On inspiring others, dopamine and being gross

I caught up with my good friend Danielle this weekend. Dani and I have a long history that began when she unexpectedly slid into my DMs in 2018 as an Instagrammer who felt some connection to what I shared. She asked me to visit her at the Eco Hostel she was working at in Hvar during my European holiday. Dani hates it when I share that story. What’s funnier than the fact she dropped into my DMs is the fact that I upended my holiday plans to make that trip to Hvar but ended up getting drunk in a Croatian wine tasting that consisted of no fewer than five full-sized wines and passed out the second I hit the aforementioned eco-village. (She thought I hated it.)

They should just call it a ‘wine drinking’.

Not long afterwards, we found ourselves back on the Gold Coast at the same time and had a catch-up over coffee. I don’t recall much of the conversation except that Dani’s enthusiastic career dreams lined up beautifully with what we were looking for at The Travel Bootcamp. We ended up hiring her as our first official team member. 

Dani and I don’t get the chance to catch up often. I live on the north side of the Gold Coast, and Dani lives on the south side. If you’re not from the Gold Coast, you probably don’t know that she may as well be on the other side of the Siberian desert for all that we northerners don’t often get down south and vice versa. 

(This is getting somewhere, I promise) 

We met up at the farmer’s markets for a stroll and chat. I had both kids, so it was the usual parent chat, snatched moments between the stories of a three-year-old, booger noses, wet nappies and ongoing demands.

I took some lovely pictures of Makia and Dani on Dani’s phone as mine was at home locked up in iPhone jail (more on that in a moment), and I asked her to send them to me on WhatsApp. Amongst the promised images was an unexpected voice note. An excerpt of the transcription follows:

Look at these cuties.

“You’ve had literally, probably the biggest impact on my life that anyone has ever had because I genuinely don’t know where I would be if I didn’t meet you … you were the person that told me it was okay not to settle … you were the one that said you can go and make your life what you want it to be. [That] You don’t need to do the done thing that everyone else does… You’re the reason I’m not wasting away in a cubicle somewhere because I would have probably settled for that.” 

I was taken aback. I hadn’t realised my impact, and I also didn’t think I had done anything special to be on the receiving end of such beautiful words. It caused me to pause and reflect. 

More than one person has shared something similar with me. If I’m completely honest, I’ve heard words to that effect a lot over my 12 years of Instagram, entrepreneurship and public life. But I never really believed them. Maybe because it was Dani, or because it was delivered via a voice note, or even that I’m in a weird season at the moment, but this time they landed. And they had me thinking about what I had done to have caused such an impact.

Here’s where I landed:

All I’ve done to truly impact others in my life has been to show up completely authentically and allow others to see me. Put another way, I’ve shown up in my truth and allowed others to bear witness to it.

Like the truth of what it’s really like to be a mum, the best and the worst moments of your life.

For all my events and programs and a foray into the world of coaching, the most impact I’ve had has been by being myself and sharing my journey. Through times of great success, through times of doubt, through the years that I didn’t know myself at all, and the process of finding out. 

Through having kids, surviving a pandemic, several business changes, cringeworthy marketing and a complete 360 back to where I began. That’s where I’ve created the most impact – without even trying.

Last week I sent out a free ebook to this list, mentioned I’d be writing more, and that I had one on purpose nearly done. I received many replies expressing interest in learning more about purpose and passion. This exchange with Dani has given me even greater insight to share here. (And in my ebook as I review and edit it). 

I didn’t wake up one day knowing my purpose. Or my passions, for that matter, and often our passions lead to our purpose. The first time I realised that I had a passion for something was when I bought my first camera and lost hours of my life exploring with it. I was 30. 

Through my camera, I felt drawn to travel. Through travelling, I started to pay attention to the world’s challenges. Through my awareness, I articulated my first purpose: “to inspire others to be better for the betterment of the planet”. That purpose helped to guide me and the choices I made in my career – starting an event, running tours to Zimbabwe, and becoming a coach during Covid.

Zimbabwean tour guide; much mature. Very professional.

These days my passions are writing and personal development (and my family and food, of course, my lifelong loves), and I’m sensing a new version of my purpose is emerging. It’s early days, but I know it’s some version of slowing the world down. It doesn’t make sense now, but it will. 

But what all of this has in common – passion and purpose – is that you will never find either if you don’t create space for them. Space is time, yes. But, more importantly, space is bandwidth. We, as a species, have fuck all mental bandwidth. And the reason for this is that capitalism has made our attention a valuable commodity, and everyone wants a piece of it! 

The makers of our mobile phones want our attention on our phones. The makers of social media platforms want our attention on our accounts. The makers of casinos and gaming machines want our attention on gambling. Junk food makers want us to eat and buy more of their crap. The makers of fucking everything you can buy want our eyeballs and our wallets to buy, buy, buy. 

The streaming services want us to watch tv, and it’s never been better. The online news wants to shock us senseless and keep us coming back for more. Our email accounts promise jolts of pleasure or adrenalin. It’s addictive.

Marketers, just about anyone, will use any tool, psychology, or tactic up their sleeve to get a piece of our attention – and it’s never been easier to cede. 

I’m addicted to my phone, although my addiction is better controlled than ever before. I overeat chocolate, especially peanut MM’s, of which I always keep a glass jar with a 1kg capacity in the cupboard. I check my emails compulsively and overbuy books, more than I can ever read. Those are my vices. And the thing that they all have in common is that they all trigger a dopamine response in me. Yep, it’s tangent time. You thought you were here for an uplifting story about inspiring others, but I have something else in-store today. It has to do with dopamine detoxing.

It’s not a problem; YOU’RE a problem. Haha.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter. Or you can think of it as a chemical. The body makes it and then uses it to send messages. Its main function is to reward you when you’re doing things that you need to do to survive. From an evolutionary standpoint, dopamine is released when you eat or procreate (have sex). Our brains are hard-wired to seek out behaviours that release dopamine into our system. 

Unfortunately, marketers have learned how to hack our body’s natural dopamine response. We now know that you can get a hit of dopamine from partaking in-

  • Eating sugar, 
  • Eating fast food,
  • Consuming and using social media, 
  • Consuming the news (online or otherwise),
  • Shopping,
  • Playing video games, 
  • Consuming alcohol and drugs, 
  • Watching television and,
  • Gambling 

Since dopamine is a reinforcement chemical, it helps us to remember and repeat pleasurable experiences. (Source Cleveland Clinic). But the more we partake, the harder it is to get the same amount of dopamine. It’s like smoking weed. The first time you ever smoke, it only takes a tiny amount to get stoned. Over time it takes more and more, and you never get remotely the same high. 

(Not that I endorse taking drugs, but in my misspent youth, I did partake in quite a lot of marijuana. The first time I got stoned, my whole mouth went numb and tingly, and I proclaimed to the room, “My nips are numb”- I meant to say lips. Much hilarity ensued, and needless to say; I never came close to that feeling again). 

What I’m getting at is that it’s difficult for us to find our passions or purpose because we often don’t know who we are. And the main reason for this is because we are so distracted all the time. And by far, one of the biggest reasons for our distraction, although not the only one, is the amount of tv, tech, social media, internet, sugar, shopping and drugs we consume. (Or insert your vice from the above list). So I’ve come to believe that minimising those activities can help to reset your system, which buys clarity and headspace. 

I’ve been experimenting with weekends without my iPhone (it goes into iPhone jail, as mentioned above) and television, sugar, alcohol or the internet. When I relieve the restrictions on Monday morning, I’m mindful of what behaviour I’m engaging in that will overstimulate my dopamine production. I’m only two weekends in, but I feel a renewed sense of clarity, purpose and focus, even above what I’ve accomplished by reducing my screen time and slowing down.

It’s jail for your iPhone. I got this off Amazon. It’s called a KSafe.

To bring all of these seemingly unrelated things together, I will share this: 

Showing up in the world with heart and authenticity and being unafraid to be messy, sloppy and weird is the one thing you can do to create a ripple effect in the world. Allowing others to see every side of you – the light and the dark, will help them to feel less alone. Living this way fosters connection and vulnerability – key ingredients for a well-lived life and a world with less pain and suffering. Connection and vulnerability breed compassion, empathy and a desire to be of service, which the human race desperately needs more of. We are more similar than we are different, which would be obvious if more people showed themselves, warts and all.

It’s the blue hat, IYKYK. P.S. The hat didn’t make the cut when we moved 🙁

If you don’t know how to show up unapologetically in the world, then it might be time to figure out who YOU are. What do you want? What are your unique gifts? What gives you joy? What makes you super weird? It takes more than a dopamine detox to find out, but a dopamine detox is a bloody good place to start. Slow down, settle your nervous system, and be with yourself. You are made of stardust and rainbows. You are beautiful, special, and unique amongst the mess and grossness that makes you human.

** Originally shared to my email database on the 5th of July, 2023 **

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Posted to Personal on 5th July 2023