Rediscovering myself during a global pandemic
During the pandemic, I was lucky enough to have all of my basic needs met. Being stuck at home gave me a lot of time and space to reflect on my life, and get back in touch with myself.
Diminishing Returns
I began the pandemic like most people, spending the first few weeks really enjoying myself. There's an endless stream of entertainment online through video games and TV, and I thought I could never get sick of it. But somewhere along the way, I found myself everything dull and unfulfilling. I kept hopping from show to show, game to game, but I just didn't enjoy entertainment anymore. I was reminded of the concept of diminishing returns from Microeconomics, and I realized the more TV I watched, the less I enjoyed it. The more video games I played, the less I enjoyed them. To start enjoying entertainment again, I needed to try something new.
Dopamine Detox
I began exploring the psychology behind entertainment and why people enjoy it, and came upon the 'dopamine detox'. Basically, people are hardwired to find a baseline level of happiness, and always return to it, regardless of circumstance. That's why someone who eats Michelin star food everyday isn't objectively happier than someone who eats regular food daily. It just becomes their new normal. This was what had happened to me with entertainment. I was so used to watching amazing shows, that it was just my new normal. To truly enjoy them again, I needed to take a break.
I decided to take a month long break from all digital entertainment. No TV, no video games, no music. It wasn't easy, but after hearing about all the benefits of a dopamine detox, I knew I had to try it. A dopamine detox wouldn't just help me enjoy TV again. It would reduce the baseline levels for everything. This meant I would enjoy food more, spending time with family more, anything and everything. I would even enjoy(?) studying more!
My first week was difficult. I felt a literal itch for entertainment, for any sort of stimulation. To keep myself occupied I started pursuing non-digital hobbies, mainly piano and running. But somewhere in the second week, it became a breeze. I didn't feel that itch anymore. I actually loved time away from technology. Colors seemed sharper. Food tasted better. I felt more present with my family when we ate dinner together. I found a new normal.
During my dopamine detox I decided to pick up running. I had recently read 'Cant Hurt Me', which made me realize I was leaving too much on the table. I wanted to see how far I could push myself, so I started running, and set a goal to run a sub-5:00 mile (my fastest mile was a 6:57 in elementary school). I knew it was a crazy goal, but I had never had the courage to set a goal out of reach. Nothing is more painful than trying your hardest for something and failing, so I had always stayed in my comfort zone.
I ran every single morning, using Saturdays as my timed mile day. I ran every morning at 8 AM, no matter what. But I made progress way faster than I expected. I started off with a 6:14 mile, which was already pretty good (I had been jogging on a regular basis in quarantine). As the weeks went by, I learned a lot about how far I could push myself (hint: it's always more than you think). For four months I ran consistently, pushing myself to the limit every day. It also was a great start to my day. Nothing feels better than finishing an intense workout.
In the first month I pushed myself a little too hard. I had low blood pressure for a while. Every time I stood up, I would black out for a second. I also lost ten pounds, even though I was already in shape (some of it was muscle though). It's easy to want to go all out every workout, but sometimes you need to rest, so I scheduled in easier runs to let my body recover.
I decided to stop running in winter, when the air got cold and my lungs would burn after a tough run. I had a PR of 5:25.6 (which also had uphill portions and pedestrians I had to avoid). Though I didn't hit my goal, I had proven to myself how much I could push myself, and am happy with my results.
During my dopamine detox, I also began meditating. I mainly did it to train my mind, because I heard meditating could physically change the brain. A lot of people train the body, but not many train the mind. I started off with Headspace, and did the free ten days, then moved onto the Headspace Pro with a student discount. Meditating seems easy, all you have to do is sit there. At the very least, it's easier than going for a run, right?
I found meditating to be one of the hardest activity to pick up. It was difficult to keeping my mind from drifting, but over time I got the hang of it. And even though the sessions were hard, I alwasy felt amazing after a session, especially when I felt stressed beforehand. Meditating made me more aware of my body, increased my focus, and helped me be present in the moment. An interesting side effect is I'm more aware of how groggy I feel after eating junk food, and my diet has improved considerably. Greasy food tastes good in the moment, but when you don't have the energy to do anything for hours afterward, it's not worth it (not to mention the health problems junk food causes). Getting in touch with your body makes you realize just how bad some foods are.