12-8 Intermittent Fasting for Social Media

The Andrew Huberman podcast is one of my biggest influences on improving my motivation and discipline. Huberman is a Stanford neuroscientist sharing many science-based methods to improve your lifestyle. I’m personally a huge believer that people massively underestimate the impact that lifestyle change can have on their mental health. Most people know by now the importance of nutrition and exercise in our physical health, but many people don’t draw the same connection between their lifestyle and mental health.

My favorite episode I’ve listened to so far is episode #39, Controlling Your Dopamine For Motivation, Focus & Satisfaction. There are several important topics that he discusses in this episode. Two, in particular, are the effects of intermittent fasting on focus and the impact of too much dopamine release on your baseline dopamine for subsequent activity.

Huberman suggests a lot of lifestyle techniques improve motivation. I’ve synthesized some of these techniques into one that’s very easy to wrap your head around - 12-8 intermittent fasting for food and for social media.

In other words, only eat or use social media between 12 PM-8 PM.

I also think it’s great to throw things like checking email into the fast, though how feasible that is depends on your job and circumstances.

The idea of 12-8 fasting is you only eat from the hours of 12 PM-8 PM. This can help with goals like weight loss because, for many people, it’s easier to skip a meal than eat a small one. Since one of the more straightforward ways to lose weight is to eat less, intermittent fasting simplifies it. As we’ll see, Huberman also explores the role that fasting can play in improving motivation and focus.

I like extending this concept to social media. Only use social media from the hours of 12 PM-8 PM. Some people might disavow social media altogether, but there’s debatably still a lot of value to be found in using social media intentionally (for example, I discovered Huberman’s podcast on Twitter!) But I’ve found that checking social media first thing in the morning can mess up my whole day. Huberman offers a scientific explanation as to why that could be.

The podcast starts by talking about our “baseline” dopamine levels:

if you remember nothing else from this episode, please remember this, that when you experience something or you crave something really desirable, really exciting to you, very pleasurable. What happens afterwards is your baseline level of dopamine drops. Okay? So these peaks in dopamine, they influence how much dopamine will generally be circulating afterward. And you might think, oh, a big peak in dopamine after that, I’m going to feel even better because I just had this great event. Not the case. What actually happens is that your baseline level of dopamine drops.

Huberman goes into a lot more detail about how this mechanism works and how you can implement techniques to manage your baseline dopamine levels better. But if I had to summarize, I would say, “what goes up must come down”. I also picked up a similar concept reading the book Dopamine Nation, which Huberman also mentioned.

Huberman specifically calls out smartphones as a source of bringing dopamine up, which, as mentioned, will later bring your dopamine down.

It’s extremely common nowadays to see people texting and doing selfies and communicating in various ways, listening to podcasts, listening to music, doing all sorts of things while they engage in other activities or going to dinner and texting other people or making plans, sharing information. That’s all wonderful, it gives depth and richness and color to life, but it isn’t just about our distracted nature when we’re engaging with the phone, it’s also a way of layering in dopamine. And it’s no surprise that levels of depression and lack of motivation are really on the increase. Everything that we’ve discussed until now sets up an explanation or interpretation of why interacting with digital technology can potentially lead to disruptions or lower baseline dopamine levels.

To paraphrase what he’s saying in another way, every activity you engage in connects to the same dopamine system. Imagine you login to Reddit or Twitter in the morning - chances are high that the first funny post or tweet you see will amuse you more than the twentieth. You start to get bored by the entertainment. The problem is if you check your phone first thing in the morning, you are now bringing that “bored” state to the work you want to get done that day. If your baseline dopamine was better adjusted, you might be able to get motivated and earn some dopamine from the work itself. Again, Huberman goes into a lot more detail about this in the podcast. He also talks about some interesting concepts like “flipping a coin” to decide if you want to listen to music while you workout.

Another topic he delves into is the effect of intermittent fasting on focus:

Typically when we ingest food, if it evokes some dopamine release, then we tend to want even more food. Remember dopamine’s main role is one of motivation and seeking. And what dopamine always wants more of is more dopamine. More activity or thing that evokes more dopamine release. Well, let’s just look at fasting from the perspective of dopamine schedules and dopamine release and peaks and baselines

Besides dopamine, Huberman does express some concern that many of these dopamine controlling concepts can be self-fullfillng prophecies. Someone who think they’ll be more motivated while fasting might actually get more motivated from thinking than the actual fast. Either way, you’re more motivated.

One last thing I really like about 12-8 social media fasting is that it reduces the anxiety I get from social media. Sometimes I worry about how I’ll be perceived based on what I post on the internet. I really like that after 8PM, I’m disconnected from the matrix. I can just live in my present surroundings. But I don’t have to go to the extreme of deleting all my social media entirely to achieve that.

At time of writing, my BMI is in the overweight category, and I can’t claim that’s because I’m super muscular. So 12-8 intermittent fasting seems like a great way to lose weight and gain focus. I’ve been combining that with 12-8 social media fasting to great productivity improvement results so far in October, tracked by Navigoals. I encourage any readers to experiment with this technique, and others that Andrew Huberman suggest, in their own life.

You can find me on on Twitter @bill_prin or on Mastodon @waprin@indieweb.social.
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