I tried a Stanford professor's top productivity routine. Here's how it helped — and why I'll keep doing it.
Dopamineis the neurotransmitter that helps people feel pleasure, according to Stanford professorAndrew Huberman.
- I followed Huberman's dopamine-detoxing methods for a week to try to reduce my
As a full-time university student and a freelance writer, focusing on one task at a time can be difficult. From prolonged procrastinating to being easily distracted, getting work done can feel like a chore.
I became interested in a concept called "
Throughout my workday, I decided to follow some of Huberman's guidelines and pointers to make myself into a better, more productive person.
What is dopamine?
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that communicates between nerve cells in the brain. It helps us feel pleasure and is directly linked to motivation, mood, and sleep, among other things. Low dopamine levels can lessen one's motivation, but high levels can be related to addiction and other impulse-related conditions. Keeping your dopamine levels in check is necessary to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Something as effortless as checking your Instagram or eating a sugary snack can release dopamine, and that's where the slippery slope of addiction can begin. Once you sink your teeth into that warm, freshly-baked chocolate chip cookie, it usually isn't just one you'll end up eating. The effects of dopamine are temporary, so once you eat that cookie, your dopamine levels will drop lower than they initially were.
The need to feel that dopamine release again is one factor of addiction. You can replace the cookie with video games, alcohol, or any other pleasurable activity, and it becomes apparent how vital understanding dopamine can be when trying to live a more balanced life.
Resisting dopamine-releasing products
In the podcast, Huberman pointed out some activities to avoid. Even something as seemingly benign as bringing your phone and listening to music during a workout can yield negative effects.
Listening to music from your phone while working out "layers in" dopamine, Huberman said. Long-term effects can include a lessening of one's interest in working out and a lowered baseline, because layering in dopamine-releasing activities removes one's pleasure and excitement from the main activity. If you like exercising and always listen to music while working out, you may find that your enjoyment for the workout diminishes over time.
Like exercising, listening to music from your phone even while working or writing can have similar effects.
You can still do things that are fun, like listening to music or watching movies, but the rules of dopamine fasting say you should avoid mixing these activities together. For instance, if you want to watch a TV show, don't simultaneously use your phone.
Radically altering your lifestyle requires significant initial changes
I decided waking up at 5:30 a.m. and going to the gym would give me momentum to start my morning off well. However, saying I'd wake up early and actually doing it are two very different things.
I bought an $8 timer off of Amazon and connected it to a lamp. Whenever the timer goes off, it'll turn on the power to the lamp. I also scheduled an alarm on my phone and placed it underneath my dorm bed, so I would have to get up to silence it. Pairing these two things together makes it nearly impossible not to wake up.
To get enough sleep, I also needed to go to bed at a reasonable time. I found somewhere between 10 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. was a suitable time frame for me.
Once 5:30 a.m. rolls around, it's time to forget that I'm in a comfortable bed and realize I have responsibilities — namely, my grades and my job.
After getting up and silencing my alarm, I make my bed. While it may sound arbitrary, making my bed is a simple and easy task that helps propel me throughout the day.
Starting the day off right is key
I head to the gym and try to limit listening to music and using my phone, since they're dopamine-releasing activities. While no music is ideal at the gym, it can be difficult to adjust to at first. I've found that podcasts are a great middle ground, but I make sure to not use my phone for anything else once in the gym.
I have an upper- and lower-body routine at the gym, but you can do whatever fits your lifestyle as long as you feel like you've accomplished something. Physically challenging yourself early on is the key to a good day.
Once I'm back home from the gym, I make myself breakfast. My typical breakfast consists of eggs and a protein shake with fresh peaches.
After breakfast comes a cold shower.
While some may have reservations about jumping into an icy shower, doing so has many merits. Cold showers can help with recovery after a workout and boost immunity, and while it seems miserable at first, it actually becomes mildly pleasant after a minute or so.
After completing my morning routine, I have plenty of energy and feel motivated to seize the day.
Making a schedule and setting goals for success
When I get to my desk, I first plan out the day by using a paper calendar. Writing out my goals for the day seems to be the best method for having a visual representation of what I need to get done.
When creating your schedule, it's best to be lenient at first. If you go for adventurous goals at first and fail to live up to them, it will decrease your motivation for the future. Giving yourself a strict, yet achievable daily workload will allow you to "graduate" up to more rigid tasks.
When starting my work, I try to reduce listening to music with lyrics, but some classical music, especially Max Richter's "Sleep," can help me get into a state of flow. I also put my phone on silent and place it in a different room so I don't feel the urge to pick it up.
Keeping the momentum going throughout the day
By late morning, I'm typically finished with work from my summer course, a calculus lecture, and homework. Then after lunch, and with my sense of accomplishment from the morning, I start writing and can usually get hard to work on whatever crosses my path.
By sticking to these guidelines, I'm able to make everyday an extremely productive one. Looking back on the day in the evening, I feel that I've achieved something. This feeling of achievement helps motivate me for the next morning.
Done right, I wake up with ample energy and want to make each day more productive than the last. This routine has made me into a more regimented person, and the effects may inspire you too.
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