We have different ways of assessing personalities.
In the western system, there is one very good validated model of personality called the 5 Factor model. Using a technique called factor analysis, they found that personality tends to cluster in five different groups.
Let’s explore what is happening in your mind when you have to work, but want to play a game. In that moment, you have two impulses that are aimed in opposite directions.
One of them is something you want to do, whereas the other is what you don’t want to do. If you have high conscientiousness, you choose the thing you don’t want to do, whereas if you have low conscientiousness, you give in to the thing that you want to do.
That raises the question — is there any way to train ourselves to do the thing that we don’t want to do?
Another way to phrase that question is to ask, is there any way to learn to set me and my impulses aside? How do we train our minds to set ourselves aside in favor of what’s good for us?
The subtle thing there is that it’s not necessarily a choice between what’s good for you and what you want. If you observe the cognitive act, it’s the setting aside of what you want that is the important aspect. It is about training impulse control.
Therefore, one of the most effective ways of building conscientiousness is to train your mind to put yourself second in favour of someone else. In other words, it is about being a selfless person.
Additionally, its not just about helping other people. It is specifically about helping other people at a cost to yourself. You need to give something up in order to help someone else.
For example, when you share half of something with someone, you lose half of it. If your friend is sick and you take out the time to make soup for them, then you lose the time spent gaming.
But isn’t that empathy?
Not necessarily. Empathy is the capacity to feel what someone else is feeling. People who are naturally empathic are naturally more helpful towards other people. That is not what we are talking about.
The best example of raising conscientiousness in this manner is the “Altruistic Sociopath”.
Sociopathy is a personality scale that maps onto the five factor model in its own way. Sociopaths tend to be disagreeable, less neurotic, and high in conscientiousness. There are a lot of good people who are actually not empathic. They just choose to be good people.
Sociopathy tends to be high in prison populations. However, there is some evidence that suggests that sociopaths who wind up in prison are the ones that get caught and aren’t very good at it. They may have a lower IQ.
It is possible to test high on the sociopathy scale and be a good person — psychiatrists and surgeons are usually higher up on the sociopathy scale.
The altruistic sociopath does a lot of things for other people, but not because of empathy. They do it cognitively. In their mind, they decide to do things for other people because it is a good thing to do.
Therefore, it is possible to increase your conscientiousness by choosing to be selfless, and it doesn’t have to come from a place of empathy.
Eastern religions talk about the concept of karma. Sometimes that means, "what goes around, comes around". They say that if you do good things for other people, then your life will change.
Their explanation is that there is a cosmic principle or omnipotent entity that benefits people that it deems to be good. If that is true, then that explanation makes sense. However, there is not much evidence of that.
Lets see if there is any worldly observation that supports this theory of karma, that if you do good by other people, then your life will improve.
Our revelation about conscientiousness is the perfect explanation for how doing good deeds can improve your life. When you do things for other people, you are training your mind to be more restrained. You are training your mind to not be a victim to you own desires. You become the controller of the mind instead of the mind being your controller.
Since there is no cosmic force that we know of that rewards you for helping an old lady with her groceries, we have to wonder, how can that deed improve your life?
The answer lies in the fact that Karma is centered around you. It essentially says that if YOU help someone else, YOUR life improves. In the cosmic scale of things, that sounds absurd. However, it actually makes perfect sense because the only common element between the good deed and the improvement in your life is you. Therefore, we have to conclude that the medium of change through karma is you.
Recruit a certain amount of altruism. When you do something for someone else, you literally have to set aside what you want or things that benefit you are giving in to your impulses for the sake of another human being. The more you do that, the more you train the muscle that sets aside your impulses.
The more you train that muscle, the more you increase your conscientiousness. And the more you increase your conscientiousness, the more you can study, work, and do the things you need to instead of giving into playing video games, watching YouTube, etc.
There is a particular skill, which if we learn to tolerate, we can become far more productive than we are. That skill is the ability to tolerate boredom.
When you work, your mind tends to be one-pointed. Over time, your mind starts to go from one-pointed to scattered. It starts to think about random things, which breaks your concentration.
Back in the day, if you are in a library and your mind starts to wander, you’d sit there and after a while, your mind would naturally coalesce back into a one-pointed mind. Then you’re focused on your work again.
The process of studying involves your mind going back and forth between the states of focused and scattered. On good days, the periods of focus would be longer than the periods of scattering. Caffeine can help this process. This process also involves dharana and pratyahara.
Stimulant medication for ADHD aids this process as well (we do not recommend unprescribed use or deviation from your prescribed dosage.)
Lets say you are studying in a library and someone brings in a plate of barbeque. As a result, your one-pointed mind would shatter. If you are studying, and a notification on your phone disturbs the mind. Your focus gets shattered. From these examples, we can see that input from the indriyas or sense organs shatters your focus.
Pratyahara is the practice of restraining your sense organs. That means keeping your eyes, ears, nose, etc focused on what they should be focused on.
However, this practice is about moving from a distracted mind to a focused mind. But what about not getting distracted in the first place?
The mind enjoys being focused and being entertained. What is entertainment? It is simply a sensory experience that makes it easy for your mind to be focused.
For example, if you play a video game and it is fun, that is because it is pulling your attention and making you focused. That is what being engaged means.
Studying is hard because our mind gets distracted. At that moment, we get bored. However, it has gotten much harder because of the advent of algorithmic entertainment.
In the 1950s, if your mind got distracted, you might pull out your comic book and read it for a few minutes. Eventually, your mind will get bored of that and it will focus back into studying.
However, when we get bored now, we get on YouTube, Reddit, TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, etc. However, unlike the comic book which occupied your attention for ~30 minutes, these platforms are designed to occupy your attention for hours.
The really dangerous part is that you are training these platforms to get better at pulling your attention away, every time you use them. They observe what you engage with and suggest more things that would be interesting to you based on that. As a result, your attention does not stand a chance against algorithmic entertainment.
Our society values discipline, which is typically seen as the ability to pull your attention back towards your work or studying AFTER you’ve gotten distracted by algorithmic entertainment. People who find it difficult to do that are typically branded as lazy. That’s not a diagnosis that has a treatment.
Therefore, we need a different solution. If you can avoid going on these platforms when you get distracted, then you don’t need discipline. You do not need to pull your attention away from algorithmic entertainment.
Therefore, the solution is to learn to tolerate boredom. The solution is patience. If you are lazy, i.e if you are good at sitting around and not doing anything, then that’s good. You need to double down on that. When you mind starts to wander and you start to get bored, you need to sit with that. Let your mind wander.
Eventually, it will start to coalesce again. It will become focused again. All you need to do is ride out the wave of boredom.
Technology has deconditioned our mind to boredom. Our attention is always on something: audiobooks, podcasts, videos, etc. We also call this time “productive” which encourages us to engage more with these platforms. This makes us fall into a trap: our attention is always on something, and we get bored very easily. This makes engaging in deep focus very difficult.
An exercise that one of our coaching clients came up with was to sit and stare at a wall for an hour, with no distractions. It is devastatingly difficult. However, your attention span will increase if you do this exercise. Do not meditate, do not listen to music, and do not engage with anything. Simply stare at a wall for an hour. Let your mind wander as much as it wants to. Let all your thoughts come up, and watch them with curiosity.
The easy mode version of this exercise is to go for a walk for an hour without any external stimulation, such as music, audiobooks, podcasts, etc.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitters (NTs) are like letters of the alphabet. If you have too many of one letter, then you spell words ie you will have adverse effects. NT's also do not just do one thing; it is a signal used by the body to do certain things such as motor function or bowel movements or lactation.
Dopamine is just a NT which reinforces a behavior, creates motivation, and reward. This does not mean that it creates feeling of pleasure, and is not involved with the pleasure center of the brain.
Dopamine first travels through the Mesolimbic Pathway, which is involved with reward related cognition ie incentives/salience or wanting/detesting. However, wanting is independant from enjoyment, which is why, for example, you can want to play video games despite playing a game you do not have fun in. This dichotomy exists because the dopamine created from the video game generates the desire for playing but does not create the pleasure or enjoyment of it. The Mesolimbic Pathway is also involved with aversion related cognition or rewarding through avoidance.
The Dopamine then goes through the Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA) and then finally the Mesocortical pathway. The Mesocortical pathway is involved with executive functions or planning and execution of tasks. This traversal allows us to take action without being rewarded at each step. For example, updating a resume or linkedin does not cause a spike in dopamine, but you are able to execute these task because of the Mesocortical pathway.
So when the Mesolimbic pathway overwhelms the Mesocortical pathway, you have people that are unable to engage in action that is not immediately rewarding ie cannot do what you should and can only do what you want.
Mesolimbic < Mesocortical then we can take planed actions over immediately rewarding actions.
Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) is involved in effort computation, which is calculating actions based off of the reward and energy and deciding based off of the calcutions. And when you have impaired dopaminergic neurons in the nucleus accumbens, the Mesolimbic Pathway gets alters which also affections the ACC calculations are altered, and finally forces you to only choose the low effort low reward actions.
Signs of dopamine irregulation and a need for Dopamine Detox
A detox is the process of removing something harmful from our body, and a dopamine detox is the act of starving dopamine from the brain. However, the general assumption from this process is that dopamine is bad because it forces the mind to always look for something to be busy with, which is not true. For example, the goal of a diet is not to remove all calories because calories are bady for the body. The goal is to minimize the amount of calories that are taken in while ingesting foods that provide healthy nutrients. Dopamine is very important to the mind, like calories are to the brain, because it is used to determine what you want to do and enforces motivation and behavior creation.
If you keep thinking that dopamine is a pleasure chemical, then you will struggle to understand why you continue to desire and act on behaviors that we do not enjoy.If you wanted to reduce and remove all the dopamine in your body, then the mind would be suffering like those with Parkinson's Disease, which is the result of destroyed dopaminergic neurons in the body/
The problem with dopamine and the dopamine detox is that most discorse does not come from a science first perspective, and often comes from self-help gurus/influencers/coaches. As a result, sometimes the information is insufficient or inaccurate. However, it is not their fault because there is also little information about a dopamine detox. The term Dopamine Detox does not show up in medical papers and journals and is not studied through clinical trials.
Dopamine detox is about understanding and regulating the dopamine receptors.
The problem begins with the neurons, which release dopamine signals into synaptic clefts, where another neuron at the end that has receptors. When there is an overwhelming amount of dopamine being released, the mind down regulates the receiving end of the neuron, thereby reducing the signal strength. Imagine the neuron like a speaker and the music is the dopamine signal. When the volume is too high, you need to the lower volume of the speaker or in the case of the neuron, decrease the signal strength of the dopamine.
To regulate the dopamine receptors, a simple 24 hour dopamine detox has little affect because the neurophysiologic change in the receptors requires weeks to equilibrate.
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