The Politics of Productivity Optimization, Dopamine Detoxing, & Habit Change: A Progressive/Leftist Critique of Huberman, Lembke etc.

Mental performance and productivity optimizing techniques, like those popularized by Dr. Andrew Huberman, and the concepts of dopamine fasting, dopamine detoxing, and dopamine “addiction,” partially popularized by Dr. Anna Lembke in her book Dopamine Nation, have taken social media by storm, but do they really work and can they be causing harm to marginalized communities by creating false ideas about serious political and social problems? Could the obsession with dopamine be tied to strict religious ideas or even eugenics? Alternative methods can be a breakthrough for mental health that can help people improve their lives and change their circumstances, but we have to know that they work, respect people’s unique life and cultural experiences, and get systemic change to work in conversation with them so the working class can benefit, and not create blame and shame.

Episode Notes:

(Always rough, may contain errors.)

I do a few mental performance protocols on a regular basis: sun exposure, breathing, workouts, etc.

One of the treatments that has worked best for me is neurofeedback

The danger of ignoring systemic problems, and how systemic changes will improve productivity way more than any “hack’ or “habit”

Dopamine myths vs. facts

Some of these “low dopamine morning” methods can work for building new habits but are cloaked in falsehoods

Bender: CBT doesn’t say to restrict pleasurable activities; instead, it’s centered around replacing harmful compulsions with healthy habits. The key words here are healthy habits. It’s about replacing what isn’t working for you and finding something that does.

Standard person “optimization protocols” are based on: single white young man with plenty of disposable income, living on their own in a city, no family, no major obligations, no major health conditions. They don’t have family they are caring for, older parents, etc.

What do all these traits have in common? Agency! These are for people with a ton of agency.

This is a problem because it does not account for marginalized communities who have less agency and that need different protocols and to have their native knowledge incorporated.

Also there’s confounding variables: people who can afford in terms of time, money, and circumstance certain habits, and have the physical and mental fortitude for them, are more likely to be successful anyways.

Protocols are not “cost-free”: When you’re broke, the time you’d be spending on sun exposure, meditating, breathing, cooking special food is spent doing things to scrape by.

People lose their ability to do hard things after doing too many hard things.

Problems with super restrictive diets for performance. Why I prefer IIFYM and Layne Norton’s approach to diet.

These protocols often have little evidence backing them.

Jess says dopamine/optimization is based in Protestant work ethic, eugenics, covers Stanford’s origins in eugenics

Not sold on this all being 100% religious asceticism but it is a very powerful metaphor and something to think about

Jess talks about dissociating from a bad life as the reasons we seek dopamine: Dissociate from unpleasant social realities

Ties the book Dopamine Nation to moral panics around sex

Lembke calling for stricter churches, talking to pastors

Constantly looking around for sins in my own life as a result of churches preaching this kind of stuff was a very negative influence

Lembke seems very judgmental towards disabled people based on what Jess states.

I’ve written articles on the value of pain and fighting through it, but through a much different lens.

People get addicted to make up for something they’re lacking, not because of a lack of pain or judgment

Once you have something worth fighting for then you will fight for it. Even better if you have people encouraging you on that journey. But pain alone just causes despair.

We need high performance protocols but we need flexibility and the resources to perform as well. Don’t give up on improving performance or becoming better. This isn’t a hard dichotomy.

Progressives must show that our ideas are not about giving up on yourself, but allowing you to have the resources to become the person you want to be.

Becoming a better version of yourself can help you become a better activist.

Activism is hard and requires high performance at times

There’s a lot more to this topic than I can get to in one episode…so be sure to subscribe to the podcast and sign up for emails on the website.

Episode references:

Jess videos on Dopamine Mythos:

Jess article debunking Dopamine Nation and Dr Anna Lembke:

Therapist Samantha Bender article on the myths of “low dopamine mornings”:

Dopamine Detox scientific debunk video:

America Bracho’s TED Talk on “non-compliant patients” and health equity:

My article on redemptive combat narratives in wrestling:

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This podcast is not medical advice or professional advice of any sort. This content is for entertainment and general informational purposes only. We do not warrant or guarantee the accuracy of the information herein. The viewer should not rely solely upon such and consult a competent professional before deciding to follow any course of action. Please promptly consult a qualified physician if you have any medical or mental health concerns.

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