Jun 10

“How to Change” by Katy Milkman

Behavioral scientist Katy Milkman‘s new book How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be has scored a slew of solid and glowing reviews.

Why? Elizabeth Weingarten, BehavioralScientist.org:

…Milkman offers simple yet profound insights about why better understanding our own internal obstacles—such as laziness, procrastination, forgetfulness, or our tendency to favor instant gratification over long-term rewards—is key to changing ourselves for good. Too often, books deliver one-size-fits-all approaches to common goals, like getting in shape or eating healthier. But since the internal forces preventing me from starting a new habit might be different from those preventing you from starting the same one, that doesn’t really work. That’s why it’s essential to tailor the science to our own barriers, picking and choosing strategies where they fit the internal opponent we’re up against, says Milkman.

As reported by Elise Hu, NPR, “A decade ago, Milkman saw a statistic she calls ‘completely mind-boggling’: 40% of premature deaths are due to behaviors that can be changed. That’s one reason she wanted to share her findings widely, she says.”

The following are selected quotes from Weingarten’s interview with Milkman:

I think there’s an overemphasis on big goals. It’s not that goals aren’t useful. There’s tons of research showing that having a certain kind of goal—a clear, concrete, achievable goal, or a stretch goal—really is valuable. But it’s not solving a problem.

It’s inevitable that we slip up in the course of trying to achieve anything worth achieving. We need to understand better how to deal with that falling off the wagon phenomenon.

The key lesson of my career studying behavior change was that the flashy shots, the big shiny goal, or one-size-fits-all thing we reach for—that’s not how you achieve it. It’s the smart, strategic, who’s your opponent, who are you up against, let’s tailor the strategy approach that really works.

And here are selected quotes directly taken from How to Change:

It turns out that the leading cause of premature death isn’t poor health care, difficult social circumstances, bad genes, or environmental toxins. Instead, an estimated 40 percent of premature deaths are the result of personal behaviors we can change. I’m talking about daily, seemingly small decisions about eating, drinking, exercise, smoking, sex, and vehicle safety. These decisions add up, producing hundreds of thousands of fatal cancers, heart attacks, and accidents each year.

Being at odds with yourself, which psychologists call “cognitive dissonance,” is a surprisingly powerful force first studied by Leon Festinger in the 1950s. People often go to great lengths to avoid reckoning with their internal contradictions. Cognitive dissonance can help explain why cults are so hard to leave (after you’ve joined and invested so much of yourself, it’s difficult to admit that you’re unhappy) and why smokers often underestimate the health effects.

You’ll learn that making hard things seem fun is a much better strategy than making hard things seem important.

Mar 10

“Unwinding Anxiety” by Judson Brewer

In Unwinding Anxiety neuroscientist Judson Brewer offers a brilliant breakthrough, brain-based methods for lessening our anxiety-driven habits. And anxiety, after all, is the common cold of our emotional life. Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence

Perhaps you already know psychiatrist and neuroscientist Judson Brewer. Before his new book Unwinding Anxiety: New Science Shows How to Break the Cycles of Worry and Fear to Heal Your Mind, there was his 2017 The Craving Mind: From Cigarettes to Smartphones to Love – Why We Get Hooked and How We Can Break Bad Habits, his popular TED Talk, his highly rated apps for behavior change, and much more.

The concluding remarks from his TED Talk, “A Simple Way to Break a Bad Habit,” addresses the idea that everyone has at least one of these and that there’s a way out:

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.

Yes, it’s about mindfulness. Brewer runs the Mindfulness Center, in fact, at Brown University.

A 2020 article by Jared Zhang, Brown Daily Herald, quotes Brewer about his 30-day app programs, First, a definition of mindfulness: “a process that trains people to become aware of their feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations and write them out so they don’t act on them automatically.”

What’s Brewer’s three-step approach to reduce anxiety? “First, users learn about the habit loop surrounding worry. ‘Negative emotions like fear or anxiety can trigger somebody to worry, and that mental behavior gets stuck in these anxiety habit loops,’ Brewer said. Users of the app can map out their habit loops and identify these behaviors. Second, they ‘hack their reward value system,’ increasing their awareness of the satisfaction gained from behaviors. By doing so, people can see whether their actions are helpful or not. Lastly, the app brings in mindfulness practices so that users’ old, negative behavior is replaced with curiosity and kindness’…”

Keri Wiginton, Chicago Tribune, writes about her own trial with the Unwinding Anxiety app in order to quit drinking. “It actually worked.” She noticed this in about three days, actually. “Some may roll their eyes at mindfulness, but brain scans show that experienced meditators have stronger control over their posterior cingulate cortex – the part of the brain activated by stress and cravings.”

Consider checking out Brewer’s resources page on his site and/or buying Unwinding Anxiety today.