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Mental Intelligence

Charles Duhigg: The Golden Rule of Habit Change

By Conscious Living, Mental Intelligence One Comment

Why Transformation Occurs:

Tony Dungy – his coaching approach would help illuminate how to remake the habits in anyone’s life.

Tony Dungy had waited an eternity for the job as  head coach of the Buccaneers. For 17 years, he prowled the sidelines as an assistant coach, first at the University of Minnesota, then with the Pittsburgh Steelers, then the Kansas City Chiefs, and then back to Minnesota with  the Vikings. Four times in the past decade, he had been invited to interview for head coaching positions with NFL teams.

All four times, the interviews hadn’t gone well.

Part of the problem was Dungy’s coaching philosophy. In his job interviews, he would patiently explain his belief that the key to winning was changing players’ habits. He wanted to get players to stop making so many decisions during a game, he said. He wanted them to react automatically, habitually. If he could instill the  right habits, his team would win. Period.

“Champions don’t do extraordinary things,” Dungy would explain. “They do ordinary things, but they do them without thinking, too fast for the other team to react. They follow the habits they’ve learned.”

How, the owners would ask, are you going to create those new habits?

Oh, no, he wasn’t going to create new habits. Dungy was going to change players’ old ones. And the secret to changing old habits was using what was already inside players’ heads. Habits are a three-step loop –– the cue, the routine, and the reward –– but Dungy only wanted to attack the middle step, the routine. He knew from experience that it was easier to convince someone to adopt a new behavior if there was something familiar at the beginning and end.

His coaching strategy embodied an axiom, a Golden Rule of habit change that study after study has shown is among the most powerful tools for creating change. Dungy recognized that you can never truly extinguish bad habits. Rather, to change a habit, you must keep the old cue and deliver the old reward, but insert a   new routine.

That’s the rule: If you use the same cue and provide the same reward, you can shift the routine and change the habit. Almost any behavior can be transformed if the cue and reward stay the same.

Four times Dungy explained his habit-based philoso- phy to team owners. Four times they listened politely, thanked him for his time and then hired someone else.

Then, in 1996, the woeful Buccaneers called. Dungy flew to Tampa Bay and, once again, laid out his plan for how they could win. The day after the final interview, they offered him the job.

Tony Dungy – the only coach in NFL history to reach the play-offs in 10 consecutive years, the first African American coach to win a Super Bowl.

Dungy’s system would eventually turn the Bucs into one of the league’s winningest teams. He would become the only coach in NFL history to reach the play-offs in 10 consecutive years, the first African American coach to win a Super Bowl, and one of the most respected figures in professional athletics. His coaching techniques would spread throughout the league and all of sports. His approach would help illuminate how to remake the habits in anyone’s life.

There is, unfortunately, no specific set of steps guaranteed to work for every person. We know that a habit cannot be eradicated –– it must, instead, be replaced. And we know that habits are most malleable when the Golden Rule of habit change is applied. If we keep the same cue and the same reward, a new routing can be inserted.

But that’s not enough. For a habit to stay changed, people must believe change is possible. And, most often, that belief only emerges with the help of a group.

If you want to quit smoking, figure out a different routine that will satisfy the cravings filled by cigarettes. Then, find a support group, a collection of other former smokers, or a community that will help you believe you can stay away from nicotine, and use that group when you feel you might stumble.

If you want to lose weight, study your habits to deter- mine why you really leave your desk for a snack each day and then find someone to take a walk with you, to gossip with at their desk rather than in the cafeteria, a group that tracks weight-loss goals together, or someone who also wants to keep a stock of apples, rather than chips, nearby.

The evidence is clear: If you want to change a habit, you must find an alternative routine, and your odds of success go up dramatically when you commit to changing as part of a group. Belief is essential, and it grows out of a communal experience, even if that community is only as large as two people. ●


Habit Reversal Therapy

Today, habit reversal therapy is used to treat ver- bal and physical tics, depression, smoking, gam- bling problems, anxiety, bedwetting, procrastination, obsessive-compulsive disorders and other behav- ioral problems. And its techniques lay bare one of the fundamental principles of habits: Often, we don’t really understand the cravings driving our behaviors until we look for them.

If you identify the cues and rewards, you can change the routine. At least, most of the time. For some habits, however, there’s one other ingredient that’s necessary: belief.
Understanding the cues and cravings driving your habits won’t make them suddenly disap- pear –– but it will give you a way to plan how to change the pattern.

The author: Charles Duhigg is an investigative reporter for The New York Times. He is a winner of the National Academies of Sciences, National Journalism, George Polk, Gerald Loeb and other awards, and was part of a team of finalists for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize.

He is a frequent contributor to This American Life, NPR, PBS Newshour and Frontline. He is a graduate of Harvard Business School and Yale University.

From the book: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg.

Robert K. Hall: Empty Chair, Full Heart

By Conscious, Conscious Living, Emotional Intelligence, Mental Intelligence, Super Conscious, Wisdom 3 Comments

Robert K. Hall

In the mid twentieth century, primarily in America, a new psycho-spiritual movement began to emerge, making use of ancient and modern healing practices from all parts of the world. Among the notable pioneers was Robert Hall, who began his foray into the new psychology by apprenticing with both Fritz Perls and Ida Rolf, each of whom had developed the own healing methodologies.  Dr. Hall also studied meditation under the Indian master Charan Singh, and learned Polarity Therapy from its founder, Randolph Stone.  Since developing his own unique practices, Dr Hall has earned and international reputation as an innovator of mind-body therapies.  He is the co-founder of the Lomi School of Somatic Studies, and, since 2001, director of El Dharma in Todos Santos, BCS, Mexico ( A beloved Meditation teacher, now emeritus on the Spring Rock Teachers Council, Dr Hall currently leads meditation and Gestalt retreats/workshops throughout Mexico.  He also published two volumes of poetry, two spoken-word CD’s with music, and recently in Mexico, two English/Spanish collections of essays on contemporary Buddhism, illustrated with his paintings and poetry. In June 2012, Inquiring Minds editors Barbara Gates, Kevin Griffin and Wes Nisker held the following telephone conversations with Dr. Hall, who was at his home in Mexico.

Inquiring Mind:  Robert, you have been working with emotions your whole life, professionally and, we presume, personally as well.  Do you think that as a culture we in the West are skillful in dealing with emotions?

Robert Hall:  I don’t think so.  As a therapist, bodyworker and meditation retreat teacher I have repeatedly found that people come to work with me who are in emotional upheaval, but they have no knowledge of what emotion is occurring or how it relates to their personal histories.  There is often a sense of energetic movement and chaos that is experienced in the body, but for the most part, the emotion is not identified.  The great success of Daniel Goleman’s work on emotional intelligence is very important, because a majority of people don’t have any idea what they’re really feeling.  When I started work as a psychotherapist, that was one of the strangest things I encountered.

IM:  Does meditation practice help people get in touch with what they are feeling?

RH:  Yes, especially the emphasis in Vipassana on paying attention to sensations of the body.  That helps connect people to their emotions.  However, in the early years of meditation practice in the West, the meditation teachers didn’t have much experience in dealing with emotions in their own lives, not to mention in the lives of students.  So for quite a long time there was a lot of confusion about how to work with emotions.

IM:  What would happen on a retreat if as student was crying a lot or seemed emotionally upset?  How would teachers deal with that?

RH:  Well, in the early days, they might not try to obstruct the emotion, but generally they would not refer to it as something to be attended to or talked about.  It was kind of allowed and at the same time, ignored.  You know, “It’s just your personality.  Let it go and come back to breath.”  The real work was to come back to breath.  The concentration practice was what was emphasized.

IM:  Was more attention given to the emotions in various psychological practices?

Ida Rolf – founder of Rolfing bodywork. Ida first taught her bodywork system to two MDs. Robert was one of those doctors.

RH:  Not Really.  There was a similar dismissal of emotions in the whole body-mind community.  When I was working with Ida Rolf, I had some cataclysmic upheavals of re-experiencing trauma, for instance, but she essentially ignored my turmoil and didn’t want to talk about it.  That was the attitude in a lot of the healing community in the seventies.  Once exception was Fritz Perls, who basically invented the psychological school known as Gestalt, and who was a very important teacher to me.  I think his contribution to psychology was to make it possible for people to feel and name their emotions.  He developed techniques, such as the empty chair conversation, where you have to explore your projections onto other people.

IM:  When you started teaching Vipassana meditation, did you abandon the techniques of Gestalt, or did you try to integrate some of that approach in your work with meditation students?

RH:  I was never able to fully integrate the Gestalt work in a retreat setting because the retreats were essentially silent.  However, in my work with small groups and individuals in private practice, I combined meditation with the Gestalt work.  I found that the ability to pay attention is very useful in Gestalt.

Recently I’ve started teaching retreats in Mexico where I fully integrate the two practices in a retreat setting.  The days take place in silence, but in the evenings, instead of Dharma talks, I will do Gestalt sessions.  These sessions show people the power of emotions, how to identify them, and how to embody and explore them.

IM:  Could you give an example of one of your Gestalt sessions?

RH:  I will sit in the open chair, the classical Gestalt format, and invite people to come forward one at a time to engage me in dialogue.  I make use of what I have learned in Gestalt over the years of bringing forth the conflicts within the personality, the polarities.  Quite often people get in touch with some deep emotion that gets worked through in the process.  And the people who are observing the process are living through it vicariously.
So here’s a typical situation: I call the open chair and a young woman comes forward.  She is in her late twenties and she starts talking with me about her life.  I must say that over the years I have developed an ability to sniff out repressed emotion.  I can feel it when it is present, and I usually know exactly what emotion is being repressed.  So this young woman starts complaining to me about her life and I fell that she is holding a lot of anger.  Then at some point she mentions her home life and starts to talk about her mother, and I hear in her tone of voice there is a lot of rage towards her mother.  So then I ask her to brink her mother to the empty chair and have a conversation with her.  At that point, all her projections about her mother come forward within the context of this conversation.  I have her talk to her mother and then change chairs and become her mother talking back.  When the work is really successful, at some point she realizes that all of the conflict is taking place within her own mind.  She understands that she is speaking to herself, not her mother.  And when that happens, wonderful awakenings occur.  Fritz used to call these awakenings “mini-satoris.”

IM:  In the Satipattana Sutra, the Buddha’s instructions for dealing with emotions or mind states (chitta) is simply to become aware of them.  ‘One knows a lustful mind to be lustful,” he says, or “One knows an angry mind to be angry.”  There is no moralizing or suggested fix.  All that is recommended is a simple and straightforward awareness.

RH:  That is really beautiful.  But I think that my work involves a little more than simple awareness, mostly because people don’t know how to identify the emotion.  It isn’t so easy to know “a mind with anger” partly because people get swept away by it.  So I assist them in experiencing the emotion in the body, at the level of sensation.  And in that way you start to know what anger feels like.  So then I might say “Repeat with me, this is anger.  This is anger.”  That way the connection is made.  Then I ask people to feel it deeply, as the energy of the body at the level of sensations.  Then they really start to know what anger is and what it feels like.  In a retreat setting, this understanding is very powerful, because of course, the concentration and quiet during the day has created a context for this exploration.

IM:  So describe how you would support this young woman in going back to her meditation process.

RH:  After deep work like that, which is often very dramatic, I will take time to talk with the retreatant about how the emotion is now coming into conscious awareness, and how the awareness itself is healing.  The light of awareness starts to dissolve the contraction in the body that has been holding the emotion.  One has to do this carefully though, because it can happen too quickly and become overwhelming.  There has to be an educational process that goes with it.

IM:  Do you find that over the years, meditation teachers have become more sophisticated when it comes to psychological issues?

RH:  Without a doubt.  I think Jack Kornfield has taken leadership in helping to bridge the gap between meditation and psychology.  At Spirit Rock there is also a lot of interest in Peter Levine’s work, Somatic Experiencing, and I think that’s really valuable.  In general, in the meditation community, emotion is no longer seen as an obstruction to awakening but as a phenomenon to be investigated as part of the awakening process.

IM:  Do you think it is important for people to explore an emotion in the context of their personal history?

RH:  Yes, in the beginning I might encourage people to explore how they came to have these particular feelings.  But then I will help them experience the emotion, and it’s always a bodily experience, one that involves paying attention to sensations.  At some point the body starts to become formless, and we are no longer doing emotional work.  The body becomes a field, an energy field, and we connect to the universal nature of the experience.  We have moved out of the work of psychology and into the spiritual realm.

Fritz Perls practically invented psychological Gestalt

IM:  In his Gestalt work, did Fritz Perls guide people to make that leap from the personal to the universal?

RH:  Fritz himself made the leap very often.  He was always looking for the point where the two sides of the ego, the polarities, would come to a stalemate.  He called that place “the impasse.”  At that point, a kind of transcendence could occur, an awakening out of duality.  I saw it happen many times.  But, after he left the scene, his followers and imitators didn’t seem to have his skill or sophistication.  Gestalt got relegated to some kind of pounding on the pillow and getting your rage out.  The transcendent aspect of it was lost.  Because of my experience of studying vipassana, I feel that I have held on to some of that skill, or at least to the greater purpose of the work.

IM:   What do you mean when you say the two poles of the ego reach an impasse?

RH:  Essentially, our consciousness is split: we see the world through a lens of opposites.  Fritz saw the split occurring within each of us, in the ego structure.  He called the two polarities “the top dog” and “the underdog.”  There is always the dominator and the passive one, and they are in constant conflict with each other.   Emotions arise out of those conflicts.  Gestalt is a way of isolating those conflicts within the ego and then working towards the integration of the two sides.  It’s brilliant really.

The dominant voice is usually parental.  The other voice is more childlike, and that voice is saying, “Hey, give me a break.  I am doing the best that I can.  Get off my back.”

An example of the inner dialogue might be one voice saying, “Listen, you’re too weak.  You need to stand up and take a position.  You need to make yourself known.”  The other voice says, “Yeah but people don’t like me when I do that.  And I don’t want people to dislike me.  That scares me when you talk that way.”  That’s two sides of one person.  You realize that that is simplified?

IM:  Yes, of course.

RH:  Another dialogue might include a voice that says, “I feel bad all the time.  I think there is something wrong with me.  I feel sick a lot.  It’s hard to get up in the morning.”  And then the other side says “Yeah, well if you ate better, you would feel better.  And if you did a little exercise you would feel better.  Why don’t you start taking care of yourself?”

Or one voice might say, “I am so alone.  I have never found a partner.  I need an intimate relationship.”  And then the other side says. “Yeah, well you remember the last time you had an intimate relationship. Remember how that worked out?”

Those kinds of conversations go on inside a lot of people.  The dialogue between the two voices is fairly continuous internally and often takes place below consciousness.  Often the conflict is felt as contraction and discomfort in the body, some restlessness and pain. The inner dialogue is reflected in the body as unpleasant sensations.

In the Gestalt work, what I try to do is bring the dialogue into awareness by acting out the two sides in conversations with each other.  In that way we are exploring the ego structure.  When we investigate those inner dialogues in public, people are deeply affected.  At a meditation retreat, people are silently observing their inner conflict, and when they see it acted out in front of them the light goes on: “Oh, I get it.  This is happening right now in my mind.”  People begin to see the drama as impersonal, as well as impermanent.  The emotions arising out of the conflict may no longer have such impact or control.  People will enjoy a taste of freedom.

Rick Hanson: Cling Less, Love More

By body mind spirit, Conscious Living, Emotional Intelligence, Health & Wellbeing, Mental Intelligence, Spiritual Intelligence No Comments

by Rick Hanson, Ph.D. – Neuropsychologist and author of Buddha’s Brain and Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time

As a rock climber and a parent, I know some physical kinds of clinging are good — like to small holds or small hands!

Clinging as a psychological state has a feeling of tension in it, or obsession, or compulsion.But clinging as a psychological state has a feeling of tension in it, and drivenness, insistence, obsession, or compulsion. As experiences flow through the mind — seeing, hearing, planning, worrying, etc. — they have what’s called a “hedonic tone” of being pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. It’s natural to like what’s pleasant and to dislike what’s unpleasant, no problem so far. But then the mind takes it a step further — usually very quickly — and tries to grab what’s pleasant, fight or flee from what’s unpleasant, or prod what’s neutral to get pleasant: This quality of grabbing, pushing, resisting, or pressing is the hallmark of clinging.

Clinging is different from healthy desire, where we have wholesome values, aims, purposes, aspiration, and commitments — without being attached to the results. Yes, we could feel passionate about our goals and work hard for them, and the stakes could be high (e.g., the health of child, the success of a business, the fate of the earth’s climate), but when there’s no clinging, we are deep down at peace with whatever happens even if the surface layers of the mind are understandably disappointed, sad, or upset.

Watch your mind and you’ll see it cling to lots of things (remembering that pulling toward and pushing away are each a form of clinging). These include objects, viewpoints, routines, pleasures and pain, status, and even the sense of self (as when we take something personally).

Recognize the costs of clinging. It’s never relaxed and always has a sense of strain, ranging from subtly unpleasant to intensely uncomfortable. It sucks us into chasing problematic goals like stressing out for success, getting rigid or argumentative with others, being hooked on food or drugs, or seeking rewards in relationships that will never come. It clenches and contracts rather than opens. And clinging today plants the seeds of clinging tomorrow.

Most fundamentally, clinging puts us at odds with the nature of existence, which is always changing. The American Buddhist teacher Joseph Goldstein likens the stream of consciousness to a rope running through your hands: If you cling to any bit of it, you get rope burn.

But if you let it run free — if you let experiences come and go — you feel peaceful and happy. Your mind and body open, and love flows freely, the natural expression of the unclenched heart.


As Context

It’s familiar advice I’m sure, but do what you can to take care of your needs and those of others you care for, pursue wholesome aims with energy and diligence, and keep the needle of your personal stress meter out of the red zone. Each of these steps will pull logs off the fire of clinging.

Learn About Clinging

Pick something specific — like a position about how something should be — and first really really cling to it. Insist in your mind that it must turn out a certain way. Notice what clinging feels like in your body and mind.

Then really try to relax the clinging. It’s fine to wish for a certain result. But help yourself be at peace with whatever the result is by reminding yourself that you and others will likely still be fundamentally OK. Imagine whatever you’ve clung to as something small in a great space, such as a single stone in a vast plain seen from an airplane passing overhead. Disengage from over-thinking, ruminating, or obsessing. Help your body relax and soften, open your hands, let your mind open, and let the clinging go. Recognize the ease, the peace and pleasure in releasing clinging, and let the sense of this sink into you — motivating your brain to cling less in the future.

Set Down Your Burdens

Try the practice just above with other things you’ve clung to. Start with easy things and work up. Remember: You can be fiercely, energetically committed to something without being attached to the result.

Wake Up From the Spell

Investigate your experience of things you cling to — such as pleasant sensations, or certain sights or ideas. Isolate any aspect of this experience and look closely at it in your mind. Ask yourself: Is there real happiness in this (this sight or idea or sound, etc.)? I think you’ll see the answer is always “no.”

Stop Looking for Things to Want

Notice how the mind continually looks for a reward to get, a problem to solve, or a threat to avoid — in other words, something else to cling to. A little of this is OK, but enough already! Bring your attention back to the present moment, to this activity, this conversation, this breath. This will pull you back into now, the only time we are truly happy.

Open Your Heart

As clinging recedes, let love move in. Look for small everyday expressions, such as a kind word here and gentle touch there. As you cling less, it’s natural to lighten up, stay out of quarrels, have more compassion, put things in perspective, and forgive. As you let experiences flow through you without clinging to past or future, you’ll feel more fed by the richness inherent in the present, which makes the heart overflow.

Love in all its forms large and small crowds out clinging, which brings more love in a wonderfully positive cycle.


Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist and author of Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom (in 22 languages) and Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time (in 9 languages). Founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom and Affiliate of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, he’s been an invited speaker at Oxford, Stanford, and Harvard, and taught in meditation centers worldwide. His work has been featured on the BBC, NPR, FoxBusiness, Consumer Reports Health, U.S. News and World Report, and O Magazine and he has several audio programs with Sounds True. His weekly e-newsletter – Just One Thing – has over 40,000 subscribers, and also appears on Huffington Post, Psychology Today, and other major websites.

For more information, please see his full profile at

Meditation: Soul’s Freedom & Bellow’s Breath

By body mind spirit, Breath, Conscious, Conscious Living, Podcasts, Spiritual Intelligence, Super Conscious No Comments

by Alan aAvidson

Meditation Talk: Your Soul’s Freedom + Meditation: Bellow’s Breath and Presence

I lead a weekly meditation at OutSmart Magazine. My bud Greg Jeu invites all his employees and anyone else who wanders in to sit with us.
Greg and I have sat in this meditation circle for sixteen plus years now. Our little group gives
me the chance to riff on my latest insights and research in the spiritual life.
Last week I gave a “festive” talk on Your Soul’s Freedom. Followed by a Bellows Breath exercise and Presence meditation.
The Bellows Breath is an excellent way to shift your energy and your mindset really fast. It really kicks up the chi…and relaxes the mind.
I thought you might enjoy listening in so here it is…
Let me know what you think, how you feel, what you shift. Please leave me a comment below…