The Value of ‘Good’ Dopamine

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One my children asked me about what causes cigarette addiction. I didn’t know, and so, I did some online research. The short answer: dopamine. Nicotine creates the release of dopamine (more here).

Dopamine is one of those magical neurotransmitters. It creates feelings of pleasure and well-being. You feel great and self-confident when dopamine is plentiful. It can come from positive activities (accomplishing a difficult goal, exercise, sleep, having a community, etc.) or negative ones (e.g., addictions to drugs, gambling, etc.).

All this made me think of what you can do via “brain hacking” to increase dopamine in positive and healthy ways. As I think more about it, here are mine, in no particular order:

  • Venture capital: I love what I do. It is challenging, fun and never-ending. There’s no set formula you can master, and every day requires effort and focus. It is something you can never tame. A VC is famous one year, and then, has a string of horrendous losses. It is a humbling avocation. But, I practice venture capital with great partners, who also value what I want most in a job: high professional standards, personal authenticity, and a no-B.S. culture in which we work as a team. I’ve noticed something about our weekly partners’ meeting: there’s laughter at some point during each one. Could be a joke, a self-effacing comment or a funny observation. I think it’s awesome that we enjoy spending time together.
  • Exercise: I work out every morning. My business partner, Eric, does so, too. On the rare occasion that I cannot exercise, I’m pretty crabby by 3 pm. So, I’ve learned to give up sleep when necessary to exercise.
  • Fly fishing: It is very challenging. I’ve been doing it for some years and continue to learn and practice new techniques on new waters. I recently started to make my own flies. On my most recent outing, it was fun to catch 18″ trout on homemade flies smaller than a dime (see photo up top). I got a big kick from that! Honestly, I’m proud that I can hit an unfamiliar river, analyze it, and catch big fish. It has taken many years to get to this point.
  • Friends: I feel very grateful to have some close friends. I meet with a group of them every other Friday in an informal discussion group. We do social events, too, such as golf, couples dinners and pub night. Next week, we’re going out for a big steak dinner. I’ve written in the past (here) that it is common for men to have many business acquaintances but few close friends. I know that I’m lucky. It is a soothing and warm feeling when we get together.
  • A coach: Serendipitously, my friend Anne Mitchell last year was starting an executive coaching practice and asked if I would be her first beta customer. I agreed and it was a tremendous six-week exercise.  Since then, our families have become close friends, and I’ve gotten to know her husband, Jeff, who is awesome. Anne and I recently caught up. It continues to be a very valued and valuable friendship.
  • Life mentoring: Every four to six weeks, for 15 years, I have a meeting or call with Fr. Philip Merdinger. He asks me how life is going. He has tremendous advice on how to live life in a way that is grounded. He helped me sort through some difficult decisions such as: navigating health issues in the family, deciding whether to quit my job and try to start a new VC firm, and working through the joys and challenges of parenting and family life. I have a profound feeling of well-being after we chat. I this past summer was asked to speak at Fr. Philip’s retirement party, and it was a very rewarding accomplishment. The talk went over well, which was important, as he means so much to me.

So, that’s my list. What do you do to boost dopamine?

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