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Not So Much A Knight, in The Not So Shining Armor

Not So Much A Knight, in The Not So Shining Armor

How a REAL man treats a woman:
He never tries to change her, he loves her for who she is
He doesn’t need words to understand her
He never gets threatened by her success, he encourages her dreams
He protects her emotionally and physically
He never disrespects her
And a REAL woman never ‘settles’ for less

Sounds like you have read this before, right? Well, it is an excerpt from the multitude of posts around how a man treats his partner. As women finally get to celebrate their individuality and progress, the role of the men in their lives is evolving. He is no longer a stereotypical bread winner, he is a true partner who embraces her complexities, who stands by her dreams, who loves her enough to both give her space and protect her.

As a young woman, I completely subscribe to above and I’m glad that gender roles are changing (finally!). But just as we get bombarded with such content I cannot help but wonder, are we creating just another version of the age old  ‘knight in shining armor’, shoes too big for a mere mortal to fill?

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The “Real Man”: Big Expectation, Bigger Heartbreak

As young girls we have grown up dreaming about a partner who is romantic like Brad Pitt and protective like our fathers. As grown women we dream about a partner who has all the 10 qualities that the post on the ‘real man’ has listed, and then some. Even before we enter into a relationship we have an image of the man we want. Imagine the rude shock when he doesn’t understand why she is angry even after three days of silent treatment (he is supposed to ‘get’ her if he really loves her).

Imagine the pain when he only gives an exasperated sigh when she cries instead of swooping her into his arms and apologizing profusely (he is supposed to never hurt her if he really loves her). The sheer horror when he seems threatened when she starts earning more than him, what happened to celebrating her dreams and standing by her? The let downs seem to be endless – he screams at her, he is not always dependable and sometimes he doesn’t seem to care about anything – are our men just not good enough?

I would like to offer an alternate (and probably controversial) explanation.

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The Truth About The REAL ‘Real Man’

He is Human. He is sloppy sometimes, jealous sometimes, angry sometimes, callous sometimes, and confused about what the hell you want most of the time. The ‘real man’ is not a dreamy cross between the heart stopping Brad Pitt and the dependable dad, it is this guy who is blankly staring at you without any comprehension despite three days of silent treatment. So should we do him a favor? Should we just tell him what’s up and move on (of course after sufficiently fighting it out!)

The fact that a man is not able to understand his partner sometimes  may not mean he doesn’t love her, it probably just means that he is neither a mind reader nor her identical twin. The fact that he is initially threatened when she earns more doesn’t necessarily make him a swine worth dumping. Maybe, just maybe, he is struggling to get past his own early conditioning of traditional gender roles, of course, stereotypes are nonsense, but maybe he is in the process of evolving, just as she is.

Let’s Stop Kidding Ourselves, This is The Real Deal

So the guy WILL scream at you, as much as you scream at him (or a little less if you are lucky or a little more if you are not so lucky), he will not always be able to protect you (especially when the beers have been one too many, in fact, you may find yourself struggling to drag the big fellow and drive him home!). He will be disrespectful and unsupportive on multiple occasions, just as you are. This is not because he is an anti woman chauvinist, it’s because, well, that’s how most people are irrespective of their genders.

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They have their highs and lows, virtues and vices. There is no clear good or bad, black or white, and your guy is just another piece of (hopefully) lovable grey. To be honest, thank God for that, had he been sheer perfection romancing you like Brad Pitt, you would eventually get quite fed up and yearn for…well..something more real!

So this is my humble submission – there is no knight in shining armor, and if you are honest with yourself, you don’t want one either (because you sure as hell are no damsel in distress!). We are surrounded by real men who are inconsistent just as humans are, and they are surrounded by us women, who are also inconsistent just as humans are.

So next time he turns away when you are sobbing, go right ahead, and have a fight, but pray don’t dwell on the ‘real man’ article you read last week, because that ladies is as imaginary as it gets!

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Featured photo credit: De Telegraaf via telegraaf.nl

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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