Inner180

Inner180 header image 1

Entries Tagged as 'transformation'

Why are women twice as depressed as men?

January 28th, 2011 · 17 Comments

It hit me like a bucket of ice-water in my face.  I was putting away a book this morning, and it fell open to this:  modern Western women have twice the rates of depression as men.

How could this be?  We have access to unprecedented independence, careers, education, birth control, therapy, and options unimaginable to prior generations.  What is getting to us?  What’s bugging us so much?

I began to read.

Could it be our hormones?  Nope.  While hormonal factors can play a role in feeling lousy, it’s not significant enough to account for the whopping difference between men and women.

Genetics?  Maybe we’re just predisposed for some ancient evolutionary reason?  That doesn’t explain it either.  While there is a tendency to pass on depression through the generations, careful genetic examination shows that it can’t account for such a wildly lopsided disproportion.

How about our willingness to talk about our depression more openly than men?  No, the two-to-one ratio shows up even when people who are very private about their internal states are studied.

Perhaps it’s because women go to therapy more than men, so it’s reported and studied more?  While we do, door-to-door surveys produce the same result.  Women not in therapy have twice the depression rates as men not in therapy.

Is it due to sex-based discrimination, or economic factors, since women tend to have worse jobs for less money? No.  Rich or poor, well-employed or unemployed, women are twice as depressed as men.

How about the multiple demands and roles that women deal with today—working plus tending children and maintaining a home?  This theory doesn’t pan out, either.  Working women are less depressed than stay-at-homes, who have fewer demands placed on them.

One by one, the possible culprits are eliminated by Martin Seligman in What You Can Change & What You Can’t, A Guide to Successful Self-Improvement. Seligman is known as the “father of positive psychology” and has written and researched extensively on happiness and how to achieve it.  After shooting down all of the obvious possibilities, he offers three possible explanations that are all confirmed by social science.

Here’s what the evidence points to:

First, learned helplessness, a proven predictor of depression, is far more prevalent in women than in men.  We often feel we have no control over the outcome of a situation, even when we can control it, because we’ve “learned” that we are powerless.

We live in a culture that trains women to be bystanders.

From cradle to grave, Seligman says, women get a masterful education in helplessness—boys learn to be active and adventurous, girls to be passive and dependent.  Women who become wives and mothers are devalued by our culture, and women who don’t marry or don’t have children are perceived as out of place.

How about this one, sisters?  Women who achieve success or power are seen as tough, bitchy, and aggressive.  Man-like.  Who wants that? So why bother, we tell ourselves, and ignore the yearnings within our souls.

Since we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t, we tend to give up and stop trying.  We assume we are helpless when we are in fact, not.

Second, we ruminate more, we churn and worry about our upsets and their causes, way more than men do. We lose our jobs and want to know why, what we did wrong, what happened, how could we have prevented it, who didn’t like us, and on and on.  This kind of reflection is not useful and digs us into a deep emotional hole.  Men tend to ignore causation and exploration, and take action.  It may not be healthy action—they might get drunk, watch sports, or otherwise distract themselves.  But they don’t tend to churn about it inside.

Our inner worlds sound like this:  Will he call? Maybe he doesn’t like me.  What did I do wrong?  I said the wrong thing.  I wish she wasn’t upset.  How can I fix it?  I didn’t do enough.  I did too much.  I’m not enough.

A man’s inner world sounds like this:  Hmmm, wonder what’s in the fridge? TGIF. Can’t wait for the game tonight.  Maybe I’ll call that girl I went out with.

Think I’m kidding?  Ask a man.  I have.  Lots of times.  And they consistently tell me these kinds of answers.  Sure they worry, too.  Sure they ruminate.  But not like we do.

Third, (and this one was the big shocker for me, so buckle up, girlfriends), the futile pursuit of thinness. Yep.  We are chasing a biologically impossible ideal with such zeal that we have depressed ourselves in record numbers.  We hate our natural curves that much.

We strive to have an unnaturally thin body so excessively, fruitlessly, and unhealthily that we work ourselves up into staggering and unprecedented amounts of depression.

When boys approach puberty, hormones give them lean muscles; when girls arrive, we get body fat.  Guess what?  We need that extra fat to make estrogen and the female hormones that also bless us with smooth, soft skin, supple bodies, and babies and breast milk.  How do we respond to this gift?  We hate, starve, vomit, exercise, worry, lipo, pummel, and then overeat ourselves into massive depression.

We are literally brainwashed into thinking our natural beauty is ugly.

Here’s a powerful factoid:  all the world over, every culture on the planet that believes thin women are the ideal have women more prone to depression and eating disorders.  Every world culture that does not worship at the altar of the unnaturally thin female body has no eating disorders and no lopsided female-to-male depression.

Be clear about this one, please.  I’m not suggesting that overeating is an emotionally healthy option.  But torturing ourselves because we don’t have a body like a prepubescent teenager’s, loathing our beautiful, curvy, naturally soft bodies is futile and extremely self-destructive.  And, our obsession passes this viewpoint along to our daughters, who begin “dieting” practically as soon as they learn to read and write.

What’s the good news in all of this?

All three of these causes can be changed. Learned helplessness, rumination, and poor body image are all based on thinking patterns and false beliefs that we can learn to change. 

Isn’t that wonderful, amazing, fabulous news?  I’ll say it again.  The major causes of depression in modern Western women can be changed when our thinking and attitudes change. By changing something we have control over.

It’s not easy, but depression is worse. I’ve been there.

I don’t know about you, but learning that I was in control of most of the things that bugged and upset me was the single most empowering discovery I ever made. And I do not say that lightly.  I am an attorney.  When I practiced law, I won cases that impacted thousands of people’s lives.  I am a mother.  I gave birth to two children and connected with the raw power of my body’s torrential forces.  Both of those roles gave me tremendous feelings of power and joy.

But the power and joy available by managing my self-destructive thinking patterns has been beyond anything I’ve ever experienced, and beyond anything I could have ever imagined.

Once I got the hang of it—with simple tools that are powerful, user-friendly, and available—my lifelong tendencies to feel helpless, to worry excessively, and to hate myself for not being built like a Barbie doll began to fade away.  So far, it hasn’t returned.

So what do you say?  Shall we declare a truce on ourselves and our bodies?  Shall we accept that some of us have breasts and hips and, ahem, muffin tops, and that’s okay?

And as for our learned helplessness and our excessive worrying, we have the power to change that, too.

So if you need help get it. A coach or a therapist can do wonders with stuck thinking patterns. If  you are prone to feeling low or prone to depression, or actually depressed, be sure that your recovery plan includes resources that help you manage your destructive thoughts.

Seligman’s research also confirms what my experience has taught me:  managing your thoughts manages your moods.  Our feelings are a direct result of our thinking.

Tags: change · depression · feelings · stress · thinking · transformation

From Aha Moments to Lasting Transformation

August 10th, 2010 · 1 Comment

YouTube Preview Image

Don’t you just love them?  Those “aha” moments when everything falls into place as if by magic.  It can happen when you solve a problem, when you figure out the perpetrator in a whodunit movie, or, best of all, when you get a powerful insight into how to change your life for the better.

There’s a good reason “ahas” feel so good.  At the moment of insight, our brains release a surge of energizing chemicals and give off strong gamma-band waves, signals that the brain is literally dancing as it makes new brain-wide connections.

This is learning at its very finest, and we are called to action from the deepest parts of our hearts and minds.  In the dramatic clip from the film, The Miracle Worker, posted above, Helen Keller figures out that the random hand movements her teacher has been making were a symbol for  water.  She instantly got it, and understood that there was a way to communicate beyond the isolation of her dark, silent world.

In The Story of My Life, she described it this way:  “Suddenly … somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me.  I knew then that “w-a-t-e-r” meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand.  That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free!”

But what do you think would have happened to Helen Keller if, after that momentous day, she didn’t do anything more?  No doubt about it—without repetition and reinforcement, her insight would have soon faded.  Instead, as Helen tells it, “I did nothing but explore with my hands and learn the name of every object that I touched; and the more I handled things and learned their names and uses, the more joyous and confident grew my sense of kinship with the rest of the world.”

Brain scientists put it this way: “what fires together, wires together.”  That’s another way of saying “practice makes perfect.”

The energy surge and resulting intense motivation we feel after an “aha” can pass very quickly, and we can soon forget about it, unless our learning “wires together.”  That’s why follow up and practice is crucial.  We must reinforce our insight with attention and repetition, to help our brains remember and apply our insights in future situations.

Here are some ways to help you use ahas to create lasting change:

1.    Write it down. The action of recording your insight will itself help strengthen the brain’s new connections and help you remember it.
2.   Return to your insight often. Post-it notes on the mirror and your computer screen really can strengthen your brain’s new connections.  Repeatedly bringing your attention to your “aha” will reinforce your learning by strengthening the new connections in your brain.
3.    Keep your attention on the solution, not the original problem. If you got an insight into how to stop procrastinating, for example, gently redirect your attention to the insight you got whenever you are tempted to procrastinate, rather than reminding yourself of your challenges with procrastination.  Again, this strengthens the brain’s new connections, rather than the old ones.
4.    Take easy action. As you move your insight into new, real-world behavior, it’s important to take action in small, easy steps.  This will minimize the brain’s stress signals, which will occur if you try to do too much too soon.
5.    Be generous with yourself. Remember that you didn’t learn to walk the first 500 times you tried.  Allow yourself to try and fail at your new behavior.  The very fact that you are trying is enough to re-focus your attention on the solution, and will strengthen your new insight.

With time and patience, you’ll see  your “ahas” gradually transform into “no-brainers”—automatic behaviors that hardly take any conscious attention.  So have fun, enjoy your ahas and happy learning!

Tags: attention · change · transformation

Keeping Inspiration Alive After a Retreat

June 17th, 2010 · 7 Comments

Ever go to a really good, intensive transformational workshop or retreat?

They’re usually out-of-town, full of motivation and connection. We learn, laugh, connect, struggle and grow. A really good one leaves us feeling inspired, motivated, and empowered.  We leave feeling as if we could leap tall buildings in a single bound.

And then it fades.

Away from our everyday routines we soak up inspiration like dry sponges.  We leave feeling as if transforming our lives was no more difficult than making a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch.  After a few days or a few weeks, it’s back to business as usual.

Inspiration fades and we forget how fabulous it all was and how fabulous we were.

So how can we stay enlivened after we return home to our jobs, mortgages, and everyday routines?  Here are a few ways that can help you stay inspired:

1.  Return to the workshop often. Assemble your notes, schedules, photos, workshop descriptions and handouts into a scrapbook or journal and look at it often.  Recall the fun you had, the ideas that came to you, and your personal highlights of the event.  Make notes and add them to your notebook.

2.  Keep feeling the energy you left with.  Recall the physical sensations in your body when your inspiration was at its peak and you felt unstoppable. Re-experience those feelings regularly by recalling them and breathing into the memories.

3.  Recall the goals, perceptions, and images that you had during the workshop. Write down the thoughts you had when you realized your new life was attainable.  Visualize it, too.  See your transformation in your mind’s eye, as if it were real right now.  Allow yourself to believe that your inspired new life is not only possible, but easily achievable.

4.  Stay connected to your peeps. Email, social media, and cheap long distance telephone make it easy to keep in touch with like-minded attendees.  Organize a weekly group call.  Don’t allow your conversations to backslide into complaints and lost dreams.  Take turns leading the calls, and make a pact with each other to stay focused on inspired, positive themes.  Cheer each other on.

5.  Stay connected to those who inspired you. Most workshop leaders and speakers offer lots of support and further inspiration on their websites.  Much of it is free.  Visit their websites.  Sign up for their teleclasses and ezines.  Read their books and blogs.  Listen to their podcasts.  Friend them on Facebook, “like” their fan pages, follow them on Twitter, and let them continue to guide you to greater inspiration, knowledge, and skills.

6.  Take a daily risk. Commit to taking one tiny step towards your new goals every single day, even if it scares you.  Especially if it scares you.  You’ll quickly discover that overcoming your fears and limiting beliefs through tiny action steps isn’t nearly as uncomfortable as staying stuck in old patterns is.

7.  Remember, transformation is a process, not a destination. Keep reminding yourself that permanent change comes over time.  Commit to giving yourself the gifts of patience and self-acceptance along the way.

So go ahead, and go for it.  Keep your inspiration alive.  Before long, you’ll be leaping tall buildings with a single bound.

Tags: transformation

Transformation is Always Possible

May 26th, 2009 · No Comments

mango-tree1There’s an ancient mango tree next to my cottage in Miami; it’s magnificent, with a thick, gnarled brown trunk and long glossy leaves.  How many hurricanes it’s withstood is anybody’s guess.  It’s been barren for at least 35 years, which is how long I’ve had this place.  This year, inexplicably, it flowered, and then, magically, massive clusters of fruit appeared.

A few weeks ago, its mangoes began falling.  I sampled one, but it was tasteless.  The fruit drops day and night, thudding on the roof and plopping to the ground, but I’ve ignored it, except to gather it up from time to time and bury it, to keep it from attracting insects.  I have two other trees providing fruit, so I gave it no further thought, except at midnight whenever a hard, green mango smacks onto the roof and rolls to the ground.

As I cleaned up the fruit this morning, I spotted a couple of really pretty, golden specimens.  Curious, I took them in to sample, and they were an extraordinary surprise–sweet, tender, and delicious.

I think the tree is telling me that we can always regenerate,  sweeten, and offer the best of ourselves to the world.  And that sometimes, our assumptions may not be true, even when we think we’ve investigated them.

Aren’t those messages we can always take to heart?  No matter how many times we’ve told ourselves we couldn’t do something, no matter how many times our creative mind seemed barren, no matter how many times we’ve failed to seize the opportunities that come to us, we can always regenerate and bloom and sweeten.  And even when we’ve told ourselves the same old story, over and over, we can look inside again, and find liberating new truth.

The mango tree is just outside my bedroom window, and late at night, as I’m drifting off to sleep, I hear it out there, releasing it’s sweet golden offerings.  I hear them rustling through the palm fronds as they descend, then landing in the thick jungle of vines below.  Each time I hear it, I remember all of the regeneration and opportunity and sweetness and truth in the world.  And that whether I pay attention or not, they’re there–delicious surprises,  just waiting for me to notice.

mangos1

Tags: transformation

The Power of an “Aha” Moment

April 24th, 2009 · No Comments

YouTube Preview Image

Sarah was stuck.  She came to our coaching session this week hurt and confused, and was wholeheartedly committed to a painful interpretation of a situation with a co-worker.  Blinded by her thoughts, Sarah clung to her painful position.  I watched her face crinkle in confusion and doubt, as her pain grew worse and worse.

Towards the end of our session, her frustration grew so great that I began to contemplate how to conclude the session without her achieving much insight.  In the next instant, she broke through her pain and confusion.  “I get it,” she said, as tears of relief streamed down her face.  “I feel like Helen Keller.“ she told me.  She was referring to the powerful scene in the movie The Miracle Worker when Helen “got it,” when she figured out what her lessons were all about.

For the remainder of our session, Sarah was able to discuss the relationship with her colleague with clarity and calm.  She had had what we call an “aha” moment. These moments of insight, arrived at by our own hard work, investigation, and effort are the most powerful learning experiences there are.  Sure, there is often a struggle and there may be plenty of discomfort, but when that “aha” arrives, it’s akin to what Helen Keller called “the most important moment” of her life.  She finally understood that Annie Sullivan’s incessant and incomprehensible hand gestures and sounds could unlock the doorway to connecting with and understanding the world around her.

“Aha moments” actually forge new connections, new neural pathways in our brains.  In fact, our brains actually release a small spurt of energizing adrenaline, which we feel as a burst of pleasurable excitement.

“Aha” moments feel very different from other types of learning, for example, listening to lectures. So the next time you are frustrated, confused, and unable to solve a problem, hang in there.  Keep going.

Your “Helen Keller moment” may arrive in the next instant.

Tags: learning · the brain · transformation

How to Beautify the New York Subway

September 24th, 2008 · 3 Comments

If you live in New York City, you probably ride the subway. Suzanne, New Yorker I coach, absolutely despised her commute.  She complained bitterly about the griminess, the overcrowding, the behavior of the other riders.  It was absolutely intolerable, she told me.

Her commute took 45 minutes each way.  That’s more than 32 hours every month, a long stretch of misery in a life. She considered moving closer to work, even changing jobs, but couldn’t come up with a practical solution to the problem.

I had an idea.  “Begin looking for beauty on the subway,” I suggested.  Suzanne laughed cynically and patiently explained to me—a non-New Yorker—what was patently obvious to anyone with two eyes, a nose, and a brain: the New York subway is a human cesspool during weekday rush hour.  It was impossible to appreciate anything about it, and there was certainly no beauty to be found there, she assured me.

But I insisted. “Send me an email every day, telling me of the glorious, beautiful, amazing things you find on the subway.”  Suzanne left our session muttering that I’d given her an impossible assignment.

But she gamely began looking.  With Suzanne’s permission, here are some of the things she found in the next few days:

“We went over the Manhattan Bridge, over the East River. Out in the distance,  beyond the Brooklyn Bridge, three aircraft were buzzing around each other in the air. They were blimps, and they looked like giant honeybees drunk on pollen, bobbling to and fro over the water.”

“A kid had a little glass jar between his feet. It was strangely shaped, like it had contained an exotic food item purchased at an ethnic market in Brooklyn. It was filled with beautiful, thick, cloudy pink juice. Guava? Papaya-passion fruit?”

“The woman across the train had enormous boobs and beautiful deep black skin. The whites of her eyes were so bright in comparison to her skin they looked like keyholes of light in the door of a dark room.”

“This morning I couldn’t count the people wearing shades on the train! I guess when you’re cool you’ve always got the sun in your face.”

“A garish McDonald’s ad greets me and encourages me to ‘Think Good Thoughts….’”

“Ikea’s yellow flags wave in the distance on the waterfront. I bought a carpet there on Saturday night, and the water this morning is the exact same color of that carpet, gorgeous peacock blue.”

“There is a comfy, casual feeling on the train this morning… many wearing their Friday office attire. One woman looks so comfortable in her outfit I want her to take it off and let me put it on!”

“The faces of buildings and all of the bridges, walls, boats, water, cable lines, roads, signs are layered upon each other like a box of toys thrown around a room during a child’s tantrum.”

“Without anyone speaking, I know I am in the midst of various exotic tongues; Spanish, Polish, Korean, Russian, Israeli, Vietnamese, Czech, Yiddish, Mandarin, Hebrew.…”

“What a gift to be able to look at humanity up close and personal, to look at all of our differences, beauty, ethnicities, blemishes, scars… where else would I be able to notice the super-fine quality of a stranger’s hair follicles, the way his hair grows out of his head in the same direction, the tone of the skin on his scalp, eight inches from my face on this packed train?”

Within two weeks, the subway had transformed.  Suzanne no longer rides in a cesspool teeming with the worst examples of humanity.  Her last email about the subway ended with these words, “Everywhere I turn, there is opportunity for joy.”

As  Marcel Proust wrote, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in seeing with new eyes.”

How about you?  Is there anything ugly, disgusting, intolerable in your life?  Can you see it with new eyes?

Tags: creating your reality · happiness · transformation

Can You Be Smart AND Happy?

September 18th, 2008 · No Comments

This morning, I was coaching very smart client.  She’s an academic at a renowned university, and feeling a little sheepish about the possibility that she could actually be happy.  She has a brilliant, highly-trained mind, and like so many in academia, tends to be suspicious of mooshy concepts like joy and happiness.  Especially her personal joy and happiness.

Another client, a genius with two PhDs, spent years as an academic.  For a while, he resisted some of the more imaginative exercises I gave him.  Even when they helped him stop procrastinating, the issue he’d been paralyzed by and sought coaching for, he feared that without empirical proof that the techniques worked, he was somehow being stupid for relying on them. “Are there any studies on this?” he’d ask me.  It seemed better to hang onto his dysfunction than to risk doing something that was possibly unproven hocus-pocus. Better to be a brilliant procrastinator than a productive dupe, I guess.

I’ve done my own time in academia, as a law professor, which carries not only the general fear of academia (the worst fate in life is that others will find out I’m not smart), but also the pessimism of legal thinking (if something can go wrong, it probably will, so I have to be prepared for every possible negative contingency).  I spent a long time rejecting the possibility that I could be happy, even when I began to feel happy. I felt sheepish about it.  It seemed so, well, improbable and foolish.

Ultimately, I got over it.  With practice and a bit of self-compassion my client can, too.

It’s crazy really. A smart person can  justify staying miserable or dysfunctional, because if others find out we’re happy, they might think we’re not so smart.  Sometimes the smartest people do the silliest things, in the name of intelligence.

Tags: happiness · resistance · self-worth · transformation