Feb. 21, 2023

How to Hack Your Brain's Reward System to Overcome Anxiety with Dr. Jud Brewer

How can you break bad habits? You know, the ones that contribute to your anxiety, depression, and self-sabotaging behaviors.  One of the world's leading researchers on habit formation is our guest in this Encore episode. Dr. Jud Brewer is a...

 How can you break bad habits? You know, the ones that contribute to your anxiety, depression, and self-sabotaging behaviors. 

One of the world's leading researchers on habit formation is our guest in this Encore episode.

Dr. Jud Brewer is a highly respected psychiatrist and neuroscientist who also serves as the Director of Research and Innovation at Brown University's Mindfulness Center. We delve into his book, "Unwinding Anxiety: New Science Shows How to Break the Cycles of Worry and Fear to Heal Your Mind," and discuss how anxiety can develop into a habit loop.

Dr. Brewer shares practical tips on breaking this pattern and explores why relying solely on willpower may not be enough.

Join us as we explore how to hack your brain's reward system, simple steps to overcome anxiety and addiction, and ultimately break the cycles of worry and fear.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  •  Simple ways to break a bad habit
  • How our habits influence anxiety
  • Why willpower isn’t enough
  • How to hack your brain’s reward system
  • Simple steps to overcome anxiety and addiction
  • How to Break the Cycles of Worry and Fear


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If you enjoyed this episode, check out:

How To Become The Best Version Of Yourself Even When You Feel Like The Worst Version Of Yourself With Jeff Wickersham



Jeremy: [00:00:00] How can you break bad habits? You know, the ones that contribute to your anxiety, depression, self sabotaging behaviors. 

One of the world's leading researchers on habit formation is our guest in this Encore episode. We'll share our interview with Dr. Jug. Jud brewer. He's the director of research and innovation at brown universities mindfulness center. And he's the author of unwinding anxiety. In this episode, you'll learn some practical things you can do right now to start winning the war against anxiety and start building better habits. 

The habits that I have formed in my 44 years on this rock are not generally healthy ones, which is why we do this show is, is just sort of talking about our [00:01:00] struggles to overcome and to do a little better every day and all.

but I've been, I've been acutely aware in the last couple of months of the poor decisions I'm making, and I've already talked about it to some degree, just that I'm not eating well, I'm not taking care of myself, I'm not sleeping well. There's all these things that are driven by this new experience I have with anxiety.

We've talked again a lot about the fact that I run more depressed, but in this last year, you know, blame covid, blame, homeschool, blame, all of it, whatever. My anxiety. off the charts for me to the point where I'm now experiencing panic attacks. I didn't know what they were until I was feeling them. And, and I mentioned to my wife what I was, what I was going through, and she's like, it sounds like you're having a panic attack.

And the more I re researched it, I was like, oh my God. That's, that's totally it. I have never just been like walking down the hall and been hit with this wave of this physical sensation that is indescribable, that knocks you to your knees and leaves you with nothing left for the rest [00:02:00] of the. . Yeah. And it's out of nowhere.

I mean, it is, it's not like I'm, oh God, I got this deadline. I go, oh, Jesus. It's a hard, it's like I'm just walking down the hall and boom. Yeah. I'm just floored. 

Zach: Yeah. And I'm, I'm only laughing at you because I, I generally have three of them before breakfast. I was 

Jeremy: gonna say , I'm starting to know a little bit more what it's like in your world.


Zach: attacks in me . Yep. We are, we're tight. We are really. 

Jeremy: Oh man. And it's just so when it's not that, it's just this undercurrent, this buzz, this, this unnerved feeling that, you know, my only escape is to keep going. Like, oh, I wonder what kind of cereal the kids have. You know, we're, where'd the Pringles go?

We're out. Damn. You know. Oh, good. There's still some movie snacks left over. Like I'm just, I'm just feeding my face with garbage and fully aware. that it's a terrible decision. Fully aware that I'm gonna pay the price by feeling bad, getting fat, you know, not wanting to do anything else cuz that's, it's just this [00:03:00] habit that I've created and it's so interesting that, that, that is the focus a lot of, uh, of, of Dr.

Judd as we refer to him. Dr. Judd's research is, is how your habits affect your anxiety or how your habits and anxiety sort of, I. Agreed. And I, 

Zach: and I actually think we should just move right into the interview because what he has to say about this is so much more entertaining than what, than what you and I can perform

I'm just saying. 

Jeremy: Well, that's good advice. I, I think I agree. We should do that. Let's get right into the interview. Before we do, now, our conversation with Dr. Judd really started with sort of this last year and what it's done to all of our [00:04:00] levels of anxiety.

Dr. Jud Brewer: Well, I would say, you know, anxiety has a number of physical downstream effects. Every, you know, blood pressure is one of the big ones. You know, this is why when we go to the doctor's office, we get hy white coat hypertension while we're nervous, what, you know, what's our blood pressure going to be?

The other thing that it can drive is compensatory habits. , we've seen a large increase in drinking alcohol or overeating. You know, it's the, it used to be the quarantine 15, and then there was the quarantine 20, and then . You know, it's, that's still creeping up. So there are, whether it's social media, whether it's eating, whether it's drinking, we're also forming these short-term compensatory mechanisms that are actually leading to long-term consequences because now you know, we're overweight or we're drinking too 

Zach: much, or, I wanna talk about the book right off the bat here.

I run on the anxious side. Jeremy's the depressed one. I'm the anxious one, so you know, and I've read so many books, but like flipping through the pages of your book, I was like, wow, [00:05:00] there's like real actionable stuff that I can recognize in my daily life. So I kind of wanted to just start at the very beginning with you and talk.

really what is anxiety and, and why do I need to think about habits and addiction when we're talking about 

Dr. Jud Brewer: anxiety? Mm-hmm. , I'm glad you're asking that because that's not a question that I even knew to ask when I was going through residency training. I didn't learn about this in medical school. I didn't learn it in residency.

So if you think of the basic definition of anxiety, it's, you know, this feeling of nervousness where you're unease about something. With an uncertain outcome or an imminent event, right? So we all get anxious, right? because mm-hmm. , the world is uncertain. We're gonna have plenty of things every day that have uncertain outcomes, and it's how we respond to those that matters.

So, as a psychiatrist, I have been trained, you know, give people medications as an example. , the hit rate, so to speak, for anxiety for medications. For gold standard medications, it's [00:06:00] about 20%. So we, I have to treat about five patients with medication before on average. One shows a significant benefit or a significant reduction in symptoms, so I was even getting anxious.

Myself, in terms of how am I gonna help my patients? Cuz 20 percent's not as good as I want it to be. And this is where, you know, I've been, my lab had been studying habit change for a while where we found we could get five tons of quit rates of gold standard treatment for smoking. And we got a 40% reduction with an app-based mindfulness training.

And so like giving somebody an app. 40% reduction in craving related eating. So we had started to work out some of these behavioral neurobiological mechanisms on how to change habits, and then I dug into the literature around anxiety. and lo and behold, somebody had suggested back in the eighties that anxiety could be driven in the same way as other habits.

So my eyes popped out of my head , right when I put them back in. I was thinking, wow, I know a lot about how, how to change habits, but I'd never thought about [00:07:00] approaching anxiety this way. . Mm-hmm. And the basic premise is, you know, three elements to any habit. A trigger behavioral and a reward. And so, for example, with stress eating, if we're anxious, we stress eat.

And then the reward is that we distract ourselves or we get a little bit of a dopamine hit from the food or whatever. But then we're, we're not fixing the root cause of the anxiety. And in fact, we might be causing other problems with anxiety itself. It can be driven through not only the feeling of. But the mental behavior of worry, so worrying about the future is that mental behavior that makes us feel like, well, I'm doing something even if I can't change the outcomes.

And that feeling of doing something is rewarding enough to perpetuate it, yet it feeds back and makes us more anxious. 

Jeremy: I am so glad you brought that up. That is exactly where I've been for the last two months, and I'm fully aware of it. For lunch, my choices were not good, and I was fully aware that this is bad for me.

It's going to [00:08:00] make me fat. I'm not going to feel good after I eat this, and yet I ate it anyways because for five minutes I wanted to not feel the anxious undercurrent that drives everything that I'm doing. Yeah. So how do I replace that? With something bigger that's more meaningful. Because I, I, I've heard you talk about that willpower is not enough.

I, I'm, I want, I want to do better. I wanna make better choices. Yeah. I will make better choices for a week or two, and then I will fall off the wagon because for whatever reason it doesn't work out. How do I get over that hurdle? How do I get past that step of awareness to action? 

Dr. Jud Brewer: Yeah, you're talking about, so this whole yo-yo dieting phenomenon has been active for almost half a century.

You know when Weight Watchers started where they're like, just make sure you cut down on calories. The formula hasn't changed. You know, more calories out than in. yet the, it's a great business model because you can say, well, the formula is right, you just failed the formula. Mm-hmm. , so you need to join our program and stay in it longer or whatever, right?

But the idea there was this great Bob Newhart [00:09:00] skit from the 1970s called, just Stop It . And you, anybody, people have to watch. This is hilarious. Five minutes where ba, you can imagine how it goes. Woman walks into therapist's office, she says, I have this fear. And he leans over his desk and he says, just stop it

So you can imagine. how I would love if willpower works because then my patients could come into my office and I would say, just stop smoking. Just stop overeating. Right? Just stop worrying. And then you know, one visit and they're done. . Right? Right. . So that's not how our brains work. Uhhuh, , you know, if you think of the, let's the most optimistic perspective.

is that willpower gets depleted, you know, over time, you know, end of the day. And if there is willpower at all, our prefrontal cortex, which is where it depends, uh, or where it lives, so to speak, goes offline when we get stressed or anxious. Mm-hmm. . So we can't rely on it when we're anxious. You know, in, in my addiction clinic, there's this saying, hungry, angry, lonely, tired.[00:10:00] 

Hmm. Uh, when you're, any of these things, you're more vulnerable to relapse because it, that willpower goes away. Mm-hmm. . So, let's say at best willpower is, this is, you know, it's the weakling as part of our brain. It's the youngest. From an evolutionary perspective, it's the weakest. It goes offline when we get stressed or anxious, so we can't actually rely on it.

What we need to do is tap into the older, stronger parts of our brain, and this is where reward value comes in. You know, our brain's gonna do things if they're reward. If we pay attention, we can help our brain see very clearly how rewarding something is right now. Versus how rewarding it was, say, when we started doing it.

Like when we started eating cake at birthday parties when we were five, or when we started smoking, when we were a teenager or whatever that was. Mm-hmm. , that's the key. And my lab's actually studied to see, you know, how effective that process is. But it's really comes back to reward value. That's how our brains learn best.

Zach: There was a keyword in there that you mentioned paying attention. It's actually two words, but [00:11:00] paying attention. And I have flipped through your book, so I'm asking you very, very specif. How do we pay attention 

Jeremy: better? You're 

Dr. Jud Brewer: asking the essential question, and we can reduce it to one word, which is awareness.

Mm-hmm. , if you wanna, if you wanna simplify it even more, while we can try to force ourselves to pay attention, but there are also ways that we can bring awareness in. Naturally that draw us in. And this is where I think of, and I write a lot about this in the book, I think of curiosity as our superpower because when we're curious about something, we will naturally pay attention.

Zach: That makes sense. You know, reading through your book and looking at habit loops, I'm seeing them all over in things that I do now. I recognize. as a little bit depressing, too much of my day. Mm-hmm. , how do you get through that? Like, now that I'm aware of these things, , how do I be okay with that? I mean, it's it, it actually makes me a [00:12:00] little bit anxious to realize there's so many habit loops that I need to change.

Dr. Jud Brewer: Yeah. This is so common that in our Unning anxiety app and our Eat Right Now app, actually, we have this module called Muddy Waters, meaning, you know, if you can think of this analogy of. . If there's a stream or this river and there's all this dirt on the bottom, the water looks clear. But as soon as we walk through the water, we're gonna kick up all that dirt.

Mm-hmm. . Well, would you rather have that dirt kicked up now and keep kicking it up so that we can keep it in the water and have it washed downstream so we can see the bottom so we don't trip or whatever. Or would you rather let it build up more and more and more and more? So here I say to people, that's normal.

It's better to know now because the longer you perpetuate a habit, the harder it is to break. So, for example, one of my, uh, patients who wanted to quit smoking, we calculated, he had reinforced his habit loop about 293. Thousand times . Geez. He'd been smoking 40 years. So, you know, [00:13:00] it's better to know at 20 years, or 10 years or five years, whatever the habit is, even though it's seems painful now that we're seeing it, it's better to know now.

Mm-hmm. than not to know. Mm-hmm. , 

Jeremy: I wanna go back to the I idea of curiosity and when I read that the, the analogy that I drew in my mind was similar. A tool that I learned about managing pain a few years ago where so often we're taught to distract yourself from the pain, look away, find some other way so that you don't experience it.

I've found that through this, this technique of really leaning into the pain, being really aware of it, that it gets smaller and smaller and is, becomes much easier to manage than trying to, to look away from it. Is that kind of what you mean by getting curious about the, the anx, the anxiety and the driving emotion?

Dr. Jud Brewer: Yeah, absolutely. We can force ourselves to pay attention or we can use that curiosity to help draw us in so we know that we're learning from it. I, I love this phrase. You may know it, the only way out is through. Mm-hmm. . I love that. Yes. And I It is so true, because we can [00:14:00] try to, you know, our natural reaction is when something's uncomfortable, is to try to run away from it or push it away.

but again, that just adds a bandaid. And then we have to deal with the, the wound itself as it starts to get infected. , mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm. . The, the most important thing is to see, ooh, there's a wound. I need to wash this out carefully. I need to clean this so that it does not get infected. And what curiosity helps us do is provide that kind of antiseptic that says, okay, it's much better to know and, and deal with it now.

And also to lean in. I. Idea of, you know, this two steps forward, one step backwards. I think we can actually reimagine that paradigm because the one step backward implies that we're, we're failing. Like, oh no. You know, I'm, I've taken a step backward. What I would suggest is that we often learn more from our failures than we do from just making progress.

Mm-hmm. . So if we step back. We look at that as, oh, what can I learn from this instead of, oh no, there's no such thing as failure, because we are always learning if we're [00:15:00] open to that, and that's where the curiosity comes in. Oh, this is really uncomfortable. Okay, here my wife calls this. She introduced me to the term, the F G O, the fricking growth opportunity, right?

So can we lean into this as an F G O as compared to running away. 

Jeremy: Yeah. Yeah. It's funny you mentioned your wife. Uh, I was watching your TED Talk that's, uh, that's very popular online, and my wife had a, a, uh, a container of ice cream sitting out to sort of thaw and you were on in the background. She was doing her thing and she sort of heard it, and at the end she went, okay, fine.

Go put the ice cream away. I don't . I don't need it after all, . So that awareness is very powerful. Just taking that minute and going, why am I. Is, do I need this or is this just some reward or distraction for some bad behavior or whatever. It's so funny how powerful that was. Yes, 

Dr. Jud Brewer: awareness is king, and especially if we bring in that attitude of curiosity, you know, I think of it as a superpower.

It can really help us change a whole lot of things. Yeah. 

Zach: Yeah. . So you mentioned in the book [00:16:00] too that it's not just anxiety that can happen from these habit loops, that depression is also wildly popular with habit loops. Can you talk a little more 

Dr. Jud Brewer: about that? Yes, our, our brains love to. Uh, project, let's say.

And so you can think of this as based on a survival mechanism where our thinking and planning part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, it takes p previous scenarios and then it projects into the future. So it can kind of plan, help us say, okay, this is what's gonna happen based on past behavior. So that tends to come in two flavors in our brain.

So one thing that we do is we. Uh, we kind of do this per, it's called perseveration, where we ruminate about the past and we say, oh no, you know, and that's where it turns into this flavor. If you would use the ice cream theme, you know, we're, we're stirring in the chocolate so that that base of ice cream becomes chocolate ice cream.

That base of, of thinking becomes depression. . If we take that and we start worrying about the future and we start [00:17:00] spinning in that direction, that's where we form the flavor of anxiety. So our brains, and there's a number of studies on this, our brains really do not spend a lot of time. In the present moment, we're often regretting things we've done in the past or worrying about things that we are gonna do in the future.

Or if we're really good, we have that mixed , that mixed cone of depression plus anxiety and that I see that a lot as well. It's, 

Jeremy: it's delicious, I gotta tell you. It is yummy. 

Zach: Yeah. Unfortunately that is my favorite 

Jeremy: flavor. . Uh, I wanted to ask you sort of from an evolutionary perspective we are very much, uh, at the, at the whim of, um, powerful interests that are, that want to distract us all of the time.

Constantly. That feeds very well into how we've evolved as people. So are we doomed? And, and if not, how, how do we avoid our own destruction through just chasing the latest, greatest flashy device that beams out of our phone? Yes. So 

Dr. Jud Brewer: I. [00:18:00] predict as to whether we are doom or not. Okay. But what I can say is that the way to make sure that we are not doomed is to really learn how our minds work.

So we know there's this very strong attention economy. It's very, you know, uh, it's a big profit machine. Mm-hmm. , and it's a corporation's job to make money. , right? Mm-hmm. . And so I'm not gonna debate the merits of whether a corporation's good or not. There are many people that do that. You know much better than I do.

But what I do know is the one thing that we do have control over is ourself. And so if we can learn how our minds work, We can then start to see how all of these processes are in play and then we can be able to bring awareness in and choose whether to do X, y, or z rather than just habitually doing it.

Right? And so if, if the ice cream, we see the ice cream commercial, it looks great. We buy the ice cream, we put it out on the counter, we can still decide well, Am I hungry? Do I really want to eat this? Or if we go on social media and we find ourselves [00:19:00] endlessly scrolling, we can ask ourselves, what am I getting from this?

And then as we learn to see, oh, I'm in this habit loop. I am, you know, I'm bored or I'm lacking I feel like I need connection, we can then say, well, let me see if I can meet that need. Rather than just being, you know, a rat pressing a lever for more, you know, more dopamine hits on social media. 

Jeremy: Right.

I had a 

Zach: question for you, but that, that last little bit of, of your comment, really it hit home a little too close. , 

Jeremy: um, I, I, 

Zach: I did wanna ask about procrastination. I guess I've, I've made the excuse many times that I'm not anxious. I just liked the pressure of working last minute on something. , but in, in reading through your book and all of my research, there really is a strong link to these, these habit loops and anxiety and procrastination.

Can you talk a little bit about that? 

Dr. Jud Brewer: I can, and there are several pieces I think it's helpful to touch on. One is that [00:20:00] procrastination tends to come in two flavors as well. So one is anxiety can drive us to procrastinate just because we're trying to avoid that thing that makes us anxious. There's also another flavor of.

Perfectionism where we think, oh, this has to be perfect. And, and we're worried, oh no, I'm, I'm not gonna do this perfectly. And that unpleasant feeling drives us to procrastinate. And there may be other sub flavors as well. I'm sure there are 31 flavors of procrastination, but those are the two, the two favorites that I see.

So they're just mapping out these procrastination habit loops can really help us see, you know, is this procrastination helping the other piece there that you're touching. is around performance anxiety, right? I need to be anxious to get this project done. Mm-hmm. . Well, this is a, this is a fallacy that's actually been, I don't know if a word mem, ified or, you know, really put out there on the internet as, as being this true thing.

And I actually went and chased down the meme. It goes back to a, a study from 1908. Are you ready [00:21:00] for this Japanese dancing? and I, I give some details about this in the book if people are really interested in geeking out about it. But basically these researchers found that if they shocked Japanese dancing mice shock, if they shocked them a, a moderate amount, they would do better in whatever, you know, maze or whatever they were trying to, uh, use as a surrogate for, you know, some human behavior.

And then if they shock them too much shock of all shocks, they didn't do so well, right? Mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm. . There was a guy, uh, who hunt cellier, I believe, who gave a talk in the fifties. So people largely ignored this study cited like four times, you know, between then and the fifties. And then this guy Cellier comes along and he gives this talk where he, he suggests without any evidence that possibly anxiety could be driving enhanced performance.

And then one of celia's old graduate students went on and claimed he. So these two guys, Japanese dancing mice, it was York's Dodson. So he said, therefore he did, he held rats heads underwater and then [00:22:00] found that if you held them underwater too long, shocked they didn't perform as well. Well, how do you, how do you account for them?

Just trying to catch their breath is one of my questions. , but he, he claimed that this York's Dodson. Model was law. They called it the York's Dodson Law. That moderate amounts of anxiety helped people perform with, again, no evidence for this. These are all rat and mouse experiments, and they were linking anxiety with just arousal, you know, just interchange them.

When you look at the actual literature, and there's a great review article, I think from 1915 that, or 2015, where they highlighted how this Yorks Dodson thing went. Citing being cited fewer than 10 times in the nineties, a hundred times by like year 2000 and over a thousand times by 2010. So this exponential curve probably due to the internet and people saying, oh, performance anxiety, this, let's see if it's just true.

10 times as many studies show that there is a direct. inverse relationship between anxiety and performance, as in any amount of [00:23:00] anxiety, decreases performance as compared to the ones that suggest that it enhances performance. And in fact, if you look at it, anxiety makes your thinking and planning brain go offline.

So why would it improve performance so, so here I would say anybody can do their own experiment and explore. is anxiety actually helping me. The best way to do that is to clone yourself and then be calm and curious and passionate and say, which one helps me get the job done better? I would say keeping your prefrontal cortex online is probably the way to go.

Mm-hmm. , but we can all do that experiment for ourselves. It's, 

Jeremy: it's interesting because hearing you say that, it seems so logical because you hear so often about like getting into that flow state, doing the thing that you love, where time just sort of vanishes and you're just into it. There is no anxiety in that state.

You are just riding the wave. of, of productivity, whatever it. 

Dr. Jud Brewer: Absolutely. And people talk about flow as optimal performance. Mm-hmm. , like it doesn't get any better than that. Right. Right. 

Jeremy: Absolutely. I want to, in, in our, sort of our closing minutes here, let's talk about some [00:24:00] strategies. What can people do to really practice this awareness?

And, and you mentioned that, uh, meditation is not even necessarily require to, to get the benefits of meditation. What can people do when they feel the panic attack coming on? They've recognized the habit loop, whatever, whatever their method. What are some tools that people can employ to to start fighting 

Dr. Jud Brewer: back?

Yeah, so I would say you. one, two, and three. Awareness, awareness, awareness, . And so of course I don't, I can't just write awareness and have that be an entire book. Sure. Book, yeah. . So yeah, maybe one page with a bunch of blank pages and I'll, and a few references. There you go. So the key I, you know, I split the book out into three-step process based on what I've been seeing in my research and in my clinic.

And so, and then I can detail all the research about how this actually works as part of it step. Map out these habit loops. We even provide this free habit map around map my habit.com, where anybody can download this thing and just print it out and start mapping out their habit loops. What's the trigger?

What's the behavior? What's the result? Whether it's worrying, whether it's [00:25:00] procrastination, whether it's overeating, whatever it is, anybody can do that. The second step is really hacking our brain's reward processing. where we can ask a simple question like, what am I getting from this? Am I worrying? Is the worrying fixing the problem?

Is it keeping my family safe? No . Mm-hmm. . But it's not just an intellectual understanding. It's about feeling into that and also seeing that the worrying is actually perpetuating and driving more anxiety so that we start to become disenchanted where we can see very clearly the worrying didn't fix the problem, it.

you know, it didn't make me feel safer and it actually made me more anxious. We start to become disenchanted with that. Same for overeating, same for smoking, same for procrastinating. Third step is bringing in this bigger, better offer. I call these the BBOs, and I give a bunch of tools that people can actually use Pragmatically.

Again, they come in these two main flavors of curiosity and kindness. So basically when you think of anxiety, it closes us down. It makes us feel wound up. Mm-hmm. , curiosity and [00:26:00] kindness both open us and you can't be closed and open at the same time. They're binary opposites. Mm-hmm. . So anything that can help open us up, whether it's.

Practicing gratitude, practicing kindness, remembering when somebody was kind to us, or just being curious, oh, what's this anxiety feel like in this moment that, oh, starts to open us up already. Mm-hmm. , 

Jeremy: and you mentioned, uh, a couple of different apps. I'm curious about, tell me about the, the apps that you use to help people with their various issues.

Dr. Jud Brewer: We have a smoking app called Craving to Quit. Mm-hmm. , uh, one for emotional and overeating called Eat right now. And then one to help people with anxiety called unwinding anxiety, you know, and this is the one where we got a 67% reduction in these clinically validated anxiety scores. So, you know, some evidence-based tools that people can use, you know, if they don't, if they prefer not to read a book or something like 

Jeremy: that.

Zach: Right on. I downloaded the the unwinding anxiety app, cuz I definitely need. Sounds like I might need the eating one 

Jeremy: as well, . 

Dr. Jud Brewer: Well, the nice thing is [00:27:00] it starts to generalize. So we find that somebody uses one of the apps and they, they learn how their mind works, and then they're like, oh, I'm actually applying this to changing my eating habits if they're working on anxiety.

And so the nice thing is, you know, what we try to do is just help people understand how their minds work, and then let them go from there.

Jeremy: All right. That was Dr. Judd, Dr. Judson Brewer. A lot of fun talking to him, and we plan to do so. In the coming months. We've already started talking about having him back on. Cause that was such a fun conversation. And by the way, his new book just came out this week. It's called Unwinding Anxiety. New Science shows how to break the Cycles of Worry and Fear to Heal Your Mind.

You can get a copy of that book right now in the show notes for this episode@thefitness.com. And one of the things that, that I'm still kind of floored by, and really I think is already just moments after having that conversation, uh, having a positive effect on me is the idea. I am not just weak, right?

Like my willpower, of course it's not enough [00:28:00] because the, the way your brain functions, the way that your prefrontal cortex shuts off and, and your willpower is basically meaningless. I mean, for years my entire life, I have felt like, God, why can't I just stick to this? Why can't I overcome that craving?

Mm-hmm. , why can't I be better than that? And knowing that there is something in the wiring that goes because it's not possible. Is a huge relief that that it's, that is one of the most beneficial things I've heard in a long time. That is immediately applicable because it's not even that I have to do anything, but just having the awareness that there is something on a physical level that happens that makes my willpower just not enough.

To overcome some of my struggles. That's, that's huge. Yeah. And 

Zach: I'm seeing it everywhere now too. Like even just, we took a break for five minutes after the interview and as I was coming back down to my home recording studio, I had a can of mixed nuts on the, on the kitchen island. And I walked by and [00:29:00] was like, there was a trigger cuz I was like, I need some of those.

Mm-hmm. , I'm just seeing it. Yeah. Everywhere now. And it. , you know, it's one thing to be aware of it, and now I actually need to go take that next step and do something about 

Jeremy: it. I do the same thing. So I, I've been working from home for the last year and pretty much the same time every day I step away to go, just take a break, get away from the screen, do you know, do something else.

And it almost always involves hitting the pantry, hitting the fridge, like some, I'm not hungry. I know I can eat once or twice a day and be fine. , but emotionally, I needed 37, 47 times a day. I gotta put something in my face to feel better for a minute, and, and it's just, it's all habit. There's, there's no actual need for the thing that I'm doing.

And so I just, again, sort of being reminded to take a step back and, and say to yourself, what is this doing to me? What, what benefit am I getting out of This is again, just a massively helpful tool to start sort of fighting back against this, [00:30:00] this mess. 

Zach: No, it's, it's a mess for a reason, right? I guess what if it wasn't a mess?

What would we do? I, I don't know what I would do with my life, if I didn't 

Jeremy: have a mess to clean up. If we were just happy all the time, that'd be a bunch of bullshit is what that'd be. Perpetual 

Zach: mess that I have to clean up all 

Jeremy: the time. And, and I also love, uh, you know, the, the phrase that he mentioned, the, you know, the only way over something is.

That, you know, there, there's so many things like that where I hear someone say those things that, that we put out on social media that we say to ourselves all the time, but when enough time passes and somebody says, you're like, ah, that's right. Like you just, you sort of need those constant reminders to, to just sort of check in with yourself.

And remember what your values are, what you're doing to, to be a better person 

Zach: and what your long-term goal is. Right? It's, it's that, it's that gratification monkey, that instinct, gratification mm-hmm. that we're all looking for. But whatever your long-term goals are, you gotta keep those front of mind.

Absolutely. All right. After all this talk [00:31:00] about anxiety though. Like now, I, I've been avoiding a project at home because I'm a little anxious about it and, . I'm just gonna go tackle it right now and get it done with and 

Jeremy: out of the way. What's the project? 

Zach: It is nothing really big. It's, I just have to, um, we removed a whole bunch of baseboard from our walls, uh, so I can paint the walls.

Yeah. And the baseboard not get paint all over the, the carpet. Yeah. I just have to put all the baseboards back on the wall. Oh 

Jeremy: God. That's 

Zach: annoying. But I have a lot of anxiety about it because, If I don't get them perfectly straight and they'll never be straight, I'm gonna feel upset and feel like I did a bad job.

So I'm very anxious about this because I can't do it. Perfect. 

Jeremy: I've been feeling the same thing because, you know, I've, I've mentioned sort of in passing that we're possibly moving very soon, and part of that process is getting our, some work done in our house and it means getting a bunch of our stuff out of our house and into the, into the storage unit.

And I'm totally doing that thing. You, you mentioned where I'm like, I'll, I'll get around to it. I'll get. They're gonna be here in a week, whether we're ready for 'em or not. So it's starting to be crunch [00:32:00] time. So over the weekend it was a lot of like, okay, box this up, take it over to the storage unit, box this up, take it over to the storage unit.

And so I keep doing a lot of that too, where it's just like, okay, I've been putting that off. Gotta gotta go tackle it, gotta face it, head on and, and just get it done. And it's just not 

Zach: fun. It's not fun. But at the same time, like, you know, again, I really like this book. This might actually. Be one of my giveaway books that I give to people knowing why I'm avoiding something and seeing what that trigger is and the avoidance.

I'm hopeful that, you know, by employing some of the techniques in this book, I can actually change that behavior a little bit. 

Jeremy: Yeah, well, like you said, the bigger, better reward is gonna be, you know, even if we don't move, I'm gonna have a much nicer house cause all this work's gonna get done. Mm-hmm. , so that's, that's the bigger, better reward than, well I just don't wanna do that right now and it's much easier to sit here and just keep talking to.

Zach: yes. But I've had two houses now that we have for years talked about, you know, we're gonna make this improvement, we're gonna do that improvement, we're gonna do this. And then when it was a month before the house goes on the [00:33:00] market mm-hmm. , we're like, oh, we should do all that. And then we fi we find all the energy in the world to finish all the projects.

And we live in the house that we wanted to live in for all of like three days. Yeah. And then we can't touch anything cuz then it's on the market. and then it's gone. Yeah. You're like, well, that was 

Jeremy: fun. Yeah. Should have done that 10 years ago. Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. Exactly. All right, well I gotta go do that.

And he's gotta go to that other thing. So we're gonna wrap it up and get outta here. We will be back next week with a brand new episode. Uh, please do visit our website and subscribe, uh, to our newsletter as well as to all of our various social media feeds that you use when you're trying to escape your anxiety and depression.

Uh, you can find all of that at our website, the fitness.com. We'll be back there next week with a brand new episode. Thanks for. 

Zach: See you everyone. 

Dr. Jud Brewer: We know this podcast is amazing and does not seem to lack anything, but we do need a legal disclaimer. Jeremy and Zack are not doctors. They do not play them on the internet, and even if they did play them on the internet, they would be really bad at it.

Please consult your physician prior to [00:34:00] implementing any changes that you heard on this podcast. The listener assumes that Jeremy and Zack do not know what they are talking about and that you will do your own research on the topics talked about on this podcast.


Dr. Judson BrewerProfile Photo

Dr. Judson Brewer

Addiction Psychiatrist

Dr. Judson Brewer is an internationally renowned addiction psychiatrist and neuroscientist. He is an associate professor in the School of Public Health, and Medical School at Brown University. His 2016 TED talk, "A Simple Way to Break a Bad Habit," has been viewed over 14 million times. He has trained Olympic athletes and coaches, government ministers, and business leaders. His first book, The Craving Mind: from cigarettes to smartphones to love, why we get hooked and how we can break bad habits, was published in over 16 languages.