Can we break bad habits by being more curious about them? During a recent TEDMed Talk, Judson Brewer, a psychiatrist at University of Massachusetts Medical School, proposed that the key to breaking a bad habit is mindfulness–specifically, focusing on how the habit really makes you feel.

Brewer cited a study in which he and his colleagues found that mindfulness training could help people quit smoking. So why does mindfulness seem to work where other quitting strategies don’t?

Judson said it’s because when you try to change your behavior, you’re exercising cognitive control, which is related to activity in a part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex. But when you’re stressed or tired–which is when bad habits often rear their ugly heads–the prefrontal cortex basically shuts off. So at that point, telling yourself “Smoking is bad for me” basically has no effect.

Mindfulness, on the other hand, helps you observe your cravings and your behavior up close, without getting sucked into them. “This is what mindfulness is all about,” Judson said. “Seeing really clearly what we get when we get caught up in our behaviors, becoming disenchanted on a visceral level and from this disenchanted stance, naturally letting go.”

Learn more about the mechanism of habit development and discover a simple but profound tactic that might help you beat your next urge to smoke.


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