With the onset of the Coronavirus, a lot of things have changed. There has been a surplus of protests, deaths, and issues that have gained a lot more awareness. Moreover, one thing I have heard a lot of people say is that they wished things “would go back to normal”. Before I would agree and wish for the same thing until I began to see how bad “normal” actually was prior to the Coronavirus. Whether some people want to face it or not, the “normal” that people were comfortable with prior to COVID is never coming back, and I think that's good news for humanity. It was about time for things to change.
Watching 2020 unfold made me look deeper into myself, and ponder whether my sense of normalcy for myself needed a change as well. We can all admit, the wearing masks, staying indoors, protesting for injustice are all things that were abnormal, yet they have led to growth and better outcomes for the most part for the world. So consider this, maybe as humans, when we feel stuck in life, seeking a bit of abnormality might be a potential solution to growth and development. I know in my personal experience that this was the case. Let me explain.
First, A Little Context
Prior to graduating and going on a journey of self-improvement and growth, I was normal too. Normal to me was overindulging in all of the various pleasures and mediums of short-term gratification that are available to everyone nowadays. I was very lazy and procrastinated most of the tasks that did not feel as rewarding, and instead, I would scroll on Instagram for an hour or playing Assassins Creed for 2–3 hours before getting out of my room to stuff my face with unhealthy food because it felt pleasurable. Over time I noticed I had a deep void and a lack of purpose for being, and that was when my relationships started to fall apart because I was becoming a negative source of energy.
Initially, I thought I was so lazy because I was addicted to dopamine. Now dopamine has a bad reputation in the world of productivity and self-help. It is often cited as the “pleasure chemical” or the neurotransmitter that people are addicted to like drugs. However, these are all myths, according to the research on the matter, dopamine is not the chemical that creates a sensation of pleasure in the brain, it is rather, the chemical that signals to the brain to remember what caused that pleasure, so you can recognize when a reward is coming next time you see that same thing. The problem is, if the source that is causing the actual pleasure chemicals like endorphins, oxytocin, and serotonin is not a healthy one, like smoking/vaping, eating junk food, and other drugs, dopamine will still be released, and those activities will be remembered and your brain will turn to whichever gives you the pleasure you desire in the easiest way possible. This is what happened to me. I was just abusing the same old unhealthy things for pleasure and that began to ruin my life.
So how exactly did I get out of this toxic relationship with dopamine and its relatives?
I Rewired My Brain
So if normal nowadays is being “addicted” to short-term gratification and dopamine was the root cause behind why we keep going back to the same things that gave us the short term gratification, the abnormal thing for me to do would be to cut it all out and deprive myself of the old forms of pleasure. So that’s what I did. Kind of.
Over the span of two months, I did a dopamine detox of sorts. I stopped going clubbing every weekend, I distanced myself from a lot of people that were bad influences on me, I disabled my video game console, I stopped vaping, I deleted Instagram, I set timers on all my games and social media apps. Sounds like a nightmare for the average teenager, and yeah it was rough initially, but then the abnormal stuff started to happen.
I Built Abnormal Habits
As I began cutting out the aforementioned vices in my life, my brain still needed to find a way to get pleasure, but my environment had changed and I could not rely on the old sources to get a reward anymore. Now instead of picking up my phone, I would pick up a book, instead of sitting down and playing games, I was squatting and lifting weights. I then began to find learning fun and would get bored when I was on my phone for too long, I started to meet new people and build better relationships with those around me, I spent more time around my family, and I started eating healthily. These from an outsider looking into my old life would have seemed very abnormal. Indeed, it was different from what I was comfortable with, but soon enough this became the new normal for me, and now I am striving to be better. But what about pleasure then? The funny thing is, after giving up all my bad habits, these new ones gave me more pleasure than I could handle, I felt like I was on the right path and everything felt challenging enough to keep me motivated.
This time the dopamine did not make me feel lazy, on the contrary, I began to feel fulfilled, and incredibly happy all the time. I had so much energy and I was able to stay motivated when I began new projects — one of which eventually became writing on medium!
Throughout this process, a lot of people who knew me before noticed how much I changed. I remember being shy or uncomfortable with the idea of people knowing that I had actively made these efforts to fix my life up, partially because my friends did not think I was behaving like I normally do, I was now a bit abnormal. But what I also noticed was that there were a few people that noticed my changes and wanted to learn how to achieve the same things in their life. I told them you have got to be comfortable with the idea of being a bit abnormal for a bit, for that is where true growth can be attained.