4 Natural Boosters of Dopamine, the Elixir of our Life

 

 

We may not even realize it, but dopamine rules the roost when it comes to our sense of wellbeing. How is one neurotransmitter so crucial to the feeling of joy?

When you first wake up in the morning, and you smell that fresh pot of coffee brewing, you probably feel excitement. This anticipation is dopamine.

If you receive a raise at work, your sense of accomplishment will most likely be accompanied by a set of pleasant psychological and physical sensations – that’s dopamine.

When you enjoy your favorite music, laughing with friends, or experience an immense rush of adrenaline while playing a sport, dopamine is kicking in.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that sends signals between neurons and is a precursor of adrenaline. It plays an important role in a range of brain and body functions that are critical for your success, including motivation, memory, attention, focus, learning, creativity, and mood. When we experience the positive effects of dopamine, we feel well, excited and energized.

However, if we experience low levels of dopamine, we can become fatigued, apathetic and can suffer from addiction. poor memory, disrupted sleep, and even Parkinson’s disease.

 

What is the link between dopamine and addiction?

In the 1950s, scientists designed an experiment where they placed electrodes along the dopamine pathway in the brain of rats. When the rats entered into a particular corner of their cages, they received an electric shock. The discomfort of the shock therapy led scientists to believe that the rats would avoid entering the area where the shock occurred – but just the opposite happened.

Rather than avoiding the shock, the rats craved the dopamine so severely that they continued going back to experience the shock up to 700 times in one hour.

This compulsive behavior can be seen in people, too. Take substance abuse or gambling for example. Doing anything in excess may not feel good after the fact, but the dopamine rush can be so intense that a person will crave for more.

Quick dopamine fixes are tempting and appear everywhere in our modern world. Some examples for sources of a dopamine rush include caffeine, alcohol, video games, social media addiction, impulsive eating, mindless working or compulsive shopping.

To achieve mental, emotional and physical wellbeing, we should boost our dopamine in healthy and balanced ways that nourish our sense of self-worth and reinforce our connections with others.

 

Genuine Gratitude

Have you ever felt that warm tingling sensation of love and compassion take over when you feel gratitude for someone or something happening in your life?

Being grateful for all of the blessings you have in your life is a simple, inexpensive and practical way to enhance your dopamine levels. It also works to keep your life in perspective when times get tough.

One way to easily maintain a momentum of appreciation is to keep a daily gratitude journal. Remember, when difficult storms arrive, and you have troubles finding things to appreciate, it’s okay to be grateful for simple pleasures like a snuggle with a pet or a smile from a stranger.

 

Everyday Mindfulness

Focusing on the present moment and practicing self-reflection offer us enormous amounts of benefits. When we pay attention to the environment, calm our thoughts and center ourselves, we experience a relaxed state-of-mind, so that we can fully relax and recharge.

Not only does the practice of mindful framing and mindfulness help us to let go of stress, but studies have shown the potential to increase the release of dopamine.

It can be tempting to reach for a junkie TV show to distract yourself from daily problems instead of retreating into pondering and reflecting about our ideas and experiences. In the long run, embracing a ritual of self-reflection will increase your dopamine levels in a positive, more profound way.

 

Regular Exercise

There’s no need to sign yourself up for a spin class that you are going to dread if spinning isn’t your thing. But finding an outlet to exercise that you genuinely enjoy can increase your dopamine and boost your physical wellbeing.

Whether you take up martial arts, dance or play fetch with your dog, your mind and body will thank you. Dopamine is released when you get your heart pumping.

For an extra rush of healthy dopamine, combine your activity with reaching a goal (such as increasing steadily you daily steps).

Exercise brings many other fantastic side effects into your life. Perhaps you lose a couple of pounds, look healthier and meet new like-minded friends during your activity.

 

Healthy Eating

White sugar and fast food can be highly tempting if you desire a surge in energy. But the mood-elevating spike caused by these foods is short-lived and often comes with an energy crash.

Our earth is abundant with fresh fruits, veggies and fiber for us to indulge in daily. And did you know that a healthy gut seems to be directly related to balanced dopamine levels?

Some foods that can support your dopamine levels are apples, bananas, beets, chicken, eggs and cheese. So start your day with a delicious cheesy omelet or fresh fruit salad to elevate your mood early on.

 

Life is dynamic, a steady source of experiences and ideas, and dopamine mobilizes your brain and body to be motivated, creative and achieve peak performance. Don’t waste this precious elixir by disrupting the fine-tuned alchemy of neurotransmitters and hormones. Be gentle with yourself and let the natural processes in your organism take over without ‘artificial sweeteners.’

 

5 Steps to Become a Life-Long Learner

 

 

Have you realized that you are not the same person you were five years ago? Some aspects of your character and values may have been impacted by unforeseen learning experiences!

Life offers us a continual stream of new possibilities for growth and expansion. There is a good chance that your work, social and personal life requires you to adapt to our ever-changing world.

Ideally you want to acquire relevant knowledge while avoiding all the noise that generates our environment. You can be up-to-date without over-stretching your mind or causing unnecessary anxiety following 5 easy steps.

 

Embrace the trial-and-error process

When you take on a new challenge, it can be exciting at first, but as you dig in, you might find your self drowning in uncharted waters.

Let’s imagine that you are building a personal or professional website. You might spend a lot of time on figuring out how to create different features, and you will certainly make mistakes. It’s okay to get a little lost in the process and let yourself run into problems and errors. Trial and error is a great way to construct a new, valuable skill set for future use.

The next time you try to build a website, you will know not just what to do, but also what not to do. You have learned from your mistakes, the most fundamental way of learning. Every misstep is an opportunity to learn a lesson, improve, and move forward.

 

Find the right environment

Take a moment and consider where you focus best and get your job done with ease and pleasure. For some, a coffee house with background music and chatter is ideal, others prefer a quiet place while some people need the pressure of the office environment.

Irrespective of working for yourself or a company, don’t hesitate to personalize your workspace to suit your needs. The days of one-size-fits-all learning (or work) environment are fast fading.

Instead, we now seem to understand that to achieve impactful wisdom, we should value the unique environmental needs and learning styles of each individual.

 

Read constantly

Reading should become a pleasurable activity. You must acquire the discipline of reading, in print or digitally, while reducing audio or video content. Reading does a few things to help you enhance learning.

First of all, your brain is focused on the information at hand. You let go of superfluous or unhelpful thoughts in order to concentrate. While reading you can either stop and reflect or accelerate and skim through words and sentences. You are actively controlling the information flow, while audio and video learning is a more passive approach.

Secondly, delving into a good book automatically brings fresh vocabulary, ideas and perspectives into the forefront of your consciousness. And more importantly, it helps hone your visualization skills and imagination capabilities.

When you acquire data through the written word, you improve your writing and oral communication skills. Your daily life and conversations can bring out opportunities to express and connect your new perspectives to the world around you.

 

Take breaks

As you sit down to complete a task, it can be tempting to enforce high expectations to master a new skill in one go. Yes, it’s commendable to have goals, but respect for your mental and physical boundaries should be front and center.

If you push yourself too hard, adverse outcomes can occur, such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Inability to make decisions
  • Lack of focus

However, if you incorporate breaks into your learning process, you give your mind (and emotions) the much-needed space to refocus and refresh.

Being mindful of our concentration patterns allows us to optimize our learning style in a significant way. A leader cannot expect his team to perform and be balanced without letting their minds and bodies recharge and relax. The introduction of a mindfulness practice is a way to increase learning readiness in high-performing organizations.

 

Sleep well

A night of restorative sleep can offer clarity and bring cohesiveness to the learning elements you have acquired throughout the day.

As you problem-solve or attempt to master a new skill, sleep may seem like the last thing you should do. Often, we can feel a strong desire to power through until we figure everything out.

But in reality, ‘sleeping on it’ can bring a valuable boost to our learning curve.  A recent study has confirmed that a good night’s rest can protect already stored memories while improving the access and organization of knowledge in the brain.

 

In essence, becoming a life-long learner requires daily habits that replace intensive data, information and knowledge gathering with a focus on acquiring wisdom with the right coordinates of time and space.

 

Leadership = Awareness + Empathy

 

 

A true leader goes beyond the daily routine and takes a step back thinking about the consequences of every human interaction.

When you share ideas, proposals, or concerns, are you aware of their emotional impact on your team?

If you keep your thoughts to yourself, do you realize that they can take a toll on your own emotional balance?

Leaders want to be heard and valued, want to promote an atmosphere of positivity and productivity. This can be achieved more easily through self-awareness and empathy.

Leaders who are empathetic earn the trust of employees, who in turn are more productive. The right approach to empathy can go a very long way in promoting positivity at work.

 

What is empathy?

According to Gustavo Razzetti, author of Stretch for Change, there are two kinds of empathy: Emotional and Cognitive.

  1. Emotional Empathy is activated by mirror neurons, which allow us to feel another person’s feelings in a passive manner.
  1. Cognitive Empathy is also known as ‘perspective taking,’ when we are aware of your own insights and make an effort to understand others.

 

In the early 1990s, neuroscientists discovered that we have specific brain cells that become active when someone else is suffering. In essence, we can feel someone’s pain and move toward a closer understanding of them.

Of course, as a leader, it’s imperative that you understand where an employee is coming from on a topic without being triggered into an emotional response or unhelpful decision. Maintaining a clear, yet compassionate approach can be better achieved with Cognitive Empathy.

 

How can empathy help you be a more effective leader?

A skill that can be worked on and finely tuned with practice, Cognitive Empathy is invaluable for organizations because it:

Builds Team Culture. Making an effort to understand how someone thinks, behaves, and feels can offer you essential insights and allow your co-workers or employees to feel valued.

 

Diversifies Thinking. Not only does empathy create a feeling of connection among peers, but taking the time to understand someone else’s perspective increases diversity and convergence of ideas, explains Razzetti.

 

Impacts Communication. In her recent article, Prudy Gourguechon, Psychiatrist and Psychoanalyst, explains that empathy allows you to understand if you have fully reached and connected with those around you.

 

Inspires Loyalty. With empathy as a regularly used tool in your leadership belt, you can build your team, inspire followers, nurture leadership in others, and elicit loyalty, notes Gourguechon

 

What if you’re not naturally empathetic? 

Empathy is an innate trait that’s in all of us; however, like anything else, it runs on a spectrum of weak to strong.

If you’re not naturally inclined to empathy, you can still harness its power through a few simple tactics:

 

Think before you act. For instance, if an employee needs time off during a busy peak, before you say ‘no,’ take a moment to consider what your decision will mean to the person.

You don’t need to say ‘yes’ if the answer should be ‘no.’ But showing you understand where the person is coming from goes a long way in keeping up morale.

 

Practice mindfulness or seek advice. If you’re not strong in the empathy department, you don’t need to change who you are. First of all, being aware of it allows you to fill in the gap with someone who compliments your weakness, notes Gourguechon.

 

Can you be too empathetic?

Imagine spending your whole day feeling the ups and downs of everyone around you. Sound fun? Not at all.

Being highly empathetic is a superpower in so many ways, but it can also hinder your ability to function as a leader if you’re pulled in too many directions.

Perhaps you’re managing a small team of recruiters who often have disputes with one another. As the team leader, you want to keep your eye on the goals, so that you can make deadlines and expand your recruitment services.

If you spend every afternoon feeling emotionally charged thoughts unrelated to the big picture goals, then your vision and effectiveness as a leader become muddied. Of course, it’s imperative to explore workplace disputes and aim to resolve them, but it’s also your job to keep a compassionate, yet targeted eye on the prize.

 

With the right amount of awareness and insight, you can feel out another’s perspective and understand the social and emotional landscape of your work environment. Use empathy to create well-informed decisions, to inspire loyalty, and to communicate as clearly as possible.

 

Stress-free Leaders Do 5 Things Every Day

Have you ever seen yourself as a leader, the boss of your life? Wouldn’t be great to coast stress-free through your personal, family and work responsibilities and goals?

Those who lead successfully their life and businesses rarely display stress despite everyday challenges and overwhelming agendas.

To become a truly effective leader with the right mindset, learn and practice how to control your time, actions and spaces.

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Integrating, instead of balancing, your work and life

You hear it all the time – to be happier and more productive you should balance your work and life. But in practical terms, what does this mean?

Take a moment to picture an average day in your work and personal life. Let’s imagine you are a parent who works from 9-5 and still manages to find time for healthy meals and downtime with your children. Work and life seem to be clearly separated by the time allocated to each activity. Right?

Wrong. Interconnectivity and the way our brains are wired make this separation impossible. This parent cannot simply forget the kids from 9-5 or ignore work responsibilities after 5.

 

 

For many, a thriving career serves as a powerful motivating force that provides life’s meaning through goals and satisfaction. For others, work provides the means to pursue personal goals.

There is a middle ground. Rather than striving to separate work and life, an effort that can lead to anxiety and stress, why not weaving them together? Follow these 3 rules for a seamless work-life integration.

 

Reconsider your occupation

It’s a given that no matter what’s your profession, there will be always be pros and cons for your chosen career, ups and downs in your workplace.

Wouldn’t be amazing if most people could enjoy the profession they chose and their current workplace? Moreover, wouldn’t it be nice to feel a natural inclination or urge to complete the tasks at hand – instead of dreading every assignment.

Start by taking a look at your profession and career path to see if it feeds and nourishes your passion for excelling and expanding. Let’s imagine you work in a publishing house as a staff writer, if you love your work you may be naturally inclined to wake up and write.

On the other hand, you may hate sitting in front of a white screen ready to write a new piece. This doesn’t mean you need to start thinking about a career change, just take some time to evaluate what your honest heart’s desires and potentially refocus towards a new path.

With renewed motivation, you can certainly begin writing and publishing daily. Small steps everyday go a long way when changing the course of your career’s direction.

When you are satisfied with what you do, it’s a joyful process to incorporate work into your life with ease.

 

Realize that it’s okay to love what you do

At times, we feel an urge to work in an exciting project in our personal time, even sacrificing a well-deserved weekend or vacation time. We need breaks, but we also need to feed our desires to excel and achieve. Sometimes you will feel a strong momentum and sense a powerful life force that requires our full attention and effort. Go for it!

There are also times when our personal life should be a priority. For instance when a family member needs support or we need to take care of our health.

Integration means not feeling guilty when answering emails late at night and tying up loose ends from work after spending a time with your family or unwinding. These few minutes will make your next day more streamlined and efficient. It’s okay to work your job into your home life and to consider personal matters while at work.

 

Modulate your energy  

It takes a lot of effort and stress trying to draw a distinct line in the sand between work and life. The two mingle together often, so rather than creating unrealistic expectations, why not finding ways to recharge your energy throughout your day?

Every single one of us has energy spikes, dips, and times when we coast. It’s entirely fine to feel down and without motivation. It will pass.

Being aware of our energetic mood helps us to realize where we are at emotionally, physically and mentally.

In an article from McKinsey & Co, Gila Vadnai-Tolub explains that we have different energy modes: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Each type of energy offers us a unique form of fulfillment, but we can’t expect to be highly functioning for all of them every moment.

It’s okay to realize that during work, you might need a moment to watch a fun YouTube video so your brain relaxes. And at home, your may want to spend time thinking on a new project from work.

Being aware of what we need in each moment to achieve emotional and energetic satisfaction helps us to meld both work and life together.

Vadnai-Tolub suggest 3 approaches to leverage our energy levels:

  1. Allow yourself the time and space to not always be in high energy mode. It’s okay and desirable to find time to slow down and relax. Be lazy some times!

 

  1. Choose to see the good. Remain attentive toward what is going right in your life and work. We all have room for improvement. Take it with a grain of salt, improve when you can, and keep moving toward goals with optimism.

 

  1. Boost your energy. If you work at a desk all day, maybe you can go outside during lunch hour and appreciate the fresh air, even dedicating some time to thinking or resolving personal matters. Also, you can find moments of inspiration by letting your mind wander towards what you appreciate and love in life.

 

Life doesn’t have to be cut and dry. Our modern lives call for modern solutions. This may mean that it’s time to stop trying to draw lines and create compartments in our lives. Let’s discover what we love to do… and do it!