If it seems like everyone around you has their shit together, and you’re stuck feeling anxious, insecure and unhappy, you need to learn to manage your mind. As host of the wildly popular podcast UnF*ck Your Brain, Kara Loewentheil untangles the reasons why we make ourselves so miserable and shares useful concepts that can help us turn it around.
After earning a B.A. from Yale and a J.D. from Harvard Law, Loewentheil was on the law professor track when she pivoted to become a Master Certified Life Coach. She’s funny, smart and gives really useful advice that is rooted in both cognitive psychology and feminism.
We are OBSESSED with her podcast, so we asked Loewentheil about her career, her most controversial episode, and why managing your mind is the best thing you can do for yourself.
SDTC: What is thought work?
KL: Thought work basically means working with your thoughts on purpose. Most of us go through life and have thoughts that arise unconsciously, and we assume that we thought them because they were true. We don’t think we have any control over them; we just think they happen to us.
Thought work is the opposite. It’s the process of becoming aware of what you’re thinking and deciding on purpose whether you want to think that or think something else.
What is the main issue that the majority of your clients struggle with?
All human brains have been shaped by evolution in ways that impact how we think and react to things. Our brains create a lot of fear and anxiety and [have a] desire to play it safe and avoid anything that might be risky or new. On top of that, women are socialized to have a whole additional set of mental constraints. They’re taught to value themselves based mostly on how they look and what other people think of them, and to always think they’re not good enough. Evolutionary biology plus social conditioning is a toxic brew, and it destroys women’s self-confidence at such a young age that they don’t even remember ever having any at all.
In doing thought work, which concept has been the most beneficial to you in your own life?
The concept that “my thoughts are not true” has been enormous. We all assume that our thoughts are true—why else would we think them? Understanding all the reasons we often have thoughts that aren’t true has set me free.
What concepts have you introduced that have been met with the most resistance by listeners? Why do you think they have difficulty with these?
It’s totally fascinating, because I am not good at predicting what people are going to get really upset about. I did an episode called “What About Sexism?” that I thought people were going to have a lot of opinions about, and I got only positive feedback on that. Then I did an episode called “Drama and Toxic People,” and everybody was fine with the idea that drama doesn’t exist, but when I said that toxic people didn’t exist, that was a bridge too far, apparently!
There’s something about this cultural moment where we’re obsessed with the idea that everyone around us is a sociopath or a narcissist or toxic or can control us and gaslight us. I’m not a sociologist, so I don’t know that I can explain why those ideas have such cultural resonance for women right now, but they’re very deeply held, and people are really attached to those ideas. So if you suggest it’s not true, you get a LOT of blowback.
I think as women, we have some sense that something is rotten in the state of Denmark, you know? We sense that patriarchy and society have undermined our own confidence in ourselves, that we’re told things that aren’t true, that we aren’t taken seriously. So we want to put a name to it and take back our own authority. And we’ve been using words like “toxic” or “gaslighting” to do that. But I don’t think that’s the most effective way to take back your personal power, because if you really check in with yourself, you will usually find that believing someone else is toxic or gaslighting you makes you feel totally disempowered. It’s like they can control your mind or poison you against your will.
Through this experience of growing your business and reaching out to a million listeners, what has surprised you? What have you learned about yourself?
When I started my business, my goal was to replace the salary I was making when I left the law, which was $150,000/yr. I’m now two-and-a-half years in, and I have a seven-figure business and more than a million podcast downloads. The whole thing has been kind of a surprise. I’ve learned that I’m actually an entrepreneur and pretty good at it, which I did not know about myself before I started.
I just saw my teacher this weekend and we were laughing about how when she coached me two years ago, I was very adamant I was not a “business woman.” I still kind of hate that term because it makes me think of a woman wearing slacks and carrying a 1980s briefcase. But I’ve awakened this whole side of myself that is quite good at creating and running and growing a business, and I didn’t know I had that in me.
What does your ideal Saturday look like?
Saturdays I try to take off from work. Usually there’s a lazy morning; I’m not somebody who jumps out of bed at 4 a.m. to go running. Wake up, iced coffee with the cat, read on the couch, if my partner is there, then we’ll make breakfast together, or I’ll make breakfast for myself. Spend the afternoon doing something social or cultural; see a friend, go for a walk in the city, go to a museum. Come home and have a quiet evening at home. I’m in my late thirties, and I was never a big partier anyway; I’m much more of a homebody. I like my Saturdays to be pretty low key—just kind of recover and get ready for the week ahead.
If someone is new to your podcast, what episode do you recommend they start out with?
I teach some of the important basic tools in the beginning, but you can also just scroll through and look for what interests you. I don’t really teach the concepts sequentially. Just pick what your brain or intuition tells you that you need to hear.
What are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of my own development and growth. Of course, I’m proud of the business and the downloads, and I’m so glad to be of service and to have changed a lot of other women’s lives. But bottom line, all of this is possible because I put the work in myself. I’ve truly changed who I am as a person in fundamental ways, and I did it by being committed to the thought work and being willing to be uncomfortable. I think that, more than anything else, [I’m most proud of] the way in which I am able to inspire others and be an example of what is possible.
Kara Loewentheil is a Master Certified Coach and Host of the UnF*ck Your Brain Podcast. Three years ago she did what every Jewish parent dreams of for their child: She left her legal career running a think tank to become a life coach. Now she teaches feminist women how to undo the effects of patriarchy in their brains and create true authentic confidence from inside. She has grown her coaching business from zero to seven figures in the last 3 years, and is passionate about teaching women how to overcome anxiety and self-doubt so they can take on the world.