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This Is the Weirdest Habit-Breaking Strategy


Jun. 19, 2015 New York Magazine

The latest episode of Psych Crunch, a new podcast hosted by Science of Us pal Christian Jarrett, is all about habits, and it includes a reference to what is maybe the weirdest habit-breaking strategy ever: Imagine your brain, say psychologists Kim Jenkins and Katy Tapper, is a city bus.

This city bus is filled with noisy weirdos, as city buses often are; think of the noisy weirdos as your craving for chocolate, or the urge to bite your nails — whatever habit you’re trying to break. And you, they continue, are the driver of said bus. You can’t help hearing the loud passengers, but you don’t have to take direction from them; you are the one driving the bus. You’ll call the shots here, thank you. It’s mindfulness, essentially — like when my yoga teacher encourages the class to simply observe their physical or emotional feelings, and let them pass right on by.

As Jarrett relates the study setup, Jenkins and Tapper asked their participants to carry around a bag of chocolate with them for five days, and to try their best to resist snacking. One group was told to use this brain-bus trick; the other was not. In the end, the bus group did indeed succeed in eating less chocolate, although not much less — about 21 grams, or 100 calories. So … it doesn’t not work, and it’s definitely an inventive way of doing that mindfulness trick of separating yourself from your emotions. But it is also very, very weird.

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