Turn off the dopamine loop

Remember the phrase “You’ve got mail?” It was one of the earliest internet dopamine loops created. America Online and their AOL mail service (remember when everybody had an AOL address?) programmed people to get a dose of excitement and anticipation every time they heard “You’ve got mail” in that manly authoritative voice. It triggered an unavoidable chemical reaction in your brain: the release of dopamine.

Now, of course, it’s just a ping. Or a pop. Or a swoosh. Or even just a little vibration in your pocket.

Your dopamine system, a system that gives you a tremendous amount of pleasure (enough to derail you, take over your life, and send you to therapy … seriously) is most active when the drip of excitement is just not quite enough to satisfy the desire. This is why people start looking at Facebook and suddenly realize two hours later what they’ve been doing.

No wonder in this hyper-connected society we’re suddenly getting less and less done.

Here’s a challenge: figure out how to cut that dopamine loop during select parts of the work day, and entirely at night. The easiest way to do this is with one quick technique: turn your phone onto airplane mode. Done. That’s it. Maybe set an alarm to make sure you turn it back on.

Or, even better, use the iPhone’s do not disturb mode. You can even schedule it so that you will not be disturbed during certain windows. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is counter to productivity. On the contrary, you’ll get more of what needs to get done, done. Trust me.