Good shit here. This is red pill 101.
I have a relationship with dopamine that’s a bit unusual, so I’d like to add a bit of nuance. Like money and status and guns, dopamine is a powerful tool that can be dangerous to your health and soul. The purpose of this tool is to direct your attention toward things that excite you, and habitual behaviors will follow from this attention without thought or effort because habits are triggered by context (or “antecedents”, to use the technical term). Therefore, the proper function of dopamine is to focus your attention to produce action more consistent with your best possible self*.
For example, when people want to create the habit of waking up earlier I’ll often advise them to put their alarm clock next to their video games and a cup of coffee so they can roll out of bed and immediately start playing. This associates rising early with dopamine, which is just classical conditioning. But there are a couple of tricks to doing this correctly:
1. You have to cut out sources of dopamine that aren’t associated with the things you want to focus on. Thinking is preparatory anticipation of possible futures and, by definition, the futures we prepare for are those which excite us. Excitement is dopamine, so if you want to focus your thoughts, you must focus your dopamine first!
2. Extrinsic motivators wear out after a couple of weeks, so they have to be replaced by intrinsic motivators. E.g. “I get up early” becomes “I enjoy having time in the morning to do deep work.” The cheapest and optimal way to convert simple Pavlovian conditioning into motivation is visualization exercises. The fastest is to immerse yourself in and identify with a subculture where the behavior is expected of its members. And probably the deepest for long-term development is to develop expert knowledge of how improvement in the activity is trained, treating it as an applied skill.
3. Push the rewards further into the habit chain as earlier habits become established. For example, if you have a checklist of items A through F (e.g. your morning routine, where A = getting up to turn your alarm off, B = brushing your teeth, etc.), start by rewarding yourself consistently for doing A, then start requiring yourself to do both A and B before getting the reward. Eventually you should be rewarding yourself intermittently at the end of a perfect day.
4. You have to treat the creation of new habits like a big project with lots of one-off tasks that will pop up because you’ll find that relatively small changes create a large number of unexpected conflicts**. You can’t get up at 4 am every day and have a social life, and you can’t have different bedtimes for different days of the week and still get good sleep. People don’t *really* have trouble getting up early in the morning, they have trouble with the prerequisites: getting enough exercise, getting to sleep on time, getting to sleep once they’re in bed, and getting uninterrupted, productive sleep. Those are all problems that will require research, reflection, serious lifestyle changes, and often real compromises or sacrifices (e.g. getting up at 5:30 instead of 4 and cutting out half your social and family commitments to get to bed at 9 or 9:30).
*If you don’t have any concept of your best possible self, I’d advise you to start by structuring your life around getting the best possible sleep every night for the rest of your life. You’d be surprised how well this acts as an overall guiding principle to optimize your other priorities, how easy asking “will this make me sleep better or worse in the future?” makes your everyday decisions, and how much of a difference sleep actually makes for creating your best possible self. Anyway, it’s hard for slow life history people to argue that good sleep is a bad thing, no matter what political or religious background they’re coming from. Scoffing at sleep is a fast life history strategy kind of thing.
**There’s an interesting feature of setting priorities where you’ll find that moving in any arbitrary direction consistently forces you to sort out everything else in your life as you get better. For example, last year I noticed that getting cardio in the morning really helped my sleep later that night, so I set myself a goal to run a 5k in 18 minutes to motivate my running habit. I quickly learned that I’d have to cross-train some mornings to avoid injury, which got me interested in triathlons. When I joined the triathlon club for coaching and motivation I decided to train for an Ironman next September, since that’s the sort of thing you do in a triathlon club. And in the course of training I’ve learned jerking off really extends my recovery time between workouts, and if I can’t keep up with my training plan then my coach will say mean things and tell all the (extremely) attractive girls in the club I’m a no-good quitter. So, somehow, setting good sleep as a high priority eventually required me to cut out all sorts of unhealthy things like porn, jerking off, alcohol, and caffeine and get really disciplined about health, information diet, time management, etc.