In the book “the willpower instinct”, Kelly McGonigal pins habits to their biological basis—dopamine.
Evolution has wired human brain with primitive instincts. In ancient times of scarcity, those who jump on the first sight of sexy mate or food, survive for another day to spread their genes; those who don’t are eliminate by nature. These primitive instincts—ingrained in our brain—are controlled by the dopamine release. The dopamine release creates craving, the anxious feeling of wanting and desire that propel human into action.
Today we live in a new environment of abundance, food- or sex mate-wise. But genetic old habits die hard—human brain has yet to adapt. Without self-control, jumping on every primitive instinct—cookie or sexy encounter—is a sure recipe for misery: Obesity, gambling, shopping, sex, drug, all sorts of additions, can traced their origin to dopamine release.
Indeed, this mechanism is how retailers and marketers get us addicted. They drain our wallet by manipulating our dopamine neurons with what we see, smell, hear, and taste. The background music, the lightning, the sexy saleswomen, free samples of cookie, all are carefully engineered to exaggerate the sensations of food, sex, alcohol, car, gambling, work—the dopamine release.
Naively following our instinct, we fall prey to these sales tricks. Is there any wonder we overspend, buying what we don’t need? Or, the purchase seeing at home is less attractive than we see it in the store? The culprit is dopamine.
So what does the rush of dopamine feel like?
“I feel the earth move under my feet
I feel the sky tumbling down, tumbling down
I feel my heart start to trembling
Whenever you’re around”
—I Feel The Earth Move, by Carole King