“When we get curious, we step out of our old, fear-based, reactive habit patterns, and we step into being.” – Judson Brewer, MD, PhD
For many of us, mulling over the options of how to tackle life differently—what new promises we could make or what old habits we could break—can feel a bit unproductively cyclical. Perhaps we’re hungry for a fresh start, a behavior shift, or a new daily pattern, but we’re also aware that our muscle memory for true habit change isn’t all that strong.
Maybe we start the gym membership or the new way of eating or the drinking less alcohol or the volunteering more often or the [fill in the blank] but after an ambitious launch, whatever it is just doesn’t stick.
According to Dr. Judson Brewer, psychiatrist, author of The Craving Mind, and leading expert on the relationship between mindfulness and addiction, habits emerge from the reward-based learning process our brain tends to follow. We experience a trigger, engage in a behavior, and reap a reward.
Often, the triggers are emotional.
Perhaps we respond to a trigger of feeling sad by engaging in a behavior (devouring a pint of ice cream, for instance) that our brain knows will lead to a sense of pleasure (a sugar high). When that happens, we are doing two things: strengthening the reward-based learning process and developing a habit—in this case one that may have ill effects on our health.
What would it look like to insert a pause between the emotional trigger and the habit we tend to lean on once triggered?
Dr. Brewer doesn’t suggest doing that in a way that prompts self-judgment, nor does he believe that forcing ourselves to “do the right thing” tends to work, but he does believe that allowing curiosity into the process can go a long way toward noticing what we’re up to and enacting lasting change.
We love this approach.
Before setting any new intentions for change, set aside 10 minutes for this brilliant TED Talk with more than 11 million views—and get curious about your patterns: