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karen allen

6 Easy Strategies for a Happier Brain

Updated: Oct 23, 2023


You may have heard the buzz lately about starting a “dopamine detox.”

Dopamine is the “feel good” hormone; it’s the one that gives you that boost of happiness when you achieve a goal, watch a funny TikTok, or buy that new gadget you’ve been eyeing for weeks.

The idea of a dopamine detox is that in our modern world, we’re flooded with sources of quick dopamine hits—a like on a social media post, access to 24/7 online shopping, a quick round of Candy Crush—that our brains are overwhelmed. We keep feeling like we need more and more of that fix, not because our brain is actually lacking a healthy amount of dopamine but because it’s gotten too used to a constant stream of pleasure.

And even with all that, I realized recently that I was seeking out those little bumps of dopamine through one of my habits: my sugar addiction.

I don’t crave candy. In fact, I don’t even like candy that much. I don’t jones for ice cream; it’s not really my jam. But baked goods? You put some baked goods in front of me, and they’re gonna disappear. Cakes, pies, pastries, brownies? It’s over.

Now, I’ve known this about myself for a while. I keep it to reasonably healthy levels, so it wasn’t a habit I ever probed too hard. Everyone has their own version of kryptonite, right?

But I also knew that my sweet tooth was a habit I fell back on. Sometimes it was a stress response, but lots of times I used sweets as a way to reward myself and celebrate.

Eating something yummy, especially something sugary sweet, sends out a surge of dopamine, which is why it feels like such an indulgence and why we get cravings for sweets.

I had a lightbulb moment about all of these recently when I went through a coaching program with inner peace coach Charles Clay.

I met Charles when he was a guest on In the Details, and I immediately knew that I had so much I could learn from him personally.

Charles is a pretty incredible human. He suffered a traumatic back injury while snowboarding back in 2008, and every doctor he worked with told him that surgery would be his only option for regaining his mobility. Charles decided to take a step back to touch base with his own instincts, and he moved forward with a path toward healing that resonated with him, one that combined modern-day techniques and ancient healing practices.

I had a lot of reasons for wanting to work with Charles, but I can assure you, my hankering for pumpkin pie for sure was not one of them. The unexpected insight I gained, though, was pretty life changing.

One day, Charles and I were talking about how I wanted to create more consistent exercise routines in my life. I know I want to be active, healthy, and strong, but I’ll be honest, I’m not trying to be in the gym five days a week. I don’t have that kind of patience.

He pointed out that, if I just reframed my perspective a bit, I actually already did a lot of physical activity. I love to go for walks. I love playing basketball with Caleb.

But I still wanted to be more intentional about my workouts. So Charles encouraged me to look for other ways to stay active while still playing into my personality. I have a friend who loves to play pickleball as much as I do, so we set up times to play together. I found out there was an adult volleyball league nearby, so I joined them on Monday nights.

All of that was incredible advice, but the last part of the plan was a true game-changer for me. He said that when I followed through, when I showed up and did something I’d committed to doing, I needed to celebrate it. Instead of telling myself that I should be doing something different or more or better, I needed to be puffing myself up a bit about all the things I was already doing.

Because just by celebrating doing the thing you said you would do, you’re giving yourself a natural hit of dopamine.

Charles reminded me that celebrating isn’t always about doing something over-the-top. Celebrating could look like taking a relaxing bath. Celebrating could be doing a cartwheel in the moment. Celebrating could be having a dance break. Celebrating could just be about how you talk to yourself about what you’ve accomplished.

When we celebrate that we followed through on a commitment to ourselves, we’re intensifying the dopamine hit we already got from hitting that goal.

So I became my own hype woman.

While I was playing volleyball, I’d think, “Oh my gosh, this so much fun. I’m so glad I came tonight. And look at you! You can still serve like a champ!”

When I was out for a morning walk, I’d think, “Good job, you, for making time for yourself, and you’re getting that heart pumping!”

I know it might sound silly, but you know what? It kind of felt amazing. Just sinking into those moments and celebrating meeting my goals totally filled me up.

And about two weeks into this new practice, I noticed something completely unexpected.

It curbed my sugar cravings!!

I realized one day that I hadn’t grabbed a sweet treat in several days. I no longer got that craving around midday. I no longer thought about what kind of cupcake I’d eat to reward myself for having worked so hard all day.

And suddenly the connection was so clear. Sugar lights up your dopamine centers. In the middle of the day, when I was craving a sweet snack, what my brain was really telling me was that I needed was a quick boost of dopamine.

Once I started intentionally giving myself natural dopamine boosts, I no longer felt that need for an extra bump throughout the day.

It was a benefit I never expected from my work with Charles, but man, has it made a huge change in my life. Being mindful of all the natural, healthy ways to boost my dopamine throughout the day has given me some incredible insights.

So if you’re ready to amplify the good by adding an extra boost of feel-good to the amazing things you’re already accomplishing every day, here are six more strategies to try:

1. Visit a new place.

Experiencing something new is a dopamine booster. Take your workout, your lunch, your book—whatever brings you joy—on the road to a new spot to get the extra boost!

2. Make time for sunshine.

Vitamin D is crucial for healthy dopamine production. So instead of walking on the treadmill at the gym take it outside. Have your morning coffee out on the porch. Grab your veggies at an outdoor farmers market. Follow through on your commitments to yourself while soaking up the sun!

3. Listen to music that makes you happy.

Listening to music that makes you smile is a great dopamine boost! So put in your AirPods and jam out during your lifting session, walking to the library, or eating your lunch.

4. Make a to-do list.

Making a to-do list isn’t just about reminding yourself what needs to get done; when you write something on your list, your brain sees it as a concrete goal. Hitting goals is a natural dopamine booster, and every time you tick something off your list, your brain gets an extra bump of dopamine.

5. Share your wins.

When we get praise for accomplishments, it lights up the pleasure systems in our brains. You don’t have to go fishing for compliments, though. When you tell one of the cheerleaders in your life about something you accomplished—whether it was making it to your morning yoga class or nailing a presentation at work—just hearing them say, “That’s awesome! I’m so proud of you!” is enough to amplify the dopamine bump you’re already getting from meeting your goal.

6. Wear bright colors.

You know that color that just immediately makes you feel brighter? Maybe it’s lemon yellow or azure blue or neon pink. Whatever it is, bring it with you into your day. Dr. Dawnn Karen calls it “dopamine dressing.” Even just a small accessory—a silk scarf, a necktie, your sneakers—will give you a quick boost every time you notice it.

Cheers to amplifying our joy and here’s to being intentional about what helps us grow into our healthiest selves—in mind, body, and spirit!



 

When you're ready, here are 3 ways I can help…

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If you still love a good read, welcome to my blog. My hope is that every article will give you at least one tid-bit to help you shape your life in the most beautiful way possible. 😊 WELCOME!

Hi, I'm Karen! 

Hi, I'm Karen.

I've made it my life's work to teach as many people as possible about synergistic trifecta of human potential and transformation: mindfulness, positive psychology, and neuroplasticity.

 

This fusion creates a holistic approach to personal growth, well-being, and resilience, empowering you to thrive, navigate life's complexities with grace, and tap into your fullest potential.


​​I've worked with companies such as Nissan, Golf Channel, Google, Universal Orlando Parks & Resorts, LG and many more. 

Whether I'm teaching from stage, in a conference room, or via Zoom, my #1 mission is to help as many people as possible tap into the power of their mindset and start living more fully. Because when you become better, you make the people around you better, and that's how you make the world a little better, too. 🌱 #BetterTogether

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