- Dr. Cameron Sepah wrote about dopamine fasting, or abstaining from over-stimulation for a period of time.
- I interviewed him and learned how it works, and how some people are taking it to extremes.
- My editor asked me to test dopamine fasting for five days, so I gave it a try.
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In his viral LinkedIn article, Dr. Cameron Sepah proposed dopamine fasting as an "antidote to our overstimulated age."
To practice this method, the faster abstains from "behaviors that trigger strong amounts of dopamine release," such as browsing through Facebook, or anything else where we might face an onslaught of notifications or distractions.
For my dopamine fast, I wanted to follow Sepah's instructions. He wrote: "To decide what to fast from, simply regard whether it's highly pleasurable or problematic for you, and thus you may need a break from."
I decided that for me, this would be a fast from using my phone (besides essentials, like responding to texts from roommates about our apartment), and watching TV. For my purposes, reading on my Kindle was okay, which Sepah distinguishes from other electronics that can be distracting.
Instead of watching TV or using your phone, he recommends activities that involve:
- Health-Promoting (exercise, cooking)
- Leading (helping, serving others)
- Relating (talking, bonding over activities)
- Learning (reading, listening)
- Creating (writing, art)
I tried to replace time I usually sink into my phone on these instead. Here's how it went:
I decided my ride home from work would be an ideal time to start "fasting."
In my case, most unnecessary stimulation comes from my phone, which I constantly have on me. I would, however, still be using it to take pictures and document my experience.
Every day during my commute, I read articles I've saved throughout the day, or sometimes I just browse Twitter or Instagram. Occasionally, I'll listen to a podcast instead, but I'm still engaged in something.
I didn't necessarily need to look at my phone, but every few minutes I tried to reopen Twitter or Instagram before I remembered what I was doing. The hardest part, though, was not wearing headphones during my walk and subway ride.
I bought some produce that normally I would probably eat while watching Netflix. Because "pleasure eating" is something included in the original explanation of dopamine fasting, I decided to skip eating these for the moment, and made an (not photogenic) bowl of rice and beans instead.
The fast was actually a welcome chance to finish a book I'd been reading. I always plan to read in the evenings, but I usually take a "Twitter break" every few minutes, so I don't get very far.
Over the weekend my sister visited me, so I roped her into dopamine fasting with me. As a bonus, I counted this as "relating," a plus for dopamine fasters.
We visited a museum, where I went against all my instincts and tried not to take any pictures.
I could only read so much, so I cleaned and organized my room.
My final thoughts: dopamine fasting is really hard for me, and I probably won't do it again anytime soon. But, I might temporarily delete Twitter from my phone to force myself into breaks.
In his explanation, Sepah compared dopamine fasting to intermittent fasting. The goal isn't to totally cut out dopamine, but rather to let our brains "recover and restore," and doing it for any period of time is better than not at all. It isn't all or nothing.
I didn't totally cut out my phone or social media, but I did use them less than I would have normally, so I think I got to the spirit of the fast. I spend all day at work online and check social media periodically, so in some ways, it was nice to be able to give myself a break.
I probably spend too much time on my phone, but Twitter and Instagram are also big parts of how I keep in touch with friends. I definitely won't be dopamine fasting every evening — I need that time to mindlessly look at memes and funny tweets.