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I’m Not A “Superwoman,” and I Don’t Want to Be!

I’m Not A “Superwoman,” and I Don’t Want to Be!

Enter SUPERWOMAN!

There are a thousand versions on the internet of this very famous image — a woman with ten hands holding different things: a feeding bottle, a briefcase, a cooking pan, a mop, a diaper, etc. It signifies the power of the modern woman who juggles all the roles in her life with ease and panache. The superwoman who is held back by absolutely nothing: she has it ALL. Not to forget, of course, that she looks like a million dollars while doing all this — I don’t look like that after 10 hours of sleep and a day at the salon. Superwoman indeed!

I guess such a representation is supposed to make us women feel proud and powerful. Frankly, the image just leaves me feeling distinctly uncomfortable and inadequate. For that matter, any time anyone starts off giving an “ode to a woman,” she is a daughter, a wife, a mother, a friend, a teacher, a professional, and fifty other lofty roles that I struggle to keep count of, I feel like rolling my eyes and well, climbing into bed to sleep off the exhaustion of just hearing it.

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The Endless Need to Do More

It seems that women’s progression is not about changing roles; it’s about adding them on. It’s no longer just home — it’s home plus work; not just mother — mother plus mentor; not just caregiver — caregiver plus financial contributor.  Don’t get me wrong: I love the new roles. It’s the “plus plus” game that gets to me. It reminds me of hungry teens at a buffet, mindlessly loading their plates with food that they cannot possibly finish, ecstatic about the good deal they are getting, but, blissfully oblivious to the impending stomach ache that will greet them the next morning!

So when do we women realize that we need to stop loading our plates and avoid that stomach ache? While we can praise a woman’s abilities to the moon and back, the fact of the matter remains that evolution has not exactly kept up! I don’t see any females being born with 10 hands, and I don’t see the hours of the day increasing from 24 to 48 so that we can fulfill all the roles on our overloaded plates.

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For that matter, have we asked ourselves whether this is really what we want. Do we want to maximize every second of every day to have that optimum life where we “manage” all that is expected of us (and what we expect of ourselves) just to have a peaceful guilt-free sleep at night?

There are two problems with living like that: first, we are not able to manage everything to the level that we want (and the sleep is quite guilt-ridden and far from peaceful). Second, we don’t always want to “be everything”; sometimes we just want to “be.” There are times when we don’t want to take care of the kids, or cook that weekend meal or work extra hours at our jobs to prove that we “have it all.”

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 Doing Everything Is Not the Solution

The solution is as simple as it gets: say “I can’t” or even “I don’t want to.”

That is the starting point of true empowerment. Sometimes it will mean that our loved ones will have to step up and sometimes it will mean that everything is not going to get done exactly as we imagined. Nonetheless, that’s not a crime; it’s normal. Every time the guilt comes creeping, we need not drive ourselves to exhaustion; we just need to remember that we have two hands and limited hours.

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More importantly, enjoying moments of leisure is not an “avoidable luxury”; it is an “essential necessity” to keep ourselves and those around us happy. At the end of the day, happy not-so-perfect mom trumps tired grumpy perfection. (If you don’t believe me, ask your kids!)

It is much like the beauty debate; we are not the size two plastic that we see on our televisions — that’s not real. Just the same, we are not the ideal “superwoman” glorified across media. That’s neither real nor ideal! About time we hand over that imaginary cape and truly empower ourselves!

So ladies, make choices, and reduce the to-do list: delegate, get help, let the people dependent on you get a little independent and once in awhile, just let things be “not perfect” — because everything cannot be and because everything is not supposed to be!

Featured photo credit: consultealespecialista.com via consultealespecialista.com

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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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