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Mr Chen's anecdotes.

The Link between Dopamine Detox, Focus, and Attention Span

Picture this.

You're at your desk. You've read my blog post on creating a comfortable space for revision and you've done everything that I recommended in that post.

confident student
"I've got this."

You happily start your revision. You successfully complete a Pomodoro cycle. So as a reward, you reach towards your phone and open TikTok. You think to yourself, "Okay, I'll just scroll through Vantage Tutor's TikTok account to look for the next prelim paper to do on my next Pomodoro cycle."

You then decide to go back to your For You page. You scroll, and you scroll, and you scroll...

Before you know it, half an hour has gone by. You feel extremely guilty because you could have done another Pomodoro cycle, but now you've wasted 30 minutes.

Sounds like a familiar scenario? Then perhaps it is time for a dopamine detox to help you fix your ability to focus and your attention span.

Dopamine's the freakin' dope man!

What is dopamine, you might ask?

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that has a pivotal role in how we feel pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation. In the above scenario, your brain received a good dopamine hit after you completed the first Pomodoro cycle. That explains the feelings of accomplishment. Then while you were scrolling TikTok, you too received dopamine hits, and this time the impact is more consistent. Each funny cat video you see makes you feel good, and that subtly nudges you to keep scrolling. Because your brain now craves for the next funny cat video, and the next, and the next... for the same, repeated dopamine hits.

The cat's also getting his dopamine hits.

In short, dopamine is released in your body whenever your brain looks forward to something that is potentially "rewarding".

Is dopamine harmful then?

In general, dopamine is essential for our survival. It acts as the mechanism that motivates you to keep doing things that are necessary, for instance, to eat.

Unfortunately, in this modern digital age, our dopamine systems have been hijacked as we are surrounded by stimuli (yes, this includes the cat videos). As with anything else in life, too much of something is always not ideal. A consistent, elevated level of dopamine causes our brains to stop motivating us to do things that provide delayed, long lasting satisfaction, like your revision. It doesn't even help that things that give us excessive dopamine hits are so accessible.

How can I fix this?

I got you.

One thing you can consider doing, is a dopamine detox, created by psychologist Dr Cameron Sepah.

The concept is simple. Instead of doing activities that stimulate you (like scrolling on your phone), do something else that is more healthy and productive, like just standing up and getting outside your house for fresh air.

By doing so, you are removing yourself from a situation where your brain gets consistent dopamine hits. Over time, the more "boring" activities will become more favourable to you because your brain can now have its chance to seek dopamine hits from activities that provide delayed dopamine hits.

Now I'm not saying that you need to entirely axe out all activities that give you dopamine hits. You just need to identify the ones that cause you to get overstimulated, like using social media, watching Youtube video after Youtube video, playing MLBB... the list goes on.

Here's a step by step guide.

Step 1: Identify the activities that overstimulate you

Sit yourself down honestly and ask yourself what these activities are. We all have some forms of guilty pleasures (we're only human!), and facing them with honesty is the best way you can help yourself become a better version of you.

Do you game too much? Or spend too much time on YouTube? Or you've scrolled so much on TikTok that your FYP ran out of new content?

These are the activities that you need to replace with healthier activities.

Step 2: Make changes to your environment

One way to help yourself avoid getting stimulated is by removing the sources of stimulation.

Delete TikTok or MLBB if you have to. Or leave your phone somewhere far during the time you've set for yourself to study.

Step 3: Replace these activities with other activities

Each time you feel like going back to the stimulating activities, choose the healthier activities instead.

Take a walk outside your house, even if it is just for 5 minutes. Stand up and stretch, make yourself a nice, hot beverage (tea is fantastic!). Pet your pet (if you have one! 10/10 would recommend).

Step 4: Observe how you are responding to these alternative activities

Dopamine detox can be difficult to accomplish. I've been there myself. My alternative activity is to pick up a book and read. At the beginning, I would always feel the need to put the book back down.

But once I've embraced being bored, reading is no longer a difficult thing to do. By observing how I feel when I make the switch to the healthier, alternative activity, I begin to consciously realise that I in fact, can get by without indulging in stimulating activities.

Would a dopamine detox be something you might try to help fix your focus and attention span?

Students today grew up with devices, so a dopamine detox may feel especially tough to accomplish since you may be so used to being surrounded by devices. In my opinion, this is still worth a shot especially if you find having to balance revision with distracting activities.

If you have already tried one before, share with us how you felt after!

Would you try a dopamine detox?

  • Yes!

  • I've already tried it before

  • Maybe. I'm not ready to do it

  • No way, this sounds fluffy

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