Bad Ideas

I Did a 24-Hour Dopamine Fast and I Felt Everything, Not Nothing

A day of nothing flipped my brain into a low-energy mode

Steve Rousseau
OneZero
Published in
8 min readMar 12, 2020

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Illustration: Joe Melhuish

Welcome to Bad Ideas, a column in which we examine the practical limits of technology by considering the things you could do and then investigating exactly why you shouldn’t. Because you can still learn from mistakes you’ll never make.

OOver the past few months, dopamine fasts have cycled through the wellness media hype cycle. First introduced on Reddit in 2016, then refined and popularized by psychologist and venture capitalist Dr. Cameron Sepah this past summer, the dopamine fast — a practice in which you abstain from certain actions associated with hits of dopamine, the “feel-good neurotransmitter”— was trend-pieced, explained, and seemingly debunked as yet another ill-conceived fad amongst the Silicon Valley elite before the year was out.

Though we can’t control the release of chemicals in our brains, we can “fast” on the actions that cause dopamine hits: looking at social media, eating junk food, playing video games, and so on. Take a break, it recommends.

And so, the dopamine fast persists. People mock it on Twitter just as much as YouTubers celebrate it. There’s a Reddit community for dopamine fasters to discuss the nuances of their dopamine fasts between their dopamine fasts. There are also a handful of writers who have recounted their experience of doing nothing.

I do not subscribe to Silicon Valley’s idea of wellness, which arguably makes me a kind of ideal subject for dopamine fasting. If dopamine fasting truly is hacking your brain chemistry, as the name suggests, then it should work on me regardless of my own biases, right? I decided to give it a shot for 24 hours. At best, I would experience levels of joy I had never known possible. At worst, I’d be bored for a day.

Sepah’s guidelines make no specific recommendations for what you should fast from, so to make things as uncomplicated…

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