Dopamine Fasting Technique seen from NeuroQuotient®

We see what the ‘Dopamine Fasting’ consists of an article by its creator, Dr. Cameron Sepah. Then we analyze it from the knowledge of the neuroscience of behavior provided by NeuroQuotient®. Dopamine fasting deals with addictive behaviors that begin impulsively. Its name can generate confusion seen from neuroscience; but the technique seems very interesting and, above all, very necessary.

One of the contributions of NeuroQuotient® is that it facilitates us the understanding of the neuroscience of behavior: Which are and how the centers and neural currents that underlie human behavior work. Always with the purpose of developing people, improving their satisfaction, well-being and, why not, their happiness.

From this, in this blog, we comment on different topics from the point of view of this understanding of neuroscience provided by NeuroQuotient®.

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Procrastination. Neuroscience to understand and overcome it.

We see what happens in the brain when procrastination. Understanding the neuroscience of procrastination, we can propose a strategy to overcome it. Procrastinating has an important cost for the person, a cost that sometimes we are not entirely aware of it. Most important when procrastination is added to being driven impulsively towards an immediate reward.

As on other occasions, NeuroQuotient®  will help us understand the neuroscience of procrastination. How is this neurobehavior and what brain systems are involved in it.

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Endorphins and mood. Pleasure and pain.

Endorphins generate pleasure and soothe pain. These endogenous opioids mutually enhance each other with phasic dopamine, the central neurotransmitter of the reward system. A positive mental focus -plus the reward system- help us to improve mood, endorphins, pleasure, and to soothe the pain. While, with negative thinking endorphins and pleasure are low, pain increases and mood goes down.

We had on the NeuroQuotient® agenda, for a long time, the idea of writing about endorphins and mood, and their relationship with pleasure and pain.

A few words from Marta Ligioiz – a speaker at a meeting of AEDIPE Catalonia on ‘neuroscience applied to people management’ – reminded us of our purpose.

Speaking of endorphins, he said more or less the following: ‘There are days when everything hurts and every time we feel worse. We are not aware that, precisely, we feel pain because our mood is very low. Encouraging us is the way to find ourselves physically better.

And it is that endorphins, pleasure and pain are intimately connected. With the positive mood endorphins are generated.  Endorphins not only produce pleasure, but also soothe the pain. Quite the opposite of the negative vicious circle: ‘I’m not feeling well, everything hurts, I get discouraged more and feel more pain.

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Happiness and neuroscience. Flow, being in the Zone.

We write about the neuroscience of happiness. Specifically, about what happens in the brain in the states of flow, when ‘we are in the zone’. An important source of happiness. From the idea of flow, being in the zone, we come into the neuroscience of happiness, with the help of NeuroQuotient. We take this opportunity to introduce some important concepts about the NeuroQuotient model.

What is happiness?

To accomplish our purpose, we must first be clear what it is happiness. We have found One definition of happiness that we agree more or less.

“Happiness is an emotional state… characterized by the feeling of well-being and fulfillment that we experience when we reach our goals, desires and purposes; It is a lasting moment of satisfaction, where there are no needs that press, or sufferings that torment.

Happiness is a subjective and relative condition. As such, there are no objective requirements to be happy: two people do not have to be happy for the same reasons or under the same conditions and circumstances”

We totally agree that it is about …

… a feeling of subjective well-being (the perception of each one of the facts and objective situations is crucial) and relative (we are happy in contrast to the moments of unhappiness) and as lasting as possible.

Personal fulfillment is also important. That is, happiness must have a broad sense, not a short-term satisfaction purpose. The search for immediate well-being is related to difficulties in postponing the reward, the trap of false happiness. We saw it in previous posts about impulsivity and fasting dopamine.

But, we do not agree so much that happiness is directly related to the achievement of goals. The satisfaction of achieving goals can be short in time, not lasting. Probably, the achievement of goals has more to do with success than with happiness. In addition, the goal approach is associated with the future, while happiness must be, we believe, in the present.

In short, we highlight three fundamental aspects of happiness: subjectivity, lasting and in the present.

Flow. A mental state source of happiness

We treat about happiness in terms of subjectivity in the post on meditation and resilience. Now we will focus on a source of happiness, and its explanation from neuroscience, which we do not remember so much: Flow, be in the zone.

It is very worth considering the idea of flow, because it is related to lasting happiness and in the present. The more we are in this state of mind, the more time we are happy in the present.

The concept Flow, flow, be in the zone, was coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly (1934-, of Hungarian origin, professor of psychology at several American universities, Chicago, Claremont, …).

Csikszentmihalyi considers flow as a source of human happiness. His book about flow has this title: Flow `a psychology of happiness’

He defines flow, being in the zone, as the ‘mental state in which a person, carrying out an activity, is completely absorbed in what he is doing, with great focus, energized, while enjoying the activity’s own process.

What characterizes the experiences and activities associated with the mental states of flow?

To better understand the idea of flow, and before moving on to the neuroscience of happiness, we can remember some personal flow experience.

For this we can think of some experience that we enjoy while we carry it out in a productive way. Being fully focused on the activity, while time goes by without realizing it.

From this experience that we have located in our memory, we can see what comes next.

Csikszentmihaly says that “the activities that lead to flow require skills and energy for carrying them out, while motivation and reward are embedded in the course of the experience itself, in the present.”

These activities are autotelic experiences (auto: in itself; telic: purpose), intrinsically rewarding. They are not carry out by the desire for a future benefit, but because the reward is in ‘doing’ itself. The motivation is totally internal and is in the experience itself.

These are challenging activities that require appropriate skills, with a balance between the level of the challenge and the skills themselves. If the skills are higher than the challenge, we get bored, if the challenge exceeds the ability, then we feel anxiety. (Fig. 1)

Neuroscience of happiness
Fig 1. Flow implies a balance between the skills and level of challenge that the activity requires.

Actually, we are talking about a source of happiness related to the action. Not of happiness associated with tranquility, with rest. Although, during its realization we feel in control of the situation, with calm and without fear of failure.

In its course the mind is completely concentrated, in the present, it does not wandering. The activity becomes spontaneous. There is no mental space left to pay attention to other things, or to oneself. The ego disappears. While time seems to pass without noticing it.

In what kind of situations do each one usually flow? NeuroQuotient® helps us to understand the neuroscience of happiness related to flow.

We have said in other articles that the NeuroQuotient® model distinguishes two types of neuro behaviors (brain patterns of behavior): Efficiencies and limitations. The former provide satisfaction, they are a source of happiness, the latter quite the opposite.

The best demonstration of this opposite impact on the happiness of efficient and limiting neuro behaviors is that people want to increase the frequency and intensity of the former and decrease those of the latter (Figure 2).

Neuroscience of happiness
Fig 2. We want to intensify the efficient neuro behaviors and weaken the limitations. The first ones give us satisfaction, happiness.

Logically, the flow, being in the zone, will have to do with efficiencies and actions aimed at satisfying some internal need. In the NeuroQuotient® model, and from bottom to top in all four dimensions, the ‘action / need couples are as follows:

• I2, Help, empathize with others to create harmony in the environment and receive recognition.
• I1, Study and anticipate, to generate knowledge, learning and resources to face future uncertainty.
• A2, Doing, for the achievement of challenges (although the enjoyment is in the action itself, in the present).
• A1, Explore (internally, from the brain itself, or outward) to imagine/create and/or enjoy the present environment.

Each person can have deep-rooted one or several (even all) of these brain patterns of motivation and action. The strongest brain pathways are the patterns that facilitate the flow in each one. Those that lead to enjoyment, to a reward that is a source of happiness while  acting in the present.

What type or types do you identify with? (I2, I1, A2, A1?)

And in the brain what happens? What is the brain process of the neuroscience of happiness in the flow?

Continuous cycles of reward (enjoyment), approach motivation (wanting) and action that drive the next cycle.

We see the brain process of the mental state of flow as small continuous cycles in time, where one drive the next. As a ferris wheel that has been launched and will not need more external energy to continue moving.

Let’s look at Figure 3. It is instantaneous enjoyment (1), the source of happiness, that brings motivation and energy. The one that gives rise to the chemical reward in the brain.

Neuroscience of happiness
Figura 3. Brain process when we flow or we are in the zone. Continuous cycles of reward, motivation and action.

The reward produces more motivation, more unconscious wanting (2) to continue. Motivation drives the doing that leads to more action – from which it derives more enjoyment and reward (in the present) that energizes the new cycle. A continuum, without stopping.

And what are the brain systems underlying this neuroscience of happiness?

The whole brain is involved, but with greater preponderance of the reward system. In addition, in the body there is balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic autonomic nervous system.

Let’s see now what brain centers and pathways are behind the flow, of being in the zone. More specifically where the neuroscience of happiness is grounded.

We believe that all brain systems are involved: reward, stress, threats or fear, prefrontal cortex. But to a greater extent the first two.

The reward system is the most important in the flow. It is the mesolimbic dopamine that is driving the internal motivation and the mesocortical dopamine that helps to keep the attention in the present. Motivation of approach and attention have the same neurotransmitter involved, dopamine. We saw it in the post about ADD.

Dopamine is also involved in the expanded reward system, which strengthens habits. Keeping the ferris wheel running requires learning, a habit.

Logically, the result of the action, enjoyment, pleasure, the source of happiness, will have to do with endorphins.

Although in memory, at the beginning of the first cycle, on the first impulse, there may be the search for tranquility in the face of future uncertainty. The unconscious memory of the amygdala calmed by GABA or oxytocin (in collaborative experiences). Or, even, quite the opposite, the search for an adrenaline ‘rush’.

Clearly involved is also the stress system. With balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic autonomous nervous system. Do you know Heartmath, heart coherence? Cardiac coherence refers precisely to this parasympathetic sympathetic balance that we achieve when we are flowing and in the zone. A source of happiness, with focus and calm, less anxiety, less fatigue and less tendency to depression.

Finally, is there any risk with the flow, with this neuroscience of happiness?

Be careful an efficiency taken to the extreme can connect with the limitation! Chasing always a feeling of flow we can find the opposite result (anxiety, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, low self-esteem, etc). Indeed, there are risks. But it may be enough to become aware of it to avoid them.

According to the Hebb principle, the more we conduct ourselves in a certain way, the more underlying neuronal connections are reinforced.  As a result of that we behave more in this way and the brain pathways become stronger.

Great! We are reinforcing the neuroscience patterns of happiness. Where is the problem? Well, in that unconsciously or consciously we could start these neuro behaviors when it is counterproductive.

Because, efficiencies and limitations of the same level, are like both sides of a coin. When we have a great tendency to an efficiency (very powerful brain patterns) there is a risk of encountering on the side of limitation.

For example, going back to the motivations described above. It could be difficult to Say No when we have a great trend to focus on other’s needs (I2. Or that wanting to know everything and have everything planned (I1) we could start fear and stress. Or, perhaps, that we want to achieve results (A2) at the cost of treating others with arrogance. Even, with so much imagination (A1) we could find it difficult to concentrate and / or appreciate serious risks, evident to others.

How to improve self-esteem and mood (from neuroscience).

We propose a way to improve self-esteem and mood. The knowledge of behavioral neuroscience that provides NeuroQuotient® helps us to do it. Although the article is aimed at psychologists and coaches, we can all take advantage of it. Self-esteem and mood are very low in depression. The strategy we propose is based on strengthening neuro behaviors opposed to those most characteristic of this disorder.

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Serotonin and depression. Is it always good to boost serotonin?

Serotonin and depression are very associated in the collective imagination. It is said that in depression there is a deficit of the neurotransmitter serotonin. In NeuroQuotient® we are clear that this is not always the case. To explain it, we will discuss serotonin reuptake – where the most commonly used drugs act – and we will see the serotonin paradox.

Let us remember that NeuroQuotient® is a tool, based on neuroscience, to facilitate development processes. In the certification to use it we deal with the fundamental issues in the relationship between neuroscience, and behavior and people’s well-being. In this learning process, in some cases, it is necessary to question certain ‘myths’. Let’s see an example.

Serotonin is fashionable. Everyone talks about the wonders of the neurotransmitter serotonin. If we don’t have a good serotonin level, we are lost. Fatal. To all this it helps that, in addition, we associate lack of serotonin and depression.

Is all of this correct? Won’t this be excessive?

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ADHD in High-IQ children and neuroscience. Overcoming the Attention Deficit Disorder (series ADHD-1)

A post about the ADHD, attention deficit disorder, in children with a high IQ (Intelligence Quotient) help to us to approach this disorder with NeuroQuotient and to understand its neurological pathways. When we understand what happens in the brain, we can design strategies to overcome it in a functional way. Then, these people can take advantage of their high potential.

Since a long time we have been interested in the neurological foundations of ADHD (attention deficit disorder). This interest was previous to the NeuroQuotient® creation. More in cases where it is related to a high intelligence quotient, IQ, (gifted people). And, moreover, when there is no physical hyperactivity (ADD without H).

Anyway, although more focused on these points of interest, what is dealt with in this post is valid for the ADHD in a whole way. Above all, with regard to the brain structures that influence the attention deficit disorder, and how the neuro tool helps us to understand them and to think of ways of coping.

We have already approached on the ADD, Attention Deficit Disorder, when talking about the timeline in the brain.

But now, we have just found a post from 2011 by Thomas E. Brown, totally relevant. It will be very helpful for approaching directly the subject. The mysteries of ADHD and high IQ.

The article is from 2011, but nonetheless it is very interesting as a starting point for reflection and to connect the ADD (attention deficit disorder) with its brain foundations.

In this post, the author tell us about a study conducted with 117 gifted people, children and adolescents, with a high IQ and diagnosed with ADHD (both with hyperactivity and without hyperactivity).

What are the most frequent symptoms in ADHD (attention deficit disorder)?

Before summarizing the article it is worth to remember some of the symptoms that occur with ADD in the school:


  • Difficulty in keeping the attention on work;
  • Struggling to do the work properly.
  • Difficulty to keep in mind what they have heard or read.
  • Difficulty to organize and complete what is assigned to them.
  • Procrastination is also very common.

These symptoms are attributed to a certain vulnerability in executive functions. Those of the prefrontal cortex (CPF).

What happens in gifted children with ADD (attention deficit disorder)? How do they evolve in adolescence and later?

Brown speaks us about 5 points that the parents and the teachers find and which are confirmed in their study. We completely agree all of them:

1. In most of the studied cases there is no hyperactivity. That is, it is about ADD (attention deficit disorder. Not about ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
2. ADDs children can have a high IQ (Intelligence quotient). In fact, it is the premise of the study. That is to say, they do not lack mental abilities, but they have difficulties to take advantage of them to do the work in an effective way.
3. Many gifted children are successful students in elementary school and fail recurrently in the high school. Some do not start having problems until college.

In fact, often they arrive further depending on the support of the parents in helping them to prioritize, plan and follow up to complete the work.

4. All the participants in the study have some activity in which they do not present any difficulty to exercise successfully their prefrontal executive functions.

It is why, the most respond: “If something really interests me, I can keep the focus. But, if I do not find it really interesting, then I can’t. Even if it’s important and I need to do it. ”

5. Can it be overcome in adulthood? In 80% of cases, the basic problem persists. But, some surpass it. Some because, simply, they have a delay of 2-3 years in the cortical development and as they grow the problem disappears. Others outgrow it with medication.

Anyway, in many cases, while remaining the difficulties, they have a good incorporation to the labor world. This is because they specialize in jobs that are interesting to them, and they perform them successfully.

How does neuroscience help us to better understand what happens with ADD (attention deficit disorder)?

But, we have to remember that the purpose of this paper is to connect Brown’s conclusions with the brain foundations, taking advantage of the knowledge of neuroscience that is acquired with the certification in NeuroQuotient®.

Broadly, we agree the Brown’s approach. However, we think he simplifies too much concerning to the brain bases. He centers all the problems on the difficulties of certain prefrontal functions. Let’s see why we think in this way:

In point 5, Brown talks about medication. Specifically, of the medication with dopamine enhancers.

Certainly, dopamine is the central neurotransmitter of the brain reward system. The reward system favors behaviors by rewarding them with pleasure. Although -it worth to remember- dopamine does not produce pleasure.

There are three important dopamine pathways in the brain.

One of them is the mesocortical. It goes from the ventral tegmental area (VTA) in the mesencephalon to the prefrontal cortex. This pathway favors focus and attention. If there is not enough mesocortical dopamine, there are difficulties in some prefrontal functions. What Brown tells us: prefrontal vulnerability.

But, the other two pathways are also very important and the consequences of the lack of dopamine in ADD (attention deficit disorder) are also glimpsed, albeit indirectly, in Brown’s post.

On the one hand, the so-called mesolimbic route. It goes from the mesencephalon (the same VTA) to a limbic area of the brain (the nucleus accumbens). This is the one that is involved in motivation. In the desire. In point 4, Brown says that when something really motivates them they do it, without presenting problems of concentration.

In ADD (attention deficit disorder, there is not only vulnerability in the prefrontal zone (mesocortical pathway), but also in the limbic part of the brain involved in the approach motivation (mesolimbic pathway).

Our point of view is that the lack of motivation lies, also, in the general deficit of the dopaminergic system. There is also little mesolimbic dopamine. When the interest increases, motivation and concentration grow at the same time. Therefore, by potentiating dopamine with medication, motivation and concentration increase simultaneously. So, that’s why, to overcome the problem it, also, makes sense to look for ways to influence on endogenous dopamine.

The third dopaminergic pathway is the one that goes from the ‘substantia nigra’ -in the mesencephalon, also- to the dorsal striatum and is related to habits. Because of this, they also have difficulty in creating habits. Problem that underlies, mainly, in the little capacity to organize themselves.

Complementing the medication, in childhood and pre-adolescence, with a support aimed at the creation of habits, is a great help to achieve a functional ADD later on.

Overcoming the ADD (attention deficit disorder) means that these people generate the resources that allow them to take advantage of their great potential. NeuroQuotient helps us to understand it.

In 80% of cases, ADD is difficult to overcome in adulthood, but it is not so difficult to reach a functional ADD. Even with great success. Where is the key?

NeuroQuotient explains it to us.

Before, remembering that the neuro tool should not be used to diagnose psychological disorders. However, it is an indicator of some of them when some of the limitations (gray bars) are large; when they are in the last frame.

Let’s look at the case of two people with a high IQ index. One with functional ADD and the other does not. In the following image we compare the graphs.

ADHD in High-IQ children and neuroscience. Overcoming the Attention Deficit Disorder
Higher level of self-leadership in functional ADD. It is seen in a greater efficiency A2 (higher tangible results, greater self-assurance) and lower limitation I2 (higher self-esteem).

In both we see that the limitation A1, which points to ADD (attention deficit disorder), is very high.

The difference between functional ADD (right) and non-functional ADD (left) is in the greater self-confidence acquired with the achievement of tangible results (higher green bar). And in the subsequent higher self-esteem (smaller gray I2 bar).

Overall, the NQ index that measures the level of self-leadership (how high are the efficiencies and how low are the limitations) is clearly superior with functional ADD. 71.9 versus 51.0.

How to focus development? The neuro tool explains it to us.

What is the way for development? The key is that we focus on a topic of interest (motivator) that, at the same time, provides us valuable tangible results. The achievement of results will help us to increase self-confidence and self-motivation.

So, we’ll It break the cycle of frustration derived of moving by impulses to non-valuable purposes, and with a scattered mind. One key is to stop the search of the immediate reward. (Do you remember the marshmallow test?)

Organization, working with method, logically, also helps to avoid dispersion and the achievement of results. That’s why, a support to generate these habits, as soon as possible, is very important.

Gifted children do not need organization and method to overcome challenges at school. They supplement it with their intelligence. However, as they grow up, when the difficulties become greater, they find that they have not generated the resources (organizational habits) that the rest of us mortals use.