There are some common pitfalls that women I see could find themselves in. Indeed, they are not even pitfalls as that implies you were not in the hole to begin with, whereas many clients have never known life outside the constraints of these walls.
Paula Davis-Laak writes on these eloquently in her blog on Happiness as she maps out 8 of these areas. In summary:
- Maxing out isn't healthy, and doesn't make you happy. The physical and emotional consequences of striving to be the best academic, worker, friend, child, wife, mother etc. are deep, and take a significant time to recover from. She argues that women would be best served by finding their own boundaries and defining success according to those boundaries.
- Experience more, and buy less. Being trapped in an endless purchasing cycle is in fact a predictor of unhappiness, and living at the edges of your ability to afford
- Focus on what you can do rather than what you are worth. This is the difference between self-efficacy (feeling that you have the ability to produce results in your own life) and self esteem (placing an external or internal value on your own worth.) Decoupling the two is a way to start building resilience, a major factor in happiness.
- Take (good) risks. As Paula points out in a study by Dweck:
Dr. Carol Dweck explains that young girls are often praised for being “smart” or “good,” while young boys are often praised for “trying hard.” As a result, many young girls develop a fixed mindset – the belief that ability is fixed or static. She avoids challenges, tries to look smart, gives up easily, and sees added effort as fruitless. Meanwhile, young boys tend to develop a growth mindset – the belief that ability can be developed. He embraces challenges, persists during setbacks, and believes that with more effort, he can master a task. Not all girls have fixed mindsets and not all boys have growth mindsets, but Dr. Dweck’s research certainly suggests that the way boys and girls are praised has consequences later in life (Dweck, 2008).
- Don't listen to your own faulty thinking. It is the mechanism taught to you by many generations, and works inside you to hold you back. Paula describes herself as "a people pleasing, perfectionist, achiev-aholic," demonstrating her own faulty thinking. Examples of such thinking are:
- What will people think of me?
- I have to be perfect
- I can do it on my own
- I should be able to handle it
- I can't take time for myself
- What will people think of me?
- Perfection does not exist. Paula quotes an excellent piece here that sums up the problem with a belief in perfection. As Dr. Brene Brown notes, “Perfection is correlated with depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis or missed opportunities. The fear of failing, making mistakes, not meeting people’s expectations, and being criticized keeps us outside of the arena where healthy competition and striving unfolds” (Brown, 2012).
- Be vulnerable. Not always, and yes, it isn't always pleasant. But letting down your guard allows exposure to people, events, and experiences. It's worth cultivating.
- Avoid socially dictated happiness traps. This is the ingrained training that assumes you can't find happiness in yourself as a women, but you will find happiness when: I get married, I make more money, I have kids, I get promoted, etc. Don't be distracted by the external "recommendations." Instead, focus on your own goals and set about working towards them.
Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly. New York: Gotham Books.
Dweck, C. (2008). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Ballentine Books.
Paula Davis-Laak asserts that these points can help young women find a path to happiness. Do you agree? What would you add?