Why Some People Are More Successful Than Others — Part II
Sucess & Failure — The Dopamine & Serotonin Connection: How Brain Chemicals can determine success rates.
What does it mean to be successful in life?For some, it means having lots of money, fancy cars, and nice things. For others, it’s having a loving family they can spend every moment of their free time with. And still others, success means being respected and recognized as a knowledgeable person (“authority”) in their field.
As you can see, there’s not really one specific thing that defines success. It means different things to different people.
But, is there some commonality between all successful people?
Sure, they might not have the same idea of what success means, but do they all share a common set of traits that have helped them be successful?
Indeed there is, and it’s linked specifically to your neurochemistry.
We’ve previously discussed the importance of the neurotransmitter dopamine, and how it impacts your decision-making abilities, and ultimately your success.
Today, we’re going to look at another important neurotransmitter that’s closely linked to dopamine and is a key determinant of whether or not you experience success, or even have the confidence to chase success.
That neurochemical is serotonin, and we’ve got an in-depth look at how this happy hormone can skyrocket your path towards success.
Serotonin — More Than A Happy Hormone
For most of us, we think of serotonin as the key neurotransmitter associated with mood and sense of well-being. We’ve all been bombarded by enough antidepressant commercials over the years to be aware of the link between serotonin and happiness and how a lack of this vital neurotransmitter can lead to feelings of depression.
And while serotonin is a key regulator of mood, that’s not all the important neurotransmitter has to offer. It also impacts hunger, digestion, social behavior, and sexual desire, too.You see, serotonin isn’t just about how you feel or perceive things. It goes much deeper than that.
Rather than thinking of serotonin as a pure mood molecule, think of it more as the “confidence” or “Yes, I can” neurotransmitter. With higher levels of serotonin you feel safe and validated to act on your decisions and impulses.
You get a rush of serotonin when you feel that you (and your opinion) are respected. These feelings of confidence and safety give you more emotional strength and resilience. It enables you to easily push through the ups and downs of business. You feel more goal-oriented and better able to delegate to others.
As you can imagine, having these kind of positive emotions regularly can make a huge difference in the world of business.
Just imagine how much more successful you could be if you went into every meeting and daily decision with the confidence and determination that what you were about to do was the right thing and that it would be appreciated and respected by your co-workers, and more importantly, your boss.
….You would be unstoppable.
To look at it another way, dopamine is the neurotransmitter you get when you accomplish a goal. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that determines whether you have the gumption to even pursue that goal in the first place.
As you can see, serotonin not only plays an important role in success, it may be the pivotal player in whether or not you even attempt to be successful in the first place.
How Does Serotonin Affect Decision Making?
It has been theorized for sometime that serotonin played a pivotal role in decision-making and impulsivity, but how exactly it affects those two things was never clearly understood.
So, researchers from the University of Cambridge set out to determine exactly that. In a breakthrough 2008 study, the team of researchers demonstrated the role of serotonin in regulating emotion and aggression in decision making.
How did they do it?
By using an Ultimatum, of sorts.
Twenty adults, ages 20–35, took part in the study with a request to participate in a financial negotiation called the Ultimatum game. Prior to the negotiation, the 20 volunteers fasted overnight before consuming a protein-rich drink in the morning. Four hours after drinking the shake (to give it time to digest), volunteers then participated in the game.
This game has been used for decades by researchers studying economic behavior, and it involves one player proposing to split a sum of money with a partner. If the partner accepts, both players receive their agreed portions of the sum. However, if the partner rejects the offer, neither player gets any money.
Typically, when the game is played, participants tend to reject about half of all offers of less than 25% of the total prize money.
Now remember, for all intents and purposes, this is “free money”. Another person is simply asking them if they would a certain amount of a sum of money. However, the fact that the money is not evenly distributed between the two parties, most people will outright reject the offer, even though that means they receive nothing at all.
This is due to the fact that their anger at the perceived unfairness outweighs their desire for the prize money.
Now, here’s where things get interesting, and the role of serotonin becomes much clearer.
Remember how we said participants consumed a shake prior to the “negotiation”.
Well, all the volunteers played the game twice. One time they drank a protein shake that included tryptophan. The other time they played, the protein-rich drink was absent tryptophan.
Why is that important?
Tryptophan is the essential amino acid that serves as the precursor to serotonin.
Researchers documented that when participants drank the shake absent the tryptophan, the rate of decline on the “ultimatums” increased from approximately 50% to an astounding 80%!
The results of this study show that our decisions can be significantly impacted by our levels of serotonin, and may help explain why some people overreact or become angry when they perceive that they are being treated unfairly. Those with less serotonin were more offended by a less than fair offer, while those with higher levels of the neurotransmitter were more willing to take a less than 50% split of the money.
Upon seeing the results, researchers concluded:
“Temporarily lowering 5-HT levels increased retaliation to perceived unfairness without affecting mood, fairness judgments, basic reward processing or response inhibition.”
Essentially, what this study shows us, is that not only does our neurochemistry impact our perception and decision-making, but what we eat immediately prior to facing those decision-making scenarios also plays a significant role in the outcome.
With that in mind, let’s see some ways that we can increase the flow of serotonin
Hacking Serotonin for Success
Perhaps the easiest way to increase serotonin levels is simply by going outdoors. Research has clearly shown that exposure to bright light is associated with greater serotonin levels.[1,3]
If it’s that easy to get serotonin, why does it seem there’s a severe lack of serotonin these days?
Well, a lot of it has to do with the face that we spend way too much time indoors these days. In decades past, humans spent a lot of time outdoors and were exposed to substantially more sunlight.
These days, due to a mix of technology, work, commuting, and other things, we spend increasingly more time indoors and less time out in nature. Our only exposure to quasi-bright lights come from the LEDs and battery-powered mobile devices we spend all day viewing, which is in now way a replacement for good ole sunshine and nature.
To easily boost your serotonin levels, mood, and decision-making, seek out bright light by:
- Spending time everyday outdoors
- When you are indoors, saddle up next to the large windows and embrace the sunlight
- Live in sunnier locations (in the winter numerous people who live in northern areas suffer from “seasonal affective disorder”, which may be due to a lack of sunshine)
- Use bright lights at work and home, just make sure to turn them off at night, lest they ruin your melatonin production and impair your night’s sleep)
Much like dopamine, science has uncovered a clear link between exercise and serotonin. Those who exercise regularly tend to experience significantly lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.[4,6]
This really comes as no surprise, as we can all relate to the improved sense of self and accomplishment we feel whenever we’ve completed a hard workout.
The problem is, much like with our previous point, is that people don’t exercise nearly as much as they did years ago. In decades past, before the conveniences of Netflix, Amazon Prime, and others, we actually had to go out and do things with our bodies. We walked through stores, climbed stairs, and played sports outside.
Nowadays, it’s more common to hear people talking about the latest viral video on social media rather than the fun they had playing a game of pick up basketball with their kids.
In other words, our serotonin levels are abnormally low because we’re not physically active enough. Do something every day, and preferably, do it OUTSIDE.
Exercise doesn’t have to be just lifting weights or running on a treadmill. It can be playing a round of golf, going for a hike, or just tossing a football in the yard. Whatever form of activity you enjoy, just DO IT!
Think back to a time when some asked you for advice or turned to you in a time of need. Notice how you are filled with a sense of happiness and satisfaction?
Those feelings of happiness and assuredness are serotonin at work.
And you know what’s really cool about what you just did?
All you had to do was think about something positive in your life, and a flood of feel-good serotonin ensued. Kids experience a flood of serotonin simply by imagining they’re a superhero or envisioning what they will be when they grow up.
The human mind is a pretty incredible thing, and simply by thinking of a time when you were looked at as the authority, you increased serotonin levels. Research even backs this up too, as a 2007 study found that positive and negative thinking had significant effects on serotonin levels in the brain.
Now keep in mind, this is a double-edged sword. Positive thinking can lead to a positive mood, but negative thoughts can lead you into a downward spiral of despair.
So, embrace the power of positive thinking, and it will translate to better mood, better decision-making, and a better quality of life all around.
If you struggle to think positively, structure your environment to be a reminder of past accomplishments. Hang up photos of family and friends, an award you got for a job well done, or even your college diploma.
Use these symbols as a launching pad for serotonin and set the stage for success. Once you get the snowball of serotonin rolling, keep it going and let it blossom. Success builds more success.
As you saw from the Ultimatum Game research we discussed above, diet can play a pivotal role in your serotonin levels, and ultimately your decision-making and success. The key amino acid when we’re talking about serotonin is tryptophan.
It’s an essential amino acid, which means our bodies cannot produce it inherently and must obtain it from food. Fortunately, there’s a number of common foods that are naturally abundant in this important amino acid, including:
- Cheddar and Parmesan cheese
If you’re not getting enough tryptophan in your diet, your body cannot make serotonin. It’s as simple as that.
Not only will you struggle with decision-making (and as a result, success), you will also struggle to find happiness and self-confidence.
Luckily, tryptophan is readily available in a number of foods. All you need to do is tweak your diet to incorporate more of these foods.
The great thing about science these days, is that they have uncovered all sorts of naturally occurring compounds that enhance our function and quality of life. Chief among these are nootropics, which offer a way for us to safely and naturally hack our own neurochemistry.
With regard to serotonin, there’s no better nootropic than Bacopa Monnieri. This centuries-old adaptogen has been a stalwart for stomping out stress, but research has also discovered that the old world herb is an effective elevator of serotonin in the body.
Due to Bacopa's ability to help reduces stress and improve serotonin levels, we’ve included it in AZOTH 2.0. So, not only are you getting the clean, long-lasting energy you need to dominate the day, you’ve also got a boost in serotonin for those all-too-important decisions that can be the determining factor in whether or not today is a success.
As we explained with dopamine, serotonin too plays a key role in our ability to make sound decisions that ultimately dictate our success in life.
However, serotonin is in short supply these days due to our propensity to be indoors and sedentary, while also being bombarded by negativity on TV and social media. Add to that the typical nutrient-poor standard American diet, and you’ve got the perfect prescription for poor serotonin levels.
Well enough is enough. Gone are the days of a lackluster life, suppressed serotonin, and fleeting success!
We’ve given you all the hacks you need to take back control of your serotonin and experience success again and again. All you need to do is put the pointers to use and Get Sh*t Done.
And if you need a little extra help getting to work, there’s always AZOTH 2.0 for adding energy, focus, and serotonin!
Originally authored by Robert Schinetsky @ www.GetAZOTH.com
- Crockett MJ, Clark L, Tabibnia G, Lieberman MD, Robbins TW. Serotonin modulates behavioral reactions to unfairness. Science (New York, NY). 2008;320(5884):1739. doi:10.1126/science.1155577.
- Lambert, G. W., Reid, C., Kaye, D. M., Jennings, G. L., & Esler, M. D. (2002). Effect of sunlight and season on serotonin turnover in the brain. Lancet (London, England), 360(9348), 1840–1842.
- Perreau-Linck E, Beauregard M, Gravel P, et al. In vivo measurements of brain trapping of 11C-labelled α-methyl-L-tryptophan during acute changes in mood states. Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience : JPN. 2007;32(6):430–434.
- Young SN. How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience : JPN. 2007;32(6):394–399.
- Siegel, J. Z., & Crockett, M. J. (2013). How serotonin shapes moral judgment and behavior. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1299, 42–51. https://doi.org/10.1111/nyas.12229
- Salmon, P. (2001). Effects of physical exercise on anxiety, depression, and sensitivity to stress: a unifying theory. Clinical Psychology Review, 21(1), 33–61.
- Young SN, Gauthier S. Effect of tryptophan administration on tryptophan, 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid and indoleacetic acid in human lumbar and cisternal cerebrospinal fluid. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry. 1981;44(4):323–328.
- Chen, Q. G., Zeng, Y. S., Qu, Z. Q., Tang, J. Y., Qin, Y. J., Chung, P., … Hagg, U. (2009). The effects of Rhodiola rosea extract on 5-HT level, cell proliferation and quantity of neurons at cerebral hippocampus of depressive rats. Phytomedicine : International Journal of Phytotherapy and Phytopharmacology, 16(9), 830–838. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.phymed.2009.03.011
Why Some People Are More Successful Than Others — Part II was originally published in AZOTH on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.