Unwinding Anxiety: New Science Shows How to Break the Cycles of Worry and Fear to Heal Your Mind by Judson Brewer

Part 1 Mapping Your Mind: First Gear

5. How to Map Your Mind

  • You can start with a blank piece of paper and write the words Trigger, Behavior, and Reward on separate lines. The trigger will often be anxiety due to something you feel or experience. The behavior is the bad habit itself such as drinking or procrastinating. The trigger could also be something like your spouse speaking to you in a certain manner, which causes worry that leads to anxiety. As you engage in this mapping process don’t worry about changing things just yet. Go to Dr. Jud’s Map My Habit Site and download his mind mapping template. The key idea is that changing habits is hard work but doesn’t have to be painful. You can harness your brain’s habit-forming machinery to do the work for you. You must be patient with the process to see results.

6. Why Your Previous Anti-Anxiety (and Anti-Habit) Strategies Failed

  • Here we review several anti-habit strategies. Review the ones you have tried and ask yourself “which ones worked.” Habits aren’t all bad. Our brain forms habits to create space in our thinking brain to plan and think. One strategy is using your willpower, which may be genetic. Unfortunately, most of us can’t just tell ourselves to stop being anxious. A second strategy is substitution. Here is where you have some candy every time you crave a cigarette or look at cute puppies when anxiety hits. You can also prime your environment. If you have an ice cream craving, for example, you can fight it by not having any in the house.
  • The final strategy is mindfulness. This is the awareness that arises through paying attention in the present moment, on purpose, and nonjudgmentally. If you aren’t aware you are doing something habitually, you will continue to do it. It’s like being on autopilot>/em>. You can learn to recognize your habit loops while they are happening. This allows you to get curious and ask “why am I doing this,” “what triggered this behavior,” what reward am I getting,” and “do I want to keep doing this.” Curiosity feels good and is its own reward. Notice a craving, get curious about it, and ride it out. Learning to pay attention can lead to a lot of behavior change.”

7. Dave’s Story, Part 1a

  • In addition to the story of one patient we face the question of whether anxiety is necessary for success as many people believe. Dr. Jud doesn’t seem to think so as many nonanxious people succeed. Just because you are anxious and get good grades doesn’t mean that the anxiety caused the good grades. The big idea here is that correlation is not causation.

8. A Brief Word on Mindfulness

  • Mindfulness is the awareness that arises through paying attention to the present moment on purpose in a nonjudgemental manner. If you are not aware that you are doing something habitually you will continue to do it. Meditation can help you be more mindful, but it isn’t necessary. What your mind does when it isn’t engaged in a specific task is your default mode network (DFN). It’s hub is a brain region called the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC). It gets activated when people think about things they crave. This perseverative thinking is the hallmark of depression and anxious worry. Depressed people are good at perseverative thinking and two-thirds also have anxiety disorders. Mindfulness helps us become aware of perseverative thinking and can let us pull ourselves out of it. People who are depressed perseverate about the past. People who are anxious perseverate about the future. Mindfulness jumps in and helps to dismantle the process of perseveration.

9. What Is Your Mindfulness Personality Type?

  • From simple animals to humans there are three habitual responses to things. They are 1. Approach/fight, 2. Avoid/flight, and 3. Neither/freeze. To help you determine your tendencies there is a 13-question Behavioral Tendencies Quiz or a mindfulness personality quiz. Type 1 people might do well in marketing or sales. Type 2 people should have good attention to detail. Type 3 people tend to be more creative. Approach people (1) tend to be optimistic, affectionate, passionate, and confident. Avoid people (2) tend to be clear-thinging, discerning, organized, and judgemental. Go with the flow people (3) tend to be easygoing, tolerant, less organized, and dreamy. Being aware of your tendencies is helpful when you are trying to change habits because if you don’t see basic tendencies, you can’t change them.
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