Taking Charge of Your Health

When I was first learning to meditate, the instruction was to simply
pay attention to my breath, and when my mind wandered,
to bring it back. Sounded simple enough. Yet I’d sit on these silent retreats, sweating through T-shirts
in the middle of winter. I’d take naps every chance I got
because it was really hard work. Actually, it was exhausting. The instruction was simple enough but I was missing something
really important. So why is it so hard to pay attention? Well, studies show that even when we’re really
trying to pay attention to something — like maybe this talk — at some point, about half of us
will drift off into a daydream, or have this urge
to check our Twitter feed. So what’s going on here? It turns out that we’re fighting one
of the most evolutionarily-conserved learning processes
currently known in science, one that’s conserved back to the most basic
nervous systems known to man. This reward-based learning process is called positive
and negative reinforcement, and basically goes like this. We see some food that looks good, our brain says, “Calories! … Survival!” We eat the food, we taste it — it tastes good. And especially with sugar, our bodies send a signal
to our brain that says, “Remember what you’re eating
and where you found it.” We lay down this context-dependent memory and learn to repeat the process next time. See food, eat food, feel good, repeat. Trigger, behavior, reward. Simple, right? Well, after a while,
our creative brains say, “You know what? You can use this for more
than just remembering where food is. You know, next time you feel bad, why don’t you try eating
something good so you’ll feel better?” We thank our brains for the great idea, try this and quickly learn that if we eat chocolate or ice cream
when we’re mad or sad, we feel better. Same process, just a different trigger. Instead of this hunger signal
coming from our stomach, this emotional signal — feeling sad — triggers that urge to eat. Maybe in our teenage years, we were a nerd at school, and we see those rebel kids
outside smoking and we think, “Hey, I want to be cool.” So we start smoking. The Marlboro Man wasn’t a dork,
and that was no accident. See cool, smoke to be cool, feel good. Repeat. Trigger, behavior, reward. And each time we do this, we learn to repeat the process and it becomes a habit. So later, feeling stressed out triggers
that urge to smoke a cigarette or to eat something sweet. Now, with these same brain processes, we’ve gone from learning to survive to literally killing ourselves
with these habits. Obesity and smoking are among the leading preventable causes
of morbidity and mortality in the world. So back to my breath. What if instead of fighting our brains, or trying to force ourselves
to pay attention, we instead tapped into this natural,
reward-based learning process … but added a twist? What if instead we just got really curious about what was happening
in our momentary experience? I’ll give you an example. In my lab, we studied whether mindfulness training
could help people quit smoking. Now, just like trying to force myself
to pay attention to my breath, they could try to force
themselves to quit smoking. And the majority of them
had tried this before and failed — on average, six times. Now, with mindfulness training, we dropped the bit about forcing
and instead focused on being curious. In fact, we even told them to smoke. What? Yeah, we said, “Go ahead and smoke, just be really curious
about what it’s like when you do.” And what did they notice? Well here’s an example
from one of our smokers. She said, “Mindful smoking: smells like stinky cheese and tastes like chemicals, YUCK!” Now, she knew, cognitively
that smoking was bad for her, that’s why she joined our program. What she discovered just by being
curiously aware when she smoked was that smoking tastes like shit. (Laughter) Now, she moved from knowledge to wisdom. She moved from knowing in her head
that smoking was bad for her to knowing it in her bones, and the spell of smoking was broken. She started to become
disenchanted with her behavior. Now, the prefrontal cortex, that youngest part of our brain
from an evolutionary perspective, it understands on an intellectual level
that we shouldn’t smoke. And it tries its hardest
to help us change our behavior, to help us stop smoking, to help us stop eating that second,
that third, that fourth cookie. We call this cognitive control. We’re using cognition
to control our behavior. Unfortunately, this is also the first part of our brain that goes offline
when we get stressed out, which isn’t that helpful. Now, we can all relate to this
in our own experience. We’re much more likely to do things
like yell at our spouse or kids when we’re stressed out or tired, even though we know
it’s not going to be helpful. We just can’t help ourselves. When the prefrontal cortex goes offline, we fall back into our old habits, which is why this disenchantment
is so important. Seeing what we get from our habits helps us understand them
at a deeper level — to know it in our bones so we don’t have to force
ourselves to hold back or restrain ourselves from behavior. We’re just less interested
in doing it in the first place. And this is what mindfulness is all about: Seeing really clearly what we get
when we get caught up in our behaviors, becoming disenchanted on a visceral level and from this disenchanted stance,
naturally letting go. This isn’t to say that, poof,
magically we quit smoking. But over time, as we learn
to see more and more clearly the results of our actions, we let go of old habits and form new ones. The paradox here is that mindfulness is just
about being really interested in getting close and personal with what’s actually happening
in our bodies and minds from moment to moment. This willingness
to turn toward our experience rather than trying to make unpleasant
cravings go away as quickly as possible. And this willingness
to turn toward our experience is supported by curiosity, which is naturally rewarding. What does curiosity feel like? It feels good. And what happens when we get curious? We start to notice that cravings
are simply made up of body sensations — oh, there’s tightness, there’s tension, there’s restlessness — and that these body
sensations come and go. These are bite-size pieces of experiences that we can manage from moment to moment rather than getting clobbered
by this huge, scary craving that we choke on. In other words, when we get curious, we step out of our old,
fear-based, reactive habit patterns, and we step into being. We become this inner scientist where we’re eagerly awaiting
that next data point. Now, this might sound
too simplistic to affect behavior. But in one study,
we found that mindfulness training was twice as good as gold standard therapy
at helping people quit smoking. So it actually works. And when we studied
the brains of experienced meditators, we found that parts of a neural network
of self-referential processing called the default mode network were at play. Now, one current hypothesis
is that a region of this network, called the posterior cingulate cortex, is activated not necessarily
by craving itself but when we get caught up in it,
when we get sucked in, and it takes us for a ride. In contrast, when we let go — step out of the process just by being curiously aware
of what’s happening — this same brain region quiets down. Now we’re testing app and online-based
mindfulness training programs that target these core mechanisms and, ironically, use the same technology
that’s driving us to distraction to help us step out
of our unhealthy habit patterns of smoking, of stress eating
and other addictive behaviors. Now, remember that bit
about context-dependent memory? We can deliver these tools
to peoples’ fingertips in the contexts that matter most. So we can help them tap into their inherent capacity
to be curiously aware right when that urge to smoke
or stress eat or whatever arises. So if you don’t smoke or stress eat, maybe the next time you feel this urge
to check your email when you’re bored, or you’re trying to distract
yourself from work, or maybe to compulsively respond
to that text message when you’re driving, see if you can tap into
this natural capacity, just be curiously aware of what’s happening in your body
and mind in that moment. It will just be another chance to perpetuate one of our endless
and exhaustive habit loops … or step out of it. Instead of see text message,
compulsively text back, feel a little bit better — notice the urge, get curious, feel the joy of letting go and repeat. Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “A simple way to break a bad habit | Judson Brewer

  1. I have been a smoker “ bad habit “ for 7 years , I quit in less than 4 sec. though.

    I did not need to watch TED*BS*Talk. Just sayin god gave you a brain use it ,
    it is still free & legal to use your brain

  2. TED talks used to be so good. Now you get things like this… “if you are mindful, you don’t like chocolate cake”. What a los of BS.

  3. Humans are emotional, that's inevitable… we are controlled by our emotions. Our emotions are our weakness. Our emotions can destroy us.

  4. I love this video, there is a habit I had since i was 12 heading into my 40's but now I believe it's gone because I got tired of the habit and always told myself I was doing more harm to my body than good – eating ice🙈

  5. Nothing are trying to do something, but got nothing, because of nothing. We are on the way from nothing to nothing, so the way is important, but in fact it isn't. Just enjoy your way to nothing.

  6. Meditation -focusing on breadth…..
    Avoid Daydreams. Remember what to eat. Trigger behavior reward. Be Curious… Mindfully doing things… Prefontal cortex-youngest in being conscious.Be Curious.body sensations….fear based reactive habits. Neural networks. Be curious of wats happening in our mind.

  7. These things and techniques don't work. You are slave of your genes and only solution is death or isolation.

  8. What is the way to break your old fashion way of thinking and teaching: NONSENSES? People are not animals to be trained. Happiness can change people and
    happiness is finding creative passion of your own love for exploding its new accomplishments: is priceless!
    Creativity is base of all happiness and is base of youthful energy of: power. love and sound mind (creative mind with: tuned senses to electromagnetic air harmony between SOUNDS of WORDS / MUSIC and VISION). If you wish to know creativity, which brakes all habits, except those we use for occasional pleasures, such as: "resting","swimming" or "dreaming", etc., you are welcomed to respond and: ask.

  9. I felt the to listen to this guy again, but didn’t… I let it go & repeat. It was great, but now it feels like Ground Hog Day.

  10. Great advice. But what happens when your mind likes smoking more than eating. I'd like to quit but, I like everything about it except the cost.

  11. Evolutionary crap. Just talk facts and make the point. There is no way to say this basic impulse is part man in early evolution development.

  12. I am jobless and i am feel the most useless in the univerese.
    Thats what i feel cause i am intorvert and stupid at the same time 🙃

  13. I agree that this technique may work for some, however, it relies heavily on the person being a logical thinker to initiate behavior changes once they analyze their actions. Many bad habits have a direct correlation to how we feel when doing it. Example; some eat junk food when they're upset to change their mood temporarily. If you've ever made a new year's resolution to stop eating junk food or in this case to stop smoking chances are that after a few months you started again regardless of knowing that it's bad for you. What I coach my Mentees to do is to stop saying their "not" going to do something. Because if we constantly remind ourselves that we're not going to do something guess what we're constantly focused on… the very thing we're trying to forget about. So instead, replace your thoughts from what you're "not" going to do with what you "ARE" going to do that way you are constantly reminding yourself of the new thing not the old. Therefore, you are focusing on the future not the past. Before long you'll forget about how the old way felt due to living in the present and experiencing a much greater sensation… that of success.

  14. However I don’t think this method works for politicians in USA stop bad behavior of stealing billions of dollars of whole nation😏 , how could someone like Hillary Clinton, Trump or millions of all ppl are all working with these demons stealing the whole world wealth, nation tax money, ever “ let go” of the “ joy” they get? Greed is not a bad habit/ behavior?

  15. Principles of Buddhism (mindfulness) used in a practical way in our daily lives to help people. Easy and efficient. No pills, no wasted money, just a little bit of work you need to put in and it works. Research proves it. Love it.

  16. I like how he kept calling smoking a habit. He didn't say the word "addiction" until the last few minutes, and he said it exactly one time. Nicotine is more addictive than heroine. I am currently in my first week of quitting after 37 years. My physical withdrawal symptoms are WAYYY worse than I ever would have imagined. I don't know about a sugar addiction, but I do know it affects the brain the same way the other addictive white powders do. People, please beware of listening to other people who would call a serious addiction, a "habit". Sure, if meditation helps, go ahead and meditate, but know that there is way more going on here than just changing up a bad habit.

  17. Oops…look at me watching a video about breaking bad habits while studying for a test…and the worst part scrolling down to read comments 🙄😂

  18. this was a great TED talk and kept right to the point. I have so many little bad habits but they accumulate so that I feel like just about every moment I am doing something I think would be better if I wasn't doing it, from nail biting to picking at my fingers to checking social media to watching way too much youtube, eating stuff that is bad for me, drinking alcohol too often and too much of it (that's a big one but oddly enough I can stop that one for lengths of time much easier than the little stuff) the list goes on and on to where sometimes I sit and just wonder what the heck is wrong with me. even just leaving mean comments to videos I do not like, I keep telling myself not to do it, it doesnt make me feel good then I get a bunch of ugly replys from people and it feels bad some more yet I find myself impulsively doing it . it drives me nuts. I feel like I need to probably think about why I feel a constant need to distract myself and or sooth myself and or stimulate myself.I could be doing so much more progressive things with my life if I was free from impulsive negative behaviors. negative thinking and worrying are also huge things I do that are counterproductive. I basically just make myself miserable constantly then try to make myself feel less miserable and on and on and on.

  19. before you judge him Please read this. i have been smoking on and off for 1995. i smoked 5 years avarage 10 aday. than stop smoking for 9 years. smoking since than, i have tried everything from champx to vape many other way.
    he misses the point of chemical addiction. that works in different part of the brain. you cannot just stop it because you are curious of what would feel like.
    i can tell you that from my experiences first couple of days are easy. it will hit you so bad those carvings around 2-3rd week, around 8-9 weeks than it will get easier. now you are confident. than there will be times with drinks. dont fall the trap. thats your addiction calling for an excuse. if you made it up to here celebrate your smoke free first year. you remmeber the 8-9 week carving? that will come please be carefull, but wont be long. maybe a day or two. after second year you are on clear.
    so the conclusion;
    just because i am curious what would it would be like missing the after sunday breakfast having a coffe and THeE BAD HABIT, i'll stop smoking. i don't know what it feel like not having one but i know how it feel like:) while you bear all those things i wrote in mind, please give his program a chance. But this video might only help you it won't cure. Please stop it. i can tell you my best years were all smoke free. i really miss them. it will worth to not to having one that morning of your first smoke free day and just enjoy your coffee.
    never double other pleasures and addiction with smoking. like after meal, coffee etc. ( you know them). so that morning exchange smoking with other thing like little baby biscuits ( i have two baby ) goes with the coffee. dont have one couple of hours. than you can have one if you feel like. but don't have one with other things like coffee or an after meal. just have it by itself.
    i hope that helps you stop.
    thank you for reading.

  20. He says mindfulness training works, but the chart at 7:28 shows that it doesn't work. It fails less often than standard treatment, but still, 70% of people fail to give up smoking with this method.

  21. Read Wendy Wood's book, "Good Habits, Bad Habits". I think she might agree that mindfulness was a good state to come from in breaking an undesirable habit, but not if you are only trying to increase executive function. A new behavior must quickly become the focus, to remove decision making from the process; literally, learn to "act as if" the new behavior is habitual.

  22. My here to fight my habit of serial need to be entertained with my phone/social media especially YouTube..I cutting back IG tho

  23. I think this one was badly titled. And I'm saying that mindfulness can't help with quiting smoking, but there is more to smoking than a habit. it is an addiction and an addiction to the most addictive drug on the planet. If you don't address that, then you really don't have enough information to talk about it like an authority on a subject should have.

  24. He got me there when he said cookie , Because I was eating that type of snack while watching this video.

  25. Youtube is an addiction, and watching these TEd videos are addictive too. LOL Bad habits or good? Your decision. 😀

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