Shatter Your Entire View Of Health

Join others getting their entire idea of what health is shattered every Sunday while reading Health Decoded.

October 15, 2023 | Max Jenkinson

This Is Why You Don't Reach Your Goals (How to Rewire Your Mind)

Imagine a world without social media.

A world where you wouldn’t be bombarded with images and videos of healthier, happier, and richer people than you.

Would you be happier?

Really imagine what it would be like without social media.

No scrolling. No constant update on all your friends and hundreds of people you don’t know. No daily updates on the terrible things going on around the world.

Just you and your life. You, your friends, your family, and your immediate surroundings.

If the answer is an obvious yes to you, then why are you still on it?

You might have tried to quit and failed. You might have heard about the odd people who live without it and benefit from quitting.

Why haven’t you succeeded?

It comes down to a brain molecule with a specific job that was hijacked. It used to cause us to strive for a better future. Now it keeps us addicted to things that don’t benefit us.


Jordan Peterson used to have a part of his university course where he’d ask the students to estimate how much time they waste per day.

They usually came up with a couple of hours a day. He would then tell them some simple arithmetic about how our time spent affects us in the future.

If we stopped wasting that time and instead put it toward something we value, what would happen?

The question isn’t if we are wasting time or not. We know that we are. The question is; why we are wasting time? And, the answer we want is the answer to the question: how do we stop wasting time?

Before we get into it we need to get to know the molecule that was successfully hijacked.

Dopamine, commonly thought of as a pleasure molecule but is more accurately described as the anticipation molecule.

Dopamine has a very specific job: maximizing resources that will be available to us in the future; the pursuit of better things.

The Molecule of More

The dopamine system is split into two:

  1. The desire circuit

  2. The control circuit

The desire circuit controls the desire to pursue better things while the control circuit gives us the willpower to actually get there.

Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that makes us seek out the unexpected. It moves us toward uncertainty in the hope of potential gains.

Gambling is the perfect artificial environment for dopamine to work its magic. Gambling has both uncertainty and unexpected rewards.

However, the uncertainty is artificially designed to be the most rewarding to the dopamine system. The uncertainty of when the reward comes in combination with the insanely high potential reward makes gambling extremely addictive.

When social media platforms were developed they hired gambling machine designers and behavioural psychologists to create a dopamine-hijacking phenom.

When the algorithms got access to your data they got even better because the hijacking became personal. The algorithms know you better than anyone else, at least on a dopaminergic level.

They know what you like and dislike, how to get your cogs spinning, and how to get you excited, agitated, sad, or happy.

The problem with social media, gambling and anything that has hijacked the dopamine system is not only their addictive nature.

It is the hijacking of the dopamine system.


Don’t Let Them Hijack Your Dopamine

In the ancestral environment, those who were more content tended to die more often. We evolved to be dissatisfied with our current affairs and thus to constantly strive toward a better future.

And, look at what we have created. Our dopamine system is strong.

One of the best books on the topic is The Molecule of More. The title makes sense. The dopamine system is what allows us to look into the future, determine a better one, the way there and then execute the plan to get there.

It is the system that defines our progress toward goals. It determines the goals, defines a plan and then sustains the willpower and determination to get us there.

In the past, this ensured humans used their unique capacity to solve problems that other animals couldn’t. It made us designers of our environment.

It made us remove ourselves from the natural world. The system that got us here is now working against us.

Dopamine is linked to upward mobility within an abstract landscape of progress. Things could always be better. The dopamine system allows us to see what could be and to materialize it into reality.

As I’ve written about in the past, flow is the mental state where humans function and feel their best. To get into flow, dopamine plays a part.

Dopamine is intrinsically linked to our motivation. It gives us the will to do what is gruelling to get what we want. It attaches itself to our progress within a given game.

Psychologist and flow researcher John Vervake told Tim Ferris on Ferris’s podcast that flow is the place of maximal insight in a game that bears relation to your identity and status.

So, what happens when dopamine becomes linked to things that do not bear relation to your identity and status?

Trap 1: The Passive Dopamine

This is the case with the consumption of social media. Doom scrolling does not increase your status, your skills, or your worth to others. But it gets your dopamine system working.

It’s the same with porn, sensational news (most news today) and gambling in any degree.

Your dopamine is finite. You only have so much of it on a daily basis. Thus we need to use it wisely.

If you use it on things that do not bear relation to your identity and a better future you will have less to use on things that actually matter.

You’ll feel like you have less energy, motivation and will to pursue things you value, to become the person you want to be and to reach the goals you want.

Trap 2: The Virtual Trap

Even if you use it in its proper way you might be walking into another trap.

I call this the virtual trap, and it is best described with video games. Video games have all the components to hijack the dopamine system but it also acts on our identity and status.

Within a video game, we get to move toward goals and increase our status at the same time. This allows flow to emerge.

Despite this (unless you earn money playing the game) it bears almost no relation to your status or identity in the real world. It is in a sense a virtual flow and a virtual increase in status.

Remember, flow and the dopamine system is finite. If we use them in the virtual world we will have less to use in the real world.

It will also be harder to induce flow in a real-world setting. Video games are in fact designed to induce flow in the most efficient way possible. Real-world games are not.

Attaching our dopamine system to a virtual game will make it harder to find meaning, and flow and thus progress toward a better future in the real world.

Progress in the real world is hard, gruelling and requires a lot of effort across long stretches of time. Real-world games won’t seem as exciting, or enjoyable if we attach our dopamine system to the virtual.

Trap 3: The Addiction Justification Loop

Dopamine hijackers are designed to outcompete any natural competitors. Let’s define natural competitors as things that actually move you toward a better future in a real-world context.

The addict within us is really good at justifying destructive behaviour to ourselves and others. The problem with dopamine hijackers is that many of them are socially accepted because most of us do them.

Being a drug addict is not, but being a social media addict is. It is awfully easy to justify using social media.

Everyone does it right? It’s fun, I enjoy it, I get news, and updates from my friends.

How bad can it be?

Well, the research shows that the more time we spend on social media the worse off we are.

So, when trying to determine who the hijackers are, be aware of the addict inside of you trying to justify behaviours that do not benefit you in the long run.

Ask yourself; Is it the addict talking or is the part of me that wants what is best for me?


Remove The Hijackers From The Plane

Your life is a journey. It is on a path to somewhere. You are the pilot, but only if you decide to actually stay in the cockpit.

Most people spend their entire day letting the hijackers of the plane sit in the cockpit while they sit in the first class playing video games, watching movies or scrolling social media.

Other people spend some time in the cockpit each day moving the plane toward a destination they actually want to go to.

Few people spend their entire day, every day, in the cockpit going to beautiful places. Landing the plane safely and enjoying the destination then they’re off again set course toward an even better place.

If you were in a plane and you could remove the hijackers, wouldn’t you?

That’s the case with your life right now. Figure out the primary hijackers in your life and remove them.

Is it social media, is it video games, is it porn or is it something else? Maybe it’s a combination. Figure it out and start to slowly remove them from your life.

Or, maybe, the best course of action is to throw them off your plane.

If they’re crashing the plane why keep them on your plane?


Utilize The Dopamine System With Care

Getting somewhere is all about attaching your dopamine system to the process that moves you toward that one thing. Your dopamine system only has a few slots open for things it can attach to.

Instead of allowing things to compete for the slots, remove the things you don’t even want to take up a slot.

If you only allowed things you actually wanted to compete for the slots, then wouldn’t the best things for you win?

If you allow all things to compete, the hijackers will win. They are designed to outcompete the things we actually want.

Real-world games are hard, virtual ones are not. Social media is cleverly designed to be the most effective dopamine hijacker ever created.

If you think you can out-compete it on pure willpower you are in for a long and hard battle.

If something isn’t serving you, meaning the net benefit is consistently negative, remove it. Remove it and see what takes its place. I bet it’s a lot more giving.

Imagine a world without the internet, no TV, no Netflix, no YouTube, no video games, no social media.

What would you do with your time?

Your parents or grandparents spent most of their life like this. Ask them what they did.

Do you think you would be happier if you removed most of them?

What is the balance for you? I guess you want to be as happy as possible. I at least want you to be as happy as possible.

The hijackers do not. They do not care about your well-being. If you do, you must do the hard work of throwing someone off the plane that isn’t serving the journey you should go on.

You only get one journey in this life. Do not let someone hijack where you are going, what you get to see and what you get to do.

Your life is too valuable to waste, even for a second.

As always, until next Sunday, do what makes your future self proud.

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Shatter Your Entire View Of Health

Join others getting their entire idea of what health is shattered every Sunday while reading Health Decoded.