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What's a Dopamine Menu and How Can It Help Me with Motivation?

How often have I found myself in this trance? Aimlessly wandering through the house with a restless lack of direction, motivation, and a daunting sense of uncertainty about how to break free from this stalled out inertia. Luckily, I’ve been hit with a BRAIN BOLT that once again reminds me of the trusty tool that has rescued me time and time again from this restless state. 


Out of the desk drawer and into the light, I unearthed my once-forgotten but still perfectly serviceable "dopamine menu". Its novel, yet familiar presence was just the guidance I needed to pinpoint activities that could infuse my brain with some MUCH-needed dopamine, providing the energetic *spark* necessary to tackle the day of pending tasks.


In the whirlwind of our fast-paced world, where distractions abound and demand after demand looms, creating and sustaining focus and motivation is a very real challenge, especially for folx with ADHD. 


Cut to our shining “dopamine menu” - a dynamic visual tool crafted to help us low-dopamine-folk identify and immerse ourselves in activities that elevate dopamine levels, setting off a cascade effect in the brain's reward center.


So What Exactly is a Dopamine Menu?

Dopamine, a neurotransmitter crucial for motivation and focus, is often deficient in the brains of ADHDers. The purpose of the dopamine menu is to make it easier to engage in dopamine stimulating activities whenever more dopamine is needed. 


The dopamine menu (or "dopamenu") is a visual guide that categorizes various dopamine stimulating activities into appetizers, entrees, and desserts, mirroring a restaurant menu. These activities range from small, easily accessible options to more significant, higher-effort endeavors.


The dopamine menu has evolved into a highly-talked-about tool within the ADHD community over the years. It is dynamic and useful because it defies a rigid, "one size fits all" structure - it’s versatile and can accommodate diverse formats and needs. 


Drawing upon years of experience and continuous refinement as life ebbs and flows, I’m happy to share a version of the tool that has consistently proven most effective for myself, my audience, and our clients at Wise Heart Nutrition. 


Although the menu itself doesn't provide dopamine directly, it does more easefully guide individuals toward activities that can stimulate the release of this oh-so-desireable neurotransmitter.

The Dopamine Menu: Tools and Examples 


Small, low-effort activities 

Quick, easy, and immediately available

 Examples: Shaking your body for 30 seconds, splashing your face with cold water, listening to an energizing song, name one thing you are proud of today, eating a piece of chocolate or something crunchy, laughing, petting an animal, crossing a simple task off your list, or receiving a hug. 



Moderate-effort activities

Possibly time-intensive, may require specific tools or environment

Examples: 10+ minutes of higher intensity movement, FaceTime-ing a friend, doing arts and crafts, taking a hot shower, write down 3 things you are grateful for, practicing a 5 minute mindfulness meditation, putting together and eating a simple lunch, crossing a moderate task off your to-do list, or playing with a pet.



Higher-effort, more time-intensive activities

Likely require specific tools or environment

Examples: Getting a massage, facial, or pedicure, trying out a new activity or hobby, going out dancing with friends, cooking and sharing a meal, attending a workout class or going on a hike, taking a pet to the dog-park, or enjoying a comedy show.



Decision fatigue is so real! The overwhelm of having to think of a dopamine activity in the moment can be a major barrier to doing anything and all, and often ends up with avoidance and stuckness. Having this handy menu simplifies decision-making by offering a range of pre-identified dopamine stimulating activity options. Starting with an appetizer, a quick and easy activity, can initiate a positive feedback loop, leading to increased motivation for either 1) more significant tasks, or 2) higher level dopamine activities. The spiraling-up effect generated by these small boosts of dopamine facilitates engagement in activities that release even greater amounts of the neurotransmitter.



Creating a dopamine menu involves personalizing the list based on individual preferences, and including a range of options that can be accessed at different energy levels, in various mood states, and across the range of low to high motivation. 

Some helpful questions to ask yourself  to create your own tasty dopamine menu:  

  • If I had 10 extra minutes every day to do something special / just for me, what would I do with that time? 
  • What makes me laugh? Smile? Light up?
  • When do I feel the most energized? What am I doing before or during those moments?
  • Is there an easier, less complicated, lower hanging-fruit option that can achieve the same thing?
    • (Ex: If your entree option is “go to an aqua workout class at the pool”, could an appetizer option be “get up from my desk and move my body in some way for 5 minutes”?)



As ADHD individuals, we thrive on variety and novelty, requiring a toolbox of strategies to choose from. A tool that appears ineffective today may prove invaluable in the future. And, just because it works today, doesn’t mean it will be helpful tomorrow (which also doesn’t mean it won’t ever be helpful again). The easier it is to access and utilize, the more helpful it will be!


The dopamine menu is a practical and creative approach to navigating some of the challenges of motivation and focus that come with an ADHD brain. It is a tool that works with ADHD specific experiences, like dopamine seeking, the need for novelty, decision fatigue, overwhelm, low motivation, etc., and creates empowerment for individuals to care for their mental, emotional, and physical well-being, one appetizer, entree, or dessert at a time.


And if you’re looking for more tools to fill up your dopamine menu and community to support in extra accountability, look no further than our Neurished Monthly Membership!

We have an incredible community of non-diet ADHDers who are all working on healing their relationship with food, and creating neurodivergent friendly tools and systems for nourishing their brains! 



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