Illustration: Matija Medved

One Day at a Time

A 10-Second Eye Exercise to Calm Your Mind

Daily insights on life in the face of uncertainty, by psychiatrist and habit change specialist Dr. Jud Brewer

Elemental
Published in
5 min readApr 29, 2020

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Did you know that your eyes really are the window into your soul? Or at least a window into your current emotional state? By understanding how your eyes connect to your emotions, you can learn to tap into curiosity to help you let go of anxiety and fear.

Have you ever wondered why many professional poker players wear dark sunglasses during televised tournaments? It isn’t because of the glare of the camera lights. They do this so no one can read their eyes to gain an advantage over them. There is even a term for this: a “tell.” A tell is a change in a player’s behavior or demeanor that gives clues about the cards they hold. These changes are often unconscious, so they could be telling other players whether they have a good hand or a bad one without knowing it.

Charles Darwin theorized that in the face of uncertainty, we open our eyes to literally gather more sensory information about whether there is danger ahead.

If you’ve seen the James Bond movie Casino Royale, you might remember Bond trying to figure out the bad guy’s tell during a high-stakes game. I won’t spoil it by telling you how he did. And of course you can read about common poker tells on the internet. Many of the tips for how to spot a tell have you focus on your opponent’s eyes. It’s really hard to stop or mask involuntary eye movements and expressions that we’ve exhibited throughout our lives, and it’s much easier to simply wear a pair of dark shades instead.

Let’s explore some of the science at work here.

What do we instinctively do with our eyes when we’re afraid? We open them really wide. Charles Darwin theorized that in the face of uncertainty, we open our eyes to literally gather more sensory information about whether there is danger ahead. Eye widening, when combined with other facial cues of fear, also serves as a social signal to let others know we are afraid. Someone can look at our face and quickly read, “Hey, there…

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Jud Brewer MD PhD
Elemental

Addiction Psychiatrist. Neuroscientist. Habit Change Expert. Brown U. professor. Founder of MindSciences. Author: Unwinding Anxiety. www.drjud.com. @judbrewer