The Learning Journey, Part II: The Dopamine Effect


Video killed the radio star – The Buggles, 1980.

Do you remember books? Yeah, those objects that you´d use to carry on your bag and that have been pushed aside by the video course frenzy – and the Internet. And I get it; video courses could be a fast and cheap way to gather information, and some of them are really good.

It seems that video killed the book too.

But there is more than meets the eye, though, so I can’t stress enough the value of books as a source of learning; in fact, and I have been sharing online many of the books I use daily.

Let’s go deeper and find out what’s going on 🙂

The Book Way

Learning through books takes a much bigger effort than watching a video, the same thing that is reading a book or watching the movie adaptation. But in exchange, you’d get a richer non-linear interactive experience, powered by your mind in a big way and keeping much more focused on one task. The complex ideas that you can handle while reading a book are, in many ways, astonishing.

When you are watching a video, a very passive activity, the chances to be distracted with other things and multitask grow exponentially, opening other tabs, reading emails, watching other videos, the notifications … the list has no end. After all, we are getting used to multitasking; that´s the Internet way.

Image taken by the author

That’s not a bad thing, but it comes with a hefty price to pay, loss of focus because of the constant distraction, and obviously, that leads to a loss of productivity in any endeavour that you are pursuing.

That could become a serious problem because, over time, our brain gets used to it as the normal way to function, rewarding the multitasking way and penalizing the single task way of working. We´d become naturally distracted.

Ask yourself the last time you watched a movie, from start to end, without checking the email or the notifications? Do you get bored reading a book? You´d rather go back to watch videos or checking social media?

Well, that’s the dopamine talking.

Shots of dopamine

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that motivates us to do things through instant gratification because it affects our rewards and pleasure centre. When the brain anticipates that we will do something that gives us pleasure, it releases a certain amount, which depends on the task in question. Eating chocolate, watching a video, or playing a video game, releases a huge amount of it, taking in exchange a small amount of energy. For instance, in the case of video games, the brain could generate a constant supply of dopamine, as chances are we will find new and exciting patterns in the game; novelty generates a lot of dopamine.

Dopamine´s good, and we need it for survival. Still, the problem comes with the artificial release of it, through low-value activities, as dozen hours expended on the Internet – nothing wrong, if done with moderation. As you’d have guessed by now, dopamine generates addiction that could lead to loss of focus, concentration, and loss of time and productivity.


That´s the reason that you are not reading that many books anymore. It still generates dopamine, but just a small amount over time, naturally and healthily. Also, it requires you a lot of energy and attention, leading you to deeper thinking. Your brain improves as a result.

A similar thing that eating an apple or eating a doughnut. A quick shot of refined sugar or a release of natural sugar over time. Guess which one liberates more dopamine.

It´s easy to get addicted to checking social media, playing video games or streaming, but not that easy to become a book addict. That can be a problem because it grows over time as our brain adapts to the new way of learning through dopamine. Your brain is demanding more and more, and you´d give it through automatic behaviour – like checking constantly social media, looking for new and exciting interactions.

I’m not surprised to see so many people with such a lower threshold of frustration these days. They want all the answers right away. No delay. No frustration. No struggle.

They want their dopamine shot.

The Learning Journey: dopamine fast

If you feel your brain is hungry for dopamine, and you can’t concentrate as you used to, or you haven’t read a book for ages, you should consider doing dopamine fast. One way to start is spending one day a week without distractions: no social media, no mobile phone, no movies, no video games … you´d get the idea. Instead, read a book, go for a walk, do exercise, write, paint etc … just analogue stuff. You will feel better over time like any addiction takes time to get rid of it.

My suggestion is to use video courses – videos in general – as a complement of your main learning, which should be a mix of books, documentation, posts, exercises, tests and practical projects. Watch only a few videos per session – short ones are preferred – take written notes and put them into practice.

Public Domain Picture

Transform a passive activity into an active one, and keep the healthy dopamine flowing 🙂