Business and Career
Happy Chemicals at Work: Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin
Dopamine At Work
Dopamine makes you feel good when you expect a reward, like a promotion or landing a big contract. Each step toward the anticipated reward feels good because it stimulates dopamine. But the dopamine stops once you get what you seek, or when you don’t see yourself approaching the reward. When the dopamine stops, people call it “burn-out.”
Get more dopamine at work
Set 3 goals: Choose a long-term goal, a short-term goal, and a middle-term goal. When one goal hits a snag, just shift to another so you’re always stimulating the good feeling of moving forward.
Design goals you can reach: Small goals that you can control will stimulate more dopamine than big dreams. Spend ten minutes a day on that yucky project you hate and dopamine will help you relieve the cortisol.
Update your goals: Our brain habituates to the rewards it has, so no achievement will make you feel good forever. Your brain defines rewards with neural pathways built in youth, but you can update those early patterns to seek rewards in new ways.
Dopamine career resources
Oxytocin At Work
Oxytocin makes you feel good when you have social support. We tend to glorify social bonds, but remember that your urge for support is inherently selfish. Mammals seek a herd when they face a common enemy because it promotes their own survival. They prefer to spread out when they’re safe because that makes it easier to gather resources. They unite when they see a common threat, and you can see how people do this too. Monkey groom each others fur because it stimulates the good feeling of oxytocin, and helps build alliances for future protection. But when you groom others, they do not necessarily groom you back, but they may protect you in the future. A monkey keeps weighing the angles and deciding who to groom, and the mammal brain evolved to do that.
Get more oxytocin at work
Recognize your individual oxytocin patterns: Neurons connect when oxytocin flows, so whatever turned on your oxytocin in your past wired you to turn it on in similar situations today. But those old patterns may not serve you, and they’re easier to change when you realize that your trust impulse is not reality, but a pathway built but accidents of past experience.
Build bridges of trust in small steps: You have to give support to get support. But can’t control other people, so don’t expect immediate reciprocation. Offer support in a small way to a different person every day, and in time, you will have a lot of nice surprises. You will build your side of the bridge without knowing when the other person will cross it.
Make conscious decisions about following the herd: Sometimes following the herd is good for you and sometimes it’s not. So instead of making all-or-nothing decisions, remember that a gazelle is always deciding whether to step toward the herd or toward greener pasture. It chooses with each step and so can you! Instead of being a herd follower, remind your inner mammal that you can get support when you need it.
Oxytocin career resources
Slideshow: The Biology of Belonging
Video: Know Your Happy Chemicals
Serotonin At Work
Serotonin creates a calm, confident feeling when you see yourself in a position of strength. Promotions and raises are the well-known path to serotonin, as are titles and awards. You have inherited a brain that constantly compares yourself to others and rewards you with serotonin when you gain the one-up position. The serotonin is soon metabolized, alas, which is why we’re always looking for ANOTHER one-up moment! When you fail to get it, your mammal brain sees the one-down position as a survival threat. We often blame others for putting us down instead of recognizing our own natural urge for serotonin. Neurons connect when serotonin flows, so the social recognition of your past wired you to seek recognition in that way today. But you can rewire those expectations with effort.
Get more serotonin at work
Put yourself up without putting others down: It’s not easy, but you can do it. You don’t have to feel like the little monkey who always fails to get the banana. But you don’t have to feel like the big monkey who has to get the banana to prove themselves. Just keep reminding yourself that you are strong enough to get what you need.
Realistic expectations: You may think other people go through life floating on a cloud of serotonin, but they are just as worried about their social position as you are. Read biographies and you will learn that famous people lived with failure and criticism, and rarely got appreciated until they were gone.
Be honest about your social comparison impulse: You may say that social comparison is bad, but you will do it anyway. So it’s better to be aware of the way your are doing it instead of feeling like other people are forcing it on you. Don’t say “they” are judging you because you are doing the judging yourself.
Serotonin career resources
Podcasts: many podcasts about status games: here
Blog: Why Winning Feels Good
Cortisol At Work
Cortisol creates the feeling that your survival is threatened, even when you don’t consciously think that. Disappointment triggers cortisol because it helps a mammal shift its effort toward better prospects. The one-down position triggers cortisol, even though you tell yourself you shouldn’t care. Cortisol is designed to grab your attention so you do what it takes to make it stop. It’s hard to be philosophical once your cortisol is released because it creates a full-body sense of alarm.
Relieve cortisol at work
Give it time to metabolize: It takes over an hour to eliminate cortisol. While it’s flowing, your mind will fill with evidence of threat because that’s how cortisol does its job. So do something fun for a while instead of rushing into problem solving. Otherwise, you will only see worst-case scenarios.
Discover your old cortisol pathways: Neurons connect when cortisol flows, so whatever triggered it in your past wired you to turn it on faster today. Once you detect your old templates, it’s easier to see when they trigger you instead of believing that your bad feelings are evidence of a real threat.
Stop externalizing: Blaming the world for your stress makes it harder to see how you create it internally. You have power when you know how you create it, but when you blame the world, you feel like a powerless victim. It may seem like your stress is caused by your boss and your competitors, but you can figure out how you create it with old neural pathways.