What is Dopamine? The Motivation Molecule

Vaughn Bell once called dopamine the Kim Kardashian of molecules. It’s popular, sexy (?), and it just pops up where you least expect it.

Dopamine is often called the pleasure molecule, but that is the wrong way to understand America’s favorite neurotransmitter. In fact, dopamine is more like the desire molecule. You could even call it the motivation molecule.

This article is about a misunderstood molecule that secretly determines almost everything you do. Read on to find out more about:

  • What Dopamine is Used For
  • How to Have More Motivation
  • What Jordan Peterson Says About the Relationship Between Responsibility and Meaning

Oxytocin, not Dopamine, is the most aptly called “pleasure molecule”

What is Dopamine Used For

In 2009, scientists published a study that showed an extreme difference in motivation between rats with and without dopamine.

The conclusion of the experiment is that the dopamine-ful rats would develop cravings so strong that they would keep pressing the lever that signaled food until they literally dropped from exhaustion. Meanwhile, the dopamine-less rats would not get out of their little rat bed even for food or water.

The rats that had dopamine blocked were still capable of feeling pleasure if food was put in their mouths, they just lacked all will to live.

How does this apply to me? It applies to you, friend, because you live in the most dopamine-drenched time in human history.

Social media, junk food, and masturbation are all dopamine-intensive activities.

This is a problem because our bodies quickly develop a tolerance for dopamine, like with alcohol. Our body’s homeostasis automatically defends us from over-motivating. The problem is that this doesn’t stop at junk food.

If your dopamine pathways are overstimulated for too long, your motivation plane is destined to plummet and crash land in depression valley.

So what causes your brain to produce dopamine? The simple answer is anything where you anticipate a reward.

How to Summon Motivation

photo by @LievanoFreeman

Meaning automatically leads to motivation

Verse Lozano

Have you noticed how there are weirdos out there who don’t seem to dread going to the gym? Some people have so much motivation that they somehow don’t mind coming home from their 9-5 to stay up until the wee hours working on their side-projects.

Highly productive people have made friends with their dopamine glands. Sometimes, without even knowing what dopamine is or what it’s used for.

One surefire way you can infuse your life with chemical motivation is by discovering what brings you meaning. Meaning is a sustainable source of the reward feeling that is triggered by dopamine.

For many people meaning is the pursuit and/or maintenance of artistic ability, love, responsibility, or family. Let me know in the comments what other things I haven’t thought of that can bring us meaning.

How to Get Respect and Motivation at the Same Time

Jordan Peterson likes to talk about the relationship between responsibility and meaning. If you begin to accept responsibility over things in your life, you will generate meaning and therefore, align your dopamine homeostasis with things you actually care about and are good for you.

Meaning aligns your dopamine levels with healthy activities

If you embrace responsibility over something, this relationship becomes a tool you can use to boost yourself into a meaning-rich lifestyle. It doesn’t matter if your responsibility is over a child, a dog, or a manager position at the Barbie doll factory.

Before we talk about positives such as respect and meaning though, let’s just try to imagine the life of a very frustrated person who suffers without meaning and enjoys very little respect in his/her life for some one reason or another. The reasons don’t matter. What matters is that this person would obviously be better adjusted with respect and esteem. Likely, the person knows this.

Practical Applications

Philosophy without an application is pointless. So we have included two ways you can actually re-structure your dopamine balance.

These tips will help your body begin to crave productivity.

Get a Simple Elephant Agenda:

This particular agenda is better than others because it leverages positive psychology to propel you toward your long-term goals. It comes with a generous amount of blank pages in the back that let you express yourself creatively, loosely, and spontaneously; it includes a vision board and mind map in the front that keep you aimed toward your goal; and it includes random appearances of an elephant icon throughout the regular entry pages—when you see this icon, you are supposed to go back to the mind map and vision board in the beginning and reflect on your progress.

Learn What is Meaningful to You:

Meaning aligns your dopamine levels with healthy activities. Psychologists talk about the relationship between responsibility and meaning.

If you begin to accept responsibility over things in your life, you will generate meaning.

If you embrace responsibility over something, this relationship becomes a tool you can use to boost yourself into a meaning-rich lifestyle. It doesn’t matter if your responsibility is over a child, a dog, a company, or a job as a busboy.

Jordan Peterson’s Advice

Peterson uses the relationship between responsibility and meaning as a recurring theme in his bestselling book Twelve Rules for Life. He believes it is a valuable relationship to explore because it is so dang underrated.

Twelve Rules for Life offers psychology’s solutions to the mental health problems of modern society.

Peterson’s twelve rules are:

  1. Stand up straight with your shoulders back
  2. Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping
  3. Make friends with people who want the best for you
  4. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today
  5. Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them
  6. Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world
  7. Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)
  8. Tell the truth – or, at least, don’t lie
  9. Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t
  10. Be precise in your speech
  11. Do not bother children when they are skateboarding
  12. Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street

Conclusion

Dopamine is a misunderstood molecule. Its use is not pleasure, but chemical motivation. Learning to recognize when your brain is launching a dopamine campaign on your affect can be a useful tool in your personal development arsenal.

If you want to learn more about psychology in an artistic way, check out our debut book on Amazon. Our books are made to feel like the paperback form of an educational YouTube channel.

Critique of Self-Help Writers in Poem Form

This poem is about the (necessary?) narcissism of self-help authors

Cringey arrogance:
Our curse,
us self-help writers.
We get a special kind of hell.


It is a boisterous pit,
like the tower of Babel,
but obviously inverted.

It’s below-ground,
this metaphor ☝🙄

In self-help hell
no one listens to each other.


No one can even speak, really
over all the tongues
flipping and fluttering.

But I believe in cures and redemption.
I Iove human change.

Plus I’m arrogant too.

Behold Juan’s two cents 🌟🤏
check out my poultice of words.
River meet rudder:

You are not much
pero también eres alguito.