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Working with Uncertainty: Getting Hooked, and Stepping out of Habit Loops

Online Program
Dates: Apr 24, 2020 - Apr 26, 2020

Instructor(s): Judson Brewer, MD PhD and Robin Boudette

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Program Description:

We are in unprecedented times. We have all lost some part of our lives, even if simply our regular routines. Our minds naturally move toward helping us survive, yet if we don’t know how they work, we can easily slip into behaviors and habits that perpetuate suffering rather than help us collectively move forward together.

For example, fear is a normal human response to danger, yet when coupled with uncertainty, can spin into anxiety and panic. Frustration and anger can easily flare-up in unfamiliar situations, causing us to disconnect. Knowing how our minds work helps us work with them so that we don’t get caught in samsaric habit loops; we can use whatever circumstances we are given to grow, connect, and flourish together.

Understanding how habitual behaviors are formed and perpetuated is critical for helping us break out of these cycles. Ancient Buddhist teachings are now lining up surprisingly well with modern-day psychology and neuroscience in their descriptions of the mechanistic underpinnings of samsaric existence–the habitual perpetuation of suffering driven by craving and aversion. Additionally, insights from these “sciences” clearly point to pragmatic tools for awakening, whether waking from a daydream, working with fear and anxiety, not getting addicted to checking the news, or breaking lifelong addictions. In this online program, we will combine lecture, discussion, and experiential practices to carefully unpack our lived experience of craving and how we can step out of our own cycles of suffering that are fueled by it. Topics will range from dependent origination to operant conditioning, to the neuroscience underlying these processes. A key focus of the program will be to learn how ancient wisdom is brought together with modern science and technology in order to develop practical tools that we can use in our own lives, and step out of our own cycles of suffering. Recommended reading: The Craving Mind: From Cigarettes to Smartphones to Love, Why We Get Addicted and How We Can Break Unhealthy Habits by Judson Brewer.

Learning Intentions:

To understand the links and parallels between ancient Buddhist models of suffering (e.g. dependent origination) and modern psychological models of habit formation (e.g. reinforcement learning); to learn current behavioral and brain mechanisms underlying how mindfulness training changes habitual and addictive behavior (e.g. smoking, stress eating, anxiety); to learn core elements of what makes a substance, behavior or technology (e.g. social media) “sticky" or addictive; and to experience linking conceptual learning with direct practice in working with cravings, urges, and habitual behaviors.

Experience Level:
Suitable for beginning and experienced practitioners.
    About the Instructor(s):
  • Jud Brewer MD Ph.D. (“Dr. Jud”) is a New York Times best-selling author and thought leader in the field of habit change and the “science of self-mastery,” having combined over 25 years of experience with mindfulness training with his scientific research therein. He is the Director of Research and Innovation at the Mindfulness Center and associate professor in Behavioral and Social Sciences and Psychiatry at the Schools of Public Health & Medicine at Brown University. A psychiatrist and internationally known expert in mindfulness training for addictions, Brewer has developed and tested novel mindfulness programs for habit change, including in-person and app-based treatments for smoking, emotional eating, and anxiety. He has also studied the underlying neural mechanisms of mindfulness using standard and real-time fMRI and EEG neurofeedback. Dr. Brewer founded MindSciences (which merged with Sharecare Inc. in 2020) to move his discoveries of clinical evidence behind mindfulness for anxiety, eating, smoking, and other behavior changes into the hands of consumers (see www.drjud.com for more information). He is the author of The Craving Mind: from cigarettes to smartphones to love, why we get hooked and how we can break bad habits (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017), the New York Times best-seller Unwinding Anxiety: New Science Shows How to Break the Cycles of Worry and Fear to Heal Your Mind (Avery/Penguin Random House, 2021) and the forthcoming book The Hunger Habit: why we eat when we’re not hungry and how to stop (Avery/Penguin Random House, 2024). Follow him on twitter @judbrewer.

  • Robin Boudette (she/her) began studying insight meditation in 2004. Her guiding teachers include Anna Douglas and Shaila Catherine. Robin completed the Integrative Study and Practice at BCBS and the Community Dharma Leader Training (CDL 5) at Spirit Rock. She is a certified Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction teacher. She currently teaches dharma-based habit change with Judson Brewer. Robin is on the board of the Racial Equity Initiative and volunteers for Southern Comfort Animal Rescue.