The Treats that Train Us: Our Home-Grown Opiates
By training ourselves to release neuroenhancers we not only reward the things we do but also, we can reward our natural healing. A long list of neuro-peptides (small chains of amino acids) have been shown to be routinely manufactured and released in the brain to in response to a wide range of behaviors. So many behaviors are linked to the release of so many (80+) of these “endogenous neuroenhancers” that we appear to be rewarding ourselves for most of what we do. We condition ourselves to biochemically anticipate certain things, and pre-reward ourselves with natural “neuroenhancers,” well before we’re finished the job. These home-grown opiates are the treats that we use to train and motivate ourselves for prolonged daily tasks that just need to get done.
Natural neuropeptides include several opiate-like compounds and cholecystokinin (CCK) that reduce pain, enkephalins and endorphins to produce pleasure, and ACTH-like peptides that enhance learning and memory. We release these compounds discriminately, in addition to the neurotransmitter dopamine, in expectation of things we like to do as a way to ensure completion.
So exacting and all-encompassing is subconscious expectation physiology that the mind can even power the body into mimicking the full-blown conditions of pregnancy. In 1554, the court doctor for the daughter of Henry VIII, Queen Mary I Tudor, diagnosed the first of her two false or “phantom pregnancys” (pseudocyeses). Twice, the 38-year-old Queen’s strong will to produce an heir had produced melon-sized abdomens along with complete symptoms of pregnancy – without a baby. In 2014, a woman in Canada was reported to have a phantom pregnancy involving four such growths in her abdomen: she believed she was having quintuplets. Basketball players can enlist a process called “constructive visualization.” By training themselves to imagine their free throws going through the hoop, hearing an imaginary swish, and watching an imaginary scoreboard register the point they improve their shooting percentage.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
William Henley, Invictus