Dopamine & Real World Analogues

By Jamie McSloy / September 28, 2017
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Real World Analogues

You could file this article under “how to be more interesting” or “how to learn random stuff” but the general gist of the topic is that learning stuff is a better, more fulfilling and enriching alternative to easy dopamine highs.

What am I talking about?

Modern Vices

It’s all too easy to get stuck in a rut of your own making in the modern world. That’s because sugary treats, entertainment and information/emotional outrage are at arm’s length at any given time.

If you want instant gratification, then there are video games and porn.

If you’re hungry, then it’s much easier to open a bag of crisps than cook something – and god forbid you had to actually make a meal as opposed to having it pre-prepared.

I won’t patronise anyone; you all know that the dopamine highs of modern society are addictive and everywhere. Let’s move on.

The Interesting Man In The Room

Every so often, you run into a person who you think is a wizard. They seem to know absolutely everything, and whatever direction the conversation takes, they’ll have some insight that they can give to the subject.

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I’ve always been in awe of these people.

On the other hand, sometimes you’ll run into people who seem to know nothing, or at the very most, about one really mundane thing. It’s natural because humans are pretty good at narrowing their field of focus down to stuff they know about.

Anyway, we’ve all met the guy who can only talk about computer games and seems to get all of his world knowledge from video games. We’ve all met the girls who’ll quote Harry Potter as though it’s Socrates and use it to make life decisions.

Now, video games and Harry Potter aren’t bad things, but they’re not the foundation for a rounded education.

Yet they’re easy, digestible and in a dopamine generation, they’re most people’s idea of wisdom.

How do we get around this and avoid falling into temptation so that we’ll be the wizard from above as opposed to the guy who says, “Yeah, I know about pirates from Assassin’s Creed?”

First Things First: Decouple Yourself From Instant Gratification

This is the hard part of any challenge. Essentially, when you play a video game or watch a movie or read internet threads about Donald Trump, you’re getting an immediate emotional hit. Either you’re angry because some idiot has dared write something stupid or you’re elated because you shot some other guy on a multi-player first-person shooter.

In any case, you’re fighting against that immediate hit. What you need to do is train yourself to experience those emotional journeys over a long period of time.

Something like playing chess online is a step down from video games because it’s ultimately a game – a short term one – but you are playing and engaging your intellect on a longer term. (So, instead of fifteen minutes you might play a game for an hour or two.)

I like board games for this reason because you can get apps and set the difficulty.

If you binge watch TV shows, then replace them with books.

In any case, get rid of emotional highs that occur immediately, because that’s the addictive thing.

Real World Analogues

I haven’t played computer games at any serious level for many years. I can only really play 2D games (think grand strategy games) because 3D games give me migraines.

But a few months ago, I was tempted to buy Hearts of Iron 4 which is a grand strategy game where you command armies set in World War II.

Here’s where real world analogues come in.

Let’s say you have an interest in World War II. You can play a first-person shooter game. You can watch movies set in World War II. Or you can buy a strategy game.

These are immediate dopamine strategies with limited real world use.

Here are some alternatives:

  • Read books on the subject
  • Learn cryptography
  • Learn German, Russian, French (or other languages)
  • Go and fire rifles
  • Visit museums
  • Get some old maps and, using the books you’ve read, work out where everything occurred and when
  • Talk to any veterans you can find
  • Visit areas near you that are relevant

What you do doesn’t matter – what matters is that you go from a quick and easy dopamine hit to learning real stuff and using your brain in novel ways. (

For instance, plotting points on an actual map is a lot more intensive than using Google maps which calculated everything for you.

Anyway, you can do this for whatever hobbies you have and whichever subjects interest you. Your brain will hurt when you first do it, but it’ll be worth it.

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