item my whole attention. It was one of a kind.

The ensuing lucidity of thought. Some weeks later, I started to see results.

  • Some mental fog had lifted.
  • My anxiety subsided, and my concentration improved.
  • I felt generally better.
Things that used to be a chore started to become fun. A feeling of peace and fulfilment washed over me.
Improving Interpersonal Bonds

Brain Reward System

  • Improving my social ties was one of the most fulfilling parts of my dopamine detox.
  • When I put down my phone, I felt like I could really connect with the people around me.
  • Without the pressure of having to defend myself, I was able to focus on listening.
  • My sense of presence and connection increased, and the quality of our conversations improved.
Physical Fitness’s Function

My dopamine control was much aided by exercise.

Whether it was a vigorous gym session, a yoga class, or a brisk stroll, I made it a habit to be physically active every single day.

I was able to keep my good mood and energy levels up thanks to exercise, which increases dopamine levels naturally.

Maintaining Equilibrium

It became a long-term objective to keep the dopamine levels in a healthy range.

I maintained a healthy equilibrium by maintaining my other habits and my weekly digital detoxes. Every day, I made an effort to cut back on my social media use, cut out sugary meals, and focus on what truly made me happy.

Advice On How to Control Your Dopamine Levels

In order to keep my dopamine levels stable, I have found the following extra measures helpful:

  • Migrate to Grayscale: Removing the vibrant icons and notifications from your phone will reduce the visual stimulation that triggers the release of dopamine.
  • You can avoid distractions and get more done if you check your email once a day.
  • The time you spend on certain apps. You may limit how much time you spend in certain apps each day using the built-in features of most smartphones.
  • Do Your Best to Surround Yourself with Funny People: Laughing produces a natural high, which improves mood and decreases stress.
  • Establish a Morning Routine: Refrain from checking your phone upon waking up to avoid a rapid surge of dopamine.
  • Warm and cold shower. Try a combination of warm and cold showers to unwind after a long day and get your blood pumping. Neither boiling nor freezing is required. Begin with a modest step.
Taking stock of the path
  • Looking back, my quest to comprehend and control dopamine was life-altering.
  • In times of peace, I am able to enjoy life’s little joys fully.
  • I got my motivation back, my productivity up, and my health back on track when I learned to regulate my dopamine levels.

Dopamine: A Fresh Viewpoint

The neurotransmitter dopamine is a potent motivator and behavioural regulator in humans.

Take charge of your life by learning how it works and using tactics to regulate your dopamine levels.

You may learn to control your dopamine levels and live a happier, healthier life by doing a digital detox, practising mindfulness, or even just embracing boredom.

Reset your dopamine balance, take a deep breath, and enjoy life to the fullest again. Try a dopamine reset if you need a break from your worries or lack of drive. It may have the same profound effect on you as it did on me.

By controlling my dopamine levels, I have rediscovered a feeling of purpose, stronger relationships with others around me, and mastery over my attention and motivation.

Although there are many potential diversions in this world, I have learned from my trip that we are each given the freedom to choose how we will respond to them.

We may design a life that is both fruitful and satisfying with little work and awareness.

 

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