What is the dopamine cycle?


The dopamine cycle involves understanding the peaks, baselines, and troughs of dopamine levels in your brain. Here's a concise overview based on :

  1. Dopamine Peaks and Baselines:

    • Peaks: Triggered by the anticipation or pursuit of a reward (e.g., thinking about a desired sandwich). Dopamine rises even before you obtain the reward.
    • Troughs: After a peak, dopamine levels drop below baseline, which creates motivation to pursue the desired object or goal to bring dopamine levels back up 1.
  2. Baseline and Peaks Relationship:

    • It's important to maintain a balance between the baseline dopamine levels and the peaks. Big dopamine peaks followed by troughs can deplete your baseline levels if experienced too frequently, reducing overall motivation and drive over time 2.
  3. Motivation and Learning:

    • Dopamine is essential for motivation and learning. It helps in understanding what leads to rewards and adjusts our actions accordingly. Dopamine's anticipation and pursuit effects are part of what makes us crave and strive for things, not just the pleasure of obtaining them 3.

      Dopamine Peaks & Baselines

      Andrew explains how the level of dopamine below baseline is crucial in determining whether or not we feel motivated to pursue something. The increase in dopamine is triggered by our desire for something, not just when we receive the reward. This drop below baseline is fundamental to the whole process and is triggered by the preceding peak.

      Huberman Lab

      Leverage Dopamine to Overcome Procrastination & Optimize Effort | Huberman Lab Podcast
  4. Volumetric and Synaptic Release:

    • Dopamine is released in two main ways: synaptically (locally) and volumetrically (broadly). Volumetric release impacts general motivation and can affect many neural circuits at once. Overuse might lead to smaller differences between baseline and peaks, reducing the overall impact of dopamine on motivation 4.

Understanding the dopamine cycle helps in managing motivation and drive, ensuring you're not overtaxing your dopamine system and maintaining a healthy balance between effort and reward.