The DOSE Continues...
Over the last two weeks, we've looked at how a bunch of chemicals in our brain, including dopamine and oxytocin, affect our health, and we've used the CrossFit scene to describe an environment that helps promote the natural production of life-giving brain drugs.
This is part of our exploration of four chemicals that are vital to our mental fitness and overall wellbeing:
This week, we're looking at the third on this list, and while the balance and harmony of our body and brain chemistry is important, if I was going to call any chemical the most important, it would be serotonin.
How Important Is Serotonin?
I don't know. I can't answer that for you. But I did answer it for myself...
So Brendan, is sleep important for you?
Maybe not; for the longest time, I decided that I could sleep when I'm dead.
What about your memory?
These days, that's all getting outsourced to my phone and my partner (in no particular order).
Your mood? Your mental health?
Well, I didn't like depression; it would be nice to feel good...
What about your sex drive?
Okay, I'm listening.
Doctors use serotonin to treat depression, regulate sleep, and elevate mood. Once those are in check, you get improved appetite, memory, sex drive and cognition. That's a lot of value in one little neurotransmitter!
Oh, and by the way, most of the serotonin in your body is used in your gut for digestive purposes. Watch this short video to learn a little more about just how important your gut health is to your wellbeing.
Long story short - serotonin looks like the bees' knees. But that's not the whole story...
Too Much of a Good Thing
To me, it's unthinkable that you could have too much of something that helps regulate your sex drive. This is why I read other people's research.
Social phobias and social anxiety disorder in some people may be caused by too much natural production of serotonin. The researchers behind that link found that the people in their study had overactive serotonin pathways in their brain, and the amygdala recognises social threats more easily.
What have we learned? The research behind social phobia seems to indicate that serotonin production amplifies social awareness.
So the trick is to find a place where you feel valued for who you are, and you know that people are proud of you. Then you would get the elevated mood that boosts serotonin production, and the positive feedback required to make it work for you rather than against you.
Praising the Finish, and Rewarding the Contribution
What matters at every CrossFit gym I've visited is not the person who finishes the workout first. The coaches don't focus on that member; she's a beast, and she's getting her kick out of praising the person who comes second, third, fourth, etc.
The best coaches and cultures focus on the athletes who finish the workout last.
Everyone's been there: finishing last means you have to keep going while everyone's resting. In my case, the workouts that I've finished last in are the ones I've worked the hardest at, because they involve stuff I can't do.
I wouldn't even attempt those kinds of workouts on my own, let alone finish them. Yet when I train at any box, I know I can get through it because I have a whole group of people in my corner who:
- Support me no matter what
- Do not judge me on my ability, but praise my effort
- Value the support I give to them
Here is what it looks like at an elite level:
Equally important is that we get to contribute to a culture. Visit a regular gym, and they have their music, their decoration, their way of doing things. Our gym owners create workouts and hire people who can make us fitter than we ever have been. That's what we pay them for.
But as members, our contribution to the culture is not constrained or controlled; it is praised, encouraged and sought after. That collage of awesome images? That's from one of our members. This website and the courses that I offer? The pilot programs ran at CrossFit CBD during the 2017 Open.
Other people have started relationships, marriages and businesses as a result of joining our community, a small rooftop gym that never has more than 100 members at a time. Coaches have confided in me that they had a fear of public speaking when they were just starting to coach, but they did it anyway, and they do a great job.
We're making our worlds a better place, and we're contributing more to the world at large, because we've got an environment that rewards our contribution and accepts us for who we are. With that kind of culture, social anxiety doesn't last long.
Bring A Little Trust Into Your World
Serotonin is what makes us responsive to praise, reward, recognition and social status. These are all products of our environment, and the way to get it is to create an environment of trust - it's a feedback loop of incredible power.
If you manage a team or an organisation, and you want people who bring their full arsenal of loyalty, creativity and effort to the group, then build a culture of trust. Recognise and welcome the contributions of others, and praise contributions immediately. Critical feedback should be purposeful, optimistic, and private.
(For all you business types, read Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek. He goes deep into this concept.)
In your private life, thank your partner for the little things that they don't even know they do. Let them know how much it matters to you that they listen and care. Understand that the people you surround yourself with need you as much as you need them.
Talk to the best version of the people around you and you'll be surprised how often that version emerges. Here's a great way to do it:
There's a big part of us that wants to feel good about contributing to our community, relationships, workplace and society, and that if we are recognised for our contribution and praised for our collaboration, we will want to do more.
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