Breaking Bad Habits: Interview with Dan Goleman and Tara Bennett-Goleman

thoughtfulwomanWe all have habits that we want to break and that is why I’m thrilled to bring to you today Daniel Goleman and Tara Bennett-Goleman. Daniel Goleman is an internationally known psychologist who lectures around the world and has many classic books including Emotional Intelligence which has over 5,000,000 copies in print. Tara is author of The New York Times bestseller Emotional Alchemy and her new book Mind Whispering: A New Map to Freedom from Self-Defeating Emotional Habits that can help us transform our emotions, improve our relationships and connect us to the inner wisdom that has always been there.

Note: On Saturday June 1st, come spend a day with Dan and Tara as they speak to us live in Los Angeles, California at UCLA about how to break free from the self-defeating habits that don’t serve us.  

In this interview Dan and Tara will take us through some neuroscience of habit formation, how Mind Whispering can help us break free from our self-defeating habits, the importance of entering positive mind states, and some final words to help us along the way.

Elisha: We all have habits we’d like to break. Can you give us a brief background into the neuroscience of habit change.

Dan: As we form a habitual routine – like riding a bike or avoiding the anxiety of an intense emotion – the brain shifts its operation from the zone of awareness to an unconscious zone, from the top part of the brain to the basal ganglia near the very bottom. Once stored there, these routines operate automatically and for the most part without our fully noticing them. We can only change them by once again bringing them into awareness.

Elisha: A fundamental source of human suffering is our self-defeating habits. What is Mind Whispering and how can it help us shift out of this default mode?

Tara: Mind Whispering draws together practices and principles from several sources – the neuroscience of habit change, Eastern and Western psychology, and even horse whispering. One main method is what I call “mindful habit change.” The first step is recognizing that we are in the grip of an unhealthy emotional habit once again. That’s where mindfulness begins to help. Once we surface the self-defeating habitual routines, like anxious clinging or emotional avoidance in a relationship, we can challenge and change them. And the more often we repeat that, the more the new habits can become a more healthy default mode.

Elisha: In your book you talk about entering positive modes as a path toward healing. Give us a bit more background on this and how we might apply it.

Tara: The big divide in the mode spectrum lies between our insecure, distorted, negative modes and the healthy range where we feel secure and confident, effective and flexible, positive. Emotional habits are on a spectrum. Some of them can change through awareness and intentional shifts. But others are harder to see – and they may have served some purpose for coping with a difficult situation.  For this range its important to acknowledge their symbolic reality with a sensitive attunement and understanding. In Mind Whispering there are many ways to shift to the healthy mode range. Each mode has its own best steps to take.  If the modes are not too intense, sometimes a gentle priming – like thinking of people you love, or talking with one of them, can make the shift.

Elisha: If you were sitting across the table from someone who was stuck in their self-defeating mind, what advice might you have for them?

Tara and Dan: Sometimes it’s not helpful to offer advice – especially if the person is not looking for it. Better to empathize and attune to them. You may have more of a sense of what their actual needs are. It’s better not to project what we think is best for the person. If you are in your secure mode, you can be kind, sensitive and empathic – a good listener. See if you can tune in to what they need in that moment, and what you can give. For example, think of something they might appreciate but not have to ask you for – a caring gesture, going out of your way to be helpful to them. Even giving your full attention can be comforting to someone who is in an insecure mode.

Elisha: Thank you Dan and Tara for sharing your thoughts and wisdom with us.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Thoughtful woman image available from Shutterstock.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on

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