My Dopamine Fast – The Aftermath

Despite cheating on the food component of my stimulation fast, the day felt successful.

But did those effects carry over into the coming days? Was it worth it? Would I do it again?

My short answer is “yes.”

For one, I found a fresh appreciation for the technology in my life. Podcasts, audiobooks, and music became audio dope the following day. There are worse vices out there, I guess.

But the biggest benefit was the strengthening of my writing habit. Before my fast, my blogging was waning. I hadn’t produced a new post in two weeks, coasting on a line-up of pre-scheduled pieces.

But when writing became the most enjoyable activity for a full 24 hours, I filled up a journal. Moreover, the unfiltered, untyped workflow allowed me to develop the habit of scribbling out first drafts.

When I write, I sometimes hang up on sentences, phrases, and words. What is the best word for this sentence? How can I rewrite this? I forgot the value of trudging through a first draft. Writing is re-writing. And to me, writing is the hard part. A potter needs clay to be creative. For me, a first draft is a block of clay. Writing a first draft is like paying for that lump of clay.

Spending money is known to activate pain-related brain regions. I feel similar pain while banging out sloppy first drafts. It’s an unwanted, but necessary first step.

However, once I procure lump of clay, I love the re-writing process – shaving off a word here, shaping a sentence there, and punching up vocabulary all over.

Writing in a journal by hand reinforced the idea of just letting ideas pour out. Grammar, vocabulary, and penmanship deferred to production. Post-fast, I wrote three times as much as I had done in the previous month. It wasn’t all good, and none of it was gold. But they all kept the potential to shine.

Next, with so much thinking time at my disposal, I made peace with my interview dilemma.

“What’s the hurt in trying?” I thought. “You can either get a new job and challenge your skills, or you can stay at a job you love. It’s a win-win.” I let my coordinator know of my interest and my co-teacher of my impending interview. Both appeared more than understanding.

I also appreciated the unrushed feelings that lingered beyond my anti-holiday. It shook me to realize how I impose hurry upon myself. It’s unnecessary. When I arrived at school, or the orphanage, or my Korean tutoring, there was no need to rush into immediate action. I could take a deep breath – take stock. Such patience only served to enrich my work and volunteer experiences.

My focus deepened as well. After returning to school, I assigned many of my classes to “self-study time.” That also implies “Ian’s reading time.” While I once failed to focus on a book beyond 15-minute intervals, I was able to read for 30 to 45 minutes at a stretch.

The same can be said during my off-class periods. Between blogging and preparing final semester paperwork, I found it easier to stay on-task. YouTube temptations grew dim. I glanced at my phone less often.

I also appreciated a particular “quiet” in my mind. I felt like an empty inbox or a de-cluttered attic. Mental dust accrued over years of stress and mind-deafening stimulation was wiped clean.

I’ll confess that I may have over-hyped the effects before I began. That might explain my mild excitement preceding a whole day of doing less than nothing. Moreover, this experience did not lead to world-shifting, 1%-level focus. I only felt marginal increases. But compared to the slump I was in before, a 24-hour vacation was just what I needed. It brought me back on-track right when derailment became a real possibility.

Before, I likened this experience to a mental and emotional tune-up. This still rings true to me. It served to center and calm my mind, allowing previously numbed and drowned-out thoughts to silently scream their peace into the ether. The result was a lightened sense of peace.

I hope to repeat this process in the future. Maybe next time I will moderate my walking and refrain from consuming food. With practice, I might adopt this ritual once every 2-3 months or whenever a stressful decision clouds my thinking.

Life is too short to work so hard. I now appreciate the value of taking a break.

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