When we think of the words ‘Brain Fuel’ we mainly think of food and water as the source. However, Gerry explains how the brain can create its own fuel.
Dopamine, oxytocin and cortisol are the three brain fuels that Gerry talks about in this video. These fuels allow the brain to do certain things in certain ways that impact how we think and feel.
If you wish to find out more about Dopamine, check out the ‘Read More’ section below.
Your challenge today is to think about how your body uses and reacts to these three brain fuels. Could you be experiencing a little too much cortisol or not enough oxytocin? Are there changes you can make to your daily routines to help shift the balance to a healthier one?
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Dopamine thresholds: The secret to Changing our norm
We all have chemical changes that happen in the brain as we think and act in certain ways. These become learned brain patterns as the neural pathways involved in this thinking and behaviour habits get wrapped in more myelin sheaths every time we activated. This then allows these pathways to become the strongest and easiest to find when our brain has to find a response under pressure. This is why, under pressure we tend to revert to type, we tend to think and act in the same way even if that thinking and behavioural habit isn’t actually serving us well. In a pressure or anxious moment our brain will happily substitute the familiar for the good.
Chemical responses quickly get attached to these brain activities that make them feel desirable or undesirable. We will trigger the release of dopamine to any behaviour we feel brings a sense of calmness, order or a distraction. This can be drinking a coffee. Very often immediately after we take the first few sips of coffee we start to feel better, we start to feel the caffeine kick in. Of course we all know it takes caffeine quite a while to get into our system and this initial feelings of calm and relief and nothing to do with the coffee in the cup, it has everything to do with the release of Dopamine in the brain that the smell of coffee has triggered the release of. Many coffee shops will actually recreate the smell of coffee using artificial oils and scents so that your dopamine centre has been triggered from the moment you walk in, making sure you are more likely to buy a coffee as dopamine has the incredible ability to motivate us towards making decisions that will direct us to the actions that will have us engage in dopamine inducing activities.
Another great example is the glass of wine. So many people feel far more relaxed and at ease after a glass of wine. The truth is, like in the coffee instance most people feel this effect long before the wine has got into their bloodstream. Holding the glass of wine, smelling the wine is enough to trigger dopamine release.
We tend to experience exactly what we expect to experience and that experience has very little to do with what is in the cup or in the glass.
The desirable dopamine trigger is only desirable because it is familiar, known and the undesirable is only undesirable because it is unfamiliar, unknown or linked to an undesirable feeling. It has very little to do with which activity is actually good for us.
The great news is we can take control and change our dopamine triggers and thresholds. Think of it in the same way we think about aerobic or anaerobic thresholds. We can easily reach our normal thresholds and when we do we get the physiological feedback of fatigue and then the dopamine kicks in to give us that feel good factor.
To break an anaerobic or aerobic threshold is difficult, it takes time, you have to push yourself, physically, mentally and chemically into the unknown. At first this feels extremely difficult and demanding and while you are trying to break these barriers your neurological pathways are screaming at you to re-engage in old/ learned behaviour and if you do it will repay you with the soothing and feel good desirable dopamine that are linked to the old thresholds.
As long as we give in and choose the desirable dopamine we are not ever going to break new barriers. If we can withstand the temptation to retreat and push ahead and endure the feel and taste of the undesirable dopamine we will then begin to form new neurological pathways. These pathways will then become thick with myelin and then become learned pathways and give way to a new threshold. Once this new threshold becomes established then this is where the desired dopamine will be released and this new threshold is then not just permitted but desired by the mind. We will have created a new normal.