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In Silicon Valley, there is a newish craze called dopamine fasting. Here is the concept: For people in this part of Northern California, modern life activates too much dopamine, a neurotransmitter connected to the pleasure and reward center of your brain. It’s too much fun to be on your phone and work in a co-working space with people who are making a TikTok competitor just for dogs.
All this pleasure deadens pleasure, which is why you probably think the Romans had vomitoria for barfing up large quantities of food in the pursuit of eating more (it turns out they didn’t). You catch burnout; the co-working space CEO, a guy you used to like, seems nuts now; one woman in a half-zip fleece at a co-working space who is in love with you seems like all women in a half-zip fleece at your co-working space who are in love with you. It sucks.
What you must do is disconnect — take stock. Not look at your phone, not drink celery juice in your co-working kitchen, not hike, not touch, and not walk on busy streets. Attempt to prevent the activation of any dopamine at all and do deep thinking instead. Then when you go back to those things, they don’t seem dead inside but instead kind of cool. That’s the idea, anyway. All these 25-year-old guys on Reddit are swearing by it. The New York Times wrote an article about it. Then Vox.com, a website. Then the psychologist who wrote a guide to it said he was misunderstood and people were using the idea of dopamine fasts as “a way of mocking Silicon Valley and its men” because women, too, are addicted to technology and technology is so fun, just one big dopamine, and stop mocking men. The trend, it would seem, has come full circle.
I am interested in diets and regimens, I have to admit. I used to try out the diets of celebrities all the time, back when mocking celebrities seemed to produce the right amount of dopamine in people. I tried out the late Karl Lagerfeld’s diet of mostly Diet Coke and protein powder. I ate like a previous version of Taylor Swift for eight days. While I don’t do this much anymore, I do like to keep my head in the game. Even if it’s trying out a fast that’s for 25-year-old guys who enjoy sending texts to women from Bumble without ever meeting up with them, and not a 34-year-old mother with a tiny dependent.
I’ll never forget one year when I was at a Fourth of July parade with my mom and she ran into a guy she knew in high school who was riding a tandem bicycle. She said, “How are you doing?” And he said, “Too much fun, too much!” I wonder if that guy is dopamine fasting now.
Because I must admit, there are many reasons I am not the target audience for this fast — possibly because I am already avoiding Silicon Valley–style dopamine-triggers without even trying. I don’t have an Instagram because in photos, I look like a ghost who is haunting people (cause of death: jaundice). No one is “pinging” me all the time because I am a freelance writer — if anything I am pinging them and they are ignoring me, which is like whatever the opposite of dopamine is. I haven’t been to a concert since BBMak in 1997.
The one obstacle I have in this fast is that I am home with my 2-year-old. I like to hug her all the time, which dopamine fasters say you can’t do, and she says a lot of jokes. I don’t want to act like the host of Kids Say the Darndest Things or whatever, but acting like the host of Kids Say the Darndest Things is also my parenting style and philosophy. I mean, come on: My daughter makes her stuffed squirrel drink coffee and then has him recoil and say, “So bad.” How much dopamine could this be producing? A ton, I bet. My biggest challenges will be avoiding all but the most necessary physical contact with her and not laughing at whatever jokes she comes up with.
I text everyone (my mom) and tell them (her) that I will not be picking up their (her) texts today because I am dopamine fasting. She texts right back something really long that I don’t read. I park the baby in front of a video and proceed to do the deep thinking and unfocused staring that are characterizing this fast. It’s okay, I guess. I think a lot about whether I should cut my hair into a bob, but I’m not actually going to. I never do. The baby takes a ton of purse stickers (as in, they are stickers that look like purses) and puts them on the floor, and they look really awesome since we don’t have a rug, but I can’t even compliment her art or really look at it because of dopamine.
Next I head to a coffee place because I need to get the baby some food and am worried that putting oatmeal in a bowl will activate my dopamine centers. I tell everyone there I am dopamine fasting and can’t talk to them, except to order my coffee and a scone for the baby. (Coffee doesn’t produce dopamine in people who are minding 2-year-olds. It is just something that keeps you awake, like the sun.) They don’t care because this is New York City and none of them want to talk to me. There is an adorable baby at the coffee place who is super fat and activating my dopamine center. I leave right after I get my coffee.
I see some boots in the window of a store that I think are really cool-looking on my walk back home — I think they have kitten heels, but I avert my eyes so I don’t know for sure. To be fair to me, I didn’t even think there was a shoe place on this street. I took it on purpose because it’s the ugliest street I’ve ever seen and includes the entrance to the Holland Tunnel, which has never produced dopamine in anyone.
Meghan and Harry have left the royal family. They did it yesterday. People are shocked! They are so effing shocked. I imagine there are a great number of think pieces about it and I can’t read any of them! I cannot text my friends about it either. I am just thinking about it occasionally while I stare into space and stickers take up larger bits of my floor. While it’s sort of nice to not have to tend to my phone, it also sucks because I can’t tell anyone about where in Canada I think Prince Harry and Meghan should move (Montreal, because it’s the only place I’ve ever been in Canada).
Plus, I’m starving. Usually when I am trying out a diet I eat something whether it be a disgusting green juice or a disgusting tuna grapefruit salad or what have you. But this dopamine fast means I can’t eat anything, which is making me extremely cold.
Once the baby goes to sleep after making a great joke about Santa being handsome that I can’t even laugh at, I am at a loss for what to do. I usually work on my novel during her naps but right now I’m writing about a really hot spy who is constantly saying witty dialog to unsuspecting women who are in love with him. In general I hate writing, but this one really supplies a lot of dopamine, so I take a nap for a couple of hours. Sleeping is very boring.
At the end of the day, the baby makes an amazing joke: She goes, “Knock, knock.” Then I say, “Who’s there?” Then she says, “Groceries.” And that’s it. The fast is over. I laughed so hard that I exploded with dopamine.
Afterward, I eat and text with abandon. I learn that my mom had texted me about how I didn’t need to text her back if I didn’t want to, but in a way longer more circuitous way than this sentence I just wrote, somehow. I wouldn’t necessarily say that not texting or eating for a day makes either of those things so much better. They are just how they always are, which is okay. Like, do you get THAT much dopamine from texting your mom or eating salmon? I just don’t know.
I think this is a better fast for those who have a very theoretical existence, which I currently do not. If your phone is your main connection to others, it becomes a horrible drain and pall on your finite resources because no one is truly real to you — the device in your hand just contains a series of phantasms who want something. There are short-term rewards associated with the attention, but ultimately it kind of sucks. I could see how simulating being dead would then make you better able to handle the life of the mind for another hour.
But when you are at home with a 2-year-old, shit gets real! You have to learn a lot of songs about the moon. You have to eat a ton of butternut squash. You can’t even think about tweeting. Maybe these guys should just spend some time with 2-year-olds, so they could get their dopamine that way. Cannabis extraction might suffer, but I think we would live on as a society.