SPEAKERS

Greg McKeown, Judson Brewer


Greg McKeown     

I am here with Dr. Judson Brewer, who has achieved many things in life. bestselling author, a tremendously successful TED Talk 16 million views at last count is well worth anybody’s time. It’s called a simple way to break a bad habit. But now with a truly timely book, and the subject, well, the primary subject of our conversation today unwinding anxiety, you can find Dr. Judd, as he is colloquially called at DrJud dot com. That’s drjud.com, Judson, Brewer, dot nine, Facebook, and on Twitter Judd Brewer, JU, D at Instagram, at Dr. Judd, that’s Dr. Period. Jay, you the Dr. Judd, welcome to the What’s Essential podcast.

Dr. Judson Brewer     

Thanks for having me.

Greg McKeown     

In your TED talk, and also, in unwinding anxiety, you make an interesting connection. One that surprised you as a psychologist, and also just as a, as a person, when you made a connection between bad habits and anxiety, that surprised you. And I think we’re surprised lots of people listening to this, you want to just share a bit about the background for that and what your insight was.

Dr. Judson Brewer   

I’d be happy to. So as an addiction psychiatrist, my primary mode of helping my patients with anxiety was medications. And, you know, you can even think of this back to the 80s when the first selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor Prozac was heralded as this big breakthrough. This is also about the same time that the stones were singing about mother’s little helper. She goes running to the shelter of mother’s little helper, that was about benzodiazepines. That’s how much they were in free flow, let’s say back in the 70s, and 80s. So people were looking for less addictive medications, and the Prozac equivalents were considered this big thing. When I went through residency, that’s what I learned, give people medications, and I went on my merry way. So when I was doing research, I study habit change, I studied neuroscience of how to really help people break bad habits. And I somebody that was in one of our programs, we make these digital therapeutics, like these app based mindfulness training programs, and somebody in one of our eating programs, said to me, Hey, you know, I’m realizing that anxiety is triggering me to eat, can you make an anxiety program? And I was thinking, Well, you know, I prescribed medications, I don’t know what I can do. But as a scientist, as a researcher, I went back and looked at the literature, and lo and behold, back in the 80s, there was this guy, Thomas Bork avec who’s studying anxiety. And he proposed, that anxiety could be triggered and perpetuated, just like any other habit through a process called negative reinforcement. And I think my eyes popped out of my head. Because I never thought about treating anxiety as a habit. So I started looking into this, lo and behold, there’s a really solid theoretical basis for it. And we could create programs, you know, so we created this on writing anxiety app, we studied it, and we actually found that we could get huge reductions in anxiety.

Greg McKeown 

Let me give you an interesting scenario and see what you make of it. I have somebody who’s a longtime listener to the podcast or at least has listened to, I think every episode so far, and gave feedback. And the one of the things that he said was, was really about a personal frustration, that, despite desiring to be an essentialist, desiring to focus on what’s essential, eliminate what’s not essential, get rid of all this extra activity in their life, he isn’t really doing it yet. And so he has the desire, it’s not a motivation problem is even investing sometime in the effort. And so I just wanted to take the concern he just raised, bring it to you and say, you know, is it possible that anxiety is driving? Not just what we would think of as especially bad habits, but just unproductive habits, you know, over scheduling, and saying yes to too many activities, and, and sort of this quintessential non-essentialism that this show is so focused on addressing?

Dr. Judson Brewer     

Yes, so the short answer is, yes, anxiety can be driving a lot of these things. And we might not even know that it is doing that. And I’ll also add, we can talk about this later, if it’s helpful. This reason and willpower-based approach to changing habits is, let’s say problematic to in the least.

Greg McKeown  

Yeah, you’re saying that he may be approaching this in a will power way. And that’s not going to, that’s not going to work for him. So talk us through what this anxiety is, especially the hidden anxiety that you identify in unwinding anxiety.

Dr. Judson Brewer  

So generally speaking, there’s this definition of anxiety that I find helpful, which is like this feeling of worry, nervousness or unease about something with an uncertain outcome. Okay. And so we all know what it feels like there’s this contracted quality, it tends to feel restless, and this and that. And that actually has some evolutionary origins. So when our you can think of our old, you know, we have a survival brain that has two functions, what’s essential to our survival brain is finding food and avoiding danger, right eating and not being eaten. Okay? That survival brain has layered on top of it a new brain, literally called the neocortex. And part of that is called the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in thinking and planning. So it helps us survive in a different way through taking past experience and combining that with current information and then projecting into the future. Okay? That when we don’t have information, we our brains start to get restless, they get uneasy, and that prod is to get us off our butts. To go get information, right. If you think of our ancient ancestors, we’re out on a unfamiliar part of the savanna, we have to keep on high alert to see if there’s danger there. We’re gathering information. So information is literally food for our brain. And so that same mechanism is at play trying to help us survive. The problem is, and this is where anxiety comes in. The problem is when we don’t have information, or we don’t have accurate information. I won’t say things were easier for our ancient ancestors, because I have no idea how easy they had it. But one thing that was different, let’s say is that all the information that they got was pretty accurate, right? There was no such thing as like a deep fake saber-toothed Tiger or, you know, some, somebody’s trying to, you know, suggest that saber toothed Tigers were good or bad. And then we should agree with them or not. Right? It was you see the saber-toothed tiger, you know that it’s real your run like heck and you hope you don’t get eaten. Right. Now we’ve got a huge amount of information yet not all of it is accurate or essential. So we have to try to figure out all of that ourselves and none of us are experts at everything. So we our brains being these great predictions. machines are trying to say, Well, what about this? What about that? What about this? What about that, that’s where anxiety comes in. Think of it as fear plus uncertainty equals anxiety, you know, fear helps us survive. Uncertainty helps us survive. But in when we’re not actually able to take that uncertainty, and use it in a productive manner, our brains just start spinning out in anxiety.

Greg McKeown    

Love this fear plus anxiety. Love this fear plus uncertainty equals anxiety. It’s nice to have just the simple equation to be able to think through what’s going on. What’s the, I mean, what does somebody do about this? If I’m experiencing anxiety, like we don’t have to talk about this in the abstract. Maybe you can walk me through it right now. I’m, I’m always game for this on the show. You can coach me and guide me if that’s if that’s one way of doing this or in an alternative way. But like, I want to get to the actual tangible process and the tools for doing this because I’m sure just everybody listening to this is a standard deviation more anxious now than they were a year ago.

Dr. Judson Brewer 

Yes. Yeah. So.

Greg McKeown   

So yeah. Talk us through like what do I do about that?

Dr. Judson Brewer    

Yeah. And so this actually, is why I wrote this book was I was seeing over and over in my clinic, and in my research studies, that there is actually a clear three step process is relatively straightforward. The first step I would say is to map out our habit loops. In fact I find this so essential.

Greg McKeown  

Okay, Dr. Jud I have just gone and I have downloaded the printable you just described, I have it in front of me. Other people can do that as well. I’m looking at this is the first step it’s divided into three, I can see that three blue circles. They’re all you know, one leads do that leads to the other; triggers, behavior, results. You want us to map our habit loops. So let’s do that real time.

Dr. Judson Brewer     

Okay, so let’s start with the behavior because I think that’s often the easiest place to start. Sometimes the triggers are harder to notice. So let me ask you this. Do you ever worry?

Greg McKeown     

Yeah, I do worry. I don’t think of myself as a worrier but I think I might be.

Dr. Judson Brewer     

Okay, so let’s use that as an example. So let’s use that as the mental behavior. And I think I highlight that because worry is actually what drives anxiety as a habit. So anxiety, the feeling of anxiety, can drive the mental behavior of worry, which then gives us a particular result or reward, which often is that it helps us avoid that unpleasant feeling of anxiety, or it makes us feel like we’re in control. So we filled in this circle of worry as your mental behavior. Do you want to go back to what triggers you to worry?

Greg McKeown     

Is this sufficient for me just to write worry here, is that that’s a sufficient behavior?

Dr. Judson Brewer     

That is a sufficient behavior absolutely. So what for you might trigger you to worry.

Greg McKeown      

If I want to achieve something that’s important to me. And I’m worried that it’s not going to happen. You know that I’m going to miss the goal not achieve what I’ve set out to achieve. Then I suppose the trigger for me would be just seeing just not seeing a result that I want as fast as I want it. Hmm.

Dr. Judson Brewer     

Okay. Great example. Okay. So you don’t see a result as fast as you wanted. that triggers you to start worrying. So Let me ask you, then let’s fill in the third circle. What do you get? What’s the results of you worrying? How does that affect that your project, for example? Or

Greg McKeown     

I think I just jumped into it, you know, I go, Okay, what can I do about it, but sometimes that’s not doing the most essential thing. You know, I might post something on social media, because it’s, it’s consistent with, with the goal, although, you know, the more unproductive result would be to just go and look at posts that I’ve already put out, and see what people have been responding to with it. Okay, so that has an immediate, you know, feeling of progress, or at least counterfeit of progress. So I would see that as being relatively unproductive, because it’s not creating something new, it’s not writing a new article, it’s not, it’s not doing something that will actually move the needle on the things I’m trying to achieve. Yeah, but it still is an instant way to, to feel like there’s progress towards the goal.  

Dr. Judson Brewer     

Ok great, so now you’ve, you’ve filled in all three of those circles, right to trigger the behavior and the results or the reward. So that’s actually the first step in being able to change any, any habits, whether it’s anxiety, procrastination, whether you’re anything.  the second step is in involves are, all of these involve our brain. But the second step, I’m gonna have to give a little bit of background of some of the neuroscience of how this works. So the only way to change a habit is to change the reward value of the behavior. And what I mean by that is, you know, this process is called reward-based learning. And reward-based learning is based on how rewarding a behavior is. I’ll give a simple example. So if somebody as a teenager, they want to rebel against their parents that they want to be cool at school, they start smoking, okay. And so smoking can be pretty rewarding for them as a teenager, and they are not getting emphysema, they’re, you know, they’re not having any of these health effects yet, because it’s a slow burn with cigarettes. And when they reinforce this process over and over and over, this gets set up as a habit, their brain determines that it’s got x reward value, and the only way to change that is to actually bring awareness in to help them see is this as rewarding right now, as it was when I was a teenager. So concretely, what I do is somebody comes to my clinic and wants to quit smoking, I have them pay attention as they smoke their cigarette. And I remember a guy coming in who had been smoking 40 years. So he’d reinforced this process almost 300,000 times. Wow. Yeah. So really, deeply ingrained habit. And I said, well, what’s it tastes like? What’s it smell like? And it was like, this transformative process where he’s like, oh, my goodness, I had no idea how bad the cigarette tasted. How did I not notice that before? Well, the short answer is habit. Right, our brain set up this word value. I call it set and forget, you set the value and forget about the details so that we can free up our brain space to do other things. So that’s all Yeah, go ahead.

Greg McKeown     

How do I do that with the habit loop that we just identified?  

Dr. Judson Brewer     

Yes, so the thing to keep in mind here, conceptually, is that we’ve got to see, is it as rewarding as it was before, is it more rewarding than it was before, or is it less rewarding than it was before? So with worrying, we can ask ourselves, or you could ask yourself, does worrying actually make me you know, does it keep my family safe? Does it get the project done? does it solve the problem? And does it make me think more clearly? So let me ask you that you know, any of those questions, if you ask you yourself those questions, how would you answer it?

Greg McKeown     

Okay, so just to clarify, you’re focusing on, not on the result, not on the thing that I go off and do as a result of the worry. You’re asking me to  look at the worry itself whether the worry is helpful to me.

Dr. Judson Brewer     

Yes. The worry as the mental behavior is going to have some effect. It could be rewarding, or it could be not rewarding. So what does the worrying get you?

Greg McKeown     

Well, I think that what the worrying gets me is the feeling that I’m not going to I’m not going to forget about this, I’m not going to take it for granted. I’m going to, I’m going to really lean into it, you know, if I’m worried, then I’m going to keep trying to do something about it. I was just talking to somebody about this about a particular major project for me. And I said, look, I think I’m feeling too worried, too anxious about this. And they said, Well, I’ve worked with people in this situation before. And I’d actually rather they were more anxious, the less anxious. And so in a sense, I found that to be confirming of this direction, but I, myself still don’t like it. Don’t feel good about it. I feel a little contradictory, in fact, because I I’m sure that it would be better if I was less anxious. But I think that’s what it is. I think it comes out perhaps have a have a fear that you could just become, you know, just Oh, every placement, complacency, which, which now that I say out loud.

Dr. Judson Brewer    

Oh no, I bet you don’t.

Greg McKeown     

And, and I wish I not I don’t wish I was complacent. But were my best friends growing up was someone who could feel contentment. And I just never felt that. Okay, so it’s a strange thing to hear myself describing all of this, because I just think, well, is this really likely to happen? And is it the is it likely that I would fall into complacency? Not likely? Yes. So I could probably could relax. And I’d, and it would be fine. But even as I say that, there’s something inside of me that goes, don’t? don’t relax about it. Yes, yes. That’s not how you’re going to achieve this goal?

Dr. Judson Brewer    

Yes. So there’s that something inside of you, it’s called a habit, where, if you, if you’ve haven’t really carefully examined that you can get things done without worrying, then your brain will say, Oh, this is this is familiar territory. This is my comfort zone. Ironically, anxiety is my comfort zone. And I’m, I’m gonna say this. There’s a concept around performance anxiety, that is pervasive. And it sounds like the person you were working with, has totally, I don’t say want to say bought into that. But they believe that this is what society believes is that if I’m not anxious, I’m not going to perform well. And to the point where that person was saying, Hey, you know, I prefer that you be anxious than not anxious. What I would say is, let’s clone you and do the parallel experiment. And say, let’s take the anxious you. Let’s take the non-anxious you that sounds pretty passionate about your goals. And see two things; one, which one is more fun to do, and two, which one lets your prefrontal cortex stay online and function better? Because we do know from the research, that anxiety makes our thinking brain go offline. So we actually don’t perform as well and actually wrote a whole section in this book, because there’s this myth about performance anxiety out there that went back to this study of Japanese dancing mice from 1908, that became this law. It’s called this Yerkes Dodson law that has no real empirical evidence showing that increased anxiety increases performance. In fact, the 10 times more studies have shown a negative relationship between anxiety and performance than have shown a relationship or any amount of anxiety is helpful.

Greg McKeown     

Right, that makes sense. And I think that’s what we were just getting to is that is that as I imagine, I love this idea of the cloning experiment. And looking at those, the two versions of ourselves, and as a thought experiment, imagining which would perform better. I like that, I can see that the lower anxiety version. Why I can believe that that version would perform better, more confidently. You know more creatively A little bolder. Enjoy the process more. Yeah. Help to encourage people to, to come and join the party, so to speak, like, Hey, here’s, here’s what good things are happening instead of sending out fear, vibes, anxiety vibes through something. I mean, I can I can construct that story and I like that. Okay, but then given what you just said about how stepping out of anxiety can produce anxiety, how do you trick the brain or break the habit there? So that you can actually not have a thought experiment about this, but actually make the shift.

Dr. Judson Brewer     

So the key here, and the reason we focus so much on this step is because this is a step that our brains don’t want to do, they don’t want to believe that anxiety may not actually be helping us because it’s so familiar, so comfortable. So first step is mapping it out. The second step is determining just how helpful anxiety or worry in this case in the example that we’re using, is, and if we can see that worrying isn’t helping us what that does, is that lowers the reward value of worrying as a mental behavior in our brain. When that reward value is lowered, it makes it easier to step out of it. Okay, so that’s step two. But step three gets to what you’re talking about. Step three, is what I call bringing in the BBO; the bigger, better offer. Because our brains are based on reward hierarchies, they’re going to pick a behavior that’s more rewarding than another behavior. Not only can we help our brain see how unrewarding worrying is so that it becomes lower on the hierarchy. We can also tap into things that we naturally have that feel better. One of my favorites there is curiosity.

Greg McKeown     

Can I can I back up for a second? When you say I’ve got to lower the reward value of the behavior of in this case of worry, okay, I get the logic. And I also get why you want to get to step three, that’s a that’s a key element for how to do it, because you’re giving a contrast to the brain. But are there any, is there a specific tool or tactic that that we can use to actually lower that value? Can you walk me through a tool for how I could do that?

Dr. Judson Brewer     

Yes, it’s pretty simple. And there’s only one that I’m aware of that actually does this? It’s awareness. So really, we just have to be aware of how rewarding or unrewarding the behavior is. So if I’m overeating, I need to become aware of what it feels like when I overeat. If I’m smoking, I need to become aware of what it tastes like, what it smells like to smoke a cigarette. If I’m worrying, just like you did. Just now, we need to become aware of what the results are of worrying, oh, maybe this doesn’t actually help me think better.

Greg McKeown     

Okay, and do you have a specific process for how I can do that? Are you saying I’ve already done that in this conversation? Or is there something I can specifically do I can write down? Make that as tangible for me as possible.

Dr. Judson Brewer     

There’s a simple question that I have the patients in my clinic ask themselves, you ready? Yep. What do I get from this?

Greg McKeown     

Okay, what do I get from this, is it better to write the answer down? Take a few minutes to write it down? Do you take a log as you’re going through the experience? Or are you just doing it from memory right now spontaneously?

Dr. Judson Brewer   

So if somebody is right in the throes of worrying? It’s a great time to, you know, in the moment ask themselves, what am I getting from this? So they could write the question down on a piece of paper to concretize it? Or they could simply ask themselves, you know, what am I getting from this? If they’re on a bus or in a car, and they are noticing that they’re worrying. They can feel into their direct experience and they can see, is this worrying, making me feel calm or is it making me feel more anxious? Is this worrying solving the problem or is it just rehashing it over and over in my head? So both the intellectual pieces, but most importantly, the felt experiential pieces, what am I getting from this? What’s the direct results? And for a lot of people worry just makes them feel more anxious.

Greg McKeown   

Okay, so what do I get from this? We talked a little bit about that in terms of getting a sense of well, this will keep me engaged. This is this is how I’m not going to completely fail. Yeah, those would be that those would be the benefits. That’s what it’s doing for me.

Dr. Judson Brewer     

So It seems right, because we haven’t actually proven that it is helping us. Right, again, the cloning experiment would prove whether that’s true or not. If we want to look at the science, the science would suggest the opposite. So even beyond the intellectual piece, right? So if I’ve worried about a problem for two days, has all of that worrying actually helped me solve the problem? Generally? No, because we can’t think as well when we’re worried. But even more concrete than that, we can drop into our direct experience and ask ourselves, okay, I’ve been worrying all day. How do I feel, do I feel more energized? Or do I feel exhausted from worrying? Is this worrying, just perpetuating more worry?

Greg McKeown     

Okay, so you’re asking me to, to not just estimate what I think it does. For me, you’re trying to say, what does it actually create in my experience? What experience is this producing for me?

Dr. Judson Brewer   

Yes so the best way for our brains to learn is through immediate and accurate feedback. So we can estimate things we can intellectualize things, but they may or may not be true, because all of that goes to the filter of how we perceive the world. What is more concrete, and more real is how it feels right now.

Greg McKeown     

Okay, so when I feel the worry that we’re describing, then, I mean, I would say the feeling is an A not enjoyable feeling.

Dr. Judson Brewer 

There we go.

Greg McKeown 

I can even have a day, which in fact, is quite regular right now where lots of good things are happening. But by the end of the day, I still feel a bit drained by the experience of it. Yes, because I’m worried about the gap between where things are today and where I want them to be at this set time in the future. Yes. So I do think now, especially as we talk about it that I am aware of this discomforting feeling this exhausting experience. I don’t like that. I want to change that. I don’t feel clear about how to change that. But I guess that’s what you’re seeing with step three. Because step two is more to do with the interrupt to recognize the cost of the current habit loop. And now there’s a need to now present to my mind, my brain, that there’s an alternative. A better way forward

Dr. Judson Brewer  

Absolutely.

Greg McKeown  

So I suppose that leads us to this third area, this BBO. Will you lead us through that process? 

Dr. Judson Brewer     

So our brain is always looking for that bigger better offer, something that is more rewarding than the old behavior. If we see that the old one is not rewarding that helps it move down on the reward hierarchy but we still need something better. Here, we look for intrinsically rewarding behaviors. So we can certainly distract ourselves or drink alcohol or binge on Netflix for so long, but those only provide brief relief, and they don’t actually solve the problem. So if worrying, for example, is the mental behavior that we’re targeting here, we can bring in what I think of as a superpower of our brain, which is curiosity. And the reason I say curiosity is my lab has actually done studies to see you know, how rewarding certain mental behaviors or mental states are, and not surprisingly, worry, frustration, anxiety, those all rank, pretty low on that hierarchy, they don’t feel very good. But on, on the far end of the other end, things that feel really good are things like kindness and curiosity. So here, you know, if we need to be motivated to do a project, for example, well, let me ask you, you’d said that worry can feel like it motivates people. Certainly it makes us feel restless and driven. Does curiosity also help you get something done but does it pull you in a different way?

Greg McKeown    

Yes, I suppose I can see that. And I like, I like the thought of it. I’m not sure what I would be curious about to create the antidote for the worry. I get what you’re saying conceptually. But do you have any specifics of what questions I should ask that would help curiosity specifically to address the worry that I have?  

Dr. Judson Brewer     

So let’s take worry, let’s address worry head on. So if worry is the old habit we can be, we can take a moment and just feel into our bodies and ask ourselves. Where do I feel that worry or where do I feel that anxiety in my body? So if you can just feel into that. I don’t know if you feel enough worry right now or enough anxiety, but just see if you can bring some up think of a time recently when you’ve worried. And then you can ask yourself this question. Is it more on the right side or the left side of my body? I’m curious, is it more on the right side or left side of your body?

Greg McKeown    

Okay, I think more on the right side of my body.  

Dr. Judson Brewer    

The answer doesn’t matter. But what I just asked you to do was to check, right? Is it on the right side of the left side? So that in itself, did that spark any curiosity for you?

Greg McKeown 

Yes, I would say it puts me in a different state. And so and I can, I can anticipate from that, that simply changing the state from a state of worry to curiosity as an improvement. So it doesn’t change the situation. It doesn’t change what I’m worried about. But right puts me in a better state to have to deal with it. 

Dr. Judson Brewer    

Which is exactly the point. So this isn’t about magically fixing whatever the issue is, it’s about putting our brain in the states to be able to function most efficiently and most productively. Worry decreases that our ability to think and plan curiosity opens us up. And it’s interesting you mentioned it puts me in a different state. If I let me ask you, does, which one feels more closed, worry, or curiosity? Like closed down and contracted?

Greg McKeown    

I mean, I think I sync with you on what you’re saying that if I’m worried, you tend to think of fewer options. It reminds me of Barbara Fredrickson, his work on the broaden and build theory that if you’re, if you’re in a state of positive emotions increases your sense of optionality and lots of positive elements come from that. Give me if you have some other specific questions that I can ask to put myself in a state of curiosity.

Dr. Judson Brewer    

So here, I think questions and people can personalize these. So you could personalize this for yourself. It’s really any question that helps us turn toward or open to our experience in this moment. Right? So if we’re having worried thoughts, we can get curious. Hmm, what thoughts am I having right now? Okay. And that curiosity not judging them or trying to say this is good thought this is a bad thought, but simply asking, Hmm, what thought is going through my head right now? Or how many times has this played through my head as this tape have played itself?

Greg McKeown     

Yeah, so we create space between what’s happening and us. Yeah, we get to be the observer. And how does this speak to this idea of the bigger better offer? Is there something beyond what we’ve covered that actually provides a bigger better offer or is the curiosity itself the bigger better offer?

Dr. Judson Brewer     

So two things there? Yes, curiosity itself is the bigger better offer. And we can find that that falls within a category of bigger better offers. So where anxiety feels closed and contracted, states that help us open up, right move us into growth mindset, for example, feel better. So my lab has actually done studies where we’ve looked across, you know, all these mental states to see which ones are closed, which ones are open. And so we can find different states that actually in different practices that can help us open up I like curiosity, because it’s something that we all have something that we, we kind of were really good at when we were kids and we kind of forgot about but we can reawaken it simply, you know, with the things that we talked about. But there are other things like kindness.

Greg McKeown     

I’m really intrigued by this idea of a continuum of states. From one side that’s so closed. And then on the other side, so open, and I’m wondering if you could walk through your research and identify specific states along that continuum?

Dr. Judson Brewer     

Sure so we looked at about 14 different states. And we looked at just a general population, this was a study of several 100 people. And we found that the most closed state that was reported was anger. Okay, followed by so this is most close to most open. So it goes anger, worry, frustration, avoidance, fear, craving, anxiety, and those are all closed states. And then it moves to the more open state. So excited, curious, content, connected, grateful, relaxed, at the very top of the list, joyful and kind.

Greg McKeown     

Yeah, it’s a really fascinating list and a really helpful thing. So, I mean, if I contrast the extremes, we have anger is the most extreme to the one side and kindness, the most extreme to the other. And there’s something that feels intuitive about that, even though it’s nice to actually have it laid out in the way that you’ve laid it out. What are things we can do instantly, to snap out of these closed states, and shift into these open states?

Dr. Judson Brewer     

So I would say it depends on what the closed state is, and where we can kind of find the antidote that fits best with it. But these again, go into two general categories so I think of is curiosity and kindness.

Greg McKeown     

So if I’m in a state of fear, what can I do to immediately change that state into a more open one?

Dr. Judson Brewer     

So fear, generally, is a pretty short lived state, right? So let’s say we, we were walking down the sidewalk, were staring on our phone, we step out into the street without looking both ways. We hear a car honking, we instantaneously jump back onto the sidewalk. And then we have this fearful response, boom, oh, I could have been killed. From in that moment, fear can actually help us learn. So what we do with it in that moment is critical. If we go Oh, and get curious, like, oh, what can I learn from this, I could have been killed, maybe I should remember to look both ways. Then we’ve actually it fear has done its job, which is to help us not get killed. And we’ve learned something. So fear is actually a useful survival mechanism. What we do with fear on top of it is optional and often problematic. So if we keep rehashing that in our head, Oh, I can’t believe I’m an idiot. Oh, what did I do? Why did I do that? Why didn’t I look both ways or, you know, to have a death wish, or, you know, they’re any different things that we can do, where we’re actually reliving that fear and, you know, chewing that up and turning digesting that into anxiety. So, fear healthful anxiety, not so much. So with fear, we can just get curious, oh, what did I do? What can I learn from this? How can I bow to this as a teacher almost as compared to saying, Oh, I’m an idiot, why did I do that?

Greg McKeown     

And if I’m feeling frustration, what is the tactic that I can use in that moment to reframe it into a more open state?

Dr. Judson Brewer     

So with frustration because it feels closed, what we do is inject the antidote of something that feels more open. So if I’m frustrated, I like to use the antidote of curiosity, because you can’t have binary opposites happening at the same time, you can’t be closed and open. So if I’m frustrated, then I would ask the same questions that we went through earlier around. What does you know, around anxiety? What does frustration feel like in my body? Can I get curious about what that feels like? And can I also see, you know, what is it that I’m, you know, am I? Well, let’s just leave it at that, you know, so what does? What does that frustration feel like in my body?

Greg McKeown   

Doctor Judd what haven’t I asked that I should have asked.

Dr. Judson Brewer    

I think we’ve covered a lot of territory.

Greg McKeown     

It’s been a real pleasure to be with you, thank you for approaching the subject today in a different way. By applying it, I suppose, as a type of intervention. For me and my challenges on behalf of those that are listening, I think it’s helped us to be able to, to wrestle this beyond the concepts, as useful as those are, to how we would put this in practice in our lives, how we would put this into practice in our lives. You did a great service, to me and to this community into this podcast. And of course, we’ll continue to make a great contribution in the world. Thank you so much for being here today. Thank you, Dr. Jett.

Dr. Judson Brewer    

Oh, it’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me.


Essentialism Podcast

Greg McKeown

Wheelhouse Entertainment

Credits:

  • Hosted by Greg McKeown
  • Produced by Greg McKeown and Wheelhouse Entertainment
  • Executive Produced by Greg McKeown, Avi Gandhi, Brent Montgomery, Eric Wattenberg, and Ed Simpson
  • Edited by Emma Gladstone and Deanna Markoff