I'm fascinated by human brain evolution. After reading Habits of a Happy Brain, I decided to connect with Dr. Loretta Graziano Breuning and learn more about her habits and routines.

Loretta Breuning

Dr. Loretta Breuning is the founder of the Inner Mammal Institute and author of Habits of a Happy Brain, The Science of Positivity and many other books. As Professor of Management at California State University, and as a parent, Loretta was not convinced by prevailing theories of human motivation. Then she studied the brain chemistry we’ve inherited from earlier mammals, and everything made sense.

The Inner Mammal Institute offers a wide range of free resources that help you build power over your mammalian brain chemistry.

What Are the Most Influential Habits in Your Life?

Variety – for example, I have one coffee every OTHER day and one alcohol every other day. And within each day, I have variety between focus time and downtime. And within each year, between desk time and wandering the world time. And look for variety in food too, so it’s more satisfying.

How Do You Set Goals and Manage Time?

I love the Pomodoro technique although I don’t literally use a timer. When I have a difficult task, I decide I am only going to spend ten minutes on it, which makes it easier to get started. (Usually, I want to continue.) And I always plan some down time after the challenging task – downtime that doesn’t involve junk food.

Also, I email myself a lot, because I know that message will get my attention later. Also, love Notes on Apple.

Still, end up with too much in my head so a big part of it is trusting my own choices about where to focus instead of constantly judging and criticizing my choices.

How Are You Modeling Your Life?

Priorities: I made the decision to have kids, so they came first. I love to travel so that came second (feel about some trade-offs w kids!). When my kids left home, priority became peace of mind, which includes honest self-expression.

I read lots of biographies and it teaches me that everyone struggles, despite what you may think.

Can You Describe Your Work Process and Thinking Behind It?

I’m a fan of “shitty first drafts.” I do things way ahead of deadline and then put it down and forget it so I can go back to it with fresh eyes – often a few times.

What Do You Eat for Breakfast?

Hot tea and plain full fat yogurt mixed with a half teaspoon of orange marmalade. Because it’s delicious. I only have a little bit, and then I have another breakfast a couple of hours later some delicious pastry, but a very small quantity.

How Do You Train Your Body and Mind?

Self-acceptance, bodywork (osteopath, Rosen method, myofascial release), reading, walking, listening to audiobooks whenever I’m driving, doing chores or walking, and regular comedy/humor (not the mean-spirited kind).

How Do You Meet and Connect with People?

I try very hard to have one-on-one conversations in places that aren’t loud. I do enjoy conferences and social media, but always with the goal of having a 1-2-1 in a place where I don’t have to shout. A difficult goal to reach, but I try to save my energy for real interactions instead of spending it all on superficial ones.

What Are Your Sleeping Rituals?

11-7. Can’t function with less. I avoid anything that will make me angry in the evenings (try to do that in the day too!) Don’t eat after 8 pm.

What Are Your Investing Habits?

When I was younger I had an automatic savings program. I never borrow. I have never focused much energy on where to invest – it’s a source of anxiety for me. Instead, I remind myself that my well being does not depend on "getting ahead,” even though the mammal brain makes it feel that way.

What Books, People, Experiences Shaped Your Thinking?

We are shaped by the experiences that most trigger our happy and unhappy chemicals, especially those in our Myelin years (before age 8 and during puberty), even if we don’t consciously see it that way.

So as I went back and tried to figure out what shaped me:

  1. My mother was a screamer and since I couldn’t please her, I learned to trust my own judgment instead of judging myself by whether I please people.
  2. Reading was always my escape and it was more attractive than the other escapes I saw around me, and it taught me that everyone has problems so there’s no need to idealize others.
  3. I did get addicted to travel. When I was young my parents took a few trips. When I was a teen, I spent all my time earning money so I could travel. Never stopped.