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Dopamine: What Social Media and Overspending Have in Common

I watched The Social Dilemma documentary on Netflix over the weekend. I was reminded once again of how vulnerable our brains are to advancing technology and our social norms' evolution.

I genuinely believe that biologically, we are equipped as humans in a way that doesn't always serve us best. The neurotransmitter dopamine, best known as the "Happy Hormone," is an example of this.

Dopamine has a well-intended purpose in human design—no question about this. But when we don't fully understand our brain's capability, we think we are out of control and at the mercy of our biology. As a result, we get caught in cycles of "dependency," and we don't know how to resolve it.

If you've found yourself going down the rabbit hole of social media and finding it hard to stop the habit, let me first say this. You are not alone, and nothing has gone wrong. It is happening to all of us humans on this Earth because we have a brain.

The documentary did a great job of portraying dopamine's effect in our habitual need to go back to our social media apps every time we receive a notification. This was no news to me. I already see how dopamine plays out in women's struggles with overspending.

Desire is the emotion, the urge that keeps us, women, clicking away and shopping for the latest, say...fall wardrobe? But what keeps us coming back to the experience of buying the clothes, shoes, and purses is not those things; we tend to forget that we own them shortly after we purchase them, and they get lost in our closets.

What keeps us coming back to the shopping cart is the imprint we have from that experience; That feel-good moment when we rewarded our brain with a hit of dopamine. That is the moment our brain decided that this action must be essential for survival. And when we keep doing it repeatedly, our brain will bring forth its automation feature by categorizing shopping as an unconscious activity. Remember...brains love being efficient.

The problem with the over-delivery of pleasure signals to our brains is that the dopamine receptors eventually downregulate. Simply put, you need to shop more often to bring your dopamine levels back to normal. The excitement you get from buying something is not quite the same anymore. As a result, you increase the intensity and uplevel the shopping experience to bring back that extreme sense of satisfaction. Except this is a dead-end road. The effects of your overspending start to pile up, and in the end, your overall happiness has declined, just like we see with social media. There is no number of Likes or comments on Facebook and any other social media platform that will ever restore your self-confidence or belief in yourself and ultimately make you happy.

When we program ourselves to feel desire and are rewarded with dopamine, the neurotransmitter of desire, we have the recipe for perpetuating the behavior. It essentially creates a perfect storm. This is how women get caught in the habit of overspending.

When we have a moment to stop and reflect, as illogical as overspending may seem to us, it is more logical than not because of our biological design. But remember that even though we came into this world with a brain designed to avoid pain, seek pleasure and be efficient, we are also equipped with a part of this brain that knows best and can get you out of this predicament: Your prefrontal cortex or higher brain.

None of what I described in this post regarding desire and overspending can even happen without your prefrontal cortex's consent. So getting to know this side of you and acknowledging its power and how to utilize it is the answer to stop overspending. Even though all the biological, social, and economic conditions can easily set you up to spend more than you planned to, YOU are always in control by accessing your higher brain.

The Social Dilemma documentary terrified me. I admit it. I was terrified because at that moment, even myself, a Life Coach who has studied this aspect of human behavior, forgot that we are empowered and well equipped to manage our brains if we wish to. So yes, this is the piece of good news. My clients who want to stop overspending and do the work to get there are an example of it. It is possible. We can write new code to program our brains, and even if nothing changes outside of us (social media, culture, society as a whole), we get to choose our programming. This process is true freedom.

If your household has a healthy income, but you still feel like you are living paycheck to paycheck, and you know you are caught in the habit of overspending, let's chat! I can help you bring awareness to where you are now, where you can go and what stands in your way of getting there. Click here to schedule a Free Mini-Session.




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