The Dopamine Program


The purpose of this article is to enhance your understanding of how dopamine works and how to optimise it. Dopamine serves as a critical neurotransmitter and neuromodulator, affecting a wide array of life aspects, from movement to mental processes. Whether it’s managing its natural fluctuations or embracing practices that enhance its positive effects, this article provides valuable insights and practical tips for anyone looking to optimise their dopamine levels for a more balanced and fulfilling life.

What is Dopamine

The journey of dopamine within the brain can be traced along two primary pathways: the mesocortical limbic pathway and the nigrostriatal pathway. These routes originate in the ventral tegmental area and substantia nigra, respectively, influencing motivational behaviours and physical movements. The key area of interest for this article is the mescortical limbic pathway, as this is instrumental to regulating motivation, pleasure and craving. This pathway is illustrated in the image below, with connections forged from the ventral tegmental area through to the ventral striatum and the prefrontal cortex. The diversity of the brain areas which are involved in these pathways illustrate dopamine’s vast influence on our actions and quality of life.

As a neuromodulator, dopamine is responsible for the biological functions of motivation, craving, time perception, and movement, which makes it the core driver for pursuing external goals. As a universal currency for tracking success, pleasure and progress, dopamine significantly influences n individuals quality of life. This intrinsic drive shaped by dopamine has a basis in our evolutionary roots, and can be tracked to the survival mechanisms of our ancestors.

Our dopamine system played an important role in aiding in foraging for resources 10,000 years ago. In situations of scarcity, we had to deal with minimal water and food, however our dopamine-driven motivation compelled us to venture out for this resources despite the risk to themselves and leaving their family behind. Once the goal is achieved, there is a temporary dopamine is released which reinforces the success of their actions. However, to ensure continued motivation, dopamine levels would drop below baseline, which ensures that the drive to seek out necessary resources is sustained in the future.

This overview explores dopamine’s role as a neurotransmitter and a neuromodulator, vital in regulating motivation, behaviour, and survival instincts. Understanding these processes is key to leveraging dopamine’s role in enhancing our quality of life.

The Regulation of Dopamine

Dopamine’s influence within the body operates through diverse mechanisms, affecting both individual neurons and larger groups of cells. On a local level, dopamine can target a single neuron, while on a larger scale, it can have volumetric effects, releasing quantities that impact 50-100 cells simultaneously. This broad range of influence is facilitated by G-protein receptors, which trigger slow, cascading effects. This means dopamine is able induce long-term changes in cellular response and influence gene expression.

Regulating this neurotransmitter is a dynamic process, involving both baseline and peak levels of dopamine. The constant, background level, is your baseline dopamine, which is instrumental in dictating your general mood. In contrast, significant spikes of dopamine above this baseline, referred to as peaks dopamine, are responsible for more acute sensations. These peaks and troughs form the basis of the pleasure-pain balance of dopamine. Crucially, after a dopamine peak, the vesicles containing readily releasable dopamine (volumetric dopamine) get exhausted and a drop in dopamine below the baseline typically follows.

This phenomenon explains the subtle pain of wanting more – a sensation arising from the lack of dopamine following its depletion. Furthermore, the higher the dopamine peak the greater the crash, resulting in a significant impact on our mood. This complex interplay of dopamine’s release and regulation within our body creates a pleasure-pain balance.

As mentioned previously, dopamine plays a pivotal role in shaping our quality of life and the desire to pursue goals. Maintaining a high baseline level of dopamine is key to sustaining motivation and drive on a daily basis. To achieve this we need to regulate our dopamine, which means our dopamine levels easily recover back to baseline when it drops, but also the baseline operates at an optimum level without incurring negative consequences.

Achieving this balance provides accessible dopamine, particularly tailored for activities and goals we aim to achieve. This optimal release of dopamine offers a psychological advantage, empowering us to reach our fullest potential. By fine-tuning our dopamine levels to respond effectively to our ambitions, we can enhance our overall well-being and success in various endeavours.

The Dopamine Program

In our pursuit of maintaining healthy dopamine regulation, it’s crucial to be aware of certain behaviors that can disrupt this balance. This section explores activities we should avoid or manage carefully, and strategies we should implement, which will maximise our dopamine.


1) Prevent Excessive Spiking of Dopamine:
Continuously spiking dopamine levels can have a lasting negative impact on emotional states and motivational states. This frequent elevation, especially when it falls below baseline, can lead to an addiction cycle, progressively reducing the range of activities that bring pleasure. Its important to note, Dopamine is the universal currency of motivation and pursuit for ALL activities. So it goes without saying, even overexerting on healthy activities can eventually lead to a dopamine imbalance over time. Be aware of overloading yourself with dopamine, particularly when you have a dopamine drop, in this situations do not continue to seek pleasure.

2) Limit Smart Phone / Content Aggregation
The next strategy is more commonly known, which is simply to limit your smart phone usage, and how much you engage with ‘content aggregation’. It’s widely understood now that the applications on your phone have been engineered to take full advantage of your dopaminergic system, which pull you into the negative addictive cycle previously mentioned. If you try overcome this with will power you will fight a losing game. Whether it’s an app blocker or putting your phone away, your best option is to limit the usage entirely.

3) Remove rewards for activities
Adding rewards to difficult tasks is a common way to instill motivation, however based on how dopamine works, this can inadvertently harm your long-term motivation. This practice links dopamine release solely to the reward rather than the activity itself, increasing the effort required to engage in the activity in the future. It’s essential to find intrinsic motivation in activities without relying on external rewards.

4) Minimise Stimulants
Stimulants, including certain drugs and supplements, can deplete dopamine stores, contributing to the negative cycle of dopamine regulation. However, caffeine stands as an exception, as it helps in up-regulating dopamine receptors, enhancing overall dopamine responsiveness. It’s important to minimise your usage of stimulants, however incorporating caffeine can be beneficial to your dopamine system if used judiciously

5) Avoid Light 10pm – 4am
Exposing oneself to bright light during the late hours (10pm to 4am) can directly and adversely affect dopamine levels. Research indicates that such light exposure can decrease dopamine for several days. Therefore, dimming lights at night is important for maintaining healthy dopamine levels.


1) Access Rewards from Effort (The David Goggins Approach)
Instead of rewarding yourself for activities, the greatest hack is to learn to access dopamine from effort itself. Since your dopamine pathway is connected to your pre-frontal cortex, your self-talk significantly influences your dopamine levels. By engaging in positive reflection during an activity, you establish a stronger connection to the effort involved. This approach not only enhances your enjoyment of the activity itself but also enables you to find pleasure in exerting effort in various tasks.

2) Intermittent Dopamine Schedule for Key Activities
The intermittent dopamine scheduling is a method inspired by the techniques casinos use to keep gamblers hooked. To apply this to your key activities, it involves randomising the amount of dopamine-inducing elements you include. Take, for instance, the decision to add music to your workout. By flipping a coin to determine whether to include music each time, you introduce an element of randomness. This strategy can significantly enhance and regulate your long-term enjoyment of the activity.

3) Accept Dopamine will drop and rise
The fourth and final strategy, perhaps the most challenging, involves tolerating the inevitable drop in dopamine without impulsively seeking to spike it again. As previously discussed, dopamine functions as the universal currency for motivation and engagement, permeating every activity. Naturally, its levels will fluctuate, leading to a rise and fall that can be uncomfortable due to the inherent pleasure-pain mechanism. However, this is a normal process. Patience is key; if you allow it, your dopamine levels will naturally return to the baseline. Problems arise when impatience drives us to continuously spike our dopamine levels, creating a negative feedback loop. Learning to endure these moments of decline, perhaps through mindful self-talk when you notice the drop, can make your dopamine far more accessible and sustainably managed.


This article delved into the complexities of dopamine regulation, an essential aspect of our mental and emotional well-being. We explored various strategies to maintain healthy dopamine levels, such as avoiding excessive spikes, being mindful of stimulant use, and understanding the effects of light exposure and reward-based behaviour. We also discussed the importance of accepting the natural fluctuations of dopamine and the role of positive self-talk in adapting to these changes. By embracing these practices, we can better manage our dopamine levels, leading to a more balanced and fulfilling lifestyle, and enhancing our overall potential and quality of life.



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