The science of craving
The reward system in our brain exists to ensure we seek out what we need. If eating nutritious food or being smiled at pleases us, we try to secure more of these stimuli. However, seeking pleasure can also result in people becoming addicted, indebted or overweight.
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In 1986, a discovery was made that dopamine did not produce pleasure, but in fact, desire. While dopamine makes us want, pleasure comes from opioids and endocannabinoids ( a kind of marijuana produced in the brain), which paints pleasure on good experiences.
We cannot explain away our minds by brain mechanisms. Brain mechanisms are part of our minds.
Understanding that desire and dread, for instance, share the same brain operations, could help ease schizophrenia symptoms by restricting a particular dopamine neuron that produces fear.
One of the key things in pleasure is that it comes in cycles.
The hungry desire state before a meal could produce pleasure from the anticipation of good food. Then, while eating, pleasure dominates, but desire could still come for more salt or a drink until satisfied. If we switch to the desert, we can prolong the pleasure again.
The closest we can come to hold on to pleasure is in music. It is a tension-and-release kind of thing that can keep you going for a long time, waxing and waning, desiring and enjoying.
Music also tends to unite us - dancing with someone is more fun than doing it alone. It's all about other people and social pleasure.
Addicts, for instance, crave drugs even after years of abstinence because addictive substances hijack the dopamine system and change it permanently.
When exposed to addictive substances like cocaine, heroin, alcohol, nicotine and even sugar, neurons are releasing more dopamine, and also growing more receptors for a transmitter that makes them release the dopamine. It is a permanent physical change.
Our brains can also become sensitized to prompts. The Pavlovian conditioning was used on rats to link a particular cue to cocaine or sugar. The rats ended up desiring the cue more than the drug. The same may apply when checking our phones.
Advertising and availability are also tempting cues prompting us to want.
Something as simple as dropping your keys once will fire dopamine neurons. But, if you drop them a few more times, the neurons will get bored and stop taking notice.
The market economy has increased the dopamine-wanting system. If you can give the consumer novelty, they will continuously want more.
The best way of resisting is not to linger over the temptation, but to decide to move away from it, as witnessed in the marshmallow tests.
Mindfulness meditation may also help. It's not that meditation makes the wanting go away - it's giving the more cognitive mind a way of distancing itself from the urgency of those wants.
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We naturally want what we can’t have and being denied it makes us want it more. Suddenly depriving yourself of something may empower the cravings, so occasionally indulgences might good.
But from a drug addiction standpoint, a slip-up or two could have catastrophic effects. Instead of focusing on the fact you can’t have something, learn to reframe ways of thinking and choose to fill that space with new people and outside interests.
This means that once we’ve mis-stepped, we use it as justification to go all out. One bad decision can snowball into bigger consequences, making us temporarily lose sight of our ultimate goal.
Be aware of your actions and way of thinking. And if you make a mistake, dust yourself off, learn from your mistakes and move forward.