Mindfulness and Cognitive Science

Revisiting self-doubt

It might be helpful to take a look at a post I wrote previously on a mindful approach to self-doubt. The following post is independent but I’m not going to go into detail about our current understanding of impostor syndrome or biological reason for self-doubt. Think of this as an informal follow-up case study from my first semester of graduate school.


Every time we endeavor to learn something new we have the opportunity to become new people. It’s like giving little gifts to our future selves who will be able to see and interact with the world around them in a different way because of the work we do today.

“No deep learning takes place unless learners make an extended commitment of self. Learning a new domain, whether it be physics or furniture-making, requires the learner to take on a new identity: to make a commitment to see and value work and the world in the ways in which good physicists or good furniture makers do.”

James Gee, 2005  (emphasis mine)

As stated by Gee (and personally experienced + witnessed), identity and learning are strongly linked. A person cannot fully understand a domain if they choose to hold tightly to their present sense of self — because that present self doesn’t include the pending knowledge or experience. Additionally, the true integration of new mental models will forever change you. Besides, if you’re seeking to develop expertise, why would you want anything different than a shedding of previous selves in exchange for a new self?

For example, when I did a deep dive on dryers so I could diagnose and fix ours I had to release the mental image of myself as someone who has never fixed a large appliance. It took a while. I stalled, I hoped Eric would do it, I second-guessed myself. Then I watched a bunch of videos, took apart the dryer, identified all the parts, diagnosed and repaired the problem and put it all back together. And so, in a small way, I became a new person. What opened the door to learning? Recognizing I had the ability to learn something new and deciding to grow into someone who can fix a dryer. Perhaps this seems like a lame example – but I’ll point back to Gee’s quote above. Whether you want to be a physicist or furniture maker, you have to open your mind up to the reality that the world is actually different than how you see it right this minute. 

As seen in my example, you can limit your future self just through thought. This is already strongly supported by research (with Carol Dweck’s classroom experiments being the most well known). Looking at the dryer – I’ve never broken an appliance. I don’t have any evidence that my involvement in a project is more likely to yield damage than success. One could argue the contrary, actually. And yet, if that’s what I tell myself that’s how I behave.

When the biologist studies technology

[I had the chance to do a real-time study of taking on a new identity and dealing with the unavoidable uncertainty period of that experience during my first semester of graduate school. The following are my takeaways]

The first week of classes is, typically, filled with ensuring I know where + when class is, getting important dates into the calendar, and testing out new rhythms. However, in that mix was my personal objective #1: Establish a way through the self-doubt I assumed I’d encounter.

I’d been surrounded by it in my previous work as a personal trainer — from clients, fellow business owners, and my own personal experience. Self-doubt came up enough that I even wrote an article on how to approach it mindfully a few years ago. Since that post, it’s been a point of interest to examine what predicts self-doubt. Is it simply a part of life? Do some experience it more than others? Does it correlate to certain fields, positions, or genders? Then self-doubt, belonging, and impostor syndrome were the theme of graduate student orientation speeches by leaders of the University — I began to think maybe this was an opportunity to test myself. Have the past several years equipped me to enter a new field and mindfully maneuver through my [presumably inevitable] self-doubt? Or would I need to relearn everything in situ?

Learning and doubting

Taking on a new identity requires dismantling the old one — an intensely disconcerting state of mind. This is why people avoid trying new things – especially to a point of proficiency. Makes sense then that it shows up a lot in graduate students. The journey to expertise requires us to first admit who we are right now is insufficient for the task ahead and, therefore, we must change. But we just finished compiling all the records to convince others that we ARE sufficient, right? So maybe throughout that application process we start to think we should be further along by now. Then classes begin and we start to wonder about where we stack up among our peers – and come to realize we’re less prepared or practiced in some areas. What’s your response to this? Do you start complaining about your classmates, escape to Netflix, or do you simply admit that you have work to do? (Not a grad student? Just substitute motherhood, marriage, job, etc).

A better way

There’s a way around the mental discomfort, of course. Fake it. Every time that feeling of “I don’t understand” creeps up, just turn on Netflix or scroll Instagram. Go rant about something you think you have all the answers to. Or talk about your work with enough confidence and ferocity that no one dare probe deeper.

That’s what I chose in undergrad…but I’m choosing something different now. My future self doesn’t just want to know more about chronic disease and how technology can help us better predict + prevent it. I want to personally help predict and prevent chronic disease. Which means I need to understand technology and how it’s developed. Turns out that means math, stats, and computer science. A BS in biochemistry is helpful to some degree, and also not at all.

By the time I applied for graduate school I’d already gone through several cycles of identity shifting as I zeroed in on what I wanted to study and why. Once it was finally time to start I thought my first computer science class would send me into a valley of doubt but instead I found that now it was just time to go to work. So I did. I leaned hard on my mindset training and my support network and let the semester be my training grounds. I reminded myself that I wasn’t there to impress anyone – I was there because there’s a set a concepts and skills my future self needs.

Adjusting your attention

It’s important to note that implicit in much of our talk on expertise and education lies, I think, one of the roots of impostor syndrome and self-doubt. This is the idea that at some point we should reach an “arrived” state where we are the expert with all the answers and everybody listens. With this belief comes the habit of  “there’s so much I don’t know” leading to “someone will find out and I’ll be exposed as a fraud” when it should be “what do I need to do to fill this gap?”.

Of course there is more to learn. Of course learning one thing uncovers a whole new set of domains you must also try to understand. We are a speck in the story of the universe — it’s ridiculous to think you will ever learn all there is to know. That’s what makes it so cool.

Those who have dedicated themselves to expanding into new domains whenever needed can do it, in part, because they have come to expect the mental game that comes with learning and applying new concepts. They understand it is a part of the process of gaining new tools for attacking their problems. So long as you’re testing your models and working to improve them, you will continue to progress. It’s just the way it works. Pay attention to where your gaps are and choose to work until they’re filled.

What will you choose to focus on? Will you resolve to focus on the vision of who you want to become and savagely attack the gaps in your character, your knowledge base, your experiences, etc in order to shed the old you who was lacking and become a more capable you who is one step closer to realizing the goal? I’ve decided I will.

Taking uncertainty in stride

I expected that my “#1 objective” of finding a way through self-doubt would be difficult. But it actually wasn’t – I worked hard and got a lot of feedback. I went in expecting to feel lost and confused over and over again (rather than being surprised by it), I worked to stay mindful about how that impacted my mental health and attitude toward my family, and I just kept attacking. I knew that in the end if I could suffer the uncertainty and endure, things would consolidate and I’d make it. (I did, and I’m happy to be going back for more).

Learning from the trends 

The observation that impostor syndrome and self-doubt are rampant in professional adults is important — it exposes a gap. If we don’t learn how to approach problems and the brain chemistry associated with uncertainty we will continue to stand still and, perhaps inadvertently, avoid growing. In comes anxiety, depression, general unhappiness, burnout, and questioning if we are where we should be. The world has infinite problems that require clever thinking. If we all quit because we start to question our standing in the social group or get bent out of shape over negative feedback, we’ll continue to give the next generation crappy outcomes. We have to learn how to keep moving forward in the midst of uncertainty.

Mental toughness is only part of the story, but it’s a huge sticking point for people. We can’t start talking about learning algorithms if you quit whenever you encounter concepts you don’t understand or you start feeling uncomfortable. The article I wrote a few years ago on self-doubt walks you through how to begin seeing self-doubt differently. You can also chat with me on social media.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to build new habits. Leading up to graduate school I’ve done a lot of reading and philosophizing on learning, managing stress, and developing expertise — now I’m glad to be testing myself, improving models, and culling my weak points (there are a lot). I chose this path for a reason – and it’s one that still tugs at me every day. I can’t say with certainty what the next 10 years will look like. But I think if I keep at it, I’ll be a better human than I am now. I’m satisfied by that notion.

If you’d have told me I’d learn to celebrate exposing my own incompetence or the chance to do something uncomfortable I would wonder if you really knew me at all. Well, actually, that’s what Eric used to tell me. I guess he’s proven he knows me better than anyone.

Onward! And welcome 2019!

Mindfulness and Cognitive Science Neurobiology and Behavior Raising Capable Kids

Why I quit my business

Back at the start of 2017 I went through a long process to uncover what this next year would look like. I couldn’t shake the feeling that what I kept working toward and what I value most were in conflict. After identifying the sources of my self-contention I made the decision to step out of the online business highway so I can live better aligned with my own values + my family. This post is to tell the story of that decision and what’s next over here at

Warning! The following content contains radical ideas such as: People should think; Empathy is addicting; And leveling up requires discomfort. Proceed at your own risk.


If we’re being entirely honest here, my story isn’t really the point. I want to disclose what I’m up to as I still intend to use this website but there are a handful of key principles that I think I’ll just lay right out:

  1. A willingness to let go of what you thought was true in the face of new [evidence-based] information is an invaluable skill.

  2. Your rate of success on reaching whatever goals you set for yourself largely hinges on 2 things: 1) how well you can make yourself do the stuff you don’t want to do and 2) how well you understand the system you’re working in…not on a specific [procedural] formula.

  3. A guru or expert will never be able to replace the role of you doing your own thinking…even if they claim they can. They can provide a framework for how to think about their domain. They can give you the working principles and the language. But you will still have work to do. If they claim otherwise, run away…They’ve spent their time on the wrong stuff and you’re not going to see sustainable change.

  4. The brain’s survival mechanism works against us in the above 3 points. Letting go of what we felt certain of, doing the stuff that’s hard + painful, relying on our own thinking…they all leave our brain screaming for happy chemicals. So we go running back to the “experts” or pick a new one since “that just didn’t work for us.” New = dopamine rush. Community = oxytocin rush. Both have the potential to keep us stuck.

  5. Community and empathy are great. But they don’t necessarily help you solve problems. So you may walk away from a webinar or girls night feeling all lit up and understood, but that doesn’t mean you now have what it takes to face your life tomorrow. The good feelings, however, can mask that reality and you’re back to square 1 trying to figure out why you still have low motivation, low follow-through, and no plan for how to change things.


Now is where I’ll go into a bit on life right now and what I’m working toward but that up there is the meat + potatoes. It’s what I’ve always wanted people to understand through my coaching. My frustration over how many women don’t seem to understand that you can’t talk about how you want to be fit/mindful/happy/successful and then keep thinking the same way you always have is part of what kept me in coaching…I wanted to do my part to bring change. But as you’ll read, I’ve chosen to let go of that as a “career” goal. It’s deeply rooted in who I am, no change there. But right now running a business around that is not what I’m going for. I think there is a better way to apply my passion and skills.


A final word as I dive in, where I’m at today is because I stopped resisting the reality of that list up there. I’m no more immune to survival brain as anyone else. So it’s my hope that in sharing some of the story you will have an example to think of as you seek to embrace them for yourself.


The original intent: January – May 2016

Originally I created to be my first step into coaching creative entrepreneurs on how to maintain their mental + emotional health while scaling their businesses. It was my transition from in-person personal training to online business. However, as I began I started to see there was a cost to that path that I wasn’t interested in paying. I don’t think details are all that important right now – I simply believe it’s my responsibility to continuously analyze how my current actions will affect the future. The future before me didn’t interest me enough to apply my energy in that direction and worse, my trying to force a fit was sucking energy away from my family. Self-contention will do that.


So on to the next idea: September – December 2016

I began interviewing women last Fall who were in positions that demanded a near-constant outpouring to other people. Teaching, Nursing, Ministry, Motherhood, etc. I wanted a better picture of where these types of women were getting stuck and how to come alongside them using my experience in wellness and my interest in high performance living. I assumed developing a coaching program would be the next step. And I was certainly moving in that direction, taking a course on marketing and reading up on programming methods.

But yet again, as the New Year approached and I started thinking about goals, I looked at what I could have accomplished by 2018 with my current path and I was just not interested. Somewhere along the way my trajectory was getting pushed off target. It was frustrating, to say the least. I could identify my hang ups but the glaring question of what to do with this passion of mine made me uncomfortable. [I’m sure I’ll look back at those journal pages and laugh one day.] So I did what I’ve learned to do when things don’t feel (or look) right – I pressed pause. Midway through an email sequence with my subscribers introducing them to new services. After already taking on my first beta coaching client. Talk about a rush of cortisol. But cortisol always subsides eventually and my priority was to understand the self-contention I was experiencing so whatever direction I went in would get my best effort. I didn’t want to go searching for a new idea that would send  my dopamine surging…the “crash” after was too familiar: Hustle, hustle, hustle. Experience exorbitant amounts of self-doubt, anger toward my family, and soon-to-follow emotional flatness / depression. I couldn’t do it again. There was something off and I had to get to the root cause.

Warning: I’m about to get on my soap box.

Pressing pause helped me learn something important about myself. Or more accurately, helped me stop denying something about myself: I don’t want to help people obsess over their health. And I definitely don’t want to enable people to stay stuck.

The marketing course I was taking stopped me in my tracks as it described the kinds of businesses that are especially successful: Businesses that teach people about money, relationships, health, and spirituality. [All major shame triggers.]

Get clients addicted to your content then profit off their cortisol/dopamine fluxes.

Now is that what everyone is consciously doing? No, of course not. I have no doubt there are many who are actively trying to help people overcome obstacles and encourage them to think for themselves. I would argue they tend to be found on a different level (and that what looks like helping is actually not). Overall, you are being promised something, and perhaps you get a taste, but for the majority, all it really ends up being is enough dopamine to tide you over until you get stuck again…you haven’t gained any real new insight into how to solve your own problem. Instead you’ve created a habit loop that tells you to go running to these “experts” every time you feel uncomfortable.

People are addicted to encouragement, quick fixes, shiny objects, over-spiritualized nonsense, and survival-based language that puts up the brain’s panic antennae and induces stress (the stupid-waste-of-time kind). The system actively inhibits a person’s ability to truly move forward in their lives. Instead it encourages obsession over the stuff that should be the background of our lives…the food we eat, our clothing brand, if we sweated enough, if we ate too much, if our self-doubt and anxiety is a sign of not enough prayer/grace/dependence/surrender, etc!

I get that people want examples and they want empathy. But empathy is also addicting. You don’t need 100 strangers empathizing with your self-doubt or #adulting struggles. You need to turn your brain on, learn how to learn (which is more than reading obsessively, btw), get curious, and expect yourself to do more with your life than live on survival-mode repeat. Which is what the majority of people are doing. Yes, even if you consider yourself “woke.”

You don’t need another person telling you how to meal plan or giving you 10 more jumping jack variations (#stopit). All the choices are eroding your confidence + hijacking your brain’s ability to think critically.

I see people blindly following “experts” (don’t get me started), demanding to know the brand of their leggings, exact meal ingredients, and how they got their hair to do that….as if morphing their exterior into this other person will restore confidence and purpose to their lives. They are caught on loop – try one thing, works a little, see people doing something else, get anxious over “doing it wrong”, try new thing, repeat.


My years steeped in the science community have integrated into my way of thinking well enough that I can’t willingly participate. I just can’t hand you a quick “superfood” recipe, sprinkle some happy dust, and send you on your way. But “it’s more complex than that!” and “it may take years!” and “the things you believe are probably wrong!” and “you’re going to have to get really uncomfortable!” don’t market very well on their own. They intrigue a small percentage of people who are sincerely pursuing high performance and accomplishment in their domain. So to continue in the direction I was going would require that I either choose to alter my values (and my priority scheme) or dissolve the goal.


So what am I doing now?

Surprise! I dissolved the goal.

My current path began with a question I’ve asked multiple times (in slight variations) at this point. “What if I took coaching off the table.”*

[*The past few years of business iteration (and motherhood) have afforded me ample opportunities to practice abandoning ideas or flipping the way I see something. As I grow in my ability to analyze and predict how a situation will play out I also see a growing openness to paradigm-shifting information. A much-welcomed skill.]

Taking coaching off the table allowed me to then consider what best aligns with my family and with my desired growth trajectory. I don’t want to participate in the deep rut of the current system. It’s not good for my own life (I feel the tug toward “quick fix” just as strongly as anyone) and it’s physically painful to see women miss the point over and over again. Seriously – anxiety, depression, headaches, muscle tension, etc have all decreased substantially as I’ve released my grip on trying to force my methods into the current wellness climate.

Instead I’m returning to what I’ve always wanted to do but had stopped letting myself consider it (while in the SAHM-entrepreneur box). I’m in process for starting work on my PhD in Fall 2018.


Now we have reached present day.

I’m in the process of preparing my application for PhD programs in molecular biology** – studying for the GRE, refreshing my mind on the basics as well as exploring where research is at right now in my desired domain, making my list of schools to apply to, etc. And I’ll tell you, it’s not easy to step back in to this field after so many years away but, despite an increased amount of discomfort + uncertainty, staying focused on the goal has felt effortless in comparison to what I experienced trying to wedge my way into the wellness industry. It’s been 6 months of consistent growth + attention to what matters most to me.

[**If you know my motherhood story then you probably know that I had already finished applying to PhD programs when I found out I was pregnant. I received an invitation to interview at the U of M a mere two days after I took a positive pregnancy test.]

When I tell people about grad school their typical next question is what will I do with the kids…will we put them in school? And the answer is that we still intend to homeschool. Knowing that I am going to be dramatically increasing my load, I’m using these next 15 months or so to systematize our home life. Coming to grips with the brevity of my remaining time as a full-time SAHM has given me a new perspective on our current arrangement. I’m diving in deep to fully enjoy this waning season with my kids and working hard to prepare all of us for what is coming.


So then what is happening with

I mentioned above that trying to influence the current system from where I’m at right now doesn’t work. I also mentioned that I’m not immune to the siren call of quick fixes and ample empathy. So as I tune my ears to the sweeter song I intend to keep writing. About what? I will maintain this site on a more personal level. Documenting what we’re doing to prepare for the next season and providing insightful information to you as you seek to improve your own environment. My hope is that I can provide an example (not a step-by-step blueprint) to living intentionally in the direction of real accomplishment.

Namely, I expect there will be articles related to my various personal aims in the following sub-identities:

  • wife + mom seeking to provide a good environment for my family as we learn, grow, work, and rest together.
  • athlete seeking ways to push my body + mind for the goal of being as fit as I can within my current constraints (I subscribe to the Crossfit approach to defining “fitness”).
  • aspiring homesteader cooking 90-95% of our meals at home (active on Pinterest but also making my own recipes as I experiment), developing my gardening skills, and always looking for ways to increase the quality of what we produce + consume.
  • woman who has struggled with mental health issues since the 6th grade – I’m seeking to better understand my body + mind across scientific domains so I can cultivate habits that bring mental clarity, energy, self-awareness, emotional balance, etc.


These articles will be written for the purpose of consolidating my own understanding and passing along a more synthesized look at various topics. There will also be the more nitty-gritty posts about systematizing our home life – self care, nutrition, movement, homeschooling routines, etc. As per the above rant you can expect that my writing invites you to think critically about your own life and environment. I write so you can walk away actually being equipped to think about your problem effectively + take action…not so you can blindly copy what I did and not know what to do the next time you get stuck.

My previous few blog posts provide a taste of what I expect to produce. If you’d like to keep in touch, I encourage you to sign up for my newsletter. I’ll be resurrecting it in the next few weeks (after my GRE test date) to provide reading lists and a more personal approach to helping you grow (I can’t help it…). That is also where I’ll be best available to answer questions or chat about your own aims.
If you don’t yet follow me on Instagram, I play around a lot with Stories to document our day to day life and sometimes talk about things that are on my mind.