This is an excerpt from Finding Mastery #066 with Dr. Judson Brewer in which he describes why curiosity is an antidote for fear.


Michael Gervais: We were talking about fear, like the thought of the fear being the contractor for many people. And so fear is a central part of the conversations that I love being in, because the people that I’ve learned the most from are the ones that have pushed the boundaries of human potential because they have faced fear and stay in it and they keep pushing and that can be a spiritual leader or somebody in the back country doing things that have never been done before in you know action or adventure-based sports. And so when people constrict around the thought of being scared in the future, how do you help them? Is there where mindfulness comes in for you?

Judson Brewer: It is exactly.

Michael Gervais: Yeah.

Judson Brewer: And paradoxically I would start with saying ok let’s dive into it. So our our reaction, the way our brains are set up, is when something’s unpleasant is to try to make it go away as quickly as possible. So you’re talking about fight or flight. Right. So you know something’s uncomfortable we tend to flee. Well what if we instead just totally get curious about what that sensation of fear feels like in the moment so that we can learn to see what is exactly driving us.

Michael Gervais: And then do you take them through a worst case scenario. OK. Stay with that. Now what. What is next. What would happen next? Do you walk them all the way like an elevator down into the worst case scenario and have them feel that?

Judson Brewer: So it depends on the person. But I would say making sure that we stay very very close to the actual experience of fear itself and then use that elevator down cognitively or even you know from a thinking perspective to help bring up the memory. And that felt sensation but it’s the critical piece here is the experiential component rather than the mental or the thinking component.

Michael Gervais: Are you using flooding or systematic desensitization as a model here or using something else?

Judson Brewer: I think mindfulness is very much related to these things where there’s an essential element of paying attention. But the piece that’s that maybe a little bit. Well you tell me if these are similar because I haven’t studied those that carefully. The key here is is the attitude no quality of the mind. So that’s really what we’re trying to foster is this equanimity and equanimity is fostered through curiosity. So if we can stay curious about what’s happening, that curiosity flips the valance from that contracted, you know unpleasant feeling of fear for example to a more expanded, even if it’s expanding and not fully expanded but an expanding quality where we naturally are drawn in more you know out of curiosity.

“Oh what does fear actually feel like right now?”

Right, so if you and I explored that together and well how do we know what it feels like we have to dive in?

Michael Gervais: OK. I’m getting excited too. Is that so. When you say curiosity is your entry point into decreasing the responses either neurochemically or physiologically decreasing the contraction responses that people have?

Judson Brewer: Yes.

Michael Gervais: OK. So curiosity is like your your keyway And so as soon as they’re feeling a flood of nerve chemicals or physiology that is constricting them in some kind of way and impacting their psychology that you and psychology a fancy word for their thinking that they’re saying hey hey stay curious. Now what is this like. And that curiosity is almost like the antidote.

Judson Brewer: Yep

Michael Gervais: Ok

Judson Brewer: It takes us by the hand and pulls us in as we’re trying to flee the scene.

Michael Gervais: OK. All right cool. Great. I love that thought


Listen to the full podcast here.


Director of Research at |

Judson Brewer, MD, PhD,  is a thought leader in the field of habit change and the “science of self-mastery”, having combined nearly 20 years of experience with mindfulness training with his scientific research therein. He has published numerous peer-reviewed articles and book chapters, spoken at international conferences, trained US Olympic coaches, and his work has been featured on 60 Minutes, TED, TEDMED, TEDx, Time magazine (top 100 new health discoveries of 2013), Forbes, BBC, NPR, Businessweek and others.