Four chemicals that control your brain

Simon Sinek is a best selling author who has written multiple books and is a trained ethnographer (a person who studies and describes the culture of a particular society or group).

I had come across an interesting video where he breaks down the importance of four chemicals present in our brain that basically decides how we function and behave.

This is an excerpt from his bestselling book ‘Why Leaders Eat Last’.


Both Endorphins and Dopamine are selfish chemicals. They function within our brains in isolation.

Let’s start with Endorphins.

The job of Endorphins is to mask your pain.

Imagine going on a run through a complex mountain trail.

You’re puffing and panting and your muscles have become sore. But, you will not have any sensation whatsoever at that very moment. In fact, after you complete your run you will have a sense of accomplishment, ‘A Runner’s high’ as they call it.

Endorphins do an important job of masking your pain and it is only later in the day, you feel the soreness in your muscles or pain in your body after the Endorphins has receded.


Dopamine is a feel good hormone.

The maximum release of Dopamine is often associated with Alcohol, Nicotine, Gambling and nowadays to the use of mobile phones.

Dopamine helps you get stuff done. It is often dangerous and destructive when it is unbalanced.

Simon compares the mobile phone addiction to Alcoholism with a scary analogy.

“It is said that if you crave for a drink as the first thing when you wake up, you might be an Alcoholic.

If you have the tendency to check your phone as soon as you wake up, you might be an Addict.”

In the USA, there has been a lot of diagnosis amongst teens and kids around ADD and ADHD. Both of these issues are a frontal lobe problem related to the brain.

Simon argues that this is a case of gross misdiagnosis. It has got more to do with distraction and not necessarily an issue of the brain.

The other argument against this is that one is good at multi-tasking. To this, Simon argues that if that is the case then,

“Why do you crash your cars while you’re texting?”

Dopamine gives you the instant rush of satisfaction. The high that you get when you complete a task or strike-off something from your to-do list.

Something that looks like this –


Serotonin and Oxytocin is what makes us, human beings great.

Serotonin is what gives us a feeling of pride, a sense of belonging. Think of the Oscars or the Commencement speech at the graduation ceremony.

Simon states, all you had to do was pay your tuition, get your credits and walk home with a pdf of your degree.

But what gives you a sense of fulfilment, a sense of achievement is when you stand up on the podium and have your parents in the crowd see you get that degree. Seratonin is all around everywhere.

Great teams do not win the trophy for themselves, they win it for their coach. That is the beauty of Serotonin.


When a child is born, the mother has the highest amount of Oxytocin in the system.

Oxytocin gives an immense sense of pleasure.

Hugs, high-fives, spending time with loved ones or friends – all release oxytocin that make you feel good.

Oxytocin reaches the maximum level when you do nice things for people when they do not expect it at all. For instance, writing a nice handwritten thank – you note instead of sending an e-mail.

How important is Oxytocin?

Well, in the twelve stage program of ‘Alcoholic Anonymous’ AA where people sign up to get rid of an alcohol addiction, the last stage is often considered the make or break moment for creating an impact.

The last stage of AA involves taking care of another person to make him go through the twelve stages.

This step, right here is what makes Oxytocin an effective catalyst in concluding AA.

Cortisol – The anti-hormone

Cortisol is a stress hormone and is opposite to Oxytocin.

Cortisol is the first step at making fight / flight decisions. It helps us keep alive and ends up increasing our heart rate when we sense danger.

So what do Leaders do?

Sinek breaks down all the chemicals to conclude what defines an effective leader.

An effective leader makes sure that the employees strive to work within the Circle of Safety.

This circle of safety is where organizations thrive. They give their employees a sense of belonging and make them feel like an intrinsic part of the Company.

Effective leaders simulate Seratonin and Oxytocin to make sure people have dopamine released in their systems at regular intervals.

By doing this, they have effectively made the circle of safety bigger and safer thereby making employees feel safe and take effective decisions.

Simon concludes by stating that Leadership is not a rank or a position. It is a choice.

“If you just look out for the person who is either on your left or right, you have become a leader.”

It is the shield that matters and not the sphere.

The hour long video can be accessed here. Although, I have not read his book, you can check it out here – ‘Why Leaders Eat Last’.

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Abhishek Gupta

Well written Saket! (Here is some Oxytocin generation)

Thank you, Abhishek! Well, I will have to send you my mailing address.

The Leader

Good one Saket! Learnt something new

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