In the last module, we did a deep dive into the nature of stress. I hope you spend some time this past week really thinking about the role that it plays in your own life. More specifically, I'm hoping that you took some time to examine your go-to strategies for dealing with stress. I'm wondering if you saw what I meant when I said that living on autopilot can be a real set-up for increased suffering. But in case you didn't, let me share an example from a former student who was wrestling with chronic stress and anxiety and often sought food for comfort. She says, "As a kid, when I felt sad or upset, my parents would give me cookies to help me feel better. I guess somewhere along the way, deserts became a crutch for me. Anytime I find myself having a hard day, I have a little sweet treat as a pick-me-up. It didn't use to seem like much of a problem, but now it seems like I'm eating cakes and cookies all the time. The other day I was particularly preoccupied by a work problem, and I ate half a cake without even realizing it. I don't even remember what it tasted like. Here I am now 20 pounds overweight, and my doctor just told me my blood sugar was too high, she's concerned that I might be prediabetic. What a mess." Can any of you relate to this? This past week, did you notice yourself reaching into the metaphorical refrigerator or pantry to find something that might make you feel better or help distract you from the sensation and anxiety in your body? If you did, know that you're in good company. We all engage in habitual behaviors when times feel hard. In fact, there's a lot of interesting research about how habits become established in our lives, and none of us are exempted from this process. Remember, in the last module when I talked about the more primitive or older parts of the brain responsible for fight or flight, and the more evolved newer parts responsible for thinking, creativity, and decision-making? Well, another feature of this old brain is what's called the reward-based learning system. Reward-based learning is based on positive and negative reinforcement. All of us want to do more of the things that make us feel good and less of the things that make us feel bad. Back in prehistoric times, this was really helpful. Since food was hard to come by, if a caveman saw food that looked good, the brain would say, "Yaay, calories, survival." This person would eat the food and while doing so their brains would release a chemical called dopamine that helped them to remember what they were eating and where they found it. Their brain would then lay down a context-dependent memory, so that the process could be repeated. It went a little like this; see food, eat food, feel good. Repeat; trigger, behavior, reward. Pretty straightforward. As we evolve, our brains learn that we could use this system for more than remembering where food is. This is the part of our brain that tells us next time you feel bad, why don't you try eating something good so you'll feel better. This is how we learn that if we eat a cookie or have some ice-cream when we're mad or sad, we feel better. Same learning process, just a different trigger. Instead of a hunger signal coming from our stomach, an emotional signal, feeling sad or mad triggers that urge to eat. The dopamine that gets released when we do, and this hit is much more intense when what we eat has sugar in it, it makes us feel better. Feel bad, eat food, feel better. Trigger behavior, reward. This is the basis for habit formation. I share all of this with you because I want you to know that whatever you noticed about your own habits this past week, they aren't really your fault. There are at least partly a product of the brain doing what the brain does. But the good news is with some intentional effort, you can tap into the same reward-based learning system to change the problematic behaviors in your life, and that's where we're going in this module. The plane for module 2 is to use what we know about the brain to hack it and lay the groundwork for positive behavior change and stress reduction. We'll spend some time exploring the basic tenants of mindfulness, and then we'll take a deeper look at how it can be drawn upon to help us live with more presence, balance, and freedom. By the time this module's through, I hope you'll feel confident that you can evolve some of the vices or bad habits that had been plaguing you for years.