For the past few weeks, I would wake up to the cacophony of my phone alarm. After begrudgingly disabling it and cursing the morning, I would caffeinate myself with emails, videos, text messages and other forms of blue light. Despite knowing it’s a bad habit and making several attempts to stop, I couldn’t.
My smartphone is just one of my many minor addictions. I can binge on sweets and lose hours of my life to YouTube or Netflix, enjoying the pleasurable neurochemicals my brain releases. But one of the best things I’ve done to remove the noise from my life and focus on interpersonal introspection was to do a “dopamine fast,” and I believe it could have beneficial outcomes for other people as well.
A “dopamine fast” is essentially a “stimulation fast” or a “bad habit fast,” as that's mostly what you're fasting from. There’s scientific evidence suggesting that increased smartphone use or high sugar and fat diets decrease cognition, and so temporary cessation of that bad habit could provide some mental clarity.
But, I should be blunt about this, there’s no direct evidence suggesting that what’s coined the “dopamine fast” works. Maybe it’s the combination of reduced stimulation and increased mindfulness. Maybe it’s all a placebo. Whatever it is, anecdotal testimonies from those who have done bad habit fasts have reported beneficial results (which, again, take with a grain of salt), and I’m one of them.
A “dopamine fast” involves restricting everything that gives you pleasure, such as social media, smartphone usage, caffeine, exercising, consuming alcohol or other drugs, and even eating if possible for a period the faster decides. The only thing fasters are encouraged to do is sit around, go for a walk, meditate and write down their thoughts in a notebook.
Before my first fast, I struggled with ripping myself away from YouTube and avoiding sugar. But on the morning of my fast, I sunk into my couch and observed myself. I was restless. My brain felt itchy. I wanted to do anything but to be bored.
After the vibrations of restlessness died down, a sort of clear-headedness set in. I had diagnosed bad personality traits, distractions and habits that were stunting me and pondered possible solutions to them. I wondered why I distracted myself with stupid things, wasting hours of my day when I could be working on passion projects, fostering better relationships with my friends or family, building better habits or trying to be a better person.
I ended up breaking my fast after eight hours, and I found that I wasn’t as hungry as I was before. Not just in food, but with consuming social media and other pleasurable distractions as well. Reading became easier, and I felt more motivated to pursue personal projects I had been putting off. As someone preoccupied with constant self-growth, my bad habit fast realigned my priorities and forced me to value my time more efficiently.
So now this leaves us with what you’re going to do. Once again, there’s no scientific evidence supporting the “dopamine fast” craze, but if you want to challenge yourself to not partake in bad habits for a certain amount of time, I think there’s merit to that.
Bad habit fasts sound boring, but it’s like scuba diving into your subconscious. You don’t have anywhere to hide and avoid the problems in your life, so you’re forced to get to know yourself and your situation better. I understand that not everyone can take hours off to just sit around and do nothing, but even if it’s just one hour, bad habit fasts can help you straighten out the wrinkles in your life.