I’ve spoken before in various ways about shifting out of our habitual response to life. We tend to resist what we don’t want, including what is arising from inside ourselves. While this is a subjective trick to avoid experiencing something, it is quite ineffective. Instead of resolving, the issue festers and grows
In this TED talk from 2015, Judson Brewer talks about how to break a bad habit by shifting our approach to it. We move out of fighting it into simple curious noticing.
In the talk, he emphasizes the role of positive and negative reinforcement and how they’re tied into our survival response. And then how we learn to apply that reward system to handle our emotions, leading us into issues like smoking and over-eating. Even if the habits are killing us, they’re tied to the primitive brain and survival. This is part of why they’re so hard to break.
But rather than fighting our response, he suggests working with it. This means we allow the behaviour to arise but focus instead on being curious – curious about what it’s like when you engage your habit. Then you can experience viscerally what it’s like, become disenchanted, and let the habit go in time. No force required.
He describes this as a willingness to turn toward our experience rather than pushing away the unpleasant. He notes that curiosity itself is pleasant, making it easier to engage.
Judson also mentions how the cognitive brain is the first to go off-line when we’re stressed. This means that no matter how well we understand that a behaviour is bad for us, it will continue to be triggered and reinforced by our more basic reward centers.
He talked about how body sensations come and go but there’s a trick in there he misses. Attention on the sensations can help resolve them, along with repressed emotions that may be reinforcing a habit. That is a key part of this process in my books.
I also suggest noticing responses as they arise rather than going on a hunt for them. Some people get a little obsessed with “fixing” themselves and practice techniques almost constantly. This impedes living your life here and now.
I would also add that this approach can only work if there is sufficient presence already established so we can observe the habit behaviour. If we’re quite entangled, there will be insufficient “space” for the curiosity and observation to take place in. That’s where the importance of transcendence comes in – to develop presence and act as a general disentangler.
“Feel the joy of letting go…”