Have you heard of the low dopamine morning routine? I have a friend in a group chat who always sends us dumb TicToc videos (which is super annoying) but apparently #lowdopaminemorning is a major trend.
New! Listen to this blog post on the low dopamine morning routine:
And when I reluctantly opened that video, I realized that this “new trend” is something I started doing years ago, and it changed my life for the better.
Let’s dive in.
Table of Contents
What the Heck Is Dopamine, and Why Would I Want to Lower It?
Before we dive into the whole low dopamine morning routine thing, let’s cover the official definition of dopamine:
If we look at the pure definition, we’ll see that dopamine isn’t bad at all, It’s actually necessary for your survival. In fact ultra-low dopamine is linked to long-term illnesses. So why the heck would anyone want to have less of it with a low dopamine morning routine?
Dopamine in the Modern Era
So in our prehistoric years, we’d get a hit of dopamine after finding food, shelter, or anything else necessary for our survival.
It’s that – wow, I did it feeling that’s oh-so rewarding.
This rewarding feeling will motivate us to try again and again in search of success and propagated our existence on this planet.
In other words – dopamine was very good for us.
In the modern era, dopamine hits come from much less healthy actions, but we tend to repeat those actions over and over again in search of that initial rewarding feeling. And what are those actions? Usually:
- Finding out that your email has been answered,
- Reading something an update in the news,
- Spotting a deal online, or seeing the Amazon van at your front door,
- Getting another “like” on social media,
- Opening the fridge…
None of these things are necessary for your survival, but they create an addictive loop urging you to “check” again and again as if you’re about to find a huge meal after starving for two weeks.
Why I Had to Make a Change, and You Do Too
This is what set me on a path of unknowingly starting a low dopamine morning routine:
I have a constant urge to be productive. To achieve something. To not be idle. This happens from the moment I wake up to the moment I fall asleep at night. And while this inner urge definitely let me reach impressive heights in life, it also has its downfalls.
I remember the days of working up the corporate ladder. I’d wake up, and wanting to be mentally prepared for the day, I’d check my work calendar.
The work calendar was connected to my work emails, so I’d naturally check those too.
I’d fire off a few responses, before even getting out of bed, which made me feel that I could walk into the office ready to start on the big things.
I guess the people I was responding to were also in bed being “productive” and they’d fire back with a new problem.
Now I have a new feeling. I’m dreading having to fix this situation (which cannot be fixed by email,) I’m annoyed at myself for wasting half an hour of my morning, and I’m also jittery – checking for new responses that could derail my day.
See – not healthy. The worst part is that I knew that this was a horrible way to go, but I did it anyway because it was an unconscious ritual that I had created for myself. That’s when I decided that my mornings will now be slow and unplugged – which is now known as the low dopamine morning routine.
The craziest part is that most people go through a version of something like what I went through, and then they wonder why they’re feeling agitated, anxious, or annoyed throughout the day.
Here’s What You SHOULDN’T Do in the Mornings, and Why:
1. DON’T Pick Up Your Phone (or Laptop) for Any Reason
To be honest, I wouldn’t even need to think about having a low dopamine morning routine if I could just kill the wi-fi for an hour every morning, but I use it for other things like the thermostat and the lights – so I’m pretty sure my wife would kill me if I messed with it.
That said, the most difficult, yet most important part is to not pick up your phone first thing in the morning. (Ideally, get an old-school alarm clock too.)
Even with the best intentions, old habits of “checking” just start up with a phone in your hand. It starts innocently enough, by “checking” the weather. Then there’s a pop-up for some crazy news article or a huge sale on something you’ve been eyeing. Next thing you know, you’ve spent an hour on your phone and you’re already behind on your day.
Resist the urge altogether. Don’t pick up your phone until you’ve truly started your day.
2. DON’T Listen to a Podcast
This one is hard because listening to a podcast feels kind of like reading a book. You kind of feel like you’ve learned something, it’s relaxing, and it’s entertaining. But you should save your favorite podcast for later in the day and just enjoy the quiet of a low dopamine morning routine. If you’re tempted to turn one on, you’re probably just replacing another addictive activity.
3. DON’T Turn on the News (or the TV)
This is another unhealthy habit a lot of people have. They turn on the morning news show for weather and traffic updates, and to be “in the know” about what’s going on for the day. But having the news on raises our stress levels in the background, and starts up a dopamine hit journey for the day.
4. DON’T Answer Emails or Texts
Answering messages from the night before seems harmless, polite, and even like it might give you a little head start for the day.
If as soon as you send that text, you get a reply – you’re stuck in an annoying conversation first thing in the morning when you should be doing something else. It might also put you in a position of “waiting” for a reply, which creates a need to keep checking your messages and start a new dopamine hit cycle.
5. DON’T Check (or Post on) Social Media
“Catching up” on social media can send you into such a dopamine hit spiral (not to mention waste hours of your time.) It’s horrible for all the reasons I’ve mentioned in the last three points BUT you also don’t learn or achieve anything.
6. DON’T Go Online Shopping
If you’re one of my old-time readers, I’m sure you’re not an impulse shopper. BUT, when you have hobbies or interests, it’s super tempting to check if some of the items you’ve been yearning for happen to be on sale (or on Craigslist.)
Oh Warhammer, how I miss thee.
This innocent “browsing” will send you on a dopamine hit spiral. Especially if you find any kind of deal. Honestly, just based on the time you’ll waste on this – it’s not worth it.
My Daily Low Dopamine Morning Routine
Now that we’ve covered my big-time no-nos, let’s cover my actual low-dopamine morning routine.
1. Walk My Kids to School
Walking my kids to school is the most grounding part of my day. We get to have a little fun, I get to give them a little pep talk, and I know that we’re all starting the day with a smile on our faces.
2. Make Lunch
Personally, I skip breakfast, but I like to take a few minutes to concoct my lunch for the day. It’s a task that’s easy but requires my full attention.
Also, knowing that I’ll be eating a nice big lunch keeps me from scavenging around looking for snacks in the pantry.
3. Do One Small and One Big Chore
All the people who tout starting a low dopamine morning routine insist on including a small chore like unloading the dishwasher.
I totally agree. Firstly, it feels productive and starts off your day with one less thing to do later. It’s a pretty menial task too so you can let your brain wander off for a bit or try to be present and intentional while you do it.
I like to take it one step further though. Aside from completing one small must-do daily chore, I also like to tackle something off my to-do list that’s been hanging over my head. Something like doing an oil change, planing doors that have been rubbing, tightening loose screws around the house.
You know, the little things that you never get around to that drive your wife crazy.
4. Write for This Blog
At this point, I obviously have to plug back into the tech. I don’t do all of my writing first thing in the morning, but I like to get started so that I feel a pull to come back to it later in the day.
5. Meditate or Focused Breathing
This is something I’ve been trying on and off over the years, and I’m definitely no expert. All I’ll say is that if you want to have calmer days and slower mornings, a breathing or meditation session makes sense as a part of a low dopamine morning routine.
If I Have a Little Extra Time, I Do This Too:
6. Make a To-Do List for the Day
8. Read a Physical Book
9. Sit and Talk With My Wife
10. Practice chess with my kids
What Others Recommend:
Yes, I did my research for this article and no, I did not go on TicToc. Here are a few other staples that keep popping up in #lowdopaminemorning.
High-Protein Breakfast and No Coffee
For me personally, I don’t think coffee would sway me too much one way or the other, but the general recommendation is to hold off on the coffee for an hour, and just drink water.
The interwebs also recommend completing a low-intensity workout like yoga or a walk.
I don’t disagree, but I know I’ll be getting a real workout in later, plus I walk my kids to school, plus I try to fit a stretch in if I have time. I think I’m set.
Yes, this would be nice, but after years of trying different kinds of morning routines, I don’t think that journaling makes a huge difference for me.
Seek Natural Light
The overall recommendation is to seek natural light within the first 30 minutes of the day to keep the SAD away. I try my best by opening up the curtains, but otherwise, I know I’ll get my sunshine in when I walk my kids to school.
TL;DR – My Low Dopamine Morning Routine
Long story short, my low dopamine morning routine has helped me go from being jittery and on edge to feeling like I’m in charge of my day. It has helped me go from “putting fires out” to actually prioritizing. And it all started from unplugging and taking things slow.
What are low dopamine activity examples?
Some examples of low dopamine activities would be:
– Going for a walk or doing a light workout (without music or headphones.)
– Drawing or journaling.
– Doing light chores, like washing dishes or sweeping.
– Creating a to-do list for the day.
– Creating a meal.
– Practicing a skill (like chess or an instrument.)
Any of these activities would be great for a low dopamine morning routine.
What are delayed dopamine activities?
Delayed dopamine activities don’t involve getting an instant reward – however small. This could include:
– Simple chores,
– Reading a novel.
Any of these activities would be a great addition to a low dopamine morning routine.