How to Take a “Dopamine Fast” That Will Actually Work

The way tech CEOs do it is flawed. Try our method instead.

A man stuck in the metaverse.
It's probably a good idea to get yourself out of the metaverse. But don't dodge dopamine in its other forms.
We Are/Getty Images

Earlier this spring, a report dropped that “drunk purchasing” was on the rise. The numbers were pretty staggering: one in six Americans copped to shopping under the influence, fueling a price tag of $14 billion over the last 12 months.

These adults haven’t just been picking up end-of-night jumbo slices, either. The average drunk shopper spends hundreds on shoes, clothes and accessories throughout the year, suggesting the trend’s mostly playing out online.

While there’s little harm in (a) having a couple of beers, or (b) buying a new pair of boots, doing both at the same time definitely isn’t a great habit to get into. It’s a rather dramatic example of dopamine addiction and a larger, instant-gratification culture that’s hopped up on social media, processed foods, subscription services and gambling apps.

Fortunately, there’s a reasonable way through, for drinkers, shoppers and drunk shoppers, all. It involves rebranding a movement called “dopamine fasting,” which has been both embraced and criticized over the last half-decade.

Slot This 7-Move Workout Into Your Morning Routine
The gentle circuit will ease stiffness ahead of a sedentary workday

What is “dopamine fasting”?

TED Talk types (elite athletes, CEOs, etc.) have sung the praises of the “dopamine fast,” which is more or less a temporary abstinence from any activity that triggers excessive dopamine release. For an arbitrary period of time, one attempts to completely cut off their dopamine nozzle for drugs, video games or even masturbation, in the belief that that sacrifice will reset their brain’s relationship to dopamine.

Hype or helpful?

To this point, though, neurologists have been sort of unconvinced. They’ve pointed out that dopamine is more than just a pleasure chemical (it’s also involved with neural processes like movement, attention and learning); it isn’t really within anyone’s power to “stop” dopamine production; fixating on this unproven strategy could lead to social isolation and excessive restriction; the strategy could at best provide temporary relief when there are more important health issues at play; and it’s lacking scientific research.

Things to dopamine fast

So, yeah, nothing too positive is available for dopamine fasting’s conventional iteration. You’ll have to mine Substack for more glowing commentary. But there’s a reason that the concept of detox is appealing in its own right. We’re all smart enough to understand that we’re staring at our screens too much, or eating sugar too often. Perhaps you felt a little triggered by the drunk shopping intro. That’s why we support finding room for a micro-version of dopamine fasting in your life.

What form could it take? What sort of behavior could you zoom in on and interrogate? How can you practice mindfulness in the period just before the fast, during and after? The prime candidates here are likely social media, screens in general, video games, high-calorie crap and online shopping. Set yourself a reasonable goal, relative to how often you engage with the activity.

Is a day away doable? A week? A month? While declaratively “shutting off” one’s dopamine reception sounds sexy, it isn’t realistic. You have to do the work. Instead of trying to reset your brain’s relationship to dopamine, try to rethink your relationship to your habits…especially the ones that you suspect aren’t helping you feel engaged, inspired or happy in other aspects of your life.

Things to dopamine chase

Plus, keep in mind that dopamine isn’t all bad. As much as internet culture now associates the word with craving, it isn’t a bad thing to crave exercising outside, hanging out with friends, cooking a great meal or having sex. These experiences all stimulate surges of dopamine in their own right and make life worth living. Don’t shut yourself off from all forms of self-indulgence in a bizarre quest for self-improvement.

Win the Ultimate Formula 1® Miami Grand Prix Experience

Want the F1 experience of a lifetime? Here’s your chance to win tickets to see Turn 18 Grandstand, one of Ultimate Formula 1® Miami Grand Prix’s most premier grandstands!