Dopamine and Creativity

Like it has been with so many other creatives, this past year and a half has been rather dry when it came to creativity for me. (Gee, I wonder why?) I dropped off the face of the… website. This website. OK, so nothing very dramatic. But I have been feeling guilt whenever my website’s hosting fee was taken off my account. I recognised that something had to change, because this dry-spell in my creative life was not doing me any favours. Which brings me to the subject of today: Dopamine and creativity.

What Is Dopamine?

First off: I’m no doctor, so I can only go by the stuff I find online about the subject. I’ll put my research links at the end for you, and I could easily get things wrong with my interpretations. Ye be warned. With all that out of the way, you might be wondering what dopamine is at this stage. Or you’re rolling your eyes, wondering why I’m going to lecture you on something you already know everything about. Maybe you’re a doctor and rubbing your hands in glee, awaiting the opportunity to see just how wrong I could get it. If you want to skip ahead, then go for it. 

Dopamine is a chemical created in the body. It’s the pleasure chemical, and a way for your brain to train itself into habitual… habits. “Hey, this meal was amazing, I’ll probably eat again if it means I can feel that great afterwards!” Eating is a great habit, after all, it keeps you alive. However, dopamine can also reinforce habits you might not want in your life, like using mind-altering chemicals. That’s one habit that can spin out of control very fast for some people.

Dopamine and Social Media

Unfortunately, social media engineers are aware of dopamine and how strong it is when it comes to controlling our habits. You keep spending mindless hours scrolling because it’s designed that way. It’s in the best interest of a social media company. How does this work? It’s not like you’re paying them, right? As it turns out, all the times adults told you to “pay attention” when you were young turned out to be preparation for adulthood. However, none of us truly knew at the time that attention would one day be a real currency. 

The more information you give Facebook about your likes, your opinions, your shopping habits, and all that jazz, the more it can effectively target YOU, (yes, YOU) which makes marketers like myself shrug, give in, and use the incredibly powerful tool known as Facebook to sell the products and services of our clients. We use it because it works.  

Dopamine Can Be Useful Or Destructive

The brain loves new information. We thrive on it. It’s what made communities strong, helped us form bonds with family and friends since the dawn of time, helped us to band together as a species to work together for a common goal. These bits of information that form bonds between humans is encouraged by the chemical dopamine, precisely because it elevates your chances of survival. But where information used to be about basic survival tactics like, “let’s work together to have a next meal,” it turned into, “let’s see what Kim Kardashian has been up to.”

Someone once said about the human brain that we’re running new software on hardware that was made millions of years ago. Our ancient brains can’t discern between the satisfaction of food vs drugs, water vs alcohol, and yes, even useful information that is beneficial to your future vs random posts in your feed. Facebook, and all similar platforms, turned their sites into mini casinos. Your scrolling finger is the lever of their slot machine. This brings me to…

My Experiment

Since last week Thursday, I have been on a challenge. I abstain from the following for 7 days:

  • YouTube
  • Music and Youtube Music
  • Instagram and all other social media platforms, including LinkedIn
  • Movies and Netflix
  • Too much sugar
  • Games
  • Mobile games

The idea here is to remove the forms of “distractions” that give me an immediate dopamine fix and kept me glued to my phone’s screen. Having completed 5 days of the 7, I have realised something remarkable.

I sleep longer and better. Probably because I don’t play games on my phone until too late, when I should have been asleep already.

When I feel disappointed in something not turning out the way I wanted, I immediately reach for YouTube. Every single time. And absent-mindedly, too! That can’t be a coincidence. It seems like YouTube is my biggest soother when I hit a bump in the road. 

I miss music. And since I constantly have music playing in my head, I feel like this one was a little silly to give up for 7 days. Especially since it’s not really something that should be given up, in my opinion. But since my main intake of music comes from YouTube, I had to make do.

I suddenly had time for all the other stuff I’ve been neglecting. Sleep was the major one, and I never even realised that I haven’t been sleeping optimally before these 5 days opened my eyes. I have played with the cat more. 

But Most Importantly…

My creativity returned. 

Current events have knocked the stuffing out of my soul, and I never even fully realised it. I gave up writing during NaNoWriMo 2020. I couldn’t bring myself to write, even if I wanted to… which I didn’t. Now, before you writers out there throw your pens, notebooks, and coffee cups at me, I’ve already done that plenty myself. I’m my own worst critic. If you want to criticize me, I can give you some tips. 

I feel my writer brain waking up. I’ve been daydreaming bits of scenes spontaneously. A story is brewing. And I already checked, it’s not a meal disagreeing with me.

My Way Forward

I want to write articles for my website again. I want to write stories again, even short ones. I’m not back to full strength yet, but I know I will get there if I keep abstaining from dopamine fixes like YouTube, or at the very least, limit them. YouTube can have its place in my life after this 7 day challenge, but only if it makes an appointment and sits patiently in the waiting room of my brain until I have time for it. Hopefully, there’s a good supply of old magazines in there.



Dopamine –

Facebook wants more of your time –

Would You Like Some More Irrational Pie?

Short Story “Taken Seriously” –

Short Story (slight horror) “Look In The Mirror” –

My personal story of Autism and Depression –

Leave a reply