Health Psychology Self improvement

Hidden Brain: How habits work

“When we repeat an action over and over again in a given context and then get a reward when you do that, you are learning very slowly and incrementally to associate that context with that behavior,” she says.

Wendy Wood

Today’s episode of NPR’s Hidden Brain podcast, hosted by Shankar Vedantam, is excellent. The guest, Wendy Wood, is a psychology professor who debunks myths about willpower and explains how habits are formed and changed.

Some key points:

  • Will-power and education may be effective for one-off, short-term changes, but are not effective for forming or breaking habits.
  • Habits are the product of dopamine rewards in the brain and repetition.
  • To build a habit, make it easy to do, and enjoyable/rewarding.
  • To remove a habit, make it harder to do, and enjoyable/rewarding to avoid.
  • To be effective, positive and negative reinforcement need to be close to the “now.”

Current events Health Psychology Self improvement spiritual

On Jordan Peterson

Jordan Peterson is a clinical psychologist (no longer practicing), professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, author, and speaker. He has gained popularity and notoriety for criticizing the leftist/progressive ideology pervasive in education as well as political correctness, and for proposing views of meaning, identity, human development, among other things, that have resonated with many people on the right of the political spectrum and angered many on the left. He presents his views as being grounded in both evolutionary and Jungian theory, along with research findings from psychology, neurology, and anthropology. He is currently on a speaking tour based on his popular book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.

My personal take:

  • Activists and journalists operating from left of center, politically, have tended to portray him as a misogynist, racist, and anti-LGBTQ by taking his questions and statements out of context.
  • The political swirl around Jordan Peterson has lifted him to prominence but also obscured what he has to say about living well.
  • One of JP’s frequent assertions is that the the current leftist ideology is repackaged Marxism, where race has replaced class as the basis for group identity; he then goes on to say that Marxism ultimately led to the deaths of millions. He seems to be implying that the current leftist ideology will eventually lead to millions of deaths, and to my mind, that sounds like a slippery slope argument. These arguments are pretty lazy, and based on fear. They tend to skip a lot of the explaining that is needed between the connections they are making.
  • People on the right have tended to idealize him, perhaps to an extent that is unwise. “Ah, look, JP said something that I agree with. I was right all along.” Rather than interacting critically with his ideas. Not a complete sentence.
  • When I read / listen to his actual words, in context, I find his ideas subtle, difficult, and thought-provoking, though I’m not sure whether I’ll ultimately agree with him.
  • Fav quote so far from 12 Rules: “You can only find out what you actually believe (rather than what you think you believe) by watching how you act.” p.103

Jordan Peterson’s Wikipedia page:

Jordan Peterson’s personal website:

Current events Motivated reasoning Self improvement US Politics

Motivated Reasoning

Article: “How politics makes us stupid,” By Ezra Klein, for Vox


  • About the research of Dan Kahan, a professor of law and psychology at Yale, and the Cultural Cognition Project.
  • Kahan’s theory is called Identity-Protective Cognition: our brains subconsciously work to justify and protect the beliefs that matter to our relationships, group membership, and identity.

Podcast episode: “How our unchecked tribal psychology pollutes politics, science, and just about everything else”, By David McRaney



  • A podcast episode in which McRaney interviews Lilliana Mason and Dan Kahan about motivated reasoning.
  • Basic point: Once an issue becomes politicized, our brains work subconsciously to maintain the beliefs that will preserve our relationships, group belonging, and identity.
  • Related: McRaney’s series on “The Backfire Effect”, episodes 93, 94, 95, and 120.

My personal take: 

  • As noted by both Kahan and Klein, because motivated reasoning occurs outside of our conscious awareness and control, it is difficult to know when one is impacted by it. There is a natural tendency to try to make a special case for the objectivity of oneself or one’s own domain. McRaney, even as he’s describing the phenomenon, demonstrates this behavior when he writes, “In a professional domain like medicine, science, academia, or journalism, people are trained to pursue accuracy, to operate within a framework that helps them overcome other motivations.” He’s right that these domains include a framework that helps achieve greater objectivity, but I don’t believe he adequately acknowledges the degree to which even these “professional” domains can be impacted by motivated reasoning. (At least, not in that specific spot; he may, elsewhere.)
  • McRaney’s “You Are Not So Smart” podcast provides a great education the many ways our brains work against objectivity and reason.

Dan Kahan’s website:

McRaney’s website: