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Girls Gone Mild: Why it is Important to Raise Confident Daughters

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I have a handful (maybe two) of women in my life that I thoroughly enjoy spending time with. A few years ago I began selectively reducing my female friendships because I simply wasn’t getting anything out of them other than added stress and annoyance. Recently, after an unnecissarily complicated interaction with someone, I became curious about the psychology behind female friendships. Everyone knows that women’s friendships can be fraught with difficulties, but what I wanted to know was: why? I have spent most of my life engaged in extremely deep and meaningful friendships that gave me immense satisfaction. However, those friendships were usually with men.

As I did a little research and discussed this phenomenon with some of my friends, I learned a few interesting things about women that explain many of my experiences over the years. Typically, boys are raised to be confident and competitive, while girls, on the other hand, are taught to be caring and empathetic without a hard competitive edge.  These girls slowly grow into women who have stifled their aggressions and self-confidence in order to meet society’s expectations. The result is dismal: instead of expressing their competitive natures openly, these women have developed a hidden desire for other women to fail, thus making them look better in comparison.

Once I fully grasped this concept, I did an inventory of my current list of close female friends. As I was raised to have a strong competitive edge and determined personality, I naturally connect with women with similar upbringings. I realized that the female friendships I have chosen to walk away from were all with someone who had low self-confidence, little sense of healthy competition, and a general aura of resentment. The women I have in my life now are all highly motivated, accomplished, competitive and can take what they dish out because they are extremely self-confident. Most of my girlfriends will tell you that they have been referred to as “one of the guys,” which just goes to show that society only expects men to be openly aggressive.

My ultimate opinion is that many of these women have become uncomfortable with their own feelings of aggression and power, and when they sense it in other women, they feel threatened. Stifling their own desire for success or satisfaction can lead to feelings of unworthiness, envy and depression. I have two sons who society has already gotten its grips into – they’re very competitive, determined, outspoken young men.  Social cues are very strong, so I am also busy instilling them with good communication skills, empathy and an ability to express their emotions, hoping for well-rounded men in approximately 12 years.

If you have a daughter, help her pave the way to her future happiness by teaching her that it’s okay to win. And, not only is it okay to win, but it’s also okay to want to win. Celebrate her as a strong female now so that she will be comfortable expressing her full competitive edge as she moves through life, giving her an excellent chance at overall success.

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How to Play When the Deck is Stacked Against You

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During my chiropractic appointment today, I got to talking with the good doc about the condition of my spine and the fact that most of the joints in my body are degenerating prematurely due to Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. After we briefly discussed my diagnosis, he sat down quite abruptly and said, “I can always tell within 5 minutes of meeting someone whether they are going to let their problems overtake them or if they are going to rise up and live life in spite of them. Adrienne – you are a determined person and you have a realistic attitude toward your condition. Embrace your problems and resolve to enjoy your life anyway.”

Of course, he’s right, but it is easy for anyone to lose focus when any part of your life is dragging you down and it seems like the world is against you. Regardless of the nature of your struggles, there is a lot you can do to move toward enjoying your life again, and it’s not as simple as having a good attitude! Although it can be difficult to stay motivated and engaged in life when faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges, one thing you definitely do NOT want to do is to adopt the “woe is me” approach. You might not always feel positively thrilled with the circumstances of your life, but try to steer clear of drowning in self-pity. This step alone will keep you afloat while you try to adapt your life accordingly.

Be proactive. Make a clear plan that sets out the goals you hope to achieve, whether personal, physical, emotional, or professional.  Be sure that you have specific goals and a clear plan of action that will allow you to accomplish them. Difficult times test our motivation levels, and staying focused on the end game will push you to persevere even when you really don’t want to.  Choose to spend your time with people who buoy your self-confidence and don’t bring you down further.  Eliminate “problem people” from your life and surround yourself with those who make you feel understood and encouraged during hard times.

As I have learned, sometimes life is less about trading in your cards and more about accepting the hand you have been dealt.  No matter what life has thrown at you, believe in yourself.   Have confidence that you can move through life and enjoy the awesome parts to the fullest. And, instead of battling your inner demons, hold hands with them and invite them along for the ride.

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Do You Take Responsibility for Your Own Happiness?

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“To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.”
-Oscar Wilde

As I continue to forge ahead through my 30s, edging closer and closer to the big 4-0, I have become increasingly aware of the significance of my sense of self-awareness and self appreciation. Truly accepting myself as I am, both physically and intellectually, has been a slow process that began 17 years ago when I first realized that I could make a big impact on my own happiness. Over the past decade and a half, I have slowly familiarized myself with the concept of unconditional self-love. It hasn’t been easy, but it has been enlightening.

So many times in life, we willingly criticize ourselves and publicly announce our faults and flaws in front of others. “Look how fat I’ve gotten!” or “I am such an idiot!” are exclamations heard all too often among our family, friends and coworkers. Why are we so hard on ourselves? One theory is that our feelings of self-worth are a reflection of our relationships with our parents during our formative years. Another possibility is a need for forgiveness or feelings of guilt that have yet to be addressed properly. When I began my self-reflection journey, I noted that my relationship with my parents was pretty decent when I was a child. I began earnestly digging to find the source of my feelings of unworthiness, ultimately improving my overall feelings of self-appreciation and allowing me to finally be truly happy.

Many of us spend a lot of time expecting someone else to take the blame for everything that is wrong in our lives. We tend to shift the responsibility of our satisfaction onto others, unconsciously always looking for the perfect scapegoat. However, the realization of true happiness has nothing to do with anyone but ourselves. The process begins with forgiving ourselves and acknowledging that we are doing the best that we can. Letting go of unrealistic, self-imposed ideals is the first step on the road to increased self-confidence and the ability to love deeply. Expending some of our misdirected energy toward nurturing our own self-image means we don’t have to wait around for validation from others! By relying on ourselves for a sense of happiness and love, we can create an inner security that is far more fulfilling than anything external.

Start taking steps to make yourself a priority today. Don’t put off any longer the small changes that could bring about a significantly positive improvement in your sense of well-being and your ability to love unconditionally. Your own happiness depends on it.

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Leave the Past Alone and Make the Present Perfect

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I spent a great deal of my twenties and early thirties dwelling on the past - thinking about what I should have done differently or wishing I could go back and choose an alternate ending like in those Choose Your Own Adventure books. I’ve spent hours embroiled in bitter ruminations about how my life might have turned out if I hadn’t acted a certain way at what I considered (in hindsight) to be critical turning points in my life story.  Truth be told, for many years, I spent more time in the past than I did in the present.

I was the antithesis of the person who lives her life with “No regrets.” I had more regrets than I knew what to do with. I was literally obsessed with my actions in the past that I had no way of rectifying. When a friend of mine urged me to explain why I was filled with so much remorse about situations that had absolutely no real bearing on my present life, I had an ‘a-ha’ moment. By spending so much time in the past, I had forgotten that what I do have control over is the present.

It’s ok to feel bad about something you did or didn’t do years ago that perhaps you might do differently if given a second chance, like lying to a friend or not helping someone when you should have. But if you’re finding yourself haunted by the Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda about life-changing choices, here’s the thing: there is definitely something amiss, but to find the solution, you’re going to have to start looking in the present instead of the past.

Regardless of whether you’re living in the past, future or in an alternate universe altogether – ask yourself why you aren’t living in the now. Instead of looking backward or forward or at the greener grass on the other side of the fence, look in the mirror. Re-evaluate your life and re-configure your plans so that you can start enjoying every minute as it comes. Determine what you want your life to look like and make a plan to get there. If your present isn’t perfect, do some conjugation until your life is in exactly the right tense.

Find out what other obstacles might be impeding your present happiness with a great book by David Viscott - Emotionally Free – Letting Go of the Past to Live in the Moment.


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Give Your Brain a Break by Creating Effectual Habits

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One day my psychologist looked at me and told me I needed to change my habits. I was confused. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink alcohol, I eat well, I go to bed at a reasonable time, I don’t use drugs (illegal ones anyway), and I’m trying really hard to stop cracking my knuckles. I told her I didn’t really have any bad habits to break other than biting my nails and plucking my eyebrows too much. She seemed bemused by my naïveté. Oh my dear, sweet patient, ye who has so much to learn. She then shared with me yet another one of her almighty wisdoms that would help me succeed in life.

It turns out that more than 40% of our actions are actually habits rather than real decisions that we put thought and effort into. Understanding how habits begin is the key to being able to break the bad ones and replace them with habits that can help improve our lives. Habits actually form in a three-step process which is known as a ‘habit loop’ – a cue is followed by a behavior which is followed by a reward. The behavior is what we all associate with the habit, but what we need to recognize is that the entire process is important if we want to make significant changes.

Habits and decisions are carried out by entirely different parts of the brain, therefore, as soon as a behavior becomes habitual, our brains slip into ‘automatic’ mode, which allows us to focus mental energy on other things. Studies show that we typically perform behaviors the same way if we are in a familiar environment. Simple acts like the order we put on our shoes or the way we brush our teeth remain habitual as long as we are ensconced in our daily routines receiving subtle cues. By changing our routines slightly, habits are easier to change and create. Breaking or starting a habit is usually extremely effective on vacation for this reason.

By changing some of your decision making acts into habits, you can free up some of your brain power to do other things, like achieve success professionally or be more present while parenting. Regardless of the act that you want to automate, create a cue for yourself that will spark the desired behavior at the same time and place every day. Force yourself to perform the action or behavior routinely, and give yourself a pre-planned reward every time until it becomes habitual. Save decision making for the most important aspects of your life, and leave the rest to HABIT.

For further reading and information about creating new habits and how they are formed, check out The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.

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Are You Sabotaging Your Projects By Broadcasting Them?

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Common goal-setting wisdom says that you should tell as many people as possible about your goals in order to achieve them. This is so that you can then draw the strength of your personal support network when times get tough, and they can hold you accountable. The theory is that the more people who know about your goal, the more you’ll look like a failure if you don’t follow through, and so you’re more likely to work harder.

I, however, was surprised to hear this perspective, because in my own experience I have found exactly the opposite to be true – i.e. telling people about my goals actually makes me far less likely to achieve them. In the past when I have kept a project to myself, I found myself more determined to work harder to get the job done so that I could brag about it.

Several psychological studies have delved deeper into this topic, attempting to work out exactly how people’s minds behave when they tell other people about their goals. What they found was that test subjects got a great deal of satisfaction in their goals being acknowledged after sharing them with somebody else, so much so that their minds were tricked into feeling like they had already achieved the goal.

Several experts believe this satisfaction felt from sharing plans actually makes people less likely to go out and do them. Sounds a bit counterintuitive, I know. But I can’t tell you how many of my friends have told me about a great new project they’re about to start working on, only for the project to disappear into obscurity within days.

My advice to you would be to look back at some of your past goals. Do you always follow through with your plans, or have you started more projects than you’ve finished? If you’re the kind of person who is motivated about having your family and friends cheering for you, and you’re worried about how you’ll look to them if you fail, then broadcasting your goals might work well for you.  If, on the other hand, you gain greater motivation from the thought of keeping things under wraps and having a big ta-dah! reveal at the end when you’ve actually accomplished something, then do just that. You could find your next project a lot easier to stick with.

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Can Being a Team Player Actually Make You Dumber?

Office Party
Photo courtesy of Jason Pratt

You might think this is the setup for an elaborate Jersey Shore joke, but according to recent research from the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, the social dynamics of small group settings, such as office meetings or get-togethers with friends, can actually affect cognitive function negatively, making you behave less intelligently than you would if you were on your own and not receiving social feedback.

While it may be tempting to use this as an excuse for your behavior at the Christmas party last year, a more relevant issue is how your performance at work or on personal projects could be affected by the subtle dynamics of the group you’re working with. According to the study, group members exhibit decreased cognitive function when they feel concerned about their social status and ranking in the group. The stress of worrying about how you are being perceived can temporarily interfere with your ability to solve problems and make decisions. That interference goes away when you stop receiving social feedback cues that you interpret as being indicative of your standing in the group.

Employers often seek out people who are eager to work as part of team, but could that tactic be backfiring on them? Do you feel that group situations bring out the best in you, or do think you do your best work on your own? Do you think there is a way to create more of an even playing field in group settings so that people are less likely to be made aware of differences in social standing?

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How to Redefine Positive Thinking for Living in the Real World

Positive Attitude
Image courtesy of Eric Chan

Ask any motivational speaker what the keys to success are, and I promise you the words “positive attitude” will be in there somewhere.

Which is great, and I fully agree, but with all the life-improvement programs out there promising magical results if you just think happy thoughts for long enough, I think many people misinterpret what a positive attitude really is, and then get frustrated when their misinterpretation ends up backfiring on them.

At one time or another, we’ve all been that person – the one who keeps pretending everything is fine as their hard work burns to the ground around them. The theory behind such behavior: “as long as I stay true to my positive attitude, everything will be okay.”

But… that’s not a positive attitude. That’s denial. And ignoring problems is almost never the way to fix them, though I see people doing it all the time and calling it their “positive attitude.” And then when their projects fail, they claim they tried the whole positive attitude thing and it turned out to be a load of crap.

Telling yourself that everything in your world will be amazing all the time is not only unrealistic, it can actually keep you from reaching your goals. Pasting on a fake smile and powering through as if nothing’s ever wrong is not what having a positive attitude is about.

A better path to attainable progress is to be optimistic about the overall picture, but still recognize issues when they arise. Prepare yourself for the fact that problems will occur, and accept that as part of the growth process. Throwing your arms up in the air and saying, “see, I knew positive thinking was too good to be true” doesn’t help. Neither does smiling and pretending that positive thinking fixes everything. Instead, try taking the more empowering standpoint of accepting that you’ve derailed, and reminding yourself that you are capable of figuring out what the solution is. Then you can take the appropriate actions to get yourself back on track and actually feel positive about it.

We all want to move forward with our lives, but we also have to accept that progress is rarely linear. Not only is it okay to experience setbacks, it’s a great opportunity to learn from negative experiences and prove to yourself that you really can recover from anything.

If you’ve got something that’s blocking you at the moment and you’re either wallowing in frustration or trying to drown it in positive thoughts, take a few minutes today to sit down and actually work through the issue (if you have an iPad, Unstuck is a great app to help with this). What are your options for moving forward? What can you do to keep this problem from happening again in the future? Use a positive attitude not as a magic wand, but as a tool to deconstruct obstacles and build something stronger.

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