Chew your food 32 times before swallowing.

This tidbit of advice offers the wonderful benefits of giving you the chance to actually taste your food, enabling you to swallow easily, and facilitating good digestion (not to mention possibly losing weight). This same advice is a wonderful metaphor for almost any other goals, too; from overcoming anxiety or depression to advancing your career. Let’s break it down this way:

Know your goal: If you decide to chew your food 32 times, it’s because you have the goal of digesting your food well—otherwise, why bother? Similarly, to accomplish anything, you need to be clear about what you want.

Break it down: Break “it” (your food-to-be digested, or any other goal) down into small, manageable and easily “digestible” pieces. This helps to make any big project doable.

If you are working on being more assertive, plan what you want to say, who you want to say it to, and even the situation in which you want to say it. If you want to be happier and more positive, make sure that you plan out some activities in your day that you’re likely to enjoy and consider specific ways to cope with expected obstacles.

Give yourself enough time: Eating properly takes time—I can’t imagine that anyone eating on the run would bother to chew 32 times. This need to have sufficient time applies to all goals. So, plan for this.If you have been out of work and are seeking employment, you not only need to have a plan for how you will do this, but you need to make sure you have the time to enact that plan. For instance, set aside a certain amount of time each day to send out resumes or to make networking calls—if you don’t, you might find at the end of the day that you never got to it because you ran out of time doing other “stuff.”

Resist acting impulsively: It can be tempting to just swallow after 10 chews, or even three—don’t do it! Similarly, if you feel anxious to hand in a project, resist the impulse to give it to your boss before doing a final check. And, if you are depressed, resist the impulse to just lie on the couch; get outside and get active today!

Be mindful: A great way to resist being impulsive is to be mindful. That means really paying attention to your experiences. Make an effort to pay attention to your chewing. With this kind of focus, you will increase your chances of completing your objective (32 chews) and meeting your goal (making your food digestible). Importantly, you will also have a chance to really appreciate your food, from the first textured, flavorful bite until you swallow. Similarly, by being aware of your anxiety, you will be in a better position to make a decision of whether your project for work is really ready to hand in; or whether you are wanting to get it off your plate too early. Also, when depressed, being aware of how isolating and watching TV makes you feel worse can help you to push yourself to get up. And, being aware of exercising or talking with friends helps you feel better for a little while can help motivate you to do those very things. 

In my previous posts about making personal change, I emphasized that seeing yourself in-the-moment is extremely important to changing. It enables you to be aware of how you maintain your problem and how you can choose to be different. And the advice on chewing your food 32 times can provide just the guidance you need to break down your goal, bite-by-bite, so that you can create the change you’d like to see. 

Dr. Leslie Becker-Phelps is a clinical psychologist in private practice and is on the medical staff at Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, NJ. She also writes a blog for WebMD (The Art of Relationships) and is the relationship expert on WebMD’s Relationships and Coping Community.

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Making Change blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional assistance.

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