Recently I’ve been listening to a book entitled The Willpower Instinct, which dives into how self-control works, why it matters, and how to increase your willpower. I initially started listening to this book because I’ve been curious about diving into the reason why I have been an overeater most of my life, and why diets never stick. Side Note: I’m down 14 lbs. for the month, but more on that another time.
One of the most intriguing chapters in the book is a discussion on dopamine, a hormone our body creates to make us crave rewards, like food and sexual gratification. Essentially, it is the pleasure-seeking hormone.
What is most intriguing about dopamine, however, is that it is not the same chemical that brings us pleasure. For that, we have a different hormone, serotonin, as well as small protein-like molecules called endorphins.
Endorphins are released during exercise, sex, and eating foods such as chocolate or chili peppers. They give our brains a sense of happiness and well-being.
Seratonin, however, is much more similar to dopamine, in how the body uses them, and unfortunately for us, the system behind dopamine is stronger than the system behind serotonin. What this means is:
Our bodies are naturally inclined to choose to seek pleasure (dopamine), than actually enjoy it (seratonin).
Now, some folks may wonder why my entrepreneur blog would include an article on hormones and satisfaction. Essentially, I’ve discovered that many of the pursuits that drive us as entrepreneurs won’t satisfy us once we attain them.
When Our Minds Trick Us to Seeking “Pleasure”
Let me paint a picture for you… Think of a “vice” that pleases you. Is it junk food? Sweets? Smoking? Drinking? Vegging out on television? We tend to do these things when we are bored, feeling down, etc. We think of them as “rewards”.
Now look at that list again, and honestly answer if you have ever felt a lasting feeling of satisfaction from any of those activities. Do you feel good about yourself after binging on any of those? These are the activities that dopamine causes us to crave. This is why we feel jittery sometimes when we think about the possibility of indulging in them, or when we are trying to resist the temptations.
As I mentioned previously, dopamine only cares about making you want things…when you attain them, dopamine doesn’t trigger pleasure. Essentially, we think we are going to be happy when we pursue these things, but attaining them doesn’t truly bring happiness.
The activities that we know will bring us pleasure that lasts are like the following:
- Playing a sport or exercising
- Reading or listening to music
- Spending time with loved ones
- Yoga and meditation
- Pursuing a creative hobby
These are the activities that release endorphins and serotonin, which give us a true sense of happiness and wellbeing.
Because the dopamine system is naturally stronger than the serotonin system, we eat the Oreos instead of going for a jog when we want to cheer up.
The way these systems contradict each other is summarized nicely in a quote from Psychology Today:
According to researcher Kent Berridge, these two systems, the “wanting” (dopamine) and the “liking” [seratonin] are complementary. The wanting system propels you to action and the liking system makes you feel satisfied and therefore pause your seeking. If your seeking isn’t turned off at least for a little while, then you start to run in an endless loop. The dopamine system is stronger than the [seratonin] system. You tend to seek more than you are satisfied. Evolution again — seeking is more likely to keep you alive than sitting around in a satisfied stupor.
Entrepreneurial Motivation Check
When I think about what motivates me to be an entrepreneur, a variety of things come to mind. However, after researching the different types of motivation, I can now categorize them into those which are strong motivators but won’t bring happiness once attained (The Dopamine Motivators), and ones that are less strong as motivators, but make me more satisfied with my life (The Seratonin Pleasures):
The Dopamine Motivators
- Monetary Wealth
- More Free Time
- Exotic Travel
The Seratonin Pleasures
- Ability to learn new things
- Ability to freely stretch creative muscles
- Ability to enjoy quality time with loved ones
The second list is what I typically say to people when they ask me why I want to be an entrepreneur, and honestly, my mind knows them to be true…but it is the first list that gets my heart pumping and makes me put in the long hours or go the extra mile when the temptation is to be lazy.
The fact that dopamine is behind the first list of motivators makes it no surprise then that millionaires can often be depressed, and the pursuit of buying more and more only gives them a very momentary excitement before it wears off.
Brass Tacks: Why All of This Matters
I believe that understanding that there is a difference between what motivates us, and what makes us happy is something that we can leverage to maximize our motivation, as well as our happiness as entrepreneurs.
There is nothing wrong with being motivated by money, free time, and travel. These things are effective motivators to get us off of our asses. Visualizing what we might do with the money we could make if we are successful is a great way to get our body to trigger the extra dopamine needed to make us go the extra mile.
However, we must also have a healthy understanding that we must seek out serotonin pleasures as well, and activities such as building relationships are what will make the extra time and money worth having.