Can’t pay attention, even for 10 minutes !!- Can’t finish your train of thought !!- is this you?
Are you trying to remember a million things at once, feeling anxious and out of control with a sinking feeling of dread, like you forgot to do something?
Let me share what might be happening.
Dopamine is a brain chemical that directly impacts our central nervous system.
The brain produces dopamine, and this makes us feel good and encourages us to do more of whatever we’re doing.
If we keep doing that thing – whether it’s scrolling through social media, drinking alcohol, eating cake, climbing mountains or practicing qigong – then the body produces even more dopamine.
However dopamine just wants more dopamine – it is never content. It’s always looking for that next hit. Things like social media, alcohol, excess food and drugs mess with your dopamine circuit and throw it out of balance.
As a result, you may develop a dopamine disorder, which can affect your attention span, create anxiety and a restless dread.
That isn’t to say that dopamine isn’t absolutely essential for the body. My partner has Parkinson’s which is caused by disruption to the dopamine circuitry in the brain. This causes him to shuffle and tremble as he can’t control the nerve impulses that move his body.
But to paraphrase Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Aquinas, Nietzsche and the Buddha; the ultimate motivation and suffering of all human behaviour is the seeking of pleasure and the avoidance of pain – this ancient Stoic, Buddhist, Taoist and modern Western philosophy, expertly describes the dopamine cycle.
For the last 6 weeks, together with 300 members of Chi Flow with Jo, I have been intermittent fasting including no refined sugars, refined carbs, alcohol or coffee on an empty stomach. This gentle fast has really shown me how many habitual actions gave me dopamine hits and some days, they just didn’t stop coming as I seek out pleasure and avoid pain. For dopamine, enough is never enough.
We broke our fast as a group this weekend and I broke my fast with a long morning walk finished with a coffee and an oat biscuit, sweet, buttery and a complete sugar buzz. My first in 6 weeks. Even before I was finished I was thinking about the next possible hit I could have now that the fast was over……. I could bake a cake, a glass of red wine, have a late dinner late and maybe a coffee with brandy……. on and on, I’d already got into the pleasure and reward aspect of eating. Not that there’s anything wrong with eating good food or living in pleasurable circumstances but experiencing and understanding that they don’t create your pleasure and pain is essential.
Dopamine is a transitory chemical and finding happiness from this fleeting hit is a sure way to get caught into an addictive mindset of looking for your next fix. Chi Flow with Jo gives me a physical practice of not instantly answering the call for dopamine so I can remain happy, balanced and focused whether there is a biscuit with my coffee or not.
“This experience has certainly been a challenge, but has really benefited my brains well being…. The quality of my thoughts have improved massively” Toby – Member of Chi Flow with Jo
But how can you change the dopamine pathways so that you are able to focus more and feel less anxious?
Answer = Space ……. Take some space. Being able to have space between the thought, the desire and the rush to respond is essential to break negative, addictive, dopamine habits. Essential to the fasting was the Chi Flow with Jo exercises. These synchronise the breath with movement which allows space and relaxation for the mind. Being able to question your own thoughts and not instantly believe everything you think is crucial to wellbeing. Space, physical, mental or emotional, means that you are not acting from habitual patterns, fear of suffering or grasping for satisfaction.
When you practice not believing and following every thought or impulse, you will experience a happiness and satisfaction that is always there. Under the moment by moment gratifications and habitual patterns is your soul, your life essence, as free and unencumbered as the day you were born. Spending more time in the space between your thoughts means you will once again connect with real peace, clear focus and experience true joy.
The mind and its thoughts are just making arrangements to enhance your life, whether that is through money, relationship, job, family. These things are short lived dopamine hits. Fantastic to experience but they are the just accessories of life. As we saw through lockdown, a wardrobe full of clothes that couldn’t be worn, a fancy car with no where to drive to, a job in an economy that ground to a halt, a house that became a prison. Getting entangled, attached or over focused on life’s accessories does not bring us lasting good physical, emotional or mental health.
It’s great to use and develop the mind, learning, studying, creating, problem solving. The mind and our thoughts are an essential, fantastic tool for life. Just like the heart, the liver, the intestines, it has a job to do. But being consumed by overthinking is not the only way to be.
Take time for the space in-between thoughts. Sometimes there’s a misconception that if you spend time meditating you are not engaging with life. But meditating isn’t about sitting cross legged, on a cushion, eyes closed trying not to think. It’s more a state of being where you don’t instantly follow and believe all that you think.
Spending time connecting with this way of being then influences all aspects of your life – you may find your life becoming a meditative, compassionate experience, where you don’t believe every thought or follow every dopamine impulse.
For instance, I love social media – I post every day on facebook, instagram and have over 30K followers on tik tok (@joannefaulknershiatsu) I love thinking what I can post, what I can share and what will help people.
But if I’m not careful, my dopamine gets out of whack. I’m looking for the likes and shares. I find that I get agitated, needing to do more and more, post more and more. My anxiety levels increase and I feel like I’m not doing enough, not sharing enough, not being clear enough – the bottom line is I end up feeling that I AM NOT ENOUGH.
In this way, Im overthinking, searching out the dopamine likes and shares. My breath becomes shorter, my heart rate elevates, I don’t think clearly and my sleep becomes disrupted as I try and out-think failure and plan for success – my thought patterns become driven by fear and dopamine. I need to return to my practice – Focusing my attention on qigong is what keeps me mentally and physically healthy.
Yes I practice every weekday morning, and you can join me and 300 others but even the 2 minute routine below will be enough to bring you home to your body. Harmonising body and breath brings you home to yourself. It gives you space and a feeling of calm, knowing that you are enough and you will always be enough.