Itchy and Scratchy

Turns out dopamine isn’t what I thought it was… I thought I was a simple lab rat seeking sugar solution with my many pastimes.

But it turns out dopamine is a motivator not a reward… Dopamine is the itch not the scratch; and that’s why it’s so motivating.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

In popular culture and media, dopamine is usually seen as the main chemical of pleasure, but the current opinion in pharmacology is that dopamine instead confers motivational salience; in other words, dopamine signals the perceived motivational prominence (i.e., the desirability or aversiveness) of an outcome, which in turn propels the organism’s behavior toward or away from achieving that outcome.

And thus dopamine doesn’t bring satisfaction. In fact, I’ve discovered, the opposite – the more you scratch the more it itches. Dopamine powers learning and curiosity; and seems to reward it. But once you’re in a dopamine cycle it just itches and itches and itches.

It’s dopamine which powers all addictions: drugs, gambling and alcohol most notably. But it also fuels any form of compulsive behaviour; wherever your subconscious tells you you need to “feed your need” from marathon running to marathon eating, dopamine is urging you on.

So now I’m starting to understand why my jockey is forever lost

I’ve been chasing dopamine; instead of letting life be its own reward.

The Lost Jockey

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This week, I have adopted Magritte’s ‘Lost Jockey‘; I found him a home on my iPhone ‘lock’ screen.

Painted in 1948, the ‘Le jockey perdu‘ has lost his racetrack and is charging through an other-wordly sepia forest.

“Racing nowhere fast”, is what the jockey says to me. And that’s why I put him on my home screen. Sometimes I do things faster that than I should. Sometimes I try to do tomorrow’s work today. Sometimes I do good things, but don’t take the moment to enjoy them.

The jockey – whom I have to swipe with my thumb, to open up the brightly lit iPhone world of action, reaction, email, work, stimulation, art, literature, music, aggro and time commitments – has reminded me several times this week not to ‘swipe’ – just do the thing I’m doing; not start something else.

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