Have you ever wondered why you love checking things off your to-do lists? Heck, I’ve even been known to add something to a list after it’s done, just so I can check it off! Ever done that? It’s not as silly as you may think. Here’s why we get that “feel-good” feeling by performing certain actions.
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
Positive Neurochemicals: the Feel-Good Drugs
Our brains, emotions, and bodies are controlled by dozens of chemicals and pleasure seekers that motivate us in our actions and activities. We'll be covering just a few of the key ones.
Our biology was developed to ensure survival, so our brains reward us every time we accomplish something. Dopamine, the reward drug (or neurochemical—it’s what creates the so-called runner’s high) is released in our bodies to accentuate accomplishment. (Think “newly organized pantry”!)
You’ve probably heard of this one. Serotonin has many purposes in our bodies, and it increases whenever we can say, “I did it!” Serotonin bolsters confidence, reinforces our sense of purpose and importance, and gives us a surge of energy for the next goal.
So how does this relate to our everyday lives? And how can you utilize this knowledge and glean from my experience a tool that could be very useful?
We can choose to balance our activities between stress and pleasure to enhance our experience on a regular basis.
For instance, imagine you’ve had an extremely stressful workweek, pushing yourself to meet deadlines that are still hovering over you. You’re exhausted from early mornings combined with late nights. You could opt to work at the office all weekend and stretch yourself even thinner, OR you could plan your weekend with leisure or adventure mixed with short-term home projects that will give you a big sense of relief and accomplishment. The first choice creates added stress and drains you further; the second choice gives you stress relief and increases feel-good drugs, thus preparing you to be far more refreshed and productive on Monday.
This chemical is released when we spend time with people we love and trust. Social alliances promote safety and survival as well as a sense of belonging, so once again the brain rewards us with a feel-good drug. We survive far better in communities than as a lone bird; therefore, our biology rewards healthy associations with people.
So when you want to pull yourself out of a slump, do one or more of the following things to increase your energy and heighten your reward system:
- Spend quality time with those you love.
- Challenge yourself to accomplish something (even small accomplishments work!).
- Do something different to break up the monotony.
- Do an activity that you feel accomplished at or confident doing.
- Learn something new to jumpstart the frontal cortex. This part of our brain loves new and novel so breaking out and doing an unfamiliar activity will stimulate you in a healthy way.
Related reading: How to Build Healthy Brain Habits series
Implementing one or more of the above tips holds the power to shift your emotions and regenerate you in short order. Don't take my word—try it!