The Science of Getting Unstuck


The Science of Getting Unstuck

Ever feel like you’ve plateaued in some area of your life? Or, like you’re coasting and not moving forward in your career, relationships, or other aspects of your life? Well, prepare to propel yourself forward after listening to this episode.

Developmental Psychologist Dr. Sasha Heinz explains the science of getting unstuck and the mindset needed to create the life of your dreams, aka the self-authored life. She shares how to squash self-criticism, perfectionism, and good girl conditioning to become the heroine of your own story.

Sasha Heinz, Phd

Sasha Heinz, Phd

Developmental Psychologist

Sasha Heinz, Ph.D., MAPP, Developmental Psychologist, is an expert in Positive Psychology, lasting behavioral change, and the science of getting unstuck. Dr. Heinz has leveraged her academic expertise as a former faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania’s Master of Applied Positive Psychology program to provide her clients with the toolset, skillset, and mindset to transform their lives. In her private coaching practice, she helps perfectionists, people-pleasers, and approval seekers live their most meaningful lives.


Maria Marlowe: [00:00:06] Welcome back to The Glow Life. I’m your host, Maria Marlowe, and on today’s episode, we’re going to help you get unstuck. Today, we’re chatting with developmental psychologist and expert in positive psychology Dr. Sasha Heinz. Dr. Heinz is also an expert in behavioral change and the science of getting unstuck. I think the feeling of being stuck is something that we’ve all experienced at one point or another. And sometimes that feeling can last way, way too long. I’m talking weeks, months or even years. We find ourselves in the same exact position, even though we want to be somewhere else. And so today’s episode, we’re going to address these very feelings and help you break through from those feelings of being stuck and moving towards your goals. I think you’ll really enjoy this episode and get a lot out of it. So let’s jump right in.

Maria Marlowe: [00:01:08] Sasha, thanks for being on the show.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:01:10] Oh, I’m so excited to be here.

Maria Marlowe: [00:01:12] So since a lot of your work focuses on getting unstuck, I thought that would be a great place to start, especially since I feel like a lot of people feel stuck, and I think probably everyone feels stuck at some point in their life. So why do we feel this way and how do we get out of that?

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:01:32] Oh boy. Big question. Yeah, I think that this is like the big million dollar question is the question about change. And so often I think everyone has experienced this feeling of intending or wanting to change and not feeling able to do it. And this massive, what we call the intention-action gap. And it’s so frustrating. And there’s a number of reasons sort of why this happens. But I think fundamentally it is because the change that we want to make feels psychologically threatening to some extent. So we call this sort of just as we have a physiological immune system that is keeping foreign viruses and bad things for our body at bay. It’s very technical term, bad things for our body. I am not an M.D. clearly, but just as our physiological immune system is keeping us safe and well, so is our psychological immune system fighting off psychological threats.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:02:35] So when we have that feeling of having one foot on the gas and another foot on the brake, we want to make behavioral changes and yet put our head on the pillow at night going, Oh, why? Why did I do that? Tomorrow will be better. Tomorrow will be a better day. And it isn’t. And it’s just this perpetual cycle of frustration. Maybe you string a week together and then you kind of, you know, things fall apart. So it’s a very frustrating place to be. But that feeling of stuck really is when your psychological immune system is activated and it’s trying to protect you. So it may be…

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:03:13] And some of the psychological threats are really deep. You know, it could be someone who’s struggling with weight issues and you know that weight on their body protects them in some capacity. You know, that could be like some real sexual trauma, that could be criticism that they received as kids. And that was or they felt in some way that their body was dangerous in some way. So it’s a way to protect themselves, right? So it could be something like that’s pretty deep. It could also be a fear of this is just the way our family does it. And if I behave or do something differently, I’m going to be ostracized and I won’t be part of the crew and I won’t be a part of this community.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:03:56] And we are animals, right? We’re pack animals. We need to be in community so that can be a massive threat to people, the loss of potential relationships. You see that with behavioral change around drinking. I won’t be fun. No one will want to hang out with me. I’ll be isolated and alone. Ok, that’s really threatening. So even if you want maybe to cut back on drinking when weighed in the balance of like, lose potential friendships and relationships versus feel better in the morning, you know what’s going to win? Friendships. Just going to win.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:04:32] So the first step is really unpacking and understanding what is keeping me stuck. Why am I so stuck? This is work I would highly recommend to do with a therapist, a coach, some skillful, objective professional because it’s just easier to have someone objectively witnessing your pattern, seeing sort of what’s going on, and helping you see them. Because when we’re embedded in the story, it’s very hard to see it. But, you know, it’s really that stuckness has so much to do with protection, and I think it’s important because we want to instinctively, I think we want to like beat ourselves up. What’s wrong with me? You know, it’s just so frustrating. And we have lots of nasty things to say to ourselves when we’re in that place of that horrible cycle of wanting to change, blowing it off, feeling shame and feeling hope again, then trying it again and then blowing it off and then feeling shame. And then we’re in this perpetual cycle.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:05:30] So I think step one is really recognizing, OK, something about this feels very scary and very threatening. And what are those things that feel so scary? Is it? Is it a threat to my identity? Is it a threat to a sense of certainty? Is it a threat to my sense of autonomy and my ability to make my own free choice? Do I feel restricted in some way? Is it a threat to a relationship, as I mentioned? Is that a threat to a sense of fair? It’s not fair. And that feels like it’s being violated and it’s really beginning to understand what is at stake. And then from there, unpacking that and dismantling some of those assumptions because they may feel real even though they aren’t real.

Maria Marlowe: [00:06:18] So it sounds like self-reflection is really the first step and ideally self-reflection.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:06:24] That was much more succinct, much more succinct.

Maria Marlowe: [00:06:29] You explained it really, really well. And you know, I think it’s so true. And when I had first started my health coaching practice, I did focus a lot on helping people lose weight because that’s what most people want health coaching for. And I did. I’d always tell people because there were there would inevitably be people who would lose some weight and then gain it back. You know, they would lose the 20 pounds and be so excited and so happy, but then gain it all back, in the next couple of weeks. And it usually had something to do with some fear of who they’re becoming right. Or they had this certain image of themselves as this type of person. I’m, you know, the overweight, funny girl or, you know. It was so tied to their identity that once they thought they were becoming the opposite, they didn’t want to do it. So they would kind of go back and forth.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:07:25] I was working with a client who had autoimmune stuff and she was working with a naturopath, and the recommendation was to do an elimination protocol and work through that balance. OK, restricting different foods is not necessarily the most fun thing in the world. But if you’re in enough pain and the symptoms are bad enough, to be honest, you’re like, I’ll do anything, I’ll do anything to feel better. But it was so fascinating was really when we sort of peeled back the layers, what was really holding her back was the identity of, I don’t want to be that girl and I want to be that girl. I don’t want to be the person who goes out to dinner and is the annoying one who’s asking for sauces on the side. And, you know

Maria Marlowe: [00:08:09] Gluten-free.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:08:11] Exactly and all the things. And it was just and I completely understand that. I get that. And also, if it’s really going to make a difference… And I think at this point, it was untested out, like, is it really going to help. If it really is going to help aren’t those changes worth it, right? We’re willing to be that girl? What does that girl mean, right? It’s a silly thing. The people that love her and care about her want her to feel better and to be healthy and happy, right? But it’s interesting… That was a very, you know, it was interesting that really at the end of the day, that resistance was like she had so much… Kind of she identified so much about being someone who was like, oh, I’m not like those annoying high maintenance women.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:08:57] And when dating. She was single. This was an enormous threat to her identity. Like, I’m going to have to be that quote-unquote that girl, quote-unquote on a date. You know, she’s like, I want to… No, thanks. So it became very clear why she was having such a hard time following the protocol because when it came down to it, that felt so scary. But you can see there are so many assumptions baked into that, like the things that we do to take care of ourselves or anyone else’s business. Like the things that we do to take care of ourselves, make us annoying to other people.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:09:42] No, no, no, if you’re annoying to that person, guess what? Their brain is annoying that you’re not annoying them. Their brain is annoying them, right? As long as you’re not asking other people to change their behavior, it’s none of their business. So that was sort of the work we were doing. But it was just really, I think it was sort of an aha moment for her to really begin to see, OK, this is what’s at the root. At the root of it, this is the problem.

Maria Marlowe: [00:10:05] And I’ve heard that so many times before as well whenever someone needs to go on an elimination, some people will do it gladly but some people said the same exact thing that your client did is that I don’t want to be that girl. Which is interesting. And I guess it’s probably because that girl has been made into memes. So it’s kind of like a thing. But really, as someone who is that girl, it’s really not that bad. And you can still date, find a husband or, you know, a partner. It’s not a problem because the people who care about you are exactly like you said, they are going to want you to eat in a way that’s good for you and for your health. And they shouldn’t penalize you or judge you for it.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:10:48] Right. And I think ultimately, it really comes down to whether or not we are self-authored and to the extent to which it’s developmental, it’s part of adult developmental growth. Is that the minute we start to do things because of some unwanted identity, we’re afraid of somebody else’s judgment of us. That’s not to say that we don’t care what other people think. You’re not, you know… It’s pathological not to care what other people think. We live in community. It’s really important to actually consider other people’s feelings. I think there’s a lot of, don’t care what other people think. No! It’s nuts.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:11:24] You do need to care what other people think in terms of having empathy, in terms of being compassionate, in terms of being mindful of other people’s experience. Yes, please be kind, be thoughtful. However, when it comes to making decisions for ourselves, if we’re making decisions for ourselves based on what we think, other, to some extent, to manipulate what other people think about us, that’s not what we call self-authored. It’s not a great idea. It’s not going to lead to great outcomes. And also, we want to evolve and grow into women that are making decisions from a self-authored place.

Maria Marlowe: [00:12:03] I love this whole concept of self-authored because I do think growing up in our society we’re anything but self-authored right? We’re told from day one, from everything being pink to the careers we can have and the music we can listen to, all the things, it’s kind of dictated to us, by society, by our family, even if not directly but indirectly, right? And of course, there are all these pressures on women to get married by a certain age and have kids by a certain age and there’s just so many things that women are supposed to do or should do. But right, what ends up happening when we’re doing what everyone else wants right is that we’re not actually fulfilled or happy. So all of the things in your life end up suffering anyway, so it doesn’t make sense. So if we want to lead more of a self-authored life, how do we even start?

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:12:59] I think there’s so… I mean, that’s such a big topic for women because I think we are socialized to be good girls often, right? That’s the idea. The way that women succeed in life is by being kind, accommodating, nurturing, loving, flexible, considerate, all of which are not bad. They’re good. They’re important. And when over-prioritized. When there are no boundaries involved, where the line between me and you is murky like we’re responsible for other people’s feelings and how they show up, which we’re not. But when we’re we’re raised to believe that, you know, I think the messaging is pervasive and deep.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:13:46] So I think for so many women, there is this sort of unraveling or dismantling to some extent of that good girl conditioning that needs to, that’s part of our growth. Of being willing to inconvenience people. You know what, going after big dreams, you know what that’s going to do? It’s going to inconvenience people. It is. Whether that means that you may not be available to go out to the fun party because you’re training for something. Or you might be working longer hours because you’re going after something that you really care about or whatever the thing is. Most likely if you’re going after a big enough dream, it’s going to be inconvenient to somebody else who maybe wants your time and wants your energy and wants your attention.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:14:29] So if we’re not clear on where we end and someone else begins, then that can get really difficult. And I think it’s extremely difficult for women, moms, especially with kids. I think it’s just… I think women feel far more. And I would say, definitely there’s a gender difference here, feel far more than men. This responsibility to others, like my time, is not my own. My time doesn’t belong to me anymore. And so there’s a tendency to sort of put our things, ourselves, on the back burner. And I think that that’s a tragedy for so many women. Like they get to a stage in life, like, I don’t even know how to dream anymore. I have put the lid on my dreams for so long. I don’t even know how. I don’t even know what I want. I’m so disconnected from my sense of desire because I’ve told myself for so many years I’m not allowed to have desire because other people come first.

Maria Marlowe: [00:15:29] So how the heck do we break out of that cycle? So for someone who’s maybe going, Oh my gosh, I’m in this position right now, how do you even start to peel back the layers and go in the other direction?

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:15:44] So I work with my… It’s a great question, I think this is really deep stuff, you know. And it’s brave work for people to be willing to open the hood and kind of look inside and go like, OK, what’s really going on here? Because it can feel threatening. It can feel scary, like, Oh my gosh, is my life going to fall apart? And it can feel really overwhelming. But I work with clients. I do. I talk a lot about what I call a big-bodacious goal. Setting a really massive, impossible goal. Not impossible, capital I. It’s impossible for you, but it seems impossible to you, something that you tell yourself is impossible. To set a goal that’s big enough and challenging enough.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:16:25] The research on goal setting is really that we want to set challenging goals. Challenging and specific. They have to be challenging and specific. If they’re not challenging and specific, they’re what we called low-goal. And it’s better just to set a low goal than no goals. If they’re vague and if they’re kind of meh, not that compelling, don’t even bother because you’re going to blow it off, and then you’re going to reiterate the narrative that you blow things off and you give up. Don’t do that.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:16:50] So we work a lot on setting these sort of big, bodacious goals. I think what’s so interesting is that I think often women get really intimidated by this idea of… Maybe goal setting is perhaps more of a masculine framework, the way that we talk about it in adult development and also in sort of self-help world. This idea of, we’re going to conquer the mountain, we’re going to reach the mountaintop. Maybe that’s a bit more masculine. And I think sometimes my clients feel a little overwhelmed by this like, Oh my gosh, I don’t even have time. Are you kidding me? I am, you know, racing to get everybody ready in the morning, and I barely have time for myself. Are you serious? You want me to set a big, challenging goal? Like, no thanks. So I think sometimes I can feel a little intimidating.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:17:38] So the way that I’ve been talking about it more recently is it’s really about storytelling. If you think about yourself as the heroine of your story, which indeed you are. You’re the heroine and the heroine has overcome so many things already. You know, there’s a heroine’s journey and so many obstacles, and so many things have already been overcome. And instead of maybe thinking about it in terms of a big-bodacious goal, if that feels a little overwhelming. Think about it as the next chapter. The next chapter is happening anyway. It’s going to happen anyway. It’s happening right now. You’re writing the story of your life every day.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:18:15] What is that heroine? What’s the challenge she’s taking on? What’s she accomplishing? What she’s doing? What’s the story? If you’re writing the story of this heroine, what’s next? And maybe that feels a little less intimidating. It doesn’t have to be some… I ran a marathon or something. Who came up with these goals? You get to be the author of what you want to go after. But maybe that framework of thinking about yourself as a storyteller and your life is your story. What’s next for this heroine?

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:18:50] If you were watching your life as unfolding in the movie theater, you’re the heroine, you’re watching the movie, what would be the next thing that’s happening to this heroine that you would be cheering her on? You’d be like, Yes. The thing that you really want for this person? What’s the twist? That’s how I think about setting a big goal. And that might be, you know, it could be anything, it could be some kind of lifestyle change, it could be changing careers, it could be taking a break, it could be many different things. Going on an adventure, challenging oneself in a new way, deepening different relationships. It could be whatever you want it to be.

Maria Marlowe: [00:19:34] I love the idea of putting yourself in the story because I think it also helps people tap into their creativity a little bit more. I think a lot of people, especially as we get older, think they’re not creative or you’re stuck in the confines of the present. So I’ve been doing a lot of future-self work now. And you know, they talk about how you think that whatever is happening right now, you tend to think that’s how it’s always going to be or that’s what your abilities are, is whatever you’re able to do right now. But that’s not the truth, right?

Maria Marlowe: [00:20:05] Because we can look into the past and see, oh, 10 years ago, you were a completely different person with completely different abilities and thoughts and dreams and goals. So we’re constantly changing. So I really love this idea of making yourself the heroine of the story so you can really create and think about what does that future-self you want to create. And then obviously, your thoughts can help you take the actions that you need to actually get there.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:20:30] I mean, Daniel Gilbert has some interesting research, and I think exactly what you’re saying, which is we overestimate how much we can accomplish in the short term, but we profoundly underestimate the amount of change that we’re going to have in our life over the next decade. Look back on who you were 10 years ago. I mean, a profoundly different person. Profoundly. Who’s the you in ten years from now? Who’s the you, 20 years from now? A wildly different version of you? So when we are involved in that growth, when we’re intent, when that growth is deliberate and we’re sort of in the driver’s seat of it, not just the passenger, it can be a really exciting journey to be on.

Maria Marlowe: [00:21:13] So for any perfectionists out there or people-pleasers, what do you want them to know?

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:21:20] Well, I think what’s so interesting is that because of this sort of what I’m calling the good girl conditioning, I think that perfectionism and people-pleasing is now I’m a people pleaser. I’m a perfectionist. But the truth is, the secret truth i, but I kind of think it’s a good thing. Deep down, they’re like, I’m a good person. I’m a hard worker. I want things to be done well. I think that there’s an aspect of sort, there’s a little bit of, there’s a noble struggle there. And I think when you begin to see it from a developmentalist, through the lens of adult development, you begin to see, OK, well, people-pleasing and perfectionism is really about having an external orientation.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:22:08] So you are defining yourself and your value and your worth based on other people’s judgments of you. And it’s not a bad thing. Everyone needs to go through this developmental period. This is an important developmental stage, just like concentric rings of a tree. You’re we’re evolving into more sophisticated mindsets and sophisticated developmental stages, but we need to traverse and go beyond this one socialized mindset. So when you’re thinking about, I’m a people pleaser, I’m a perfectionist. And I think we all can relate to this, recognizing, oh, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s pretty immature. It’s not the most sophisticated way to think. It’s really looking to other people to define oneself that they are the authors of the dictionary that defines you. So you have to run around like crazy trying to get other people’s approval so that you can feel good about you.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:23:12] When we become and move beyond that sort of socialized mindset into something into a more self-authored mindset, we are shifting that locus of control to us. So instead of someone else’s opinion of us defining who we are, we’re taking more ownership of, no, no, even if they have that opinion of me, I get to define who I am. I decide how I want to show up and the behaviors that you’re doing from a socialized place versus the self-authored place may look pretty similar. You still might want to show up for your friends, you still might want to go to those cocktail parties or, support someone else or offer to help someone move or whatever the things that you were doing before or being detail-oriented about work.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:23:58] You may decide that that’s still who you are, but you’re not deciding it because like, Oh my gosh, if I’m not this person, they’re not going to like me. If I’m not this person, they’re going to be disappointed in me. Now, the reason you’re doing it is because it’s in alignment with your own values. This is how I like to show up. This is me at my best. And so it’s coming from a place of what we call self-authorship. And then there’s no resentment. There’s not this sort of mountain of resentment. You know you’ve got a problem with people-pleasing and perfectionism if you have an enormous amount of resentment.

Maria Marlowe: [00:24:35] It’s so true. I’ve definitely gotten a lot better at saying no to things because I do know if I say yes to something and I don’t want to do it, the resentment just builds up and it’s not great for either party. So saying no, it’s really the most empowering… It’s like a weight is lifted off your shoulders. It feels so good. So building that no muscle is something really important that I think everyone needs to work on.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:25:01] And you might decide, you know, I’m really, really, really available for these five people, and that’s it. And everyone else gets a no. But these five people in my life, if I can, I will. And so you get to make whatever the boundary is, you get to decide what it is. And as I said, that could look very similar to… You can show up doing the same actions, but the motivation to do them is completely different. And it’s all about, is it something that’s intrinsically motivated that’s coming from internally from you? Or is it something that’s extrinsically motivated that we’re doing because of some external motivation?

Maria Marlowe: [00:25:41] So this brings up an interesting question because I hear this a lot even in terms of food, but I’m sure also just in terms of life, in the sense that I’m not sure. My body or my mind is telling me one thing which is maybe not the best thing for me. You know what I mean? A lot of people don’t know how to tap into their intuition or don’t know what they actually want. Do you know what I’m saying? It’s maybe because you’re just so conditioned by other people’s thoughts that you think this is what you want or you think this is how things should be. But they’re not. So I guess, how do you even start listening to yourself more? Start tuning into your intuition?

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:26:25] Ok, well, I think this is challenging because yes, intuition is really important, and tapping into your intuition is really important, but we need to set the conditions up to be able to listen. Because we have a world that I mean, people want to say, oh no, we’re hunter-gatherers as if we can make some kind of corollary between how we lived then and how we live now or frankly how people live 300 years ago and now. 300 years ago, there was not a refrigerator full of food and there was a not convenience store down the road with, non-perishable food that will last on the shelves for months on end and food that has been engineered by very sophisticated scientists to be as salt and fat and sugar and made as delicious as possible. Those things did not exist.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:27:22] So we weren’t saturated in this kind of dopamine-saturated world that we live in today. You get on your phone and you’ve got Instagram and social media and all that. I mean, you’re contending with some pretty big beasts. And have some reverence for the reality of what that means. We are stimulated more than we’ve ever been stimulated, and that means that we’re producing more dopamine. And that means on the other side of the production of dopamine is a withdrawal.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:27:54] So I think this idea that we’re going to just listen to our intuition and what do we want? Yes, that’s OK. I hear that idea and have some compassion for the fact that you are being sold to your… Your taste buds are being salivating.

Maria Marlowe: [00:28:17] Hijacked.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:28:17] Exactly the right word. Thank you. You know you’re watching whatever it is, and there is an algorithm that knows your preferences and is form feeding you like, Oh, that sweater that you like? Well, let me send you another one, right? You have to have some reverence for the reality of what you’re contending with. So, yeah, I mean, keeping things like simple and clean and reducing time on social media, reducing time watching advertisements on TV. If you want to be a person who’s trying to listen to their intuition that you need to be pretty mindful about shutting down those streams of information, straight up. Just the way it works.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:28:58] And I think having some basic kind of guidelines also is so important. Here’s the deal, with a child we’re not like, hey, use your gut on how much screen time you want. Just use your intuition. That is a completely irrational thing to do for a kid. You’re not going to just say, Hey, free-for-all. You figure out how much screen time is good for you. As if the more they’re engaging in, like video games or TV, they’re going to be like, Oh man, I’ve had enough. No. The more they watch, the more they play, the more they’re going to want it. It’s how it works. That’s how our body is wired physiologically to work.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:29:42] So by no means am I a physiological expert on the body. But having some just basic respect for the way your body works and understanding the more of anything you give yourself, the more sugar, the more alcohol, the more drug of any kind, the more caffeine, the more whatever it is, the more screen time, the more pleasure, the more you give yourself, the more you’re going to need to get the same hit of pleasure from it. So that’s how our body is wired to work. You know, you have to have some respect for that and understand, sometimes a craving is just about a withdrawal. And it’s not this is what my body’s telling me, I need. It’s your body saying, that was fun. Can we do that again? It’s like the beginning of addiction. And by the way, this is occurring way before we’ve gotten into the realm of addiction.

Maria Marlowe: [00:30:43] I mean, it’s so true that I mean, that’s the perfect example. Because that’s what people usually tell me is like, I can’t listen to my body because my body’s telling me to go eat snickers. And obviously, that’s not the healthiest thing. So well, that’s not really necessarily your body. It’s probably your brain that’s seeing the advertisement or you having had it wanting it again, right?

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:31:08] But I think, one of the things I think is useful to use as sort of a guideline is what do you plan for yourself in the future? So are you making choices that you’re going to set up in advance? Are you making choices in the moment? Ok, so let me bring it back to the children because guess what? Everything is so easy when we think about kids. It gets so complicated when we pretend that we’re somehow different, but we’re not. We have the same brain. We’re wired exactly the same way. A kid…let’s say you have some sort of like homework routine, OK, the kid comes home from school and they’re like, I don’t feel like it. Not in the mood. The answer isn’t like, You know what? Good for you, Listening to your body and what your body needs. No, you’re like, I love you. I understand you don’t want to do this thing.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:31:55] You can validate the feelings. Like, oh, I know what that feels like not to want to do it. Such drag. I know what that feels like. There’s so much resistance in you. I get it. It feels frustrating, doesn’t it? How can we make it easier? What can we do to make this easier to sit down and get your homework done? You are planning for the future when you’re using your thinking brain, not your emotional brain? Right? We call it,  the analogy I use is from Jonathan Haidt. This is one of my professors at Penn, the rider and the elephant, right? So the elephant’s your emotional brain and the rider on the elephant is your thinking brain, and this is your executive function and your executive function is making decisions about what’s the best thing for you and next week. What’s the best thing for you to do tomorrow? Because guess what? You have no emotions attached to what’s happening next week.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:32:46] You’re just thinking like, you know, the best thing for me to do would be to get this thing done or to follow through on these particular behaviors. Ok, but then in the moment, you know who’s in charge, not you’re thinking brain. The elephant’s in charge. The elephant has to sit down and do the thing. Ok, but when in the moment, the elephant has a six-tonne weight advantage. The rider isn’t going to be able to control the elephant. Not at all. So once we get emotionally activated like the rider, the elephant’s off to the watering hole.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:33:17] That’s an urge. That’s a craving. That’s I’m not. I want to procrastinate. That’s what’s happening. So having some respect for the reality that OK, my thinking brain is going to get hijacked, for sure. So when we pretend like we just like everything, our thoughts are all just for us and in service of us. No, no, we’re an animal. We’re an animal and we want to do what’s convenient and feels good and comfortable in the moment. So we have to have some respect for that and recognize like, OK, what are the kind of protocols I can put in place to be able to mitigate my emotional elephant running off? And that might be you have a 15-minute rule or I plan in advance and I plan things and then my only job is to stick what to what I planned, even if I’m telling myself in the moment, I want something different.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:34:18] And I think the litmus test is how often do you regret that after the fact. Like if you stick to the protocol, how often does one regret it? If you’ve scheduled your workday and you stick to it even though it’s so uncomfortable. The next day are you like, you know what, I really regret that. I’m really regretting that. No! You’re like, Gosh, so proud of me. It was hard, but it made today easier. It made today less stressful. It made today less anxiety-provoking. So this is a complicated situation, but I think that there’s a lot of chatter in the social world about, I think that the concept of intuitive eating is tricky because it sort of ignores basic biology.

Maria Marlowe: [00:35:07] Well, I think it also, in terms of intuitive eating, it’s not right for everyone at the present moment. So if you are used to eating things loaded with salt, sugar and fat which have hijacked your taste buds, then it’s going to be really hard to do because the only thing they’re going to tell you that you need more of a salt, sugar and fat. However, once you wean your taste buds off of those foods and get used to more of the natural foods, it becomes a little bit easier to kind of tap in. And I do think it also takes tuning into yourself more, which we’re not really used to doing because we’re always basically tuned out or, you know, we’re always just listening to everything else that’s going on in the world.

Maria Marlowe: [00:35:51] And, you know, even eating, we’re not paying attention when we’re eating. We’re just scarfing things down at our desk or watching TV or reading a book or, you know, we have to be doing something at all times. We don’t want to waste one precious minute not learning something or not, you know, not doing something. And so, of course, it becomes really hard to listen and know what’s going on. And you know, or even listen to our symptoms, listen to the things that our body is telling us, Oh, our nails are breaking a lot or our stomach is gurgling or bloated or all these little symptoms and these things that our body’s trying to tell us. Usually we’re just going going, going that we don’t even realize half these things are happening sometimes.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:36:28] Yeah. And I think I think the place to be deeply connected to oneself is actually in collecting data. So instead of what’s my body intuitively telling me I need right now, it’s when whatever is happening, whether it’s you know, whatever the behavior change is, it’s actually being able to collect data in real-time or after. Like, how did this make me feel? How do I feel now? Do I feel good? Do I not feel good? Was that as delicious as I actually thought it was?

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:37:02] One of the most profound and life-changing exercises for people in this area, sort of like health coaching can be what’s the favorite thing that someone loves to eat. They always want to eat it and then doing an exercise where they’re eating mindfully and actually taking a bite and writing about it and slowly eating it and being very present with it. And I’ve had clients that would come back to me and say, Oh, you’ve ruined my favorite food. I’m like, No, I haven’t ruined anything, but you actually stayed present and actually were paying attention. And after a couple of bites recognize, well, it’s actually not that delicious. I have so much mental story associated and attached to this thing. But the thing wasn’t even that special or wasn’t even that delicious. Right. But isn’t that so good to know?

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:37:54] Is it hard to sit down to get work done at certain times when you’ve… For my clients who let’s say are writers and they are procrastinating, having a hard time sitting down and writing. Can we collect data in real-time? Ok, I’m going to sit down and I’m going to pay attention to how does this feel? Really once you get into the groove does it feel so bad? Is it so threatening? What did it feel like afterward? Did you feel better for the rest of the day? If we can actually pay attention to the present we’re far more equipped to make better decisions in the future. We’re actually making mindful decisions. We’re thinking that thing that I said, I can’t live without. Turns out I can. And it wasn’t that awesome, right?

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:38:37] Like that outfit, I needed when it arrived, it wasn’t that exciting. Those pair of shoes that were going to make me so confident and I was going to buy those shoes and my life was going to be different and I was going to become a different person and everything was going to seem amazing. Well, you know what? They arrived and I wore them and my life felt exactly the same. Ok, if we can actually be mindful and pay attention and collect that data we’re going to be far more equipped to make better decisions going forward because the next time we want to click buy on that thing because we’re telling ourselves, Oh yeah. If I just buy this thing, my life is going to be all of a sudden, not chaotic and organized, right? This is the story like, oh, maybe that’s not true. When was the last time that happened? Let me go look at my journal. Did that actually happen when it arrived? Did I feel? When that new planner arrived at it actually changed my life? Probably not.

Maria Marlowe: [00:39:36] And I love that you mentioned to really measure and record these things because that’s really the only way we’re going to change, because if we keep just going through kind of blindly and mindlessly, you’re just going to keep doing it. It’s not until we take that time to self-reflect that we realize, Oh, maybe I didn’t need that or I don’t need to do that or I don’t even like that, you know?

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:39:58] So for me, I like the word mindful more so than I like intuitive because I think intuitive has this feeling of I’m just going to know. I’m just going to know what the right thing to do is in the moment. No, often in the moment you’re going to make it probably not a great decision because in the moment you’re prioritizing your current emotions and you’re going to avoid discomfort at all costs because that’s how your brain is wired, right?

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:40:26] So rather than thinking about being intuitive, I think that the better word that’s more accurate is mindful. I’m going to be mindful about this, meaning I’m going to actually pay attention to what the outcome was. I’m going to pay attention to how I felt. I’m going to pay attention. Did it solve the problem I was hoping it was going to solve? You know, and all of the things and actually being your own social scientist and paying attention to yourself as if you were setting yourself.

Maria Marlowe: [00:40:56] And so in addition to being mindful and kind of working on our thoughts, are there any physical things or maybe routine things like a morning routine or evening routine that you think set us up for success, set us up for having a better, healthier mindset?

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:41:16] No, and I say that not because I don’t like morning routines or nighttime routines. I think it’s awesome if you do it. And if it works for you, awesome. But I think there’s lots of people out there that are like, I don’t have a morning routine. That’s my problem. No, it’s not. It’s not. If you’re not a morning routine person, so what? It has no bearing on what you do the rest of your day. None. I think that there’s so much tyranny of this is the way to do it, this is how I do it, and therefore this is how you should do it. No, you do it the way you works for you. You know, someone might have a really crazy morning and they have maybe kids at various schools and they’ve got to get them all to different places. And then they’re feeling this like, Oh my gosh, I have to join the 4:30 a.m. club to be able to do my meditation and write in my journal and prep myself for the day, and that might just not work.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:42:09] So, you know, I think that there are practices that do help us. journaling, I think can be incredibly important. I send… If you’re on my newsletter, I send every Monday a question prompt for journaling, but I think it’s easier to respond to questions than it is just to freeform, write. But that’s doing the work of self-inquiry and paying attention to what’s going on. So I don’t care whether you do that at noon, I don’t care whether you do that sitting in your car when you’ve arrived home and you have five minutes in your car spa before you walk into your home, you know, or whatever on the subway.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:42:46] It doesn’t matter where you do it or what time of day you do it. I think that there are no rules. And I think if doing something first thing in the morning works for people, I think that’s great. If having certain rituals at night help to unwind you and relax you before sleep like I have a vigilant face care routine at night. And I think so much of why I never miss it is because it’s calming and all the creams and things smell great. So it’s sort of my aromatherapy to kind of lull me. It’s my brain signal. It’s bedtime. The day is over. You get to get into bed. So I never miss it because I love it. Whatever those routines are for people, I think, choose what works best for you.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:43:30] And I will point out that all of those, like 5:00 a.m. club books, are written by men. Let’s be clear. Ok, so I love the guys, but there’s a different degree of what responsibility, of what’s going on in the morning often for women than men. So I think that the idea that we’re going to kind of fit into that mold is nonsense. If quiet time happens once kids are dropped off at school? Great. If quiet time happens at lunchtime at work for 15 minutes. Awesome. What quiet time can mean, you know is just checking in with yourself. And it doesn’t even have to be anything grand. It can just be like, how are you today? Simply that question. Just checking in with yourself.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:44:20] What would you want a loving parent to ask? How was your day? How are you doing? Is there anything you need? Like just checking in with yourself. That’s it. That’s all that’s required and I don’t care when it happens throughout the day. It could happen as a conversation to yourself on the commute to work. Now, there’s no rules around it. I want to liberate women from this kind of, I think, a very kind of male-dominated bro culture of self-help and wellness. No there’s no research

Maria Marlowe: [00:44:53] That’s very refreshing to hear because I do think you’re right, there tend to be one or a few narratives on how things could or should be done and if it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t work for you. That doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. It just means you can figure out another way to do it and get the same result, right?

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:45:13] And I think, you know, the willingness to experiment and be curious with yourself is the most important thing. You know, not without the sort of harsh judgment of everything you’re doing is there’s like the panel of Russian judges giving you a score. Just a sense of curiosity. Did that work? Did that feel good? Did this morning feel awesome to me or not? Whatever it is. Is this routine that I’m doing or the way that I’m eating, or the way that I’m exercising, the way that I sleep? Is this feel good to me and that radical honesty? And I think all change begins the minute we are willing to be radically honest with ourselves, and that is scary. It’s scary. It can feel really overwhelming to give ourselves permission to know what we know.

Maria Marlowe: [00:46:05] So this has been so insightful, I really think our listeners are going to enjoy this episode. Before I let you go, I just want to ask you one last question if you can leave our listeners with one piece of advice to live a happier and healthier life? What would that be?

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:46:23] Lead with compassion and curiosity, always. Change is going to begin with compassion and curiosity.

Maria Marlowe: [00:46:30] And towards yourself especially.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:46:32] One hundred percent. We have to leave that mean drill sergeant in the dust.

Maria Marlowe: [00:46:39] Well, thank you so much. For more from Dr. Sasha Heinz, you can check out her website and Instagram. I will link them below. And she does have an incredible group coaching program coming up, so I will link to that as well. And thank you so much for being here, Sasha.

Sasha Heinz, PhD: [00:46:57] Oh, such a pleasure. Thank you, Maria.

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