Have you ever thought about why we feel cold or hungry? The simplest answer is to ask another question: how long would a guy whose genes make him not feel hot or cold stay alive?

Nature and its implacable natural selection have left in all of us a lot of mechanisms that guarantee for us the best possible individual. Faced with the imminence of danger our bodies freeze. And it is because those who had genes predisposed to stay still when a predator approached were those more likely to be able to survive. And therefore, to reproduce and replicate that pattern in successive generations.

One of these biological mechanisms is the generation of dopamine. Dopamine is a hormone that brings pleasure. But not by chance.

Dopamine works as an incentive that nature gives us so that we feel like doing everything that will bring us long-term benefits. If sex were not pleasant, the survival of the species would be in serious danger. Why else that transaction of sweat and loss of energy? But thanks to the incentive of pleasure, we are willing to pursue the chemical and ephemeral stimulation of orgasm in our brain. Dopamine helps us make that leap into the void. Because these small punctual actions are an investment to a much greater future good: the survival of the species.

The question we ask ourselves now is does this mechanism help us to survive in the current context? This mechanism has left a Trojan horse in our genes. And it is that we are not always able to differentiate whether immediate pleasure is linked to future well-being. And the truth is we aren’t.

The generation of dopamine responds surprisingly well to the stimuli generated by current consumption patterns. And I refer to consumption in a broad sense. Like the constant need to be informed (breaking news!), that perennial sense of urgency in everything we do, or the pleasure we feel when we buy those new shoes that look great. Not to mention how they will increase the likes on my Instagram when I upload them to the stories.

We have perverted the sense of dopamine as a useful mechanism for investing small efforts that generate great benefits. It is no longer a generation signal for a long-term good. Now it is the gasoline to live on an emotional roller coaster that never stops and that only directs us to the most absolute superficiality.

The positive feedback loops provided by social networks are specially generated to exploit this weakness. Competing for our attention, different platforms try to use all possible tricks so that our natural tendency to be socially accepted is rewarded.

Like a slot machine, Social Media provides an immediate reward in exchange for minimal effort. That is, a constant dopamine shot.

And, paradoxically, networks have effects that influence the feeling of loneliness, isolation and depression. And in part it makes sense. When our basic needs are met, we begin to have other concerns related to our status vis-à-vis others. Today, how many times do you look at the phone a day? How do you feel if you don’t receive any messages?

A new trend: dopamine detox

I bet that the day you leave your phone at home or ran out of battery you feel anxious, even if it is just a little bit. I know it because it happens to 73% of people. And because I am included in that 73%.

Reading about this (quite sad) fact that happens to all of us, I found one of those trends that appear on the internet in which they proposed to do a dopamine detox. A shock treatment with a very simple premise: for several days, give 0% dopamine to your brain.

Even sounding easy, the execution is much more complex. You will not have an internet connection. Nor television. It is not worth going shopping either. Forget for 3 days everything that brings you short-term well-being.

The Internet is full of testimonials about the experience. The body’s first response, they say, is a feeling of anxiety and comparable to a digital withdrawal syndrome. But then everything improves.

When we stop continually stimulating the brain with emotional cues that lead nowhere, we move from anxiety to boredom, and then to reading or reflection.

This causes you to feel good about concentrating on difficult but important tasks. In short, it helps you to see beyond what you have under your nose. I think we all need a diet like this from time to time, because the advantages of having a hyperconnected world are obvious. The disadvantages we are discovering little by little.

Even questioning how scientific or not such autotherapy can be, the reality is that there is a community on Reddit with more than 23,000 users who encourage each other to achieve it. As you can see in the title, every Sunday they practice their dopamine detox diet, as a brain reset.

For a healthy mental nutrition

One of the benefits that the followers of this community comment on is that it helps them to stop being consumers and become creators. If you stop consuming, you start creating. In other words, the time they save in finding short-term generators of well-being, they invest in developing a business idea that they had been planning for a long time, starting to write a blog or reading a novel. Ultimately, they are investing in long-term wellness.

Communities like this demonstrate that the consumer finds contradictions between access to the gigantic source of information and communication available to him, and practical utility in his personal development.

And in what way are we taking advantage of this resource from advertising? Sometimes the logic of the product requires encouraging that pleasant short-term feeling loaded with dopamine, and ultimately, we are all here to sell. But couldn’t you connect your brand with a deeper purpose? Wouldn’t that make you different?

It is not the first advertising campaign to press this insight to end the most alarming excess of consumerism. In that intention to reduce the excesses of the most alarming consumerism, The North Face launched a program to renew recycled clothing. We also have as an example the Faroe Islands tourist office, stopping tourism for a weekend.

But let’s not kid ourselves. There will always be a shadow of suspicion upon us. Do we really believe in the insights we use in our campaigns or are they just mirages used to sell? In the food sector, some brands take advantage of the need for a healthier diet as one more claim to continue selling an equally bad product.

I would like to think that all the advances in consumer research, monitoring of mentions and conversations, active listening, neuromarketing, we can use them to truly connect with a deep purpose.

The moral for brands is clear: Stop thinking about who buys your products as consumers, and think about what you can bring them as people. Reduce consumption, manage to maintain healthier lifestyle habits, spend quality time with the family, find new hobbies, provide them with knowledge, and not just content. In short, improve your life, even a little.

Suddenly, in advertising and marketing, we have reached the point that moving away from the short term, and from absurd consumerism, is almost the only way to differentiate yourself. Because consumerism brings people closer to your product, but only sharing a purpose will make them connect with your brand.

  • Hunt, M. Marx, R. Lipson, C. Young, J. No more FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and depression. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 37, No. 10, 2018, pp. 751-768
  • Aarestad, S y Almening Eide, T. Smartphone Restriction and its Effect on Subjective Withdrawal Related Scores.

On the author:

Ismael D. Arróniz is philosopher and technophile. PhD in Artificial Intelligence applied to advertising language and creator of an agency focused on growth hacking. Combining a humanistic strategy with the latest growth techniques for large clients.

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