Brewer calls attention to a bad habit

Kenny Schultz


There are ways to break a bad habit and Judson Brewer understands how mindfulness training could help people quit smoking.

Brewer, a psychiatrist, neuroscientist and author, studies the neural mechanisms of mindfulness using standard and real-time fMRI. He has translated research findings into programs to treat addictions and believes cutting out a pesky habit is all about training oneself. 

In his TED Talk, he shares some groundbreaking research about how mindfulness practices can actually help people break even the most long-lasting habits.

This reward-based learning process is called positive and negative reinforcement.

He asked the question, “What if we just got really curious about what was happening in our momentary experience?”

Researchers in the lab studied mindfulness smoking and actually told many people to keep smoking. “Just be curious about what it’s like when you do,” Brewer said.

He used an example of a girl who was a mindful smoker who stated to him, “Mindful smoking: smells like stinky cheese and tastes like chemicals, YUCK!”

The girl had gone from knowing in her head that smoking is bad to knowing it in her bones. She started to become disappointed with her behavior.

The prefrontal cortex is the youngest part of the brain from an evolutionary perspective. It helps people understand, on an intellectual level, that they shouldn’t smoke. When it goes offline, they fall back into their old habits.

“Seeing what we get from our habits helps us understand them at a deeper level-to know in our own bones,” Brewer said.

Another important part of mindfulness training is the paradox, which is just about being really into getting close and personal with might really be going on in the body and mind.

Brewer said, “In one study, we found that mindfulness training was twice as good as gold standard therapy at helping people quit smoking. So it actually works.”

Brewer has helped many addictions so far and his studies are very interesting. To watch him speak about it in his TED Talk, go to,