We Need More Dopamine!


Many neuroscientists work intensively with methods regarding how we can better utilise our brain’s abilities during our learning processes. Whoever would like to understand the brain and learning will not be successful in this regard without taking a look at its building blocks, the nerve cells (neurons). Whenever we learn new actions and behavioural patterns, our brain is continuously verifying whether the goal is being attained. In this regard, a comparative process is initiated which states how the actual result of an action has turned out in comparison with the expected result. Whenever the result is better than expected, then we experience a “fireworks” of neurons; if this is not the case and/or the result is worse than expected, then there is a noticeable decline in the activity of the dopaminergic neurons. Dopamine is not only a hormone, but rather also a neurotransmitter. This means that it is a messenger substance in the brain which serves to stimulate the nerve cells and thus is co-responsible for processing information. If too little of these messenger substances are available, this may result in problems in motivation and concentration; our motor during the change process begins to falter.


Dopamine’s function is naturally more diverse because the learning process also has many additional aspects. Thus, during this discussion, we are analysing only one – but from my perspective, a very essential – aspect of the learning process during our change processes. Dopamine is repeatedly referred to as the “feel-good hormone”. It is, among other things, essentially responsible for the controlling of the motor skills in the Substantia nigra. However, of the most importance for us during change management, is understanding the significance of dopamine in the limbic system. The "limbic system" is a collective term for a functional unit consisting of sections of the cerebrum as well as sections of the diencephalon. The limbic system includes, among others, the hippocampus and the amygdala. It plays the critical role during the transfer of information into the long-term memory. It provides the emotional assessment of the information received and assesses it for the transfer into the long-term memory. Dopamine is then released by the brain whenever changes and learning processes are looming in the brain. Learning is thus stimulated by dopamine. During change processes, we must always learn something new. In addition, the brain is trained in such a way that it immediately knows whenever it must release dopamine. The vision alone of an expected learning process already suffices. Thu, we must focus only on generating the expectation. The question is thus namely: How can we succeed in this regard? Based upon this reflection, the attractive target image obtains quite decisive importance.


Naturally, dopamine production can also be stimulated via food sources which contain a lot of Omega 3 fatty acids. But I would like to address another aspect at this juncture: Setting goals and celebrating successes indeed stimulate our dopamine production. It sounds so simple and nonetheless this fundamental principle is rarely implemented during change processes. It is not always the big visions which drive us forward. Regarded neurologically, the brain reactivates certain areas which otherwise atrophy. Thus, it is important that we repeatedly train ourselves with small goals. If we have had no successful experiences for a long period of time, our body forgets the hormone’s recoupling effect which drives us to realise the goals. Thus, change processes need clear goals; goals whose attainability appears to be realistic for the employees. All too often, I have experienced change processes which pursued big visions, but whose dimension was too big in order to motivate the individual person – the identification for the individual was lacking. But I have also repeatedly heard the opposite recently: The framework conditions change so quickly that goals would no longer be purposeful. I have never understood this approach (and probably also never will) because how should we receive an orientation if we no longer set goals for ourselves and/or how should then our neuronal system still be able to motivate us? 


Whenever we learn, we must process a lot of new information. Without dopamine, our brain cannot process information. Dopamine leads to information being anchored quite firmly in the memory and which can also once again be retrieved well. Thus, let’s give ourselves a chance to truly also implement changes. Let’s use our neuronal potential in order to improve our willingness to learn. We can do this if we design our change processes to be “brain-friendly”. Dopamine is certainly not the sole factor for success, but an essential tool. It helps us to learn new things about motivation. Thus, we need more dopamine!

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