During this period of exhausting home-quarantine, most people have adopted unhealthy and disruptive habits, be it sleeping at odd hours, too much screen time, or binge-eating when bored. Human beings have the brains to know that these habits are terrible for the physical and mental health, but we continue doing these mindless activities for momentary gratification.
Psychiatrist Judson Brewer, in his TED talk, reveals how mindfulness as well as curiosity can help people with turning bad habits into good ones. While explaining what causes our brain to wander, Brewer says, “It turns out that we’re fighting one of the most evolutionarily-conserved learning processes currently known in science…This reward-based learning process is called positive and negative reinforcement.
“‘Trigger, behaviour, reward’ is how our brain comprehends the activity, and soon it becomes more creative and uses multiple triggers for inducing the same behaviours and eventual rewards. And each time we do this, we learn to repeat the process and it becomes a habit,” Brewer explains.
His solution? He says, “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?” He further elaborates with an example of an ex-smoker and her experience with curiously observing the process of smoking a cigarette. “She said, ‘Mindful smoking: smells like stinky cheese and tastes like chemicals, YUCK!’,” reveals Brewer.
“This is what mindfulness is all about: Seeing really clearly what we get when we get caught up in our behaviours, becoming disenchanted on a visceral level and from this disenchanted stance, naturally letting go… 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,” he says. He further discloses that in one study, it was found that this mindfulness training was twice as effective as gold standard therapy for quitting smoking.
“Notice the urge, get curious, feel the joy of letting go and repeat,” concludes Brewer.