If you want to take control of your brain, you have to know how to increase dopamine naturally from sources that are natural and healthy.
Supplements are one option (I’ve shared the best dopamine supplement below). But there are also ways to boost levels without supplements.
The key is knowing the best natural sources of dopamine (here’s a list).
Once you know how to boost dopamine levels naturally, you can take control of your energy levels and your motivation levels, and you can quit multiple addictions and beat cravings [READ: Meditation For Cravings And Addictions].
It all comes down to your ability to control dopamine levels.
Why You Need To Get Dopamine Naturally
Have you ever wondered why your productivity levels and motivation levels seem to change all the time?
Sometimes you’re motivated and have high productivity levels. Sometimes you’re the walking dead.
One of the reasons why your energy levels fluctuate so much is because of brain chemicals.
You’re sitting there staring at the computer. Your exams, or perhaps your work deadline, is coming up. You tell yourself to work. But instead, you waste time on Facebook, or you head out for a drink or a smoke, or you binge-watch Netflix.
That’s how I used to live. And it’s how billions of other people live.
The problem is you are boosting your levels using unhealthy sources. Social media. Smokes. Coffee. Alcohol. They all boost your levels, but in a bad way.
Those unhealthy sources prevent you from being highly self-motivated. And they can massively interrupt your quality of life.
Most times, when people are unproductive and unmotivated, it’s because of a chemical imbalance.
The most important brain chemicals for productivity and motivation are:
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that transmits signals between nerve cells (1). It motivates you to take action.
When you perform a positive action, your brain is doing it in anticipation of the release of dopamine that will result from it. It’s the carrot in front of the horse’s face.
One of the best natural sources is food. We ingest tyrosine, an amino acid, that becomes dopa, and that dopa then becomes dopamine. It is then passed through the brain via dopamine machinery. If that machinery is impaired, a variety of complications can arise, including Parkinson’s, ADHD, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer’s.
The thing is, when you don’t use natural source of it, you kill your motivation levels.
Other brain chemicals
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that can have a significant effect on mood and emotion.
Serotonin flows when you feel high self regard.
People who are lonely and depressed have low serotonin levels (2).
Serotonin is released when you reflect on past accomplishments—your brain perceives little difference between reality and imagined reality, so when you imagine reliving past glory, you release serotonin. Healthy exposure to the sun also releases serotonin.
Oxytocin creates trust and intimacy. It’s the cuddle hormone. So if you hug people a lot, it’s because your brain wants to keep a steady flow of oxytocin.
Oxytocin also improves cardiovascular health and improves your immune system.
Endorphins are released to alleviate stress and anxiety. Exercise is the best natural way to produce endorphins. Laughter is another way. And aromatherapy also helps, especially lavender.
These brain chemicals play a significant role in motivation and productivity.
Benefits of natural sources of dopamine
Managing your dopamine will give you motivation to:
- Get fit
- Lose weight
- Get the perfect boyfriend or girlfriend
- Succeed in your career
- Achieve that ambitions
- Get that bucket-list item done
I struggled for years to find the motivation to lose weight. I always wanted to be healthy, to look good, and to have toned muscles. But I lacked motivation.
Then I did a ton of research into dopamine. And it turned out I was addicted to boosting levels from unnatural sources.
Here’s it works:
- Your brain anticipates it in association to a specific thing or activity (for instance, exercise)
- This anticipation makes you want to exercise
- You exercise
- Your brain releases it
- You feel good
- Your brain associates exercise with feeling good
- You want to exercise again
- You soon get fit
Dopamine motivates everything you do.
Were humanity 100% natural and not entirely self-destructive, this situation would be an altogether positive thing. We would all be boosting dopamine levels naturally, such as by eating fruit and other healthy food, exercise, work hard, and do other positive things because those are the natural ways of raising levels.
Problems arise when you use unhealthy and unnatural sources.
To prove this, go get yourself a horse.
Well, don’t really, but take it from a horse lover, if you put a carrot on a stick in front of a horse the horse will keep walking until it gobbles up the carrot. That’s a good thing, because the horse will get exercise while it’s moving.
But what if you put that carrot in the wrong place?
Place the carrot above the horse’s neck and it will constantly arch its neck backwards until it gets a stiff neck. Put the carrot in the wrong place and the horse will still try to get it even though it’s harming itself.
Your brain is that horse.
If you’re not productive and not motivated it’s because your carrot is in the wrong place. By which I mean that you are raising dopamine through sources that are unnatural and unhealthy.
Here’s What Happens When You Don’t Get Dopamine Naturally
Unnatural sources are brutal. For instance, when you’re addicted to eating sugar, or you are addicted to smoking.
Dopamine is the way your brain motivates itself to do something.
Your brain, left to its natural course, will release this brain chemical from positive activities like completing a task and going on a winning streak.
Some ways to raise your levels include:
- Completing tasks
- Achieving things
- Going on a winning streak
- Making love
Left to its own natural state, your brain will boost levels through natural sources.
Then came money and commercialisation.
Some bright scientist in a lab learned how to get a dopamine hit from unnatural sources. And they abused it.
Companies realised they could make mind control a reality by making people get dopamine from their products.
A fat cat business owner then said to the scientist, “Can you make it so people get dopamine from our products so people will get addicted to them?”
An exchange was made whereby the scientist made a packet of money, the businessman got you addicted to their products, and people became slaves because someone was controlling their brains’ motivator.
Flash forward several years to the present day.
People’s brains have now learned to use unnatural sources. People use unnatural sources like eating sugar, smoking cigarettes, watching movies, and so on. Their minds are now manipulated into getting dopamine through negative actions.
We can think of these things as bad mental hygiene because they are impurities both of body and mind.
Because their brains are motivated to get those unhealthily high dopamine levels from unhealthy products, they are no longer motivated to do the right things. Had they not used unnatural sources, they would be satisfied naturally.
The Negative Effects Of Unhealthy Sources of dopamine
Problem is this: You get more of a boost in dopamine levels from unhealthy sources than healthy ones.
Take exercise, for instance:
Exercise only releases X amount of dopamine. So you do get a hit of it from exercise. But a small hit.
Having a cigarette, watching a movie (especially an adult movie), eating junk food… those activities boost levels more than exercise does.
And of course, exercise takes much more effort than those activities.
So now your brain says, “Well, I could exercise and feel quite good. Or I could just sit here watching TV and drinking coke and feel amazing.”
What do you think your brain is going to choose?
It’s like me asking you, “Would you like to earn $100 for working your butt off or $1000 for doing nothing?” Erm, I’ll do nothing, thanks for the free money.
The reality of the situation:
- People are highly motivated and highly productive
- They are motivated to get dopamine from unhealthy sources
- They successfully get dopamine from those sources (they smoke, have far too much sugar etc.)
- Because they get dopamine from unsanitary sources, they don’t get them from natural, positive sources (they don’t exercise or work to get dopamine)
- These people are motivated and productive. Just in totally the wrong way.
Many people suffer from addictions because they’ve learnt to get dopamine hits either in the wrong quantities or from the wrong sources
You will not be surprised when I say that many of the world’s largest manufacturers have succeeded because they can boost your dopamine levels from unnatural sources.
For starters, all foods that contain lots of sugar lead to a hit. Are you addicted to Coke (as in “Cola”)? That’s because of the amount of sugar it contains. The sugar boosts dopamine levels in your brain. Your brain says, “Wow, I must have done something right!”. You’ve trained your brain that Coke = dopamine. You’re addicted.
Smoking cigarettes? Same deal.
Those adult videos you watch when no one’s home? Yeah. Same deal.
Thankfully, there are some great techniques to overcome these addictions.
Loss of Productivity And Motivation
If you have reasonable control of your dopamine levels, you will know it. You’ll have high levels of motivation, you’ll feel energy coursing through your body, you’ll have a healthy libido, and you’ll have high levels of confidence.
Those are the benefits of managing your dopamine levels.
If you do not have appropriately managed dopamine levels, you will probably know it too, for other reasons.
Problems from unhealthy sources:
- Low libido
- Lack of focus and concentration
- Lack of motivation
- memory loss
How To Manage Dopamine Levels
- Increase dopamine naturally (get it from natural sources).
- Lower or replace hits from unnatural sources.
If you’ve gotten used to hits from unhealthy sources, changing them can be a challenge.
When you use drugs or sugar to boost dopamine levels, your brain then wants more of it, and it’s not happy with the amount it gets doing healthy activities.
If you’ve been smoking, overeating, watching adult videos, or taking in other massive hits of dopamine, your brain has learnt to take more dopamine than it naturally should.
This means that your brain is now unsatisfied with the normal levels. It wants big hits. It wants sugar, cigarettes, etc.
So now you’ve got a brain that only feels satisfied if it’s given unhealthy levels of dopamine from harmful sources.
Problem. Because now you’re left two choices:
- Continue to get dopamine hits from unnatural sources, which will make you happy for a bit but ultimately kill you.
- Replace dopamine sources, so they are more natural. This will be a very healthy choice, but you’ll feel like crap for a while.
The right choice here is choice two: do not do the unhealthy thing, let the brain return to its healthy state, and deal with the anxiety and depression while your mind returns to a healthy state.
Problem is it’s not that easy because your previous addiction has hijacked your brain.
Your brain wants very high levels of the neurotransmitter.
You have trained yourself to boost levels through sources that are not natural and not healthy. If your brain doesn’t get those high levels of dopamine, you will experience symptoms of withdrawal.
Most people notice a massive difference in self-esteem when they try to change their dopamine habits.
When you lose self-esteem, you’ll start to think “Do I deserve to be happy/healthy anyway?”
And when you think you don’t deserve happiness and health, well, then sod it, where are my cigarettes?
And so because of all this, it is tough to get motivated and healthy.
How To Increase Dopamine Naturally
The truth is, while you return your brain to natural control, you will feel like crap. Period. However, you can make things easier for yourself if you know how to give yourself more dopamine.
While your brain returns to natural dopamine levels, bolster it with positive, natural, healthy activities.
- You can quit smoking
- give up sugar
- get through your diet
- stop watching adult films (be a “nofap”)
- and stop all those other unhealthy actions by replacing them with healthy activities. You’re killing the “bad dopamine” and replacing it with “good dopamine”.
Healthy Sources Of Dopamine
In a moment, I will share with you how to increase dopamine naturally through healthy sources.
But first a warning.
You’re going to think “These activities won’t help me and won’t give me what I want.”
Why would you think that?
Because of psychology.
Remember, dopamine is what your brain wants. But your brain has been boosting the neurotransmitter levels from sources that are not natural and not healthy. So when I tell you “Go and exercise.” Your mind will say “Exercise doesn’t give me what I want. Smoking does”.
Do you see my point?
Because your brain has learnt the wrong thing, you will think the right thing is bullshit.
Which is fine.
So long as you understand that your current perception of the “right thing” is warped, you can counterattack your intuitive response.
Here’s my strategy:
- Let yourself say “That’s bullshit.”
- Then say, “That seems like bullshit because I have learnt to think the wrong way.”
- Then say, “I’m learning to do this the right way now, so I have to just put my thoughts behind me for a second”.
- Then go and do the right thing even though you will not feel like doing it.
This attitude will help you to get through the challenges of managing your dopamine levels.
8 Ways How To Increase Dopamine Naturally
1. Food sources
Food is one of the best ways to raise your levels of dopamine. Try adding these to your diet:
- Animal products
- Fruits (apples, bananas, avocados, watermelon)
- Vegetables (beets, fava beans, leafy greens, lima beans, sea vegetables)
- Nuts (almonds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds)
- Green tea
- Foods containing probiotics
There are many natural health supplements. The best supplements are Curcumin (found in turmeric), Gingko Biloba, L-theanine (contained in green tea), and Acetyl-l-tyrosine
It should come as no surprise that one of the best ways how to organically raise dopamine is with exercise.
You already know that exercise is the best thing you can do to improve your brain functioning.
The effects of exercise on the brain have been studied by Dr John Ratey, psychiatrist and author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain
Dr Ratey’s research shows that exercise promotes the grown of new brain receptors, thereby raising baseline levels of dopamine.
Have you ever been out running when you’ve felt “Runner’s High”? That’s because you had a hit caused by the physical exercise.
Importantly, you don’t need to do extraneous exercise to get a dopamine release. Even more gentle exercises like tai chi, yoga, and qi gong will provide a release more of the neurotransmitter.
My thing to do is to use meditation.
Meditation is known to produce more than 100 health benefits.
Recent scientific research has also shown that you can use meditation for a boost (6). Meditation also helps stop cravings. This makes it one of the best things you can do to overcome addictions.
4: Creative sources
Creative hobbies also improve dopamine levels (3).
Activities such as painting, drawing, dancing, photography, and woodworking all help to put your mind into a meditative state, which in turn increases levels naturally.
Somewhat surprisingly, music is also a great way to increase dopamine levels (4).
Levels improve during moments of anticipation (which is the main reason why anticipation is often better than the real thing).
When you listen to your favourite song, your brain is anticipating the parts your particularly like (such as the chorus). This releases dopamine.
6: Learn new things
Learning something new is a fun way to give yourself a dopamine boost.
This is mostly due to ancestry. Your ancestors needed to learn things like how to make a wheel to survive. Nature motivated them to do so by providing them with the brain chemical. Now, whenever you learn something new, you get a release of dopamine, and you can feel your connection to your ancestors too.
7: Finish jobs
One of the best ways to get dopamine naturally is to finish tasks (5).
Every time you finish a task, you get a release of dopamine, a natural incentive for finishing what you start.
If you want more dopamine (and also more motivation) break a big task into a series of smaller tasks. You’ll get a dopamine hit every time you finish one of those smaller tasks. This is also why it’s often hard and intimidating to take on longer tasks because your brain will be saying “This will take forever. When’s my next hit of dopamine?”
8: Winning streak
Your mind likes going on streaks.
Maybe that’s why sports are so obsessed with winning streaks. Every time you add another success to a winning streak, you get a hit of dopamine (6).
To get a winning streak going, start one habit today, for instance, meditate. Put an X down in a calendar saying you successfully meditated. Do it every day. Before long you’ll have a streak, which will provide you with dopamine, and that dopamine will motivate you to keep going.
Note that this is also an excellent way to break a habit.
Every time you don’t do your habit (for instance, you have a cigarette but don’t have one) mark it down. Before long you’ll get a streak. That streak will give you dopamine (making you less inclined to need the dopamine you would get from smoking), and it will also motivate you to keep going.
With the above strategies, you can start to manage your dopamine and to get dopamine from healthier sources.
Science proves that when you manage your dopamine, you will substantially increase productivity and motivation.
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Paul Harrison is a passionate meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in meditation and mindfulness. He studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
“My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation” – Paul Harrison