From: Howard Jacobson <>
Subject: "It turns out willpower doesn't exist"

Jud Brewer on the science of cravings

tl;dr This week's Plant Yourself Podcast is awesome, and you can listen to or watch the interview here:

1. Da Podcast

Jud Brewer is Director of Research and Innovation at the Mindfulness Center at Brown University, and a second-time guest on Plant Yourself.

When we first talked, two years ago, Jud had just published his groundbreaking book, The Craving Mind, and was in the process of releasing mindfulness apps, Eat Right Now (for dealing with food cravings),  Craving to Quit (for smoking cessation), and Unwinding Anxiety (for, you guessed it, anxiety).

Mindfulness vs Cravings: The Verdict So Far

I wanted to catch up with Jud to find out how his academic research and public writing had migrated into the world. What is the state of mindfulness-based health improvement? Does he have data on how his approach compares to current best practices, like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for smoking and other addictions.

We ended up chatting about some amazing findings. His patients quit smoking at five times the rate of the next most successful program. A mindfulness-based approach to anxiety reduced burnout in medical doctors by 50%, and improved their and their patients lives in the bargain.

Willpower Doesn't Really Exist

We also got into something that Jud may have been trying to tell me two years ago, but I wasn't able to hear or grasp it: Willpower doesn't seem to exist in the brain or the mind.

That is, there are no structures or mechanism in the brain that we know of that operate based on “doing something hard and unpleasant that you really don't want to do.”

Instead, our brains appear to work on the simple heuristic of reward valuation. If we think we'll get a good enough reward, all costs considered, we'll do it. Whatever “it” may be.

What to Do Instead of Willpower

And this has huge implications for how we help ourselves and others change habits and behaviors.

Because it turns out that mindfulness can tap into the power of reward valuation by making us realize – really see and feel and experience in the moment – that our addictive or compulsive behavior of choice (smoking, eating junk food, getting drunk) doesn't actually feel that good after the first couple of puffs/bites/swigs.

So rather than fight against our nature (which is essentially what the Willpower model asks of us), we can “neurohack” ourselves to align our moment by moment actions with our long term values, goals, and priorities.

Listen or watch here

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4. The Close of the Email

Be well, my friend!