Academic English Course

Lesson 2: A simple way to break a bad habit

A psychiatrist Judson Brewer talks about the relationship between mindfulness and addiction and the ways we can break bad habits. Frankly, it is not one of my favorite TED talks, however; the speaker provides a sensible framework for understanding and changing bad habits. It is also a good talk for developing students’ critical thinking skills.


Words needed to understand the talk

meditate – verb reflect deeply on a subject; think intently and at length, as for spiritual purposes
reinforcement – noun information that makes more forcible or convincing
preventable – adj. capable of being prevented
morbidity – noun an abnormally gloomy or unhealthy state of mind; the relative incidence of a particular disease; the quality of being unhealthful and generally bad for you
mindfulness – noun the trait of staying aware of (paying close attention to) your responsibilities
cognitively – adv. with regard to cognition (the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses)
disenchanted – adj. freed from enchantment (a feeling of great liking for something wonderful and unusual)
visceral – adj. relating to or affecting the viscera; obtained through intuition rather than from reasoning or observation
stance – noun standing posture; a rationalized mental attitude
perpetuate – verb cause to continue or prevail
inherentexisting in something as a permanent, essential, or characteristic attribute

Comprehension questions

  1. Why is it hard to pay attention and how it affects what we do?
  2. Explain the positive and negative reinforcement?
  3. Can you explain the role of the trigger, behavior, reward in habits formation?
  4. What is the difference between morbidity and mortality?
  5. How mindfulness can help with learning?
  6. What does ‘move from knowledge to wisdom’ mean?
  7. What does it mean to understand things on a visceral level?
  8. Explain the difference between simplistic and simple?
  9. When was the last time you adopted a disenchanted stance?
  10. What fragments of the talk are hard to understand? Why?
  11. Explain the meaning of ‘inherent capacity’ and ‘compulsive response’?
  12. What’s the difference between meditation and mindfulness?

Critical thinking questions

1. Judson Brewer said: ‘but 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’

Do you agree with this statement? Why? Why not?

2. Would you use the app Judson Brewer is testing?

3. Can you find evidence of the link between curiosity and habits?

4. What questions would you ask Judson Brewer?

5. Is there an alternative explanation for habit formation?

6.  What does the evidence say about the effectiveness of apps for habit formation?

7. Is Judson Brewer building the app based on science?

8. Who is the target population for the app? Can you see any problems related to that?

9. Visit ‘Google Scholar’  and find the evidence that mindfulness affects habits.

Writing Task

Write a 300 words summary of the talk