The practice of dopamine fasting has taken hold in such a high profile community that the media, including the New York Times , they started posting article after article about it. So what exactly is it?
For starters it is a fairly extreme branch of that phenomenon known as biohacking.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter involved in our brain's system for motivation, reward and pleasure. When we encounter something like a delicious treat or a picture of a cute puppy on Facebook, dopamine is released in the brain.
The idea behind dopamine fasting is that we may be getting too many good things in the current attention economy. For this we need to carve out time without stimulation from things that can be addictive. Smartphones, TV, Internet, games, shopping, gambling must be eliminated so that we can regain control over how we spend our time.
Cameron Sepah's experience
Cameron Sepah, a professor of psychiatry at UC San Francisco, popularized dopamine fasting when he posted a guide to the practice on LinkedIn. "Taking a break from behaviors that trigger large amounts of dopamine release allows our brains to bounce back and recover," he wrote.
Without such interruptions, one gets used to high dopamine levels, feeling the need for higher and higher doses to achieve the same pleasant effect.
He convinced several of his clients, many of them Silicon Valley executives, to adopt dopamine fasting. According to him it is based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This therapeutic approach is evidence-based that helps people change unnecessary ways of thinking that affect their behavior. CBT is often used to treat addictions.
James Sinka and Silicon Valley
But dopamine fasting has since been adopted by people (mostly in the Bay Area) who are taking it to extremes.
James Sinka, a young founder of a San Francisco-based startup, told the New York Times. “I avoid eye contact because I know it turns me on. I avoid busy streets because they are jarring. I have to fight the waves of delicious food. "
The increase in dopamine fasting comes as no surprise in what we might call the ascetic turn of Silicon Valley. In recent years, the technological brothers and those they have influenced have embraced the practices of monks. The prime example is Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, enthusiastic about the benefits of intermittent fasting, where you abstain from food for hours or days at a time.
And now that dopamine fasting has taken off, at least in the Bay Area, it is being interpreted by some adherents in the most ascetic way possible.
But is there really something about dopamine fasting? Or is it just another fad, based on poor science? After all, it's just a question of reinventing the wheel - taking a practice we already know is good for us and giving it the sheen of cold by expressing it in neuroscientific terms, then commercializing it back to us?