I came across an episode of the Rich Roll Podcast the other day, with the guest Dr. Andrew Huberman, who is a neuroscientist and associate professor at Stanford University. I had seen some clips of him on social media, mainly do’s/don’ts on certain behaviours, and how activities can affect your brain, etc.
When I saw the video, I thought I’d give it a watch, since I’ve found other Rich Roll episodes to be pretty interesting. Well, I was right, I found it to be a fascinating interview. One full of lots of intriguing little tidbits, and things I didn’t know before, or at least not fully understood.
I’d encourage you to watch the interview, I also decided to write about three things that I took from the video that I found to be interesting.
Dopamine can be a tool for motivation
We tend to think that dopamine is a chemical that is released whenever something big happens, and that it’s a kind of pleasure/reward response. While that is true, dopamine is also a chemical that rewards behaviour so that we are encouraged to repeat it.
The lack of dopamine can also cause you to quit an activity or behaviour. Which is why mentally celebrating small milestones is very beneficial. As this makes your brain release small hits of dopamine, which then in turn pushes back your desire to quit, and reassures you that you are on the right path.
He also touched on the reliance of external dopamine triggers, and how that they can negatively affect you when they disappear. And when you perform an action that you have become accustomed to receive external gratification for, and therefore triggering a dopamine release, if that does not happen, then your likeliness to quit increases. As that behaviour does not trigger the same reward as it used to, so your brain will treat it as it has a lower value. This behaviour somewhat ties into addiction, which he explained in the latter parts of the video.
Mental Focus Follows Visual Focus
Our eyes are part of our central nervous system, and can be seen as being part of the brain. One chemical that is apparently key to visual focus, is adrenaline, as it causes your pupils to dilate, and allows you to focus better on one thing visually. Your body releases adrenaline as a response to stress, so you can better deal with the situation at hand.
He also said that this level of focus after a release of adrenaline is most likely what some people nowadays are referring to when they mention some kind of “flow state”. And once you are in this state, it will trigger your brain into cognitive focus.
On the other hand, when you are in a non-stressed state, your brain allows for a more panoramic view, which in turn allows for more awareness of your surroundings.
Time perception is also apparently linked to our level of focus on our physical space, with the more focused we are, resulting in a perception that more things are happening in a shorter period of time. And conversely, when your focus is more dilated, it appears as if you have more time, and everything is spaced apart.
I found it interesting that he said this was not the same as time itself going faster or slower, just the rate of which things happen appears to change.
How to Decompress
One thing that maybe most of us are slightly aware of is that taking breaks can allow for decompression, and help recover our energy levels. But it’s also important what we do on those breaks that matter.
I’m sure a lot of us are aware of context-switching, and how it can take time to adjust our mind to different contexts. This is also relevant when taking a break too, as if you want to decompress, switching to another activity where you’re in a focussed state will only make it harder to refocus back on your main activity.
Instead, it’s better to take regular breaks where you are not partaking in any activity that requires any substantial focus, and instead by having a more panoramic view of your surroundings.
Then, just as I mentioned above, your mental focus will follow your visual focus, and your body will be more able to recover energy.
It also means that you require less energy to refocus your mind when going back to what you were doing.
There’s a ton more that I found interesting in the episode, but I didn’t think anyone wanted to read a book. But if what I took from it is at all appealing to you, then I’d recommend starting with this episode first, but to also have a look at the rest of the podcast.