Nine Ideas for Teaching Moderation to Our Students

By Tim Elmore


This is part two of a blog series that began last week by discussing the dopamine addiction felt by many students. To read the first blog in this series, click here


Last week, I wrote about the fact that we live in a generation that’s addicted to dopamine. We live in a society that loves to “binge” on things we like. These can be addictions to drugs or alcohol, but they can also be simple pleasures like Netflix, TikTok, or even junk food. They can stimulate us and even intoxicate us with artificial happiness on demand. We become slaves to our cravings. Truth be told, millions of us are undisciplined today because of the instant access, on-demand world in which we live. Kids have never known anything but this world. 


So, what do we do with this intoxication with dopamine?


Detox and Moderation

Dr. Anna Lembke recommends a dopamine detox. We can be addicted to dopamine squirts that we have created. A true dopamine detox is impossible because the brain continues to produce dopamine all the time. However, refraining from activities that stem from impulse and compulsion may prove beneficial for short periods of time. Dr. Lembke even talks about her own addiction to romance novels. She tried quitting for a month, then went back to reading them. A month wasn’t enough for her. She needed to fast from them for several months for her dopamine to not need a dose of the novels. This can be true of pornography, narcotics, alcohol, you name it. 


Even if you feel you’re not consuming something addictive, you can be addicted to the dopamine it fosters in your system. Our brains actually know how to create healthy levels—if we practice moderation. We must be disciplined and lead ourselves well. 


The key paradox? Do something you don’t like—and you’ll begin to like yourself more. 


What Do We Do?

Dr. Lembke calls this return to moderation self-binding techniques. People create both literal and cognitive barriers between our extreme pleasures and our consumption of them. For example, we can choose to not have the substance in the house, whether it’s cookies, or potato chips, or drugs or anything else. We might call this the limits of space. Some people establish such limits when they travel. They call ahead and ask the hotel to remove the mini bar from their room so they don’t have access to the alcohol or the snacks they are vulnerable to consuming. They also might put things in a kitchen safe and make sure they don’t know the combination; only their spouse does.


Here’s what our generation needs to understand. Our brains will naturally maintain a sense of happiness or contentment if we practice discipline and moderation. The brain will send whatever is missing and bring balance. When we work hard or exercise hard, it likely feels uncomfortable or even painful, so our brain sends dopamine into our system. We feel good after a hard workout or a long but productive workday. This is a natural way to feel pleasure. Let your brain do what it does naturally. Don’t inject artificial pleasures and binge on them. 


The key is to recover the power of managing ourselves through moderation.


Nine Ways to Naturally Enjoy Healthy Dopamine Levels:

  1. Identify where you overindulge in something. Write down your plan to avoid it.
  2. Get 7-8 hours of sleep at night to normalize dopamine levels. 
  3. Avoid junk food and maintain a healthy diet to increase dopamine levels.
  4. Exercise regularly to increase dopamine. (See paragraph below.)
  5. Spend time outside (for vitamin D) and decrease times when you are sedentary. 
  6. Meditation and prayer increase our abilities for discipline and mental strength. 
  7. Engage in healthy, pleasurable activities in moderation. (Give boundaries to yourself)
  8. Take magnesium to raise and balance dopamine levels.
  9. Invite accountability from someone who knows your goal of balance.  


Let’s double-click on two of these. First, exercise speeds up the process by which the brain’s dopamine receptors return to their normal state; once they’ve recovered, an addict is in a much better place to kick their habit because they can once again experience a “high” naturally and are no longer dependent on the substance for pleasure.


Second, there is power in moderation. Both Socrates and Hesiod taught “moderation is best in all things.” Two millenniums ago, the Apostle Paul taught: “Let your moderation be seen by all men” (Philippians 4:5). In each case, the Greek word for moderation meant to restrain our passions, general soberness of living, being free from all excesses. These statements challenge us to moderate our consumption and habits so that we can enjoy balance. In short, we must discipline ourselves so someone else doesn’t have to.


Some are catching on to this in their daily habits.


I’ve met teens who “fast” from social media for a while or at least curb their appetites for it. They are masters, not slaves to technology. The same can be done with Tik Tok or Netflix or any other platform. These platforms are designed to nudge us to binge or feed the dopamine squirts. They rob us of our balance. We must take back control of our lives from these thieves. 


“Dopamine fasting” has hit Silicon Valley, with some people striving to reset their dopamine levels by completely abstaining from anything that brings them pleasure: alcohol, smartphones, social media, Netflix, video games, delicious foods, sex, drugs, and eye contact in conversations.


This is what we call self-leadership. The first person I must learn to lead is me. It’s time we learn to lead ourselves before we try to lead anyone else.


As a kid, I remember gorging on cotton candy at an amusement park. I ate what my parents got me, then I finished my two sisters’ cotton candy as well. In the moment, I was as happy as a clam. Not long afterward, I regretted it. I paid a price for my cravings. This is how life works. Play now, pay later. Pay now, play later. I had to learn to curb my appetite for dopamine.  Let’s help our kids to do the same.


Nine Ideas for Teaching Moderation to Our Students