Sedona, Arizona

January 29, 2021

Jonathan Haidt in his boo, The Happiness Hypothesis, discusses how mindfulness is one of the three ways that the rider can train the elephant. (The rider represents our System 2 or cognitive self and the elephant represents our System 1 or our intuitive, autopilot self.). Most of us are on autopilot almost all the time, acting out our intuitions and habits that we have developed over time (or are born with).

There. I have just summarized about 2,000 pages of reading that I have done over the past couple of years.

I'm a big fan of the Ten Percent Happier app. You might recall I summarized the book, Ten Percent Happier, a few months ago. The app provides such useful activities as a daily meditation, meditations to deal with different situations (sleepliness, anxiety, depression, stress, etc.). It also has "courses" where you learn and meditate on specific topics.

I just started their "Healthy Habits" course. I figured I'd use my blog as a place to keep my notes so I have one place to go to review my notes and in case they prove helpful to anyone else.

My Notes From Session 1: "Changing How We Think About Change"

Kelly McGonigal (Stanford professor)

Many of us are familiar with the endless treadmill of trying and failing, trying and failing as we try to make a change.

It is our "monkey mind" that gets in the way

We quickly go into our drill sergeant mode where we assume that only white-knuckle will power will work. But it vanishes in the face of hanger, loneliness, fatigue and "other priorities."

When willpower fails, in comes SHAME telling us that we are not good enough, we are hopelessly flawed and no change will solve that we are unloveable.

Sound familiar? It is like quicksand -- it feels awful and we are desperate to escape it.

None of the above translates into the courage, energy and willingness required to take positive action

Our goals needs to be to take control away from our monkey mind and give control to our rider, our inner Coach.

Science has shown that mindfulness meditation can be a key ingredient to transferring control to our Coach and making lasting change.

Developing a healthy habit (which includes stopping a detrimental habit) starts with us asking ourselves some fundamental questions: What do I really care about (what are my values)? How is this change I want to make supportive of that value? Change is much easier when that change is in support of one of your key VALUES.

"Part of mindful habit formation is understanding how what you are trying to do will bring you JOY and increase your WELL BEING."

--> requires paying attention and making decisions consistent with what we care about.

Monkey Mind - "you are a fat slob. You will always be a fat slob. Trying to change your diet has never worked and will never work."

Coach - "eating better will give you more energy that you can share with those that you love"


- Habits are grooves that we fall into

- Mindfulness allows us to be present and observe these habits

- "we live in the trance of our experiences, not in in the present"

- Awareness allow us to actively experience things that we otherwise just pass over.

My Notes From Session 2: "What's Your Motivation?"

When we are using our monkey mind (our default setting), we choose our habits unconsciously, dictated to us by our surroundings and our larger culture.

Instead, when forming habits, we should consciously and mindfully tune into our values.

If you really want to start a habit or change a habit, you need to look inward and focus on that part of you that wants the change and explore your motivations. What REALLY matters is not always obvious.

Questions to ask: How is the habit I want to change creating suffering? What type of different experience do you want?

You want to anchor the habit to a core value. E.g.,loosing weight to look better is probably a weak link to a core value. Loosing weight so that I have more energy to enjoy my kids is a stronger link probably.

Lasting change should contribute to your well being and getting there should be fun and enjoyable.

Habit formation needs to be a conscious activity, not an unconscious one.

Helpful to reflect on how will you feel with this habit in your life as part of daily meditation.

Old habits are like deep grooves in our mind -- change will occur only little by little.

Key word -- INTENTION

Bring play, adventure and joy to the habit formation process, to your aspiration.


It can feel like life is happening to us; setting an intention allows us to have the perspective that we are in control of our life.

My Notes From Session 3: "Walking Up The Autopilot"

When we are on autopilot (monkey mind, mindless), we choose immediate gratification, make decisions based on what requires the least effort and make decisions without conscious thinking. Areas of the brain involved in intuition light up.

When we use our System 2 (our Coach) we make decisions by accessing deeper, long-term values. Areas of the brain that light up are those involved in conscious thought, including the prefrontal cortex.

How do we empower our Coach? Through mindfulness.

Important to have awareness of when we are using our monkey mind as a win. It may not change your behavior immediately but the awareness is the first step ("step by step")

A key to habit formation is the GROWTH MINDSET

Associated cravings with our autopilot


We are trying to shift away from being controlled to being in control

Trigger of chips, soda, candy is a sign of monkey mind

Be CURIOUS when monkey mind is in control; what can you learn from the experience?

One helpful thought is "how will I feel if I give into this craving."

Sugar is a tough habit to break because the brain loves sugar.

My Notes From Session 4

"The Three E's - Ease, Enjoyment and Environment"

We often default to the drill sergeant (willpower) being in charge; most of us cannot rely on willpower to change ourselves.

Instead we need to experiment to figure out what works for us. Important to adopt the growth mindset -- it is not failure, it is learning.

Environment -- seek on that supports and encourages the development of the habit

Easy - start slowly with easy steps. Start with 10 minutes -- decrease if you need to -- important is just to get started.

Enjoyment - how can I take joy in the activity and the meaning of it.

Tune into the benefit of the habit you are trying to form

Even having trouble with developing a habit is a win because you can learn from the trouble -- lean into it

Have a mindset of CURIOSITY

Be aware and prepared for the INNER CRITIC to scream at you

Let go of the tendency to judge ourselves harshly

"There is no failure so long as there is learning."

My Notes From Session 5: "Surfing The Urge"

Money Mind can lead us to mindless eating

Surfing the Urge is about noticing those inner experiences that pull us away from our goals. And developing the ability to be with those impulses mindfully without trying to suppress them and without immediately giving into them. Doing this repeatedly will train your brain to have power over those urges.

In other words, you are tuning into the thoughts and urges rather than trying to use willpower to suppress them.

"Being with them mindfully" means being curious about how you feel (in the body) and what you are thinking (in the mind) while not giving into the craving.

Surfing the urge interrupts the functional connectivity of the brain. The sensations will grow but will eventually subside.

Allow awareness to come in with the craving and then explore the craving.

My Notes From Session 6: "Just Add Warmth"

Common misconception that in order to succeed at starting a new habit or stopping an old one, we need to enlist on inner drill sergeant and kick our own ass. Followed by the shame monster that tells us that we are not good enough and fundamentally flawed.

Self compassion - this doesn't mean letting yourself off the hook. But it does mean you don't need to punish yourself. It means recognizing a mistake, letting it go and starting again.

Three-part mental exercise:

  1. acknowledge that you are in a painful moment mindfully

  2. widen the lens, realize that you are not alone

  3. use a calming phrase

Self compassion is being strong, not about being weak

Key is getting beyond beating ourselves up

The reframing is to realize we are not unique in this struggle -- in fact it is universal.

We are looking at the patterns of the mind

"What would you say to a friend?"

Self criticism and shame are not helpful.

My Notes From Session 7: "Some Courage Required"


  1. Quiet the monkey mind

  2. Awake the inner coach

  3. Choose our habits based on our values

  4. Use mindfulness to keep us on track -- be curious

  5. Use self compassion, not shame, when we falter

  6. Use the Growth Mindset

Now, get started!!

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