We may not even realize it, but dopamine rules the roost when it comes to our sense of wellbeing. How is one neurotransmitter so crucial to the feeling of joy?
When you first wake up in the morning, and you smell that fresh pot of coffee brewing, you probably feel excitement. This anticipation is dopamine.
If you receive a raise at work, your sense of accomplishment will most likely be accompanied by a set of pleasant psychological and physical sensations – that’s dopamine.
When you enjoy your favorite music, laughing with friends, or experience an immense rush of adrenaline while playing a sport, dopamine is kicking in.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that sends signals between neurons and is a precursor of adrenaline. It plays an important role in a range of brain and body functions that are critical for your success, including motivation, memory, attention, focus, learning, creativity, and mood. When we experience the positive effects of dopamine, we feel well, excited and energized.
However, if we experience low levels of dopamine, we can become fatigued, apathetic and can suffer from addiction. poor memory, disrupted sleep, and even Parkinson’s disease.
What is the link between dopamine and addiction?
In the 1950s, scientists designed an experiment where they placed electrodes along the dopamine pathway in the brain of rats. When the rats entered into a particular corner of their cages, they received an electric shock. The discomfort of the shock therapy led scientists to believe that the rats would avoid entering the area where the shock occurred – but just the opposite happened.
Rather than avoiding the shock, the rats craved the dopamine so severely that they continued going back to experience the shock up to 700 times in one hour.
This compulsive behavior can be seen in people, too. Take substance abuse or gambling for example. Doing anything in excess may not feel good after the fact, but the dopamine rush can be so intense that a person will crave for more.
Quick dopamine fixes are tempting and appear everywhere in our modern world. Some examples for sources of a dopamine rush include caffeine, alcohol, video games, social media addiction, impulsive eating, mindless working or compulsive shopping.
To achieve mental, emotional and physical wellbeing, we should boost our dopamine in healthy and balanced ways that nourish our sense of self-worth and reinforce our connections with others.
Have you ever felt that warm tingling sensation of love and compassion take over when you feel gratitude for someone or something happening in your life?
Being grateful for all of the blessings you have in your life is a simple, inexpensive and practical way to enhance your dopamine levels. It also works to keep your life in perspective when times get tough.
One way to easily maintain a momentum of appreciation is to keep a daily gratitude journal. Remember, when difficult storms arrive, and you have troubles finding things to appreciate, it’s okay to be grateful for simple pleasures like a snuggle with a pet or a smile from a stranger.
Focusing on the present moment and practicing self-reflection offer us enormous amounts of benefits. When we pay attention to the environment, calm our thoughts and center ourselves, we experience a relaxed state-of-mind, so that we can fully relax and recharge.
Not only does the practice of mindful framing and mindfulness help us to let go of stress, but studies have shown the potential to increase the release of dopamine.
It can be tempting to reach for a junkie TV show to distract yourself from daily problems instead of retreating into pondering and reflecting about our ideas and experiences. In the long run, embracing a ritual of self-reflection will increase your dopamine levels in a positive, more profound way.
There’s no need to sign yourself up for a spin class that you are going to dread if spinning isn’t your thing. But finding an outlet to exercise that you genuinely enjoy can increase your dopamine and boost your physical wellbeing.
Whether you take up martial arts, dance or play fetch with your dog, your mind and body will thank you. Dopamine is released when you get your heart pumping.
For an extra rush of healthy dopamine, combine your activity with reaching a goal (such as increasing steadily you daily steps).
Exercise brings many other fantastic side effects into your life. Perhaps you lose a couple of pounds, look healthier and meet new like-minded friends during your activity.
White sugar and fast food can be highly tempting if you desire a surge in energy. But the mood-elevating spike caused by these foods is short-lived and often comes with an energy crash.
Our earth is abundant with fresh fruits, veggies and fiber for us to indulge in daily. And did you know that a healthy gut seems to be directly related to balanced dopamine levels?
Some foods that can support your dopamine levels are apples, bananas, beets, chicken, eggs and cheese. So start your day with a delicious cheesy omelet or fresh fruit salad to elevate your mood early on.
Life is dynamic, a steady source of experiences and ideas, and dopamine mobilizes your brain and body to be motivated, creative and achieve peak performance. Don’t waste this precious elixir by disrupting the fine-tuned alchemy of neurotransmitters and hormones. Be gentle with yourself and let the natural processes in your organism take over without ‘artificial sweeteners.’
A true leader goes beyond the daily routine and takes a step back thinking about the consequences of every human interaction.
When you share ideas, proposals, or concerns, are you aware of their emotional impact on your team?
If you keep your thoughts to yourself, do you realize that they can take a toll on your own emotional balance?
Leaders want to be heard and valued, want to promote an atmosphere of positivity and productivity. This can be achieved more easily through self-awareness and empathy.
Leaders who are empathetic earn the trust of employees, who in turn are more productive. The right approach to empathy can go a very long way in promoting positivity at work.
What is empathy?
According to Gustavo Razzetti, author of Stretch for Change, there are two kinds of empathy: Emotional and Cognitive.
- Emotional Empathy is activated by mirror neurons, which allow us to feel another person’s feelings in a passive manner.
- Cognitive Empathy is also known as ‘perspective taking,’ when we are aware of your own insights and make an effort to understand others.
In the early 1990s, neuroscientists discovered that we have specific brain cells that become active when someone else is suffering. In essence, we can feel someone’s pain and move toward a closer understanding of them.
Of course, as a leader, it’s imperative that you understand where an employee is coming from on a topic without being triggered into an emotional response or unhelpful decision. Maintaining a clear, yet compassionate approach can be better achieved with Cognitive Empathy.
How can empathy help you be a more effective leader?
A skill that can be worked on and finely tuned with practice, Cognitive Empathy is invaluable for organizations because it:
Builds Team Culture. Making an effort to understand how someone thinks, behaves, and feels can offer you essential insights and allow your co-workers or employees to feel valued.
Diversifies Thinking. Not only does empathy create a feeling of connection among peers, but taking the time to understand someone else’s perspective increases diversity and convergence of ideas, explains Razzetti.
Impacts Communication. In her recent article, Prudy Gourguechon, Psychiatrist and Psychoanalyst, explains that empathy allows you to understand if you have fully reached and connected with those around you.
Inspires Loyalty. With empathy as a regularly used tool in your leadership belt, you can build your team, inspire followers, nurture leadership in others, and elicit loyalty, notes Gourguechon
What if you’re not naturally empathetic?
Empathy is an innate trait that’s in all of us; however, like anything else, it runs on a spectrum of weak to strong.
If you’re not naturally inclined to empathy, you can still harness its power through a few simple tactics:
Think before you act. For instance, if an employee needs time off during a busy peak, before you say ‘no,’ take a moment to consider what your decision will mean to the person.
You don’t need to say ‘yes’ if the answer should be ‘no.’ But showing you understand where the person is coming from goes a long way in keeping up morale.
Practice mindfulness or seek advice. If you’re not strong in the empathy department, you don’t need to change who you are. First of all, being aware of it allows you to fill in the gap with someone who compliments your weakness, notes Gourguechon.
Can you be too empathetic?
Imagine spending your whole day feeling the ups and downs of everyone around you. Sound fun? Not at all.
Being highly empathetic is a superpower in so many ways, but it can also hinder your ability to function as a leader if you’re pulled in too many directions.
Perhaps you’re managing a small team of recruiters who often have disputes with one another. As the team leader, you want to keep your eye on the goals, so that you can make deadlines and expand your recruitment services.
If you spend every afternoon feeling emotionally charged thoughts unrelated to the big picture goals, then your vision and effectiveness as a leader become muddied. Of course, it’s imperative to explore workplace disputes and aim to resolve them, but it’s also your job to keep a compassionate, yet targeted eye on the prize.
With the right amount of awareness and insight, you can feel out another’s perspective and understand the social and emotional landscape of your work environment. Use empathy to create well-informed decisions, to inspire loyalty, and to communicate as clearly as possible.
Succeeding at any new job, activity or relationship is about establishing trust, building rapport and credibility in the first 3 months. This post describes a mnemonic trick, NOW with LUCK, to help you navigate these initial days. The first 9 days require full presence, the skills of NOW, and within 99 days we need LUCK, driven by the way we interact with others.
Successful people seem to have traits that appear unattainable to everyone else. However, I believe that everyone can master any new challenge and opportunity by practicing personal skills NOW and people skills with LUCK.
N avigate. Be an explorer. Chart the course, raise the sail and share the ride. Let others see who you are, your values, goals, style. Be someone who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.
O bserve. Be a scientist. Pay close attention to you and your surroundings. Develop hypotheses, experiment, practice trial and error, observe and interpret the results. Share and discuss your ideas, be humble.
W ait. Be a monk. Patience is a virtue. Outstanding results take time. If you are in control and do everything you can, just wait for extraordinary things to happen.
NOW encapsulates my daily compass and directionality. I am proactive and make decisions continuously, good and bad. I feel in charge. I acknowledge myself, others and the environment. It’s not what happens to me, it’s how I react to what happens.
L isten actively. Be focused and present in all conversations. Listen to all ideas. Be passionately curious about non-intrusive personal and professional aspects of others. Be open to advice and counsel.
U nderstand empathetically. Strengthen personal connections at the emotional and mental level in each conversation. Go beyond words, dig deeper into what motivates you and others, discover what lies behind the surface.
C ompassion seeking. Continuously ask, what can I do to help you? Help others manage and overcome difficulty. Be empathetic and supportive. Embrace and promote a spirit of service.
K now deeply. Conceptualize the situation, the key drivers, where you and others are and need to be. Assess and adapt to challenges and opportunities. Incorporate this knowledge into a framework of ethical values. Inspire and mobilize others with genuine value propositions.
LUCK is about my interactions, cooperation and lucky encounters. I integrate my thoughts, concerns, feelings, emotions with those of others. I value each interaction as a source of inspiration, an opportunity to connect and harmonize. I balance my commitments to others with my expectations from others.
If you want to catch up, get ready to grab your sextant for the next 9 and 99 days and start every day NOW with LUCK.