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Last Updated: 12.06.23

Leverage Dopamine to Overcome Procrastination & Optimize Effort

Dr. Huberman discusses dopamine dynamics, motivation, and overcoming procrastination using behavioral, cognitive, and nutrition-​​based tools. He explores how to optimize baseline and peak dopamine levels, boost motivation, and maintain a growth mindset for pursuing goals. Understanding dopamine dynamics helps improve confidence and maintain motivation.

Key Takeaways

Dopamine: a neuromodulator

  • Modulates or changes the electrical activity of other cells (neurons)
  • Can increase or decrease the activity of other neurons
  • Baseline levels of dopamine relate to baseline levels of motivation and feelings of well-being

Dopamine is critical for overcoming procrastination, ensuring ongoing motivation, and building confidence

Understanding neural circuits and dopamine dynamics can help optimize mental health, physical health, and performance

Dopamine peaks and baselines

  • Peaks: triggered by behaviors, substances, food, etc.
  • Baseline: reservoir of dopamine, used to create peaks
  • Troughs: below baseline, dictate motivation levels

Wave pool analogy

  • Height and frequency of waves (dopamine peaks) impact baseline
  • Large, frequent waves lower baseline, while smaller or less frequent waves maintain baseline
  • Peaks and baseline are related, not independent

Desire triggers a peak in dopamine, followed by a drop below baseline

  • This drop below baseline motivates us to pursue the desired object or goal

Reward Prediction Error: compares the dopamine experienced from the reward to the dopamine from the initial desire

  • If the reward is as expected, dopamine returns to baseline
  • If the reward is better than expected, dopamine peaks higher
  • If the reward is worse than expected, dopamine drops below baseline

Craving for things is not just about wanting them, but also about relieving the pain of not having them

Recent findings show that we are always looking for cues to determine if we are on the right path to achieve our goals

  • We also set a mindset or context within our brains regarding our confidence or pessimism about achieving our goals

Key Factor in addiction: short duration between desire and effect (rewarding properties of dopamine)

  • Shorter gaps make it harder to pursue longer-​​term goals

Key Factor in addiction: steepness of the rise in dopamine peak

  • Faster and larger rise in dopamine leads to a deeper drop below baseline, triggering more desire and pursuit

Be aware of the dangers of substances and behaviors that cause rapid, high dopamine peaks

  • Focus on longer-​​term goals and the dopamine system’s ability to learn from the entire process of goal pursuit

Baseline dopamine release: 3–4 neurons firing per second

Anticipation of food: doubling of dopamine release

Nicotine: 150% increase in dopamine neuron firing

Cocaine: 1000% increase in dopamine release

Methamphetamine: 1000% to 10,000% increase, depending on potency

Caffeine, sex, and video games: varying levels of dopamine release, depending on individual preferences and experiences

Recovery often involves 30 days of complete abstinence, which can be painful and uncomfortable

A healthy baseline level of dopamine is necessary for motivation and goal pursuit

Foundational practices to achieve a healthy baseline level of dopamine include:

  • Regular upkeep and effort in daily life
  • Engaging in activities that promote mental and physical well-being
  • Avoiding excessive consumption of substances that cause extreme dopamine peaks and troughs

Factors that help maintain baseline dopamine levels:

  • Quality sleep: restores dopamine reserves, essential for considering goals
  • Non-​​sleep deep rest (NSDR): similar to yoga nidra, increases dopamine reserves by up to 65%
  • Nutrition: proper nutrients, especially tyrosine, are necessary for sufficient baseline dopamine
  • Morning sunlight exposure: increases cortisol and dopamine levels, leading to states of well-​​being and alertness
  • Regular exercise: both cardiovascular and resistance training help maintain elevated baseline dopamine levels

Baseline dopamine level increases are defined as those lasting for more than 1 hour

  • Cold water exposure: increases dopamine and other catecholamines (norepinephrine and epinephrine) for longer period of time

Mucuna Pruriens: similar to L‑DOPA, but causes peak-​​trough phenomenon (increase, then decrease).

Ltyrosine: rate-​​limiting enzyme for dopamine, found in pre-​​workout formulas. Can help cognitive function under conditions of stress, such as sleep deprivation or psychological/​​physical stress

  • Be aware of potential dopamine crashes after using L‑Tyrosine

After a peak experience, dopamine levels drop below baseline, creating a “trough.” To recover from a trough, simply wait and allow the dopamine circuitry to replenish

  • This involves restoring dopamine synthesis and the readily releasable pool of dopamine
  • Can take several days to replenish

Leveraging pain and effort can help exit the trough and return to a higher baseline level.

Combining rewards with activities that are already enjoyable can lead to a drop in baseline dopamine

Be cautious about stacking dopamine-​​releasing behaviors or substances with activities you already enjoy

  • Example: combining exercise with caffeine, supplements, and other dopamine-​​releasing substances
  • Can lead to increased performance, but also troughs in energy and enthusiasm

Adjusting the frequency and combination of dopamine-​​releasing substances can help maintain intrinsic motivation

Intrinsic motivation is the “holy grail” of human endeavors and behaviors

  • No replacement for intrinsic motivation in achieving goals and enjoyment

To overcome amotivation and procrastination, have a short list of about five different effortful (painful) activities to use (i.e. meditation, cold exposure, exercise)

  • Goal is not to accomplish something within the activity, but to force the body and mind into a deeper state of pain and discomfort
  • This helps return to baseline dopamine levels more quickly and robustly


Science-​​based tools and supplements that push the needle.

Foundational Protocols for Maintaining Baseline Dopamine


Cold Exposure for Increasing Dopamine for Long Periods


Prescription and Over-​​the-​​Counter Supplements for Increasing Dopamine


Effortful Activities for Dealing with Amotivation and Procrastination


Protect Intrinsic Motivation



We recommend using this distillation as a supplemental resource to the source material.

  • Leverage Dopamine to Overcome Procrastination & Optimize Effort

    Huberman Lab #123

    Dr. Huberman explains dopamine dynamics, motivation, and overcoming procrastination using tools like behavior, cognition, and nutrition.

Full Notes

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