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marc-schoenTrue confession: I usually multitask while I eat, despite telling other people not to. I read, I Facebook, I talk on the phone, I create presentations, and so on. I rationalize it very well: I'm busy, I can still chew slowly (note to self: “BS!”), and this is the last time.

And luckily, I tell myself, it's no big deal.

Marc Schoen, PhD, assistant clinical professor at UCLA's Geffen School of Medicine, disagrees. And after reading his absolutely amazingly important and helpful book, Your Survival Instinct is Killing You, he's convinced me.

A pioneer in mind-body medicine (he researched and developed an “innocuous” breathing technique because he wasn't allowed to bring hypnosis into the hospital when he started practicing in the 1980s), Dr Schoen has spent his life exploring stress, pressure, performance, and maladaptive habits.

And what he's shared in his book, and with me in today's podcast interview, is really important.

Because it shows what we're missing when we rely solely on cognitive or environmental approaches to changing our bad habits.

Essentially, he argues, we have become victims of our own survival instincts – the “fight or flight” response that allowed our ancestors to become instantly aroused by danger and respond to it effectively – combined with a modern lifestyle in which even the possibility of discomfort is interpreted as an enemy spear slicing through the air in our direction.

In other words, good luck talking sense to your overeating self when it interprets hunger as an immediate threat to existence. You can keep all this stuff out of your pantry, but when the alarms go off and your life is about to end, you'll do just about anything to get a hit of donut or pizza or burger.

The short answer is to become comfortable with discomfort. That's why, in my experience, the people who shift to a healthy plant-based diet and stick with it for years are the same people who take up ultra-running or CrossFit or start a business or put themselves in the face of ever increasing challenge and discomfort.

It's not just the calories you burn training for a 50k. It's the tolerance for discomfort that you cultivate that will allow you to resist temptation when you can't avoid it.

And that's why my multitasking during meals is so dangerous. Every time I do it, I'm reinforcing the fact that I can't even handle the discomfort of being understimulated. And that's why I'm never ever going to do it again!

In our conversation, we covered:

  • the definition and function of the survival instinct
  • the “COZY paradox” (the more comfortable we try to make ourselves, the worse we feel)
  • how discomfort triggers the survival instinct, and why modern life is such a mismatch to our hard wiring
  • why cognitive approaches to behavior change often can't take us the last mile
  • the function of “benign masochism”
  • the tyranny of the microwave – how it all began
  • the rainbow metaphor of fear
  • the power of being vulnerable in relationship
  • the fascinating function of the insular cortex of the brain
  • why the “shhh” sound is so calming
  • a short and simple breathing technique that can de-stress us in 45 seconds
  • and much more…

Enjoy, add your voice to the conversation via the comment box below, and please share – that's how we spread our message and spread our roots.


Your Survival Instinct is Killing You, by Marc Schoen, PhD

Stressproofing Retreat, led by my martial arts instructor and science writer Glenn Murphy, based partly on Dr Schoen's work (last couple of days to register)

Glenn Murphy and I (mostly Glenn) talk about stress on the Bregman Leadership Podcast

Email for a free audio of the Schoen Breath Technique:

Support the Podcast

Like what you hear? You can contribute to the growth and improvement of the podcast by becoming a patron. Click the “Support on Patreon” or “Donate” buttons on the right to help out.


Big thanks to Plant Yourself Podcast Patrons Kim Harrison, Lynn McLellan, Anthony Dissen, Amy Good, Elizabeth Clifton, Dominic Marro, and Brittany Porter. And to my tech guru, Amnon Nissan who spent half an hour talking me through some audio issues.


Check out my online TV show, Triangle Be Well. This week I answer questions from listeners, some of whom wonder about protein requirements and building washboard abs.

I can help you navigate the medical system and adopt a healthy lifestyle

I'm available for one-on-one consulting and coaching to help you navigate the medical system, make informed decisions, take control of your health destiny, and achieve true wellness and not just medical management of disease.

Ask your questions or share your feedback

Comment on the show notes for this episode (below)
Call 919-794-3735 to leave a voicemail

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The Plant Yourself Podcast theme music, “Dance of Peace (Sabali Don),” is generously provided by Will Ridenour, a kora player from North Carolina who has trained with top Senegalese musicians.

It can be found on his first CD, titled Will Ridenour.

You can learn about Will, listen to more tracks, and buy music on his website,


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2 comments on “PYP 148: Marc Schoen, PhD, on Surviving Our Survival Instinct and Defeating Bad Habits

  1. Thank You says:

    Another great and informative podcast. Keep up the great job Howard!

    1. Thank You says:

      And Thank You 🙂

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