My 4 Week Dopamine Detox Experiment

Opening Notes

In the past 4 weeks from May 2, 2020 to May 29, 2020 I decided to conduct a dopamine detox on myself to see what would happen to me. I started this because I was tired of finding empty posts that wouldn’t answer what a 4 week dopamine detox is like and the effects it has on you. Bare in mind that this is all anecdotal.

This whole experiment is also flawed in a way, because I didn’t go full monk mode. I say this experiment was flawed because am I really doing a dopamine detox if I’m still living in an urban environment while using my electronic devices? Wouldn’t a true dopamine detox be to just disappear out into the wild with no running water, electricity, or food and to just live like some sort of animal so my brain could actually reset to the base firmware? So that my natural instincts could just come out after being suppressed for so long in a VERY comfortable environment? Basically Return To Monke mode. Perhaps this is redundant, but nonetheless, that’s one of the things I wondered.

In essence I wanted to spend 4 weeks without social media, pornography (though this wasn’t hard since I gave up porn back in 11/09/20), music, video games, streaming services, sugar, junk food, electronic devices while eating, and no online shopping unless absolutely necessary. The results that ensued were quite surprising, though I want to say from the start that a dopamine detox of my nature only really provided quick and noticeable value in the first 2 weeks and if you’re seeking short term productivity gains, to do it for a week and only 2 weeks max. After 2 weeks you start getting diminishing returns in my opinion.

However, I will also state that you should do it past 2 weeks if you want to break old negative habits and build new ones. For instance, after my 4 weeks, I rarely go on reddit, quora, or other information aggregators now, and I don’t go on YouTube or 4chan anymore! With respect to facebook (don’t have an Instagram, TikTok, or Snapchat account), I barely went on it before and I rarely go on it now as well.

All in all, I will say that I’ve become more productive as a result of my detox, and gotten rid of unproductive habits, replacing them with more productive habits instead. I’ve also included a more detailed breakdown of my daily logs here, which you can read so that you can get a better idea and understanding of how my mindset was during the whole detox and what was going on with me.

You can read my daily logs here in Notion to get a better view of what my day to day experience has been like. I’m new to Notion so please be gentle on my soul.

High Level Overview

Essentially how I structured my dopamine detox was by a method of building walls and burning bridges. One of the biggest reasons we seek dopamine or hits of pleasure is usually because we’re bored and we seek the fastest relieve from that boredom. We act impulsively to get that fix. One of the ways we act is by going to get the sources of dopamine through the bridges we’ve built to get the hits.

If you’re interested in how to disconnect from the digital world and be less attached to your devices, read my ways of doing so here.

Let me give you an example, say you want to go to Instagram and start browsing because you’re bored. What you’d normally do without thinking is take out your phone, unlock it, scroll to the app, and voila, you’re scrolling and getting dopamine from a dumb app. The bridge in this case is your phone and being logged into the app. Think of it this way, how much work do you have to do to unlock your phone assuming you have an iPhone with faceID? Virtually none, you just have to pick up the phone and unlock it. Now what about opening Instagram and accessing your account? You’re already logged in, you have the app on your phone that’s not in any folders and say on the first page of your home screen. You don’t need to do any work, you’re just one tap away from receiving dopamine from the app. In those two cases you have bridges, where you have an expedited path to get your dopamine hits.

So now what’s a wall? Well I’ll give you an extremely simple example. You delete your account, the app, and never go back to Instagram ever again. You essentially just built a semi-permanent wall that prevents you from getting your dopamine hits.

I’ve used this method for all of my negative habits. For Facebook I changed the password to my account to some randomly generated seed password, deleted all of my history so that whenever I type the URL, nothing will ever pop out, deleted all bookmarks, and even went as far as to change the password for the email I use to access my Facebook account. So now, if I want to go onto Facebook, think about how much work I’d have to do to log in? I’ve essentially made it a pain to log in to Facebook where I now have to open up an incognito window to not track history, request to change my password, then log in to my Facebook email account to recover that password, and then change it again. Just typing f and not having Facebook.com auto popup and being able to press enter is a wall of itself. I have to do more work by typing out all of Facebook.com. With each bit of work I have to do, that effectively stops me from wanting to go onto Facebook.

For YouTube I installed a blocker that blocks my feed and shows me an empty screen, so if I even wanted to go to YouTube all I’d get is a search bar like on Google’s home page. This makes it very easy to leave the site because there’s no AI algorithm pushing recommended videos towards me that would suck me in and waste my time.

For Reddit I deleted my account and all of my history. Quora and Twitter, I rarely went on anyways so it was easy to avoid, as soon as I saw the URL I just scrolled past it. Music I deleted Spotify off of my phone and got rid of the app icon from my dock on my MacBook. Video games I again barely played in the first place so this was super easy (especially since my last time playing was like 2 months ago!). And finally junk food and sugar I got rid of by first not buying any for the home, and any that there was in my house in the first place I just hid them. Out of sight, out of mind! Online shopping was also easy since I don’t get urges to shop and if I ever did, I would just yell at myself saying I’m broke, I can’t even afford anything.

Week 1 – Productivity Spike Phase

Week 1 was the most productive week by far. I literally was knocking out goals from my whiteboard left and right. I was just focused and working on accomplishing as much as I could as often as I could. In this week I started timing my workouts to see how it would feel to workout without any music, I also noticed that I received immense pleasure from eating meals, I would feel the surge of dopamine throughout my body and brain. I just felt great. I was reading more, finishing books. During this week I was also studying for my Operating Systems final and I just powered through so much studying without effort. Writing blog posts was also super easy.

Overall because I had no distractions, I was just a power house. You can’t not accomplish your goals because you have literally nothing else to do. It’s either you’re bored and remain bored, or you basically get stuff done so that you have something to do and look forward to. I even started reading the Torah because I was that bored and when I didn’t want to work, I would read that, Atlas Shrugged, or The Innovator’s Dilemma. I also was able to be hyper focused on whatever task I was doing at hand and would get very angry whenever my phone would ring or something would break my attention. This was a pro that for the most part didn’t seem to go away, even now.

This phase didn’t really continue for long because I got burned out on day 7 because humans are not machines. We need rest and some levels of procrastination are healthy. Constantly working caused me to implode early on and I decided to pull back come around week 2 because it wasn’t sustainable. There’s a reason we call it work-life balance. But I will say though, after my 4 weeks my productivity hasn’t diminished that far off from week 1 because of the core foundational habits this week has given me.

Week 2 – Philosophy & Heavy Introspection Phase

During this week, the super hyper productivity phase disappeared. I was just burned out and didn’t want to do any work. It was at this phase where I started just spending a lot more time reading books and questioning things about myself. In this phase I started reading Torah even more and became more agnostic towards my faith and the concept of God. I spent a good amount of time just wondering about life and where I am going in it. I was coming to conclusions that in life, there are two possible paths for a person to go down, both being never ending. One is a continuous path of growth and self improvement, while the other is a continuous path of neglect and degradation.

In this phase I was still being productive but I also started to miss just doing nothing at all. I wanted to just browse Reddit and read random threads. I began to also struggle to meditate without any music so I would rarely do it as result of not having my meditation play list. As for sleep, it was strange, I would’ve thought that I would’ve had better sleep results but instead it was the opposite, I was struggling to fall asleep, and I’d wake up in the mornings not really feeling all the refreshed or energized. This continued on throughout the rest of the experiment.

Daily life become kind of boring, but more calm and peaceful as well. My anxiety did also increase a bit in this stage because I started thinking about the future more. With no distractions, you’re forced to just kind of look at your life very hard and with a microscope. What ends up happening is that you start asking yourself big questions and, ones that you’ve probably asked yourself before and now find that the answers you previously had just aren’t good enough. My anxiety wasn’t full blown panic attacks though, it was more like, “I don’t know what the future holds for me and I have to be prepared and face it head on.” During this phase I remembered this one anime, Gurren Laggan, I was watching before I started the experiment. I remembered about one of the main characters Kamina and his words of motivation saying, “Believe in yourself. And if you don’t believe in yourself, believe in me who believes in you.” Absolute alpha (I know right, this is 2000s internet slang before red pill, MGTOW, and incels ruined it) of a character. They just don’t make animes like they used to anymore. But I digress. The point was that I had this dread of the future that I normally didn’t have. I ended up being hyper focused on making sure I’d pass all of my classes and making sure that everything would go right for my up coming move to Texas. I still had to graduate in order to actually receive my job offer.

With this introspection phase, I ended up being philosophical as well and thinking about my own mortality, my faith in God, religious traditions and upbringing. I also thought about how once I’m in Houston, I’m going to be truly all alone, and no one can tell me anything. I’ll be my own man. One of the other quotes that also constantly kept popping into my head was from Bioshock from Andrew Ryan, where he said, “A man chooses, a slave obeys.” In this sense I thought about how now that I am moving into a world of true adulthood, and having my own responsibilities, I am no longer a child where my family can dictate what I can and can’t do. I thought how, if I were to move and still live life according to their rules and expectations of me, I wouldn’t be a free man but just their slave. Hence, a man chooses and a slave obeys. It’s not easy either though, because I know there are definitely some decisions in my life where it feels as if though I’m balancing my own happiness with my family’s happiness and expectations of me. It’s a hard feeling that I’m sure every person has to deal with, especially when coming from a very traditional family background that holds on to (in my opinion) outdated and flawed traditions and don’t even know the true history or reasons for those traditions.

In my philosophical phase, I sought to seek my own truth and my own path for how to live my life. I abandoned all that I was raised with and sought to carve out my own way and truth. It lead to a lot of arguments with family members and I could see they just refuse to think. This also occurred because I’ve gone and done the one thing most Jews don’t do. I picked up the Torah and actually read it. I know there is a whole repeating theme of religion in this post, but you have to understand. I was VERY bored and annoyed at living my life based on what some hermit rabbis dictated. I rejected their rules and choose to live life on my own terms, not on theirs or my family’s.

One of the largest things I noticed during this week was when I went to take my final for my operating systems class. I had to drive to Binghamton in order to take an hour and half exam. Yeah stupid I know right? I had a 3 and half hour drive ahead of me, and with no music or other distractions allowed, I actually had an amazing drive. I drove to Binghamton in pure peace. I wasn’t speeding. I was in such a zen like state. It was wild to me. I just drove in pure comfort, I wasn’t in any rush at all, and dumb drivers didn’t even bother me. It was just me and the open road. When I got to the university to take my exam, this was where the benefits occurred to whole other levels. I sat down to take the exam and I was just like a machine. I took the exam and had incredible recall and for every single question I knew the answer and if I didn’t I could recall where I could find it in the notes (it was an open book exam). I answered every question with ease. I finished the exam in 45 minutes and was the first to leave. I had no anxiety, I just felt confidence that I answered everything correctly to the best of my ability. To give an analogy of how the performance felt, I’ll use computers. Before the detox, whenever I would’ve taken an exam, I would have so much useless information in my head. I would study for an exam for a week minimum, but still have trouble recollecting information. It was as if my brain was like a PC running on Windows XP, with a hard disk drive, barely any RAM, the cache was full with useless data and the CPU was a single core CPU that was 10 years old. Now, with the dopamine detox, it felt like I had an 8 core CPU, 64 GB of RAM, an SSD for storage, and a cache that was already filled with the data I needed for the exam. The information was just available to me in an instant. It really felt as if though I hit a new level in performance, and it was something that convinced me to keep some of the things from my detox, such as not going back to some of the sites I used to browse in order to procrastinate. 4chan for example is one of the sites that I noticed gave me nothing but brain rot. It just filled my head with useless and dumb knowledge. Gave me absolutely no added benefit to my day to day life.

Week 3 – Hatred And Restlessness Phase

It was during week 3 that I started to hate the detox. I wasn’t meditating any more or barely was because I didn’t have music to help me with meditation. At this stage I was also done with my finals and had nothing else to do except pursue my goals. I just was getting restless with the experiment. I was tired of constantly depriving myself of the distractions. I didn’t want to just be a machine that worked 24/7. I wanted to just rest at some points and just do absolutely nothing and enjoy it. At this stage I was craving Netflix like crazy. I seriously just wanted to turn on my TV and just watch Nat Geo documentaries or binge anime. I wanted to watch Gurren Laggan and binge it (which I did at the end of this detox, what a great anime).

It was also at this stage where I was getting constantly angry and didn’t really see the benefits of the detox any longer. I felt that the short term gains have diminished and I was spent. I was now just putting myself in a state of torture and not really doing what it was that I wanted to truly do, which was just to procrastinate here and there. I spent a lot more time just going out for walks in nature instead of doing anything else really. I wasn’t coding, working on any projects, or pursing my goals as aggressively. Don’t get me wrong, I was still being productive, but the joy was sucked out of it. I was just in a depression stage I would say.

I think it’s also because I was beginning to go through withdrawal for my addictions. I was just feeling intense FOMO as if though I was missing out. What was I missing out on though? Beats me, I guess I just really didn’t want to work. I just know that I was getting so frustrated with the dopamine detox, but I think it’s because I was going through a metamorphosis at this stage. At first you’re productive, then you start questioning things, then you go through anger, constantly restless because there is a gaping hole now and your body is reacting to it in a negative way. It reminded me of when I was in the early stages of my nofap journey, when I cut out porn for the first time ever in my life. I was just so depressed and angry in the very early stages. I was also constantly restless and kept getting headaches. Same exact thing happened to me during this stage. I did get very minor headaches.

I also found that throughout this week, I was constantly tired and had no energy for anything. I don’t quite know why that was, but I have a feeling it’s because my brain was getting adjusted to a world without all of my previous dopamine addictions. I felt constant irritation and anger, that is for certain, but I also believe that it is because I was going through a metamorphosis, which I started to truly notice in week 4.

Week 4 – Calm and New Habits Beginning to Take Root Phase

It was during week 4 that I finally calmed down. I would wake up in the morning, despite not having the best sleep, feeling very calm and relaxed. Falling asleep improved however. I was able to lay my head down onto my pillow and within minutes I would be knocked out and sleeping. I’d have my morning tea and sit on the balcony enjoying the warm weather. I wouldn’t go straight to work on my goals any longer, instead I was doing healthy procrastination where I would talk to my friends and my mom for hours. I would just be more social at home and wouldn’t mind just talking about nothing because I enjoyed having conversations with others. I also didn’t miss going on sites and was happy that I got rid of them all. I noticed that my behavior had definitely shifted, where while I was dying to just do nothing and watch Netflix or browse Reddit for a half hour, I noticed just how much freedom I got from not going on the sites.

It was during this week that I realized just how much I hated going on pointless stupid websites like Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and 4chan. I was so happy to be rid of them. I found that I was finally calm, and would go out for walks more often because I wanted to be out in nature. I didn’t want to sit at home and just do nothing. Whenever I was home and wasn’t doing anything related to my goals, I was peacefully reading my books and enjoying silence. I didn’t miss listening to music as well, and it’s gotten to the point where I really enjoyed the silence while driving my car, music was just vexing to me. My workouts also got better throughout the 4 weeks, because without any music I was just 100% focused on working out.

I chose to end the detox 2 days early because 1. I was already tired of doing it and really did want to just binge Reddit, 2. I found that it wouldn’t have given me any more added benefits and that I didn’t do it accurately. Regardless of my decision, I still noticed the metamorphosis I was feeling in week 3 began to take effect. I reached zen like peace and that zen like peace has stayed with me.

Data

*All data was collected using my FitBit charge 3, so the results should be taken with a grain of salt because it is not known how accurate a FitBit actually is. My FitBit band also broke so I wasn’t able to collect full data for May 9 and 10, the heart rate for May 10 came once my replacement band arrived and I put it on the night of. The sleep dates are based on the day I woke up, reflecting the sleep for the night before. So sleep on May 2 is reflected on the sleep I got on the night of May 1 to the morning of May 2.*

Average Values
Minutes Asleep: 442
Minutes Awake: 70.7
Number of Awakenings: 27.3
Minutes REM Sleep: 62.03
Minutes Light Sleep: 339
Minutes Deep Sleep: 40.96

As can be seen from the sleep results below, you can see that over all my sleep did not drastically improve. Using Day 1 to Day 28, there isn’t much of a difference physically with respect to sleep results. After all I did feel like garbage most of the days that I woke up. So sleep hasn’t really improved throughout the detox.

When it came to resting heart rate however, a change was noticeable, albeit slightly because my resting heart rate always fluctuated between 51 to 56 BPM for the past year, averaging around 53 BPM historically. So perhaps the detox may have had some affect in lowered heart rate, but that’s also doubtful. My diet I believe played a more substantial role because I tend to eat very clean and healthy and cutting out processed foods + sugar which I rarely ate as is, didn’t have much of an affect. This makes sense, since for a guy like me who’s a recreational athlete that’s been working out for close to a decade now, making incremental gains just gets harder and harder, unless of course I go on a professional athlete level of rest, nutrition, coaching, training, and lifestyle. Then of course I’d see substantial gains.

Average Resting BPM: 53.89

End Results

The end results of my detox have thus far been:

  1. More zen like mindset and increase in positive thinking
  2. Increased ability to hone in and focus on tasks
  3. Got rid of negative time sucking habits
  4. Huge boost in productivity initially but stalls over time and starts to tapper out
  5. Worse sleep in the beginning eventually body adjusted and I was getting deeper sleep
  6. Slight increase in anxiety due to hyper focused attention on goals
  7. Have greater feelings of dopamine whenever I accomplish goals and see I am now routed to pursue only goals
  8. Even less attached to my electronic devices than I was before
  9. Have a greater appreciation for quiet and just being in peace doing nothing

Closing Notes

That’s it. That’s my 4 week dopamine detox experiment. I hope that you’ve found it useful. I set about writing this post because looking online I found that there were rarely any posts going into detail about how a dopamine detox actually affected them. I also saw that they didn’t provide any hard or substantial data to back up their anecdotal experiences. If you do decide to try a detox, let me know how your results went by leaving a comment. My comment section is always so empty ;_;

Overall, it did take me a while to write this blog up because I have gotten back onto Reddit (BUT barely spend time on it now and quickly close the tabs so that I can get back to work!) and am now distracted here and there by little things. I had a pretty busy week as well and spent a couple days just doing nothing like I wanted (i.e. went surfing and binged anime on Netflix, and god did it feel so good). But this only lasted a very short time, since my brain is always yelling at me to pursue my goals and just accomplish everything.

I should also mention a disclaimer that I did do minor breaks in my detox when I went out with friends and ordered desert when we went out to a cafe, but in the house I was sugar free.

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