You’re addicted to cheap dopamine (and you don’t even know it).
Tell me if this sounds familiar.
- You’re skipping your gym sessions because of your junk food cravings like In N out burgers and Costco pizza
- You’re trapped in the endless IG doom scrolling and mindlessly numbing yourself City Boys and Cantonese memes
- You’re battling the 12 AM “hub” urges and spend hours browsing
- Leaving your bed feels like the ultimate challenge.
- You feel know that you should be working, but it seems like difficult (almost painful) to apply ourselves and engage in meaningful work.
The worst part? You’re living with the guilt of knowing that you could be doing so much more.
And it makes you sick to your stomach.
“There’s something wrong with me”
You start searching for the solutions.
- You start watching David Goggins motivation montages on YouTube, TikTok, and IG for some discipline and motivation
- You’re binging on “top 3 productivity tips” by Ali Abdaal or other productivity gurus, hoping to accomplish more.
- You order of “Atomic Habits” by James Clear and other 20+ personal development books under Amazon’s “Recommended for You”, still untouched in their boxes.
No matter how hard you try, nothing is working. And if you were to be real with yourself – it’s getting worse.
You’ve probably thought…
- “I need more discipline”
- “I need to be more motivated”
- “I need more willpower”
Newsflash. That’s a lie.
- You don’t need anymore productivity tips from from Ali Abdaal.
- You don’t need anymore personal development books.
- You don’t need anymore generic motivational montages with scenes from the “Pursuit of Happyness” with Will Smith on YouTube.
From the fast paced Mr. Beast edits to the thrill of buying crap you don’t need on Amazon, you’re feeding the dopamine cycle while leaving you stuck in the same place.
Friends might say, “Stop thinking about it so much. It’s not a big deal. Just enjoy your life”.
But they don’t understand.
They don’t understand that you’re secretly dying because you know you have so much more potential.
You can’t help but feel that “There’s something wrong with me”. And eventually, despite knowing “what” to do, you’re trapped in the same spot.
No matter what you try, you can’t seem to break away from the habits, building this deep resentment for yourself because you don’t know what to do.
This is a dangerous place to be.
Most people just give up.
You start to label yourself…
- “I’m lazy”
- “I’m a failure”
- “I’m depressed”
And in a dark twist of fate, these labels become self-fulfilling prophecies.
But the truth? You’re none of these things. This isn’t your fault.
The real problem?
Your addiction to cheap dopamine is silently killing your future.
Does this hit home? You’re not alone.
The hidden costs of cheap dopamine addiction.
Just like you, I was caught in this viscous cycle too.
Turning 35, no plans, and completely by myself.
I remember saying…
“This is not the person I want to be at 35. I have all these skills, I know a lot, but I’m not the person I want to be. I’m not the person I respect. I could be doing so much better, but I feel like a fucking loser.”
This was me.
- Lying in bed for 12 hours a day because I was too drained to do anything
- Doom scrolling and feeling the FOMO of watching my friends live their exciting lives on IG
- Hooked on the “hub”, stuck in cycles of wake up, get off, sleep, repeat 3-5
- Late-night cravings for a 4×4 with a fry well from In N Out
- Downing whole bottles of Vanilla Chameleon cold brew concentrate, feeling constantly tired and irritable without my coffee fix
- Browsing into the late night, waking up exhausted and missing my 11 AM jiu-jitsu classes.
I’ve always wanted to do better at life, but it felt like I was failing.
I wasn’t hitting my financial targets, stuck at the “same weight” despite dieting, and not accomplishing my life goals like a successful YouTube channel, finding a life partner, and jiu-jitsu.
I knew I should be doing “something” more.
I was caught in the dopamine loop.
The more I leaned on these quick dopamine hits, the harder it became to focus on my goals and stay disciplined.
I didn’t want to feel like this way anymore.
The worst part was the guilt.
Every night, I’d replay the same scenes, thinking about how I messed up my day, how I let myself down yet again. I knew I had more to give, but somehow, I just couldn’t bring it out.
I decided I had enough. I didn’t just want these little bursts of happiness that came and went.
I wanted real satisfaction.
I wanted to be proud of myself, my body, my mind, and my abilities.
I wanted to make choices that were in line with my dreams, not out of fear or feeling pressured.
So, I took a deep breath and decided to fight the cheap dopamine that had taken control of my life.
This is what wanted.
- I was done feeling drained all the time from the “hub”.
- I wanted to drop the extra weight, eat clean, and start treat my body with the respect it deserves.
- I wanted the challenge of bigger projects, ones that pushed me to tap into my full potential while scaring the absolute shit in me.
- I was done with the “yes” habit (AKA people pleasing) that had me stuck on a never-ending revenue rollercoaster in my business.
- I was sick of endlessly scrolling through feeds and staying up late watching memes. I wanted to be up at 5 AM, charged and ready to take on the day (like I used to)
- I wanted to walk around with purpose, act with intention, and make decisions that aligned with my true desires, not my temporary urges.
But most importantly, I wanted to trust myself again, to keep the promises I made to myself, and say goodbye to the guilt of knowing I could do more.
It doesn’t have to be like this.
There’s a way out.
To self-respect. To motivation. To long-lasting satisfaction. To finally becoming the person you knew you could be.
Alex Becker once said… “You are likely much stronger, smarter, and more capable than you give yourself credit for.“
Here’s the good news: once you understand it, you can escape it. If you want to be more productive and valuable, you’ve got to start by recognizing the enemy within – cheap dopamine.
And I’m here to help share you what helped me out of the trap.
Here’s what happened after I cut back on caffeine, the “hub” (yeah, I still slip up), and junk food.
- Dropped 10 lbs in 10 weeks (effortlessly) by fasting and switching to OMAD (one meal a day)
- Got a SaaS (software) for high ticket sales off the ground
- Launched a YouTube creator mastermind
- Doubled my recurring affiliate payouts ($800-$1000 / month with just one affiliate)
- Made a few low ticket items for my business (Notion templates, call reviews, etc.)
- Set up partnerships with startups, SaaS, and friends
- Started attracting women in my life again again and a potential life parter (no joke)
- Fired up a content machine for my YouTube, blog, and email newsletter again
Let’s dive in.
Step 1: Escape your environment.
“To truly change is to think greater than your environment.” -Joe Dispenza
You might not realize it, but you’re on autopilot.
You need to get away.
We’re programmed by our environment. The same environments trigger the same thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
We have routines, schedules, and patterns of behavior that are trigger our autopilot.
- You pass a Jollibee, get a whiff of fried chicken, and before you know it, you’re dying for a 3 piece Chicken Joy, peach mango pie, and a pineapple quencher.
- A DM notification on Instagram pulls you in for hours on end.
- You tell yourself, “I’ll just work out at home instead of hitting the gym,” but end up binge-watching Netflix all day.
Imagine trying to change these habits when your environment keeps triggering the same responses.
These reactions are wired into our brains.
So the fastest way to break the dopamine cycle is to change your surroundings.
It’s the reason why things like drug rehab centers, fitness bootcamps, and silent retreats work.
But here’s the tricky part about change – we often fight it.
Many of us think we need to work harder, be more disciplined, or have more willpower to change.
But changing your environment doesn’t have to be that tough (or painful).
These are my favorite (and painless) ways to break free from cheap dopamine:
- Thai massage
- 24-36 hour fasts
- Trying a new restaurant for lunch
- Explore a new bookstore
- Booking an AirBnB or hotel (by the beach) for a 1-2 day personal retreat
- • Trying a new coffee shop across town
Just last weekend, for example, I went to a Thai massage place, tried a local Vietnamese Banh Mi spot on the other side of town, and spent a solid two hours browsing a used bookstore.
And it felt great.
By doing this, we’re switching gears in our brain.
We’re dialing down that reactive part of our brain (the amygdala) and firing up our creative, critical thinking part (the pre-frontal cortex).
Instead of just mindlessly reacting to our usual triggers and environment, we get to take a step back, reflect, and focus on what we really want.
So go on, challenge yourself to break free from your regular environment and see how it changes your perspective.
The biggest thing is to do something new, fun, and most importantly, low stress.
You’ll be surprised how a simple change in environment can lead to big changes in your behavior.
But this is only temporary.
You’ll want to end this mini-getaway in a place where you can spend a few hours reflecting.
(I’d personally recommend the mountains, a coffee or boba shop, or the beach.)
Once we’re in this mindset, we can move on to the next step for a longer term solution.
Step 2: Go on a “figure out WTF you want” date.
When I say “date”, I’m not suggesting to book a fancy candle light dinner for one. by yourself. (That’s weird. Although, sometimes I do it LOL.)
This is a different kind of date, more of a deep, soul-searching kind.
How often do we take the time to intentionally ask, “what do I actually want?”
How much of your life have you spent striving for what others expect of you?
Parents, friends, society… It’s like we’re constantly trying to live up to some picture-perfect image that isn’t even our own.
And I get it. It’s tempting because it’s safe and predictable. But in this predictable cycle, we lose sight of what we truly want.
If you’re anything like me (and grew up in a competitive Asian community), I found that half the shit I was told, I didn’t even want.
I didn’t care about…
- The doctor title in front of my name
- Flexing on others with luxury cars to impress others
- Spending 12 hours a day in a cubicle-like prison (AKA a pharmacy)
Chances are, as your brain starts settling, you might recognize some similar experiences.
Dopamine is linked to desire (more on this later).
Have you considered that maybe our lack of “motivation” or our addiction to “cheap dopamine” is because our goals don’t stimulate long-term baseline dopamine?
So here’s where things get interesting.
Now that you’re at place of reflection (my favorite are coffee shops), it’s time to figure out what the fuck you actually want.
Not what your mom wants. Not what society wants. But what you want.
So grab your favorite Notion board, pen and paper, or Moleskine notebook and follow these steps:
Write down your values.
Values are important because they help provide frameworks to see if a goal or decision aligns with you.
In simpler terms, what do you actually GAF about?
Personal branding gurus Mike Kim and Vanessa Lau inspired some introspective questions that I found particularly helpful:
- What breaks your heart?
- What do you feel like is total BS or pisses you off?
- What painful personal experiences have you gone through that you want to help others with or avoid completely?
I also like to revisit old photos to find any recurring themes. For me, looking at old photo albums reminded me that I’ve always valued creativity, making friends, and lifelong learning (kaizen).
That’s when I realized… “No creator deserves to die feeling alone. Every creator needs real friends that nurture their creativity to bring out their best work.”
Don’t worry about having something super polished.
Just write it down.
Write down your 3-year vision.
Vision is kinda vague and abstract.
So here’s a more practical way to think about it – what does your “perfect day” look like three years from now?
Three years is perfect. It’s enough time to make some major shifts but not so much that it feels unattainable.
I like to start in these three areas:
What do these look like for you on your perfect day?
There’s no correct length for this.
But if you close your eyes, you should be able to see a “vlog” of your life.
Kinda like the old Casey Neistat videos. It should be in that much detail.
If you’re feeling extra ambitious, you can consider family, personal growth, spiritual life, financial goals, physical fitness, and community.
Set your 12-week mission.
Now, let’s get practical.
Write down one SMART goal (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) that you want to focus in the next 12 weeks.
Not going to lie – this took me a while since I’m kinda ADD-like and always want to do 10 goals at once.
But this requires discipline.
Also 12 weeks might seem like a short period, but real talk – we often underestimate how much we can achieve in a limited time. By concentrating on the right thing, we can accomplish more in 12 weeks than most do in an entire year.
If you have trouble, start asking… “What’s the one thing I can do, such that by doing it everything else is easier or unnecessary?”
For example, right now mine is making $10K MRR in passive income.
It feeds my financial goals, health goals (meal prep, training, biohacking), and relationships (wanting to take my friends out to experiences more), and my goal to tithe my income to a cause I actually GAF about.
So as you write these down, a part of you will probably be like… “OMG. I need this to be perfect.” …whatever the fuck that means lol.
But remember, perfection isn’t the goal – continuous improvement is.
This takes time.
And vision, mission, and values are essential, but not enough.
So what’s holding us back?
It’s the cheap dopamine.
Step 3: Replace the “cheap dopamine”.
Dopamine isn’t the enemy.
It’s not inherently evil or out to ruin your life.
The real problem is “cheap” dopamine.
When we “spike” our dopamine levels or are overdosing with things like cocaine, amphetamines, pornography, sex, or caffeine, that’s when we’ve got a problem.
(Andrew Huberman is a great resource on this.)
Cheap dopamine causes short-lived spikes in dopamine, typically lasting minutes to an hour, and crashes, dipping below our normal baseline levels.
The higher our baseline, the more motivated and drive we feel.
It’s just like the short-lived “sugar rush” and subsequent crash you experience when you guzzle soda. Not so fun in your 30’s btw.
Here were my cheap dopamine triggers:
- Binge-watching “hub” excessively (3-5x per day)
- Eating $1 tacos from Jack-in-the-Box (not my proudest moment)
- Downing an entire bottle of vanilla Chameleon cold brew coffee concentrate in one sitting
- Binge watching too many highly edited, Mr. Beast type of videos on YouTube and IG
The sad part is, the more you ride these dopamine rollercoasters, the less thrilling the ride becomes. Each “high” isn’t as high as the last, and the lows can even dip below your regular dopamine baseline.
The faster you peak, the faster you crash.
And this is the problem.
Most people will say it’s the “feel good” chemical or neurotransmitter, but in reality it’s responsible for desire.
When you’re operating below baseline, that’s when the lack of motivation and feelings of depression hit.
This shapes our mindset and our perception of optimism and pessimism about our chances of success with our goals.
And this is why some of our friends are fired up 24/7 while others are depressed AF (I’ve been on both ends).
All this is tied to our cheap dopamine habits. So, what’s the fix?
The key is replacing cheap sources of dopamine with long-lasting alternatives that increase our baseline levels of dopamine.
Huberman recommends the following:
- Cold showers / ice plunges for 30 seconds to 2 minutes
- Getting 20 minutes of sunlight per day
- Going on regular walks
- Exercise and regular movement
- Good sleep
- Yoga Nidra (or non-sleep deep rest)
- Healthy nutrition
- Supplements like l-tyrosine
- Prescription drugs like Ritalin, Adderall, and Modafinil (not generally recommended)
How did I make the transition?
I went cold turkey.
I told myself that I wouldn’t do these things anymore.
I told myself to reject all these degenerate habits because I was just “coping”.
Instead, I zeroed in on practices like:
- Sticking to a boring “at-home” diet
- Turning off all notifications and setting my devices on airplane mode (especially during work)
- Daily intense training (Jiu-Jitsu/Powerlifting)
- Doing 2-hour blocks for deep focus sessions at Whole Foods
- Walking 30-minute walks every 2 hours for breaks
- Practicing yoga nidra / meditation
- Staying away from Mr. Beast videos and shorts and consuming more long-form podcast style videos
- Prioritizing a full 8-hour sleep and waking up alarm-free
Not going to lie – it felt boring as hell.
But just remember – it takes 30 days to start reaping the benefits.
And it’s not just about ditching bad habits; it’s also about disrupting the environmental triggers that drag us back to them.
That’s the beauty of going monk mode.
It’s not about swearing off fun forever; it’s about looking out for your well-being in the here and now.
Part of this is noticing how you feel and your patterns.
Knowing when you have an urge for porn because you’re feeling lonely or binging on junk food because you’re stressed TF out on work.
Those are your cues to step back, reassess, and see how you can replace those quick dopamine habits..
Something I tell myself when I’m in throws of it is this…
It’s not just about loving yourself; it’s about respecting yourself.
Your future self will thank you for it.
Don’t make the mistake of being perfect.
“Most people don’t notice how much they’ve grown.” -Dr. Nicole LePera
Perfection isn’t the aim; it’s progress.
Something I forget is that I’m human, not a machine. (Although I wish AI could take this part of my life over).
If you relapse, it’s not the end of the world.
You’re actually expected to relapse because it takes time to undo the years of cheap dopamine addiction
Even with occasional relapses, you’re still achieving fewer dopamine spikes than before.
It’s the small changes, the tweaks and iterations, and reflections that will help you master this dopamine game.
Optimization comes from iterations, not perfection.
For me, I’ve really struggled with the “hub”, caffeine, and junk food.
But after spending a few weeks in my own company, I noticed…
- That drive and direction I had in my 20’s was making a comeback
- Confidence to do more ambitious goals (that honestly scared TF out of me)
- I wasn’t so all over the place emotionally (you can check my IG posts for proof)
- I wasn’t chasing the temporary happiness in life anymore, but striving for the deeper long term fulfillment
- I was carrying around a new kind of self-respect for myself, my skills, and what I do
I started asking deeper questions about my potential.
- What if I’ve been wasting my 10x skills on 2x games this entire time?
- What if concepts of “hard” and “easy” didn’t exist and stuff just needed to get done?
- What if I stopped setting goals on what I thought was possible and instead focused on setting goals on my potential?
- What would it look like if I prioritized self respect over self love?
- What if I started choosing to see the potential in myself that • others have been seeing in me all along?
But the real game-changer?
I quit fighting with myself and started treating myself with a bit more kindness, understanding, growth, and above all, accountability.
Embracing that masculine energy didn’t just change my life.
It revolutionized it (and it still is).
If you’re vibing with this and want more videos on running an online creator businesses, lifestyle design, self-actualization, and unlocking your potential, sign up for my newsletter.
Trust me, it’s worth it.
Stay compassionate, stay authentic, and stay rebellious.