Welcome to the Huberman Lab Podcast, where we discuss science and science-based tools for everyday life. I’m Andrew Huberman, a professor of neurobiology and ophthalmology at Stanford School of Medicine. This podcast is separate from my teaching and research roles at Stanford, but is part of my effort to bring zero cost to consumer information about science and related tools. I’d like to thank the sponsors of today’s podcast, starting with Athletic Greens. Athletic Greens is an all-in-one vitamin, mineral, and probiotic drink. I’ve been taking Athletic Greens since 2012 and am delighted they are a sponsor of the podcast. I started taking Athletic Greens because I found it difficult to know which vitamins and minerals to take, and Athletic Greens covers all my bases. It also includes probiotics, which research now shows are important for gut-brain access, immunity, metabolic health, endocrine health, and many other things. I take Athletic Greens once or twice a day and mix it with water and a little bit of lemon juice, and it tastes delicious.

If you’d like to try Athletic Greens, you can go to athleticgreens.com/huberman and they’ll give you a year supply of vitamin D3 and K2. There is a lot of data now showing that vitamin D3 is important for immune function and a number of other biological processes. Additionally, if you go to athleticgreens.com/huberman, you’ll get five free travel packs. These travel packs make it easy to mix up Athletic Greens when you’re on the go.

Our second sponsor of today’s podcast is Headspace. Headspace is a meditation app that makes meditation easy. I’ve been meditating on and off for 30 years, but I confess most of that time it was off. If you find it hard to stick to a meditation practice, Headspace can help.

I discovered magic spoon when I was looking for a low carb breakfast option that tasted good.

I discovered Headspace a few years ago while flying on JetBlue flights. At that time, they were offering Headspace as an alternative to TV or movies and it made me feel great. When I arrived at my destination, I felt more rested and relaxed. I got the Headspace app and started using it daily, which I have continued to do. Headspace has a large number of meditations that are supported by science. There is now a tremendous amount of scientific evidence that supports using meditation to improve sleep, reduce impulsivity, and improve cognition. The hardest part is doing it, but Headspace makes it easy. To try Headspace and all the meditations they have, go to headspace.com/special offer to get one month free.

The third sponsor of today’s podcast is Magic Spoon. Magic Spoon is a low carb, grain-free, keto-friendly cereal. When I was looking for a low carb breakfast option that tasted good, I discovered Magic Spoon.

I have mentioned a few times on this podcast that the way I eat throughout the day is closely related to when I want to be alert and when I want to be sleepy. In the morning, I fast to enhance alertness. For lunch and afternoon meals, I eat ketogenic, and in the evening I eat starches and vegetables to help transition to sleep. A great snack for me is Magic Spoon Keto cereal, which comes in a variety of flavors. I prefer the frosted flavor because it tastes like donuts. I usually eat it without milk.

I have a pastry affliction and I love pastries. So, Magic Spoon allows me to remain on keto during the day, while still enjoying something that tastes great. If you want to try Magic Spoon, you can go to magicspoon.com/huberman for a variety pack of different flavors. If you put “Huberman” at checkout, you’ll get 5 dollars off the variety pack. That’s magicspoon.com/huberman to try a variety pack of different flavors of Magic Spoon Keto, grain-free, low-carb cereal.

Before we begin today’s discussion about the neuroscience of motivation, I’m pleased to announce that we have now captioned episodes one and two in Spanish and soon, all the episodes of the Huberman Lab Podcast will be captioned on YouTube in Spanish. We’ve used some of the revenue from the podcast to hire expert captioners.

We are pleased to announce that our podcast is now available in Spanish. We are confident that the translation is accurate, although there may be occasional dialect differences. We are grateful to our supporters who have allowed us to reach more people through this new language. This month, we are focusing on the neuroscience of emotions and today’s topic is motivation. We will discuss pleasure and reward, the neurochemistry of addiction and drive, and how to break free of addiction.

All of that is driven by the neurochemistry of motivation and reward.

Motivation and reward are tightly woven together in the context of emotions. Each one of them could be its own entire month of the podcast, and we will have an entire month devoted to addiction. We will have a special guest joining us to talk about the science and clinical practices for understanding and treating addiction. Motivation is fundamental to our daily life, allowing us to get out of bed in the morning and pursue long-term and short-term goals. The same molecule, dopamine, is responsible for our sense of motivation and for movement. Acetylcholine is responsible for focus. Whether or not we move and have the desire to overcome barriers, such as social, financial, or time constraints, is driven by the neurochemistry of motivation and reward.

Dopamine is a fascinating molecule that lies at the center of so many great things in life, as well as many terrible aspects such as addiction and certain forms of mental disease. We will discuss actionable tools related to dopamine, such as supplementation and dopamine scheduling. Dopamine scheduling involves conceptualizing and leading one’s life in a way that predicts whether or not one will continue to pursue and achieve their goals, as well as whether or not they will quit. This is due to the fundamental relationship between dopamine released in the brain and the desire to exert effort.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter and it can be controlled. You can actually control the schedule of dopamine release, but it requires the appropriate knowledge. Understanding the way the dopamine system works will allow you to leverage it to your benefit. If you don’t understand the way that dopamine works, there’s a good chance that it’s going to pull you out into the current of life, meaning the rest of the world is going to control your dopamine schedules.

Today, you’re going to learn some basic science and a lot of tools. These tools are applicable whether you’re five years old, eight years old, 80 years old, or anything in between. Let’s talk about dopamine and get a few basic facts on the table. Dopamine was discovered in the late 1950s and was discovered as the precursor from which epinephrin or adrenaline is made. It is a neurotransmitter.

Dopamine is fundamentally important because it is the molecule of reward and pleasure. It is also the substrate from which adrenaline and epinephrine are made. Epinephrine is responsible for stimulating changes in the blood vessels, heart, organs, and tissues of the body, allowing us to take action. Dopamine is released from several sites in the brain and body, but the most important one for today’s discussion is the mesolimbic reward pathway, which is important for motivation and reward, and can lead to addiction to substances or behaviors.

Well, the prefrontal cortex is responsible for the restriction on the dopamine that is released from the VTA and nucleus accumbens. This forms the core machinery of the reward pathway and the pathway that controls motivation, like an accelerator that biases you for action. The prefrontal cortex, located behind the forehead, is discussed for many aspects of neuroscience, including decision-making, executive function, and planning. It is a unique real estate that we, as humans, are endowed with, whereas other animals do not have much of it.

The prefrontal cortex is actually acting as a brake on the dopamine system. Without this brake, we would be purely pleasure-seeking animals, with no basis for regulating our behavior. This brings us to the important feature of motivation, which is that it is a two-part process that involves balancing pleasure and pain. Most people think about motivation and reward as being purely about achieving pleasure, and this is true as dopamine is released in the brain when we experience things that we like. To properly understand motivation, we must internalize this concept in our minds, which will help us as we move through our day trying to understand why we might be motivated or not motivated for certain things.

It’s released in response to many types of rewards, but it’s also released when you’re just thinking about getting up or not.

Thinking about getting up or not can cause the reward pathway to release dopamine at a rate of about three or four times per second. This is due to an electrical activity in the neurons, creating a sense of not being depressed, highly motivated, or excited. However, if something is anticipated, the rate of dopamine firing increases to 30 or 40 times per second, creating a sense of action or desire to move in the direction of the thing that is being craved. Dopamine is responsible for wanting and craving, and is also released in response to sex, food, and other rewards.

Dopamine is released in response to a lot of things, but mostly in anticipation and craving for a particular thing. This has the effect of narrowing our focus to the thing we crave, which could range from something as simple as a cup of coffee to something as important as a big board meeting or final exam. Dopamine doesn’t care what is being craved, it just releases at a particular rate. Looking at the scientific data on how dopamine firing increases in response to different things gives us a window into how our brain works and why we may be motivated or not motivated. For example, when we start thinking about something we want, like chocolate or a good meal, the amount of dopamine released in the reward pathway goes up by around 50% above baseline. This causes the neurons to fire six to ten times per second.

Sex, which is fundamental to our species, continuation and reproduction, releases dopamine and increases dopamine levels by a hundred percent. Nicotine, found in cigarettes or in supplemental form, increases dopamine levels by 150% above baseline. Cocaine and amphetamine increase dopamine levels a thousand fold within 10 seconds of consuming the drug. Interestingly, just thinking about food, sex, nicotine, cocaine, or amphetamine can increase dopamine levels to the same degree as actually consuming the drug. It is important to note that these numbers are not exact.

The cocaine user or addict that craves cocaine cannot just think about cocaine and increase the amount of dopamine released, which is actually much lower, but it is just enough to put them on the motivation track. The brain circuitry that exists to motivate behaviors towards particular goals, such as water when thirsty or sex to reproduce, evolved in order to continue our species. However, drugs like cocaine and amphetamine release a massive amount of dopamine, creating closed loops where people only crave these particular things. Nowadays, there is a ton of interest in social media and video games, which can release dopamine somewhere between nicotine and cocaine. Social media initially releases high levels of dopamine, but it seems likely that there is a taper in the amount of dopamine released, yet people still get addicted.

Being addicted to something isn’t just about the fact that it feels so good that you want to do it over and over again. This is because of the pleasure-pain balance that underlies motivation. This balance gives us the tools to control our motivation towards healthy things and avoid motivated behaviours towards things that are destructive.

People try novel behaviours for many reasons, such as drugs, adventure and thrill-seeking, or seeking out new partners. It is important to note that for most people, addictive drugs like cocaine and amphetamine are very destructive. About 15-20% of people have a genetic bias towards addiction, and for some of these people, addiction can happen on the first use of a drug.

When we anticipate something, a little bit of dopamine is released. When we reach that thing, the amount of dopamine goes up even further. However, as we repeatedly pursue a behaviour, the amount of dopamine shifts away from activation. This is why, even though something initially elicits a massive amount of pleasure, we can become addicted to it and it fails to give us the same pleasure it did initially.

There are other chemicals released that trigger a low level sense of pain. Now you might not feel it as physical pain, but the craving that you feel is both one part dopamine and one part, the mirror image of dopamine, which is the pain or the craving for yet another piece of chocolate. This is a very important and subtle feature of the dopamine system that’s not often discussed. People always talk about it just as pleasure. For example, you love social media so it gives you dopamine, and so you engage in that. Similarly, you like chocolate, it releases dopamine, and so you do that.

Dopamine is released when we engage in pleasurable activities, creating a feeling of pleasure. This is then followed by a “downward deflection in pleasure” which we refer to as pain. This pain is experienced shortly after the pleasure and is what causes us to want more of the pleasurable activity. However, with each subsequent encounter, the pleasure decreases while the pain increases. This is most evident in drug seeking behavior.

The first time someone decides to take cocaine or amphetamine, they may do it out of boredom, peer pressure, or to relieve some internal sense. Reasons for trying a drug can vary greatly, and someone may not even want to do it, but be encouraged by someone else. Upon taking the drug, they will experience a huge dopamine release and feel very good. However, the effects will lessen each time they take it, and the craving and need for the drug will increase over time.

So much of our pursuit of pleasure is simply to reduce the pain of craving. The next time you experience something you really like, it is important to notice that part of the enjoyment is about the anticipation and wanting of more of that thing. This is the pain system in action. Dopamine is not as much about pleasure, but rather it is about motivation and desire to pursue more in order to reduce the amount of pain. This pain is both psychological and physical, and can be described as a yearning. The desire for something is proportional to the pleasure of indulging in it, as well as the pain experienced when it is not available. An example of this is the author’s love of croissants.

Although several of you pointed out these are called croissants, but then it sounds like I’m trying to speak French. I always tried to do that when I was a kid and I went to a bilingual school and it failed. So, I’m gonna call them croissants. They’re delicious! I love them, a really good one makes me wanna eat six – it’s true. I have pretty good impulse control, I think, but it makes me wanna eat six. I taste it and it tastes so delicious and unless I really force myself to experience the taste of it in my mouth and how flaky it is, I’m getting hungry for it right now. And, the deliciousness of the croissant mostly comes from the taste. It makes me want to eat more croissants. Now, eventually blood sugar goes up, satiety is reached, et cetera. What happens then? What is satisfaction and satiety about?

Serotonin is involved in both exteroception and interoception, it helps you to experience the world in a more pleasurable way,
but it also helps you to experience the sensations and feelings of your body in a more pleasurable way.

Serotonin is one of the molecules of more, along with oxytocin and prolactin, which are involved in a push-pull balance that allows us to experience more pleasure and motivation in our lives. We have neurons in the raphe area of the brain which release serotonin, the molecule of bliss and contentment for what we already have. Serotonin is involved in both exteroception, focusing on the outside world, and interoception, focusing on the sensations and feelings within our body. It helps us to experience the world and our body in a more pleasurable way.

Dopamine and serotonin can be thought of as related to extra reception. Dopamine makes us focused on things outside us that are beyond what we call our personal space, where we actually have to move and take action in order to achieve things. Serotonin, on the other hand, has to do with the things that are in our immediate here and now, hence the description of these as the here and now molecules. The body and brain can direct its attention towards things outside us or inside us, or split our attention between those. I talked about this in a previous podcast, but if you didn’t see it, no problem. Just understand that dopamine biases us towards thinking about what we don’t have, whereas serotonin and some of the related molecules like the endocannabinoids are involved in things like forgetting. It’s not a coincidence that pot smokers don’t have the most terrific memory. Endocannabinoids are receptors and chemicals that we naturally make, and they are involved in making us feel blissed out and content in the present. These receptors exist in us not for the sake of consuming THC or marijuana, but for the sake of binding of our natural endogenous cannabinoids. So, these two systems are like a push and pull. Jon Kabat-Zinn talks about a different kind of meditation practice, where you eat one almond and focus all of your attention on the taste, texture, etc.

But mindfulness is a practice that’s geared towards trying to take a behavior, which is normally about pursuit, normally feeding, and engaging in feeding because of dopamine, and we pursue more of a food because of that pleasure-pain relationship. I talked about before the focus on the one almond or becoming very present in any behavior that normally would be a kind of extra susceptible pursuit behavior and bring it into the here and now. That’s a mental trick or a mental task that the mindfulness community has really embraced in order to try and create increased pleasure for what you already have. It’s really trying to accomplish a shift from dopamine being released to serotonin in the cannabinoid system being involved in that behavior.

If you’re interested in mindfulness, which is something I’ve talked about before in this podcast and I sort of made some off the cuff jokes about the opposite of mindfulness being mindlessness, mindfulness is a vast space that is a mindful practice that a lot of people have engaged in. And indeed it can give you deeper appreciation for things that you already have. Dopamine has the quality of making people kind of rabidly in pursuit of things. Look at people who are high on cocaine or amphetamine, and they are almost entirely extra receptive drugs like marijuana, the opioids, anything that really hits the serotonin system hard tend to make people rather lethargic and content to stay exactly where they are. They don’t wanna pursue much at all. Occasionally when people smoke marijuana or consume THC their appetite goes way up and they really wanna consume food. That’s because of its effects on insulin and its effects on blood sugar, which is a slightly separate matter.

But since some of you, probably your minds might’ve gone to those either experiences or reports of what pot does, that’s why it does that. So you’ve got these molecules like dopamine that make you focused on the things you want and the things you crave. And then you’ve got the molecules that make you content with what you have.

So the most important thing, perhaps in creating a healthy emotional landscape is to have a balance between these two neuromodulator systems. People that are always in anticipation and desire and seeking that’s wonderful for pursuing goals. However, it’s terrible for enjoying life and actually those people are actually quite difficult to be around.

There’s a certain, almost sociopathic element to people who are what they call hyper dopaminergic. People who are always on the dopaminergic scale to the point where they are always pursuing goals. In fact, those people are known to be at least in the psychological spectrum. They can be very manipulative dopamine and the pursuit of something doesn’t necessarily have to be high energy and intense from the outside when you observe it from the outside.

People with high levels of dopamine release can either use it to manipulate others in order to get what they want, or they can use it to serve others and take care of their needs. Neither of these approaches are good or bad, as dopamine does not care how one reaches their goals; it only cares that one reaches them, as that is associated with a mild pleasure and a little bit of pain.

There is a way to get more dopamine and be more motivated without procrastinating. Research suggests that there are two types of procrastinators. The first type enjoys the stress of an impending deadline and finds that it sharpens their focus and activates them. This type of procrastinator taps into their epinephrine system, which creates a narrow view of the world.

Creating an action element in the body through stress can help to eliminate distractions and achieve a state that may not be achievable otherwise. A logical way to overcome procrastination is to use tools such as super oxygenation breathing. This consists of 25-30 cycles of deep inhales and exhales, which may cause some anxiety and low-level stress. However, it will deploy adrenaline into the system, resulting in a more focused visual field and better ability to work and focus than if one just waited for motivation to come.

Normally, you are waiting for a deadline to come into sight as a stimulus. However, you can also self-direct your adrenaline release without ingesting anything, such as coffee, caffeine, Mate, or something similar. Caffeine does release dopamine, but it is unclear how much. It seems to increase firing in the nucleus accumbens by about 30%, which can create agitation for caffeine sensitive people. Other alternatives to increase dopamine include L tyrosine, which is present in red meats, certain nuts, and can be supplemented. This can increase motivation in the short term, but there is a crash associated with it.

I wanna be very clear to say what I always say: I’m not a doctor and I don’t prescribe anything. I’m a professor, and I profess things. You have to know whether or not these things are appropriate for your mental and physical health or not, so you need to consult a doctor. For instance, people who suffer from schizotypal or schizophrenia or mania should probably not be taking supplements that increase their dopamine levels.

Now, if you can’t increase your level of focus and your level of alertness and your level of motivation using breathing well, then there might be something else at play. There are other procrastinators for which they simply are not releasing enough dopamine.

People who are not making enough dopamine have a variety of options to increase their levels. I suggest talking to a psychiatrist or doctor. Mucuna Purina, which is 99.9% L-DOPA, the precursor to dopamine, is one such option. There are also antidepressants like Wellbutrin (or its other name, Prupriown) which increase dopamine and epinephrine, but can increase the risk of epileptic attacks for those who are epileptic.

It is important to remember that dopamine creates a sense of pleasure and the desire for more, so one can become a person for whom enough is never enough. This is why positive mindsets, such as growth mindset, are important to pursue goals that require long bouts of effort. It is possible to attach dopamine to this process psychologically, but if dopamine is augmented through supplementation and prescription drugs, one will need to pursue more of the sorts of things associated with dopamine.

The pleasure-pain relationship is a phenomenon whereby people are motivated to pursue activities that bring pleasure, but also experience pain from a lack of accomplishment. In a few moments, I’m going to talk about how to think about healthy dopamine schedules and navigate dopamine crashes.

Humans have neurocircuitry designed for seeking out mates and reproduction as the primary driver for any species. This is about the biology of sex in males and females, regardless of chromosomal makeup. It is important to note that this is not about the sociology of reproduction and sex, but rather the biology.

Coolidge said “perhaps you should tell that to the president.”

Dopamine is released on the anticipation and consummation of sex and reproduction. After orgasm, regardless of chromosomal background, there is a dramatic decrease in dopamine and an increase in a hormone called prolactin. Prolactin is associated with milk let-down in lactating mothers, and is also present in males. In general, prolactin creates a sense of lethargy, stillness, and lack of desire to move or pursue more of whatever released the dopamine. It also sets the refractory period on a male’s ability to mate again, though this will vary from individual to individual. Novelty is the number one thing that releases dopamine, and the refractory period is shortened by the introduction of novel mates. This was first shown in a classic experiment with chickens, known as the Coolidge effect. The story goes that President Calvin Coolidge and his wife were visiting a chicken farm, and the host showed them a rooster that copulated thousands of times per day. Mrs. Coolidge suggested the president should hear about it.

President Coolidge was apparently elbowed by someone who was pointing out the prowess of a rooster. Coolidge asked if it was the same hen or different hens, and it turns out it was different hens. The reason for this is because the introduction of a novel mate increases dopamine levels. After copulation, prolactin goes through the roof and prevents further copulation, causing dopamine levels to crash. However, the introduction of some sort of novelty can shorten this refractory period. There are drugs that can increase dopamine and suppress prolactin, as well as Vitamin B6 and zinc, which are potent prolactin inhibitors. These are often used in the wellness and sports performance community to increase testosterone levels.

They’re not really increasing testosterone directly; instead, they’re suppressing prolactin levels. There are clinical conditions like hyperprolactinemia, which leads to massive decreases in libido, et cetera. There are prescription drugs to treat hyperprolactinemia, so it’s important to always talk to an endocrinologist about these sorts of prescription drugs. This very basic mechanism of dopamine and prolactin, this sort of motivation, which evolved for reproduction first, actually takes place and can be seen elsewhere in the world, such as in schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a case of an often hyperactivation of the dopamine system, so much so that it can make people feel kind of high, hallucinate, and so on. To treat schizophrenia, drugs that block dopamine receptors are used, though this can lead to unfortunate side effects such as tardive dyskinesia and gynecomastia in males.

The development of male breast tissue is due to elevated levels of prolactin. This is often seen in extreme cases, such as when someone is engaging in strange body riding and face riding behaviours. This is not a consequence of their mental illness, but rather a side effect of the drugs they are taking to treat it. Prolactin is released not only after sex and reproduction, but after any major event. It is thought to be responsible for postpartum depression, as well as the ‘let down’ feeling some people experience after a big event. This can vary from person to person, with some people having a quick inflection of dopamine and others having a long-lasting response.

It really varies from person to person. Long ago, I started to learn about dopamine reward circuitry and the relationship between dopamine and prolactin. I leveraged this knowledge and after major events, I would take a couple 100 milligrams of vitamin B6. For people with diabetic neuropathy, one should be careful with vitamin B6 and always check with a doctor as it can exacerbate peripheral neuropathy in some cases. However, for most people it is thought to be reasonably safe. I noticed a positive effect, however, I don’t know if it was subjective or not.

I also internalized the fact that dopamine is subjective. There are both objective and subjective aspects to dopamine and its release. To be a happier person, especially if one is in pursuit of long-term goals, one should extend the positive phase of the dopamine release.

The more you can blunt the pain response to an experience, the better. Cognitively, you can extend the arc of the positive experience by thinking back on it. For example, you can think back on a paper you published, a picture you took, a trip you took, or any other enjoyable experience. This will offset the pain of not having the experience occur over and over again. High performers are likely familiar with this concept, as they have likely experienced a big achievement.

People who are very high on this kind of dopamine sensation and novelty seeking scale are prone to addiction. To balance this out, they should adopt a practice of being able to engage in the here and now, such as learning how to achieve a good night’s sleep through tools and mechanisms. Pleasure is not just a joy in pursuit, but also the joy in what you have. Alan Shore, professor at UCLA and psychiatrist, developed a model of emotional development which talks about the basics of good infant-parent attachment and healthy adult relationships. Good parenting that leads to this includes both sides of the dopamine-serotonin spectrum, such as getting the child excited through squealing, talking about something, or playing.

The dopaminergic system is involved in the anticipation of something that’s coming, as well as engaging with children in a way that is about everything that is right in the here and now. This includes reading a book, giving them things to be excited about and positive anticipation. Years ago, when working with at-risk kids and young kids at summer camps, it was learned that you should never say maybe to a kid about a reward. This is because they don’t hear the maybe part and adults don’t either. This is called reward prediction error. Dopamine is involved in anticipation of wanting, not of having, and it biases us towards action.

Reward prediction error is the actual amount of dopamine that is released in response to something versus the amount that is expected. For example, if you tell a kid they might have ice cream and they expect it, then if you later say they are not going to have ice cream, it can lead to a much bigger crash in dopamine, which is a punishment signal that can feel like pain. This is true for both kids and adults; if we think something might happen and it doesn’t, there is a big crash in our emotionality due to the dopamine system going from firing three to four times per second to 10 or 15 times per second. This possibility is deeply woven into our biology of the dopamine and motivation system as a way for us, presumably in ancient times, to explore novel territories and get a sense of what might be there.

Maybe there are mates there, maybe there’s better food there, and maybe there’s resources there. The “maybe” is an important thing; in language terms, it means maybe, but in neuro-biological terms it means perhaps there’s going to be the surprise of an even bigger dopamine reward. Dopamine loves surprise more than anything else; when we get something positive, such as a letter from somebody we haven’t thought about in a long time, it triggers a huge dopamine release, which gates plasticity. Even when we get something negative, it still creates plasticity.

So the surprise, novelty, motivation, and reward are all woven into this package that we call dopamine. The cool thing is you can actually regulate this whole system in a way that will steer you or lean you towards more positive anticipation of things in life and less disappointment. It’s simply a matter of adjusting what we call the dopamine schedule.

Before continuing, we’re going to talk about attention deficit in a few minutes. But before that, I want to talk about something that I’ve mentioned before in previous podcasts, but that you may not be aware of, and if you are aware of, you may still be doing, which is severely injuring your ability to release dopamine by viewing light in the middle of the night. I realized this is not a discussion about sleep and circadian rhythms, but the data now are so strong showing that viewing bright light from about 10:00 PM to 4:00 AM too often triggers activation of this circuit called the habenula. This circuit goes from your retina to a structure called the habenula (H-A-B-E-N-U-L-A) and then from the habenula to some of this reward circuitry, suppressing the activation of the reward. Not just in that moment, but to things that you normally positively anticipate and pursue.

I’m bringing this up now because I haven’t really gone into depth on the dopamine system before now. You understand that you have this very precious reward system that’s kind of a double-edged sword.

Taking care of and treating your dopamine system well is important. You want to use it, but not overuse it. Bright light exposure in the middle of the night can reduce your capacity to release dopamine. This is not just due to the lack of sleep, but also because dopamine is not available to you. Think of light in the middle of the night as a kind of antagonist or blocker of dopamine. If you need to work in the middle of the night and want to bypass this dopamine suppression, please see the episode about jet lag and shift work for tips on how to control the dopamine system and leverage it for a better life.

One very important experiment was able to separate pleasure from motivation. This experiment, which has now been done in animals, was very simple, but also very elegant. The results of this experiment can help you to understand how to leverage the dopamine system for a better life.

Researchers conducted an experiment on rats to investigate the role of dopamine in motivation. They offered the rats a food they particularly liked and the animals would press a lever for a pellet of food. This is a classic experiment in which the animals eat the food that they presumably like because they are motivated to press the lever. To further investigate the role of dopamine, the researchers eliminated the dopamine neurons in some of the rats by injecting a neurotoxin that destroys these neurons. The rats with no dopamine in their brain still hit the lever and ate the food, suggesting that dopamine is involved in motivation.

Dopamine is involved in pleasure, but it is more about motivation for pleasure than the ability to experience it. This has been demonstrated in rats, where those with dopamine available to them would move one rat length to the lever to get food, while those without dopamine wouldn’t. This has also been proven in humans, where those with low levels of dopamine are less motivated to seek pleasure, even though they can achieve it. This has serious implications for the fact that pleasure is now easily accessible.

We don’t have to forage for our food anymore; there is an abundance of highly processed, high sugar, and high fat foods. There are also foods that are healthy and taste good, and they are hopefully easy to get for different people, though access may vary. Dopamine isn’t about the ability to experience pleasure; it’s about how motivated you are to reach those pleasures.

Many of us feel unmotivated or even depressed, and in some cases this may be a real clinical depression. In this case, it is important to talk to a professional; there are very good prescription drugs that can help, as well as great non-drug treatments such as psychotherapy and other treatments that are being developed. The data suggests that a combination of pharmacology and talk therapies are generally best.

There is a huge range of supplements available. I know many of you are in professions related to this, but we won’t talk about that right now. One compound that is interesting in the supplement space is Fenal Ethel Aiming (PEA). PEA releases both dopamine and serotonin at low levels, creating a “cocktail of motivation molecules”. People’s response to this varies widely, but many people report feeling a heightened sense of mental acuity and wellbeing. Before taking any supplement, it is important to consult with a healthcare provider.

Beta Fino, L Ethel, Amy is a bit of a stimulant, like anything that triggers activation of the dopamine and norepinephrine pathways. It is an interesting supplement, though I haven’t tried it before and can’t report on my own experiences. To learn more about it, I’d point you to examine.com, an incredible free resource where you can put in any supplement and it will tell you the “human effect matrix” and point you to the various studies. We always provide a link to this in the caption, and it’s an amazing resource. Before in previous podcasts, I have talked about Beta Fino, L Ethel, Amy and wanted to add it to the list of things that tap into the dopamine system.

The supplementation space is fascinating to me, and I’m particularly interested in non-prescription supplements that appear to have positive effects for some people. For example, on a previous episode we discussed CDOT L-carnitine, which has been linked to antidepressant effects as well as improvements in sperm health and ovarian health. Interestingly, acetyl L-carnitine is a prescription drug in Europe, but it can be purchased over the counter in the US. As always, it’s important to check with a healthcare provider before taking any supplement.

I think P-E-A beta fennel ethylamine is another interesting compound that lies somewhere between prescription drugs and doing nothing. In a future episode, I’ll be discussing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD) and impulsivity in relation to dopamine. These clinical diagnoses are serious conditions, but supplements can be a helpful part of treatment.

Many people nowadays walk around saying they have ADD or someone else has ADD. This is often a result of attention switching all the time. Cal Newport, author of the book “Deep Work,” argued that context switching is terrible for the brain. It prevents people from engaging in deep work, learning, and forming meaningful relationships.

On the other hand, there is clinical ADHD and ADD, which is often treated with drugs such as Adderall that have amphetamine-like qualities. This activates the mesolimbic circuitry in the brain, specifically the VTA and nucleus accumbens, which increases dopamine levels, and the prefrontal cortex, which helps to reduce impulsivity.

There is an experiment described in the book “The Molecule of More” which looks at impulsivity in obese children. In this experiment, both obese and non-obese children were tested on their willingness to cross a virtual reality highway. It was found that the obese children were more likely to get hit by cars than their non-obese counterparts. This was not due to any physical limitations, but rather their impulsivity in a variety of contexts. The data suggests that impulsivity at age 10 is predictive of overeating disorders later in life. To address this, drugs are being developed to create heightened activity in the braking system of the reward pathway, allowing for better control of dopamine release. This can lead to increased motivation and pleasure from the pursuits in life, without crashing afterwards. The Huberman Lab Podcast focuses on providing tools for motivation, focus and better sleep, all within the context of neuro-biological principles and objective mechanisms.

There are some tools that we can apply to the dopamine system and motivation that can really improve our ability to stay in pursuit of things, as well as enjoy things after we’ve achieved our goals, or even an route, our goals. The key principle here is that dopamine is very subjective. This means that we can either allow ourselves to experience the pleasure of reaching a milestone or achieving a craving, or not. While this won’t work in extreme cases of drugs like cocaine and amphetamine, it is actually quite powerful.

To illustrate the interplay between our cognition, our belief system, and what would otherwise be hardwired mechanisms, I’ll describe an experiment. In this experiment, it was demonstrated how powerful the subjective readout or interpretation of a given experience can be, even at the level of pharmacology. For example, the amount of dopamine released after eating a certain amount of chocolate or drinking a certain amount of water after being water deprived for a certain amount of time.

Recently, a fascinating experiment was published on March 18, 2021, entitled “Expectation for Stimulant Type Modifies Caffeine’s Effects on Mood and Cognition”. This study was conducted on 65 undergraduate college students, who were randomized to receive either a placebo or 200 milligrams of caffeine, which is equivalent to a medium-sized drip coffee or a coffee made at home. Caffeine is known to make people more alert, although there are rare cases of mutants who are insensitive to it. The participants were told they were receiving either caffeine or Adderall. The results of the experiment are yet to be seen.

Adderall carries a very different expectation among college students compared to caffeine. Students know Adderall to be a stronger stimulant and to create a sort of high. They believed it would increase their level of focus and their ability to perform work. There was an effect of placebo versus caffeine, as expected. Subjects receiving caffeine reported feeling more stimulated, anxious, and motivated than those receiving the placebo. However, those expecting Adderall reported stronger amphetamine effects, feeling much more high.

In a study published in the Journal of Experimental Clinical Psychopharmacology on March 18th, 2021, students who thought they were taking Adderall but were only ingesting caffeine performed better on a working memory test and had all the increased cognitive effects that would have been seen with Adderall. This speaks to the fact that there are belief effects about what the specific reactions to a given stimulant ought to be, which is different than placebo effects. It is unclear if the students were told at the end that they had not taken Adderall.

Caffeine can have a positive impact on performance. A recent study published in the Journal of Neuroscience showed that it can increase dopamine release in the brain by about 30%. Additionally, it has a protective effect on dopamine neurons, suggesting that it may not just increase dopamine release, but also protect them. This points to the fact that higher level cognitive processes can have an effect on even the most basic aspects of dopamine release or adrenaline release.

Studies have shown that low levels of caffeine may be protective for dopamine neurons over time, and MDMA (ecstasy) which is in clinical trials for the treatment of PTSD and depression, may not be as destructive for dopaminergic neurons as previously thought. Amphetamine and methamphetamine, however, are very destructive for dopaminergic neurons, and there is no need for additional reasons to avoid methamphetamine. Nicotine, in supplemental form, has been suggested to have neuroprotective effects for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s and can stimulate dopamine release.

We talked about earlier whether or not nicotine has a protective effect, which is still unclear. However, it is interesting to note that nicotine can increase prolactin, although there are studies that show that too much nicotine taken over long periods of time can also increase prolactin, which is the opposite side of dopamine. Today, we discussed the dopamine system and the schedule of dopamine that will allow us to maximize our pursuit of pleasure and eliminate pain. We can get the answer to this from gambling, as it works due to the hope and anticipation it provides. Gambling cities like Las Vegas and Atlantic City are built on dopamine and leverage our dopamine system. There are experienced gamblers that enjoy gambling.

I enjoy sitting at the roulette table and taking a designated amount of money to play. I don’t bet much and I certainly enjoy when I win. Although I don’t like it when I lose, I do it cheerfully for the pleasure of playing and only do it very seldom. I don’t have a gambling problem, but I’m aware that some people can throw away their entire lives on gambling. A friend of mine, who’s a certified addiction treatment specialist, has told me that gambling addiction is particularly sinister as the next time could be the thing that changes everything.

Unlike other addictions, the mind of the gambling addict is embedded with the idea that the next time could change everything. However, this rarely works out in favor of the wellbeing of the gambling addict and their family. The concept of intermittent reinforcement was discovered long ago by scientific researchers. This is when a slot machine gives a win every once in a while to keep the player playing. This same probability of winning also applies to craps, roulette, and blackjack tables.

Intermittent reinforcement is the most powerful form of dopamine reward schedule to keep someone engaged in an activity. We can use this concept for good, such as pursuing an academic, financial, or relationship goal. To ensure success and enjoyment of the journey, occasionally remove reward subjectively. For example, if a financial goal is set, as each milestone is reached, the dopamine release will occur. This same concept can be applied to sports, school, music, or any creative endeavor.

It was more of a suggestion to keep his dopamine levels in check and allow him to continue to pursue his goals.

The amount of dopamine is not going to peak, but rather diminish and make you crave more. To avoid this crash, but still keep it in healthy levels, you should “stair case” towards your goal, whether it be financial success, followers, grades, or some other metric. To blunt the reward response, celebrate your wins, but not all of them. For instance, when a friend of mine had a great financial success, we suggested that he give most of it away to keep his dopamine levels in check and allow him to continue to pursue his goals.

Reducing the impact of rewards can be beneficial, especially for students and athletes who are pursuing goals. It makes sense from a rational perspective to actively blunt the reward, so that one’s dopamine system is kept in check and they stay on the path of continued pursuit. Big increases in dopamine lead to big crashes, and can increase the extent to which one is willing to invest time and energy to achieve goals. Therefore, it is important to celebrate wins, but not every win, in order to ensure that progress is being made.

Rewards for genuine performance are essential for encouraging growth mindset. We must believe that we can perform well, and that our good behavior and performance should be rewarded, but not every time. Taking the reward and reinforcement out of our own hands and minds can help us to become better performers in the longterm. This is similar to what Las Vegas and other gambling mechanisms have known for a long time.

They lifted it from the scientists, and you can now take it back and start to leverage that. Make sure to reward yourself, but not on a predictable schedule. For example, sometimes it’s three in a row then not at all for 10 days. Self-reward is critically important, but make sure it doesn’t burn out your dopamine circuits or undercut your ability to strive and achieve. I have a story from graduate school where I was forced into an intermittent reinforcement schedule that I believe has served me very well in my scientific career and other aspects of life. My graduate advisor, Barbara Chapman, was an amazing scientist and human being with a dry and somewhat cruel sense of humor. We published a paper in the journal Science, Nature, and Cell, which are considered the big three most competitive journals to publish in.

I was shocked.

I had worked so hard on this paper and was so excited about it, and here she was suggesting that we not celebrate.

I had a first author paper in Science, which was very exciting to me as a graduate student. I was thrilled with the discovery and the fact that it was accepted by Science, despite the fact that it had involved a ton of revisions and a lot of hard work. When my supervisor came in and said the paper had been accepted, I asked if we were going to celebrate, but she said we should “skip this one”. I was shocked – I had worked so hard on this paper and was so excited about it, yet here she was suggesting that we not celebrate.

I said, “What do you mean skip this one?” He said, “We’re gonna publish the paper, but she said maybe when you get like four more, maybe three, maybe two too.” I thought she was messing with me, but she wasn’t. She was right. We never had a party, but we had a celebration for that paper.

I think she was really trying to instill two ideas in me. One is that the work itself was what was supposed to be most rewarding – the practice of experimentation, writing the paper, and the experience of achieving something they worked very hard at. That did indeed feel amazing, and I can still feel it in my body.

Now, the excitement: There was a dopamine release when something remarkable happened almost 20 years ago. My colleague was either consciously or subconsciously putting me on an intermittent reward schedule. To this day, when something really good happens, I hesitate as to whether or not I want to internalize and celebrate the win or tell anyone, as this is its own form of celebration. I am very cautious with how I deploy dopamine release in response to wins, as it is not the only way I have navigated my career.

Intermittent reward for wins and achievements is a powerful way to ensure that you stay on the path of pursuit. I’d like to take a moment to address some corrections I made in previous episodes; they weren’t major errors, but a couple of you pointed them out and it’s important to me that we strive for accuracy. One of the corrections was related to the potential benefits of ashwagandha, a supplement that I’ve benefited from. It works through the GABA system and some other systems, and someone pointed out a study that was done in rats. This study showed that long-term administration of ashwagandha could create some negative effects mainly on the fibroid and perhaps even the cortisol system and maybe the melatonin system. I just want to acknowledge that study and reference it in the caption again; it was a rat study.

I was focused on human studies, so I like to use Examine.com as a resource. It has a wonderful free Human Effect Matrix which links to relevant PubMed articles and tells you the various effects on different aspects of brain and body. I do appreciate that you pointed out that study, as I want people to be aware of the range of effects that these various compounds can have. A couple of times in previous episodes, I said five HTP instead of five HT. Five HTP is a precursor to serotonin, and I was referring to supplements and compounds that can stimulate the release of serotonin. In the previous episode, I was actually referring to it in a context for which I don’t personally like to take five HTP. That’s just my own bias for reasons I described in that episode. If you heard me say five HTP when I meant to say five HT, I apologize.

Finally, I want to point out again something that I mentioned at the beginning: the Huberman Lab Podcast is now subtitled in Spanish for episodes one and two, as well as our welcome video. The other episodes will be subtitled soon, within the next couple of weeks. This means that Spanish-speaking people who prefer to digest the information in Spanish can look forward to the Spanish subtitles. To activate them, you need to use the caption feature on YouTube. Unfortunately, we don’t have Spanish dubbing over on the audio platforms.

We’ve covered a lot of material in this podcast. Hopefully, you now know far more about the dopamine system, reward and motivation than you did at the beginning. We also discussed the other side of dopamine and reward, which is pain, and the balance of the pleasure-pain system, as well as the molecules described in the Molecule of More book, such as serotonin and endocannabinoids. We also talked about a variety of supplement-based tools, such as vitamin B6, zinc, PEA, L-DOPA, MuCuna, caffeine and nicotine.

Adderall is a medication that can have effects on the body, but a study has shown that some of these effects can be created purely cognitively without actually ingesting Adderall. This can be done simply by telling people they are ingesting Adderall and giving them caffeine. We discussed how dopamine can be used in an intermittent reward schedule to ensure long-term engagement with healthy pursuits. This episode was not an exhaustive coverage of dopamine and motivation, but hopefully there is enough to consider adopting in one’s own life and practices. We also discussed the idea of “watch one, do one, teach one” which is used in science and is a wonderful concept to adopt in life in general.

I’m not looking for attribution for the tools grounded in neuroscience that I’m passing along. If you think people can benefit from them, please click subscribe on the YouTube channel and hit the notifications button to make sure you don’t miss any episodes. Typically we release episodes every Monday, but in the future we may release episodes and short clips more often. If you want to subscribe on Apple or Spotify or both, that’s a great help to us.

On Apple, you have the opportunity to leave us up to a five star review. We do use the comment section here on YouTube to inform future content and to address any questions and clear up any miss communications or misconceptions that might arise. So please put your questions, your comments, and your suggestions for future content in the comment section below.

The other way to support us is to check out our sponsors that were mentioned at the beginning of the podcast. The links to those sponsors are in the captions. As well, we’ve set up a Patreon account which is patreon.com/andrewhuberman. That allows you to support the podcast at any level that you like as well.

Because we mentioned supplements from time to time throughout the podcast and people always ask about what brands and sources we use or suggest for those supplements, we partnered with Thorne (T-H-O-R-N-E). Thorne supplements are known to be among the most stringent supplements in terms of the specificity of what’s in the bottle matches what’s on the label.

The quality of the ingredients used by Thorne is exceedingly high, which is why the Mayo Clinic and all the major sports organizations are partnered with them. This commitment to rigor and stringency is why I personally take their supplements. To get 20% off any of the supplements that Thorne makes, you can go to thorne.com/u/huberman. On this site, you will also be able to see what I take.

Finally, I want to thank you for your time and attention today. I hope you learned a lot about possible tools that you could incorporate into your life as it relates to motivation and emotion. Thank you for your interest in science.