Unwinding Anxiety: New Science Shows How to Break the Cycles of Worry and Fear to Heal Your Mind by Judson Brewer

Part 2 Updating Your Brain’s Reward Value: Second Gear

10. How Your Brain Makes Decisions (Why We Prefer Cake to Broccoli)

  • It’s time to use your awareness as your brain coach. You need to pay attention to the results of your actions. If you are aware that procrastinating puts your work more behind schedule or that eating too much leads you to a crappy emotional state you can reset your actual reward values. Habits are hard to break if you engage in zombie-like mindless behavior. For example, if you pay attention to the smell and taste of a cigarette while you are smoking you can see the limited rewards of the behavior. If you pay attention you can jolt your brain out of autopilot. The only way to change a habit is to update its reward value and this requires awareness.

11. Stop Thinking: Dave’s Story, Part 2

  • After working with the techniques described here Dave was able to stop anxious eating and lose 97 pounds, improve his liver’s conditions, lower his blood pressure, and lose his fear of highway driving. He had paid attention to the results of his old habits and hacked his reward-based learning. Since Dave seems like a model patient, don’t expect to recover as quickly as he did. You have probably had the bad habits you want to get rid of for a long time so the keyword here is patiece. Use the techniques here a little daily and as often as possible, and don’t expect instant success.

12. Learning (and Growing) from the Past

  • This chapter features examples of people who used the previous lesson. Some people report that they became aware and curious during a behavior they wanted to stop. Others reflected on the behavior after it was over. Failing to stop a behavior isn’t a total failure if you can learn from it. The rest of this chapter connects Carol Dweck’s work on mindsets to Judson’s work on anxiety. Your mindset or worldview colors how you interpret events. People with a fixd mindset make a mistake and see it as a flaw in their character. People with a growth mindset make a mistake and ask what they can learn from it. They also live less stressful and more successful lives. Check out my summary of Mindset by Carol Dweck.

13. Fixing the Fix: Dana Small’s Chocolate Experiment

  • If you pay attention to how you feel as you eat you can avoid overeating. This is the opposite of doing it mindlessly. If you approach a task with the attitude that it will suck, it will no doubt suck. You can learn to let go of unhelpful attitudes. You also need to be kind to yourself rather than beating up on yourself when something goes wrong. Learn, don’t blame. Since your habits forge your character you want to choose good ones. When fear or anxiety do strike, remind yourself that it’s just your brain trying to help and getting a little off track.

14. How Long Does It Take to Change a Habit?

  • There is not research that answers this question. My feeling is that it may not take long once you pay attention to the behavior and see that the reward isn’t worth it. Here we see two self-reflective paths. Path 1’s trigger is “make a mistake.” The behavior is “look and learn” and the reward is “avoiding the same mistake.” Path 2’s trigger is the same, but the behavior is “to negatively judge one’s self” which gives the reward of “an old wound being freshly opened.” The path 2 review and regret approach requires a fixed mindset. The path 1 look and learn approach features a growth mindset.
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