Dr. Jud Brewer: “Here Are 5 Ways to Develop Serenity During Anxious Times”

Dr. William Seeds
Authority Magazine
Published in
5 min readApr 24, 2020


Create a culture of humility and kindness by modeling it. You can’t fake these things, but you can see how great it feels when you are around humble and kind people. Kindness is contagious.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Jud Brewer, M.D., Ph.D. a neuroscientist, addiction psychiatrist and internationally recognized pioneer of evidence-based mindfulness techniques to combat anxiety, stress and addictions. He is director of research and innovation at the Mindfulness Center at Brown University and an associate professor of behavioral and social sciences in the Brown University School of Public Health. Dr. Brewer also is founder of MindSciences, a Massachusetts-based company that develops clinically validated digital therapeutic apps. His work has been featured on 60 Minutes, Time, NPR and more. His TED Talk on how to break bad habits, viewed more than 14.5 million times to date, was one of the most watched of 2016. Dr. Brewer’s book, The Craving Mind: From Cigarettes to Smartphones to Love — Why We Get Hooked and How We Can Break Bad Habits, was published in 2017.

Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I was a bit of a stress case when I graduated from college and was about to start medical school. I started meditating on my first day of medical school as a way to start learning how my mind worked.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

There are a million. When I was finishing my medical and doctoral program and starting my psychiatry residency at Yale, I decided to switch my career from molecular biology to studying mindfulness. My colleagues literally told me that I was going to kill my career. I remember thinking that I’d rather fail at doing something I was passionate about (studying mindfulness, which wasn’t even a scientific field at that point), than being successful doing something that I was good at but didn’t have the fire burning inside me to pursue.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

Find your passion. Don’t be afraid to fail.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

Create a culture of humility and kindness by modeling it. You can’t fake these things, but you can see how great it feels when you are around humble and kind people. Kindness is contagious.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

My house is filled with books that have significantly impacted my life. One of my favorite novels is “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” which tells the story of an amateur race car driver struggling with many adversities in his life. My mom raised four kids by herself while going to law school at night to support us, so I could really relate to the main character. And the book beautifully describes the essence of awareness and flow -losing oneself in an activity- which is what mindfulness is all about.

The past 5 years have been filled with upheaval and political uncertainty. Many people have become anxious just from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to develop serenity during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each?

I can share three steps, along with a short video that explains this more:

  1. Map out habit loops related to fear and anxiety. What is the trigger, mental behavior and result? For example, does fear or anxiety trigger worry as a mental behavior? What is the result of that behavior?
  2. Explore what you get from the behavior. For example, does worrying get you anywhere?
  3. Find that bigger, better offer (BBO). Our brains are always looking for something that feels better than worry and anxiety. Explore curiosity as that replacement strategy. Curiosity feels better than worry and can be directed at worry itself. For example, when you notice that you’re worried about something, get curious about what that worry feels like in your body. Here’s a short video that shows how to supercharge curiosity as that new habit.

This same process can be used for calm. In step three, take a few deep breaths, or ground your experience in your feet (your feet are an “anxiety-free zone”), then notice what it feels like to be calm so that your brain can see clearly how much better this feels than being worried or anxious.

From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

My research has shown that a three-step process can help people change habits ranging from smoking to overeating to worrying for good:

  1. Map out habit loops that drive these behaviors.
  2. Pay attention to the results of these behaviors because results drive future action (that’s the essence of reward-based learning).
  3. Bring in the bigger better offer (BBO). Curiosity and kindness feel better than anxiety and self-judgment, so replacing our old habitual behaviors with these can hack our brains to help us let go of unhealthy habits and form new ones. Here’s a short animation that explains the science behind how this works.

What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?

My lab has studied an app-based mindfulness training program called Unwinding Anxiety. In a study of anxious physicians, we found a 57 percent reduction in clinically validated anxiety symptoms and a 63-percent reduction in anxiety in a randomized controlled trial of people with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

James Stephens wrote “curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.” Curiosity is a superpower that helps us with everything from worry to overeating to difficulty communicating in a relationship. If I had to give everything I’ve learned from more than years of meditating and decades of researching the brain, and only get to keep a single word, it would be curiosity.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

To spread kindness as a new infection. See this short YouTube video for what I mean by this.

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?





Dr. William Seeds
Authority Magazine

Board-certified orthopedic surgeon and physician, with over 22 years of experience, specializing in all aspects of sports medicine and total joint treatments