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Huberman Notes: Introducing Dopamine — Your Molecule of Motivation

by The Huberman Notes 2 months ago in self help
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A staggering little molecule fundamentally shapes the best and worst of life.

Dopamine is the chemical substrate we recognize as our insatiable zest for life.

It’s also the puppet-master of addiction.

Mastering this double-edged molecule can be the difference between achieving your most venerated visions, and drowning in the current of ephemeral rewards.

In this series, you’ll learn how.

About The Huberman Notes

Before delving into how dopamine controls your motivation, I’d like to explain what to expect from The Huberman Notes.

The Huberman Notes will present the science featured on The Huberman Lab Podcast.

Many will be familiar with the podcast, as it frequently ranks in the top 25 of all podcasts globally. The podcast often holds the #1 spot in the categories of Science, Education, and Health & Fitness.

These statistics become all the more astonishing by the fact of its relatively recent launch in 2021.

The podcast's rapid accent is a testament to the quality and useability of the knowledge shared.

It’s hosted by Andrew Huberman, Ph.D.


Andrew is a tenured Professor and neuroscientist at Stanford School of Medicine. In addition to being a prize-winning scientist with numerous significant contributions to neuroscience, he runs his own lab at Stanford.

His intriguing life story is also worth checking out.

I’ve learned more from The Huberman Lab podcast than any other.

He brilliantly explains complex science to a lay audience and follows up with tools and protocols each of us can use to enhance our lives.

Huberman tells his students to ‘watch one, do one, teach one’. That’s how science spreads.

In that spirit, I hope The Huberman Notes can help spread these ideas.

Each episode of the podcast contains about two hours of dense information. It can feel like drinking from a firehose. So I hope these shorter written posts will be a useful supplement to the podcast.

Now, let's take a closer look at dopamine…

The Molecule of Motivation

When you lie in bed — you could just stay there. It wouldn’t require much effort.

Some form of motivation is necessary for you to get out of that horizontal equilibrium.

What gets you going, is dopamine.

How you feel right now and how you’ll feel an hour from now has everything to do with dopamine. It is the hidden molecule determining your level of motivation, and your desire and willingness to push through effort.

When you feel lethargic and “meh…”; there's less dopamine running through your brain and body.

When you feel unstoppably driven and energized; dopamine is peaking.

Can You Get More of It?

None of us enjoy “meh…”.

So we should strive to get more dopamine, right?

Not so simple, I’m afraid.

You know the unceasing search for more dopamine by another name — addiction.

Balance is the key when managing dopamine. Getting greedy will cost you, and you’ll learn how much — and how to guard against those costs.

The double-edged nature of dopamine has a logic we can learn to harness. Armed with this knowledge, we can avoid many modern-world pitfalls, and sustain motivation and energy in pursuit of our long-term goals.

So — What is Dopamine?

Dopamine was discovered to be the precursor to adrenaline in the late 1950s.

A precursor simply means the thing from which adrenaline is made.

You may hear adrenaline and epinephrine used interchangeably in these posts. They are the same thing, but when adrenaline is in the brain, we call it epinephrine.

Epinephrine allows us to get into action. It stimulates changes throughout our body that bias us for movement. We’ll explore this close relationship between adrenaline and dopamine in an upcoming post.

Dopamine is what we call a neuromodulator.

Neuromodulators are different from neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are involved in the dialogue between neurons (nerve cells).

Imagine two people talking to one another at a concert. Their dialogue is analogous to how neurotransmitters communicate.

Neuromodulators influence the communication of many neurons.

Picture a bunch of people in coordinated dance. Neuromodulators are coordinating that dance. They modulate the communication of larger groups of neurons.

Dopamine is released from several sites both in your brain and body.

But for our discussion about motivation, we’ll focus on something called the Mesolimbic Reward Pathway.

This pathway is one of the primary ways dopamine exerts its effect on our behavior. It’s fundamental for your desire to get into action, but also for getting you addicted to substances and behaviors.

Let’s take a closer look…

The Reward Pathway: Your Accelerator and Your Break

Here’s a bit of neuroanatomy that won’t be on the exam.

Deep in your brain, there’s a structure called the Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA, for short). Here, we find neurons that send out axons — think little wires — that spit out dopamine at a different structure called the Nucleus Accumbens.

These two structures are very important. They form the core machinery of your reward pathway and control your motivation to do anything.

Think of this as your accelerator.

The Mesolimbic Reward Pathway also has a break.

The Prefrontal Cortex put restrictions on when and how much dopamine is released.

Perhaps you’ve heard about the prefrontal cortex before. It’s the most modern part of your brain and sits right behind your forehead. It plays an important role in decision-making, planning, and overall executive function.

Other animals don’t have much of this unique neuronal real estate. Fortunately for us, we have a lot of it.

This system makes you different from a purely impulsive, pleasure-seeking animal. Without these breaks, we’d merely pursue what feels good.

Any time you’re in pursuit — whether of a romantic partner, a finish line, or attaining an academic goal — you’re tapping into the Mesolimbic Reward Pathway.

You don’t need to know the names or the details above.

The only thing to keep in mind is how the prefrontal cortex is one of the constituent elements in our reward system.

That is a wedge we can use to gain control and learn to harness our dopamine. More on that in the posts to come…

What’s Next?

In upcoming editions of The Huberman Notes, we’ll continue to explore this fascinating little molecule.

There are nuances, dynamics, and mechanisms in how dopamine works that are crucial to understand.

Grounded in this understanding, we’ll explore tools, strategies, and points of leverage that allow us to master dopamine.

We want dopamine to work for us, not against us. You’ll learn how in the posts to come.

Further Resources to check out:

  • The Huberman Lab Podcast: How to Increase Motivation & Drive
  • The Huberman Lab Podcast: Controlling your dopamine for motivation, focus & satisfaction
  • The Molecule of More: How a Single Chemical in Your Brain Drives Love, Sex, and Creativity — and Will Determine the Fate of the Human Race by Daniel Z. Lieberman & Michael E. Long
  • Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence by Anna Lembke
  • If you want more practical tools and strategies to improve your life, you should also check out Templates for Thinking.

    Most people never act on personal development strategies, so Templates for Thinking created a format that allows you to personalize what you learn through writing.

    When you personalize these strategies, you can more easily act on them and reach your goals.

    Don’t miss the next posts!

    If you sign up for The Huberman Notes Newsletter, you'll never miss a post.

    Thanks for reading - and please help share it if you know someone who can benefit from this information!

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    The best tools & protocols from The Huberman Lab Podcast.

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    Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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    Comments (1)

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    • Roger Scypion2 months ago

      Fantastic article! Thank you for such insight on dopamine.

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