Reward Systems, Reinforced Behavior, and Dopamine

Posted On: July 24, 2020

I am a lazy person who wishes to hit the gym and eat healthily. I cannot concentrate on my tasks, I have no impulse control. I have a terrible tendency of wanting to push off until tomorrow what I should be doing today. I know I’m stressed out — my body feels tired and my thoughts are spinning. I am constantly seeking excitement, entertainment, and validation.

This is the story of many individuals in the modern world.Humans have become lazy, distracted, and procrastinators, buying excitement and pleasure (dose of dopamine) in virtual and material stuff.

We tend to indulge in actions that precede Rewards

Every habit begins with a pattern called a “habit loop,”. One such loop is the reward system where a pleasant stimulus follows a behavior. Our behaviors respond well to rewards and recur.

Reward is any object, event, or activity eliciting pleasurable feelings. This may solve the riddle as to why people are driven by tasty food, loving touch, sex, alcohol, drugs, gambling, social media attention, or online shopping.

Reward system and Dopamine

thinking man chemistry
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The reward system operates on dopamine. Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter, also known as the “go get it” chemical. It makes us seek out pleasurable experiences and these experiences encourage a specific behavior in us.

Dopamine drives the spur and strengthens neural pathways to encourage repeated behavior. In an evolutionary context, it rewards us for advantageous behaviors and motivates us to repeat the behavior.

Alas, in today’s world, unhealthy stimuli like texts, notifications, videos, images, likes, comments, binge-watching, intoxication, etc. control our behavior. These reward inducing cues provide immediate but short-lived charges. For example, Mobile apps are designed to get users addicted. The reward system is employed to reinforce user behavior. From corporate strategies, government policies, societal beliefs, marketing campaigns to religious doctrines, this behavior control method is found everywhere.

We have become mindless consumers forced into stimulation consumption. The millennial generation wants stimulation at every waking hour.

Another drawback to this reward system is a great deal of time is devoted to excitement and pleasure-seeking while little to no time is spent in understanding self and the purpose of existence.

The constant supply of dopamine via various means has kept us off from the actual wisdom of coexistence and collective harmonious survival.

In the absence of meaning and purpose of life, the human race is living to satiate dopamine cravings. The dopamine bombardment is beyond normal levels and indulgence in these immediate and short-lived charges costs mindfulness and productivity.

Mindless consumption or procrastination is not the ideal human behavior or lifestyle. Over time everyone needs a break from this potentially addictive bombardment of rewards (stimulus).

The reality…..camouflaged in the Myth

Rehabilitation of the dopamine management system is possible when the flaws in the processes mentioned above become visible.

With time, the excitement in the loop wanes and we need a spiral. A constant increase or a higher dose. That can not happen beyond a point and the hollowness of the whole style of living hits everyone hard at some point in this journey. Everyone experiences this point now and then and ignores it since he does not know the way out.

And by that time the damage to the physical body and the intellect is done. The healthy body and the pure soul with which the journey of life began is now sick and requires extra efforts to become normal.

The way out…

singing bowl
Image by Binja69 from Pixabay

The limitations and end result of the process needs to be observed and validated in others and accepted. One should not think that he is unique or different and will not fall into the addiction trap.

Instead of trying to be in a high dose of dopamine, we need to accept reality and experience the world as it is. We must become aware of the lovely moments around us with nature and with other elements of existence. We need to stay mindful of all things around us.

When living in the moment, we experience the joy of being human and see beautiful opportunities: abundance, learning, interactions, establishing connections with others & nature, etc. All these create beautiful memories which we can relive in contrast to the ones that we create, ones that are hollow and empty.

The reality is understood when we live in the present moment. What is gone, is an experience now. What is yet to happen is events waiting to occur. Those events can be anything and one has to look forward to them with enthusiasm. They are going to be shaped by what we do in the present and improve ourselves as individuals. Be it learning a skill, or being productive and useful. Becoming an improved self is one of the simple outcomes of living in the moment, to be mindful.

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay
  • Understanding realty…

Reality is what is there in existence. The reality is the expression of each and every element present in this existence. Human being’s reality is his consciousness, being fully aware of the self, life, and existence, and the harmony in everything. This is the simple expression of human life.

Everything that is created in imagination, needs to be validated against the actual reality. By mistake, using imagination, one creates fictitious perceived realities in the mind that need to be avoided by practice.

The purpose of every human beings’ life is to align his imagination to match existential reality. Those who live on short term excitement and pleasures (the dopamine) live in illusion, in a mirage that is far from reality. As a result they invite suffering, depression, anxiety, sadness.

The Takeaway ~

The Popular Belief: Achieving Dopamine high is the purpose of human life.

The truth according to Philosophy of Coexistence: Being obsessed with dopamine high has the attention and behavioral consequences. The stimulation derived from consuming mindless entertainment or activities is short-lived and pushes us into a hollowness of experience. This stimulation mimics the actual happiness. However, it is nothing more than a fleeting trigger that fades away with the need for more.

Human beings are behaving erratically and indulging in this obsessive behavior not by design but by ignorance about their role in the ecosystem. In the absence of knowledge about the existential reality, humans are being carried away by ignorance of trying to find happiness in phenomena that are short-lived. Facilitating and achieving healthier and harmonious interactions with other human beings and nature is the natural source of dopamine high. This is inexhaustible and available in abundance.

Anand Damani Author at Medium

Serial Entrepreneur, Business Advisor, and Philosopher of Humanism

Writes about Human Behaviour, Universal Morality, Philosophy, Psychology, and Societal Issues.

Anand aims to help complete and spread the knowledge about Universal Human Values and facilitate their practice across sex, age, culture, religion, ethnicity, etc.

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