We explore how a dopamine menu could help give you the boost you need to get things done
Dopamine. It’s a wonderful thing – a neurotransmitter that helps us feel pleasure, keeps us focused and supports motivation. But what happens if dopamine doesn’t work as it should in our body?
There can be a number of reasons for this happening, including depression and ADHD. According to research, those with ADHD make less dopamine and the dopamine they do make has less of an effect. This can lead to scattered focus as you may feel less interested in tasks thanks to your brain’s reward system being out of kilter.
Whether you have ADHD, depression or simply notice that you’re struggling with motivation and focus, a tool that could help is a dopamenu – or dopamine menu.
Popularised by Jessica McCabe of How to ADHD and Eric Tivers of ADHD reWired, the dopamenu is a list of activities that can help you get a dose of dopamine when you need it. The theory behind it is that by giving yourself a natural dopamine boost when you feel yourself procrastinating, you’ll feel inspired, re-energised and more ready to take on whatever task needs doing.
Making it a little more fun, this menu can be categorised into sections such as starters, mains, sides, desserts and specials.
How to make a dopamenu
Start by making a big list of all the different activities you could do that make you smile. Remember to think big and small here, what are some quick wins to feel more energised? What are some more time-intensive activities?
Next, use the following menu structure to categorise your tasks. Here are some ideas.
Starters: Activities in this section will be quick things that offer a burst of happiness. Some ideas are sitting in the sun, having your favourite hot drink, listening to an uplifting song or a quick dance-it-out moment.
Mains: These activities typically take more time than starter activities, but are things you can manage day-to-day. Examples include going for a walk/exercising, eating your favourite meal, having a bath or spending time with a pet.
Sides: Side activities are small things you can do to enhance your other activities. For example, a side could be listening to music whilst going for a walk, lighting a candle while reading or chatting to a friend while having a coffee/tea.
Desserts: Who doesn’t love a dessert? These activities can include some favourite go-tos that get the job done but may not totally satisfy you or feel good when you over-indulge. These may include things like scrolling social media, binge-watching trash TV or having a glass or two of wine.
Specials: This section is for dopamine hits that take a little more time/effort/money to arrange and therefore can’t happen super regularly. Things like dinner out, a weekend away, a spa day or even a holiday.
The suggestions shared here are just that, suggestions. What will make your dopamenu most effective is having it personalised to you, so be sure to focus on what brings you joy.
Once you have your list, write it down and keep it somewhere you’ll have access to. A lot of people find it handy to have it on their phone so they can pull it up wherever they are.
As a bonus tip, see if you can prep your ‘ingredients’. This means making sure as little effort as possible is required to enjoy your activities. Have your tea/coffee-making bits visible in the kitchen, keep your book by the sofa, get the actual ingredients in for your favourite meal – you get the idea.
At the time of publishing, it’s important to note that the UK is experiencing a shortage of ADHD medication, meaning thousands of people aren’t getting the medical support they need. According to the Department of Health and Social Care, the issue is due to be resolved between October and December, but for the 200,000+ people affected, this offers little comfort.
If you are looking for help at this time, there are counsellors who specialise in ADHD, providing emotional support and ADHD coaches who can offer accountability and guidance. Use our search tool to find support.