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  • It's deeply painful

  • to face what's happening on our planet right now.

  • From forests burning,

  • ocean plastic,

  • species just gone each day,

  • displacement.

  • It's easy to feel totally overwhelmed.

  • Maybe a bit helpless.

  • Powerless.

  • Angry.

  • On fire.

  • Numb.

  • Disconnected.

  • Perhaps all of the above.

  • These messy and complicated feelings,

  • they make total sense.

  • I wish that someone had said this to me 30 years ago.

  • I was a college freshman taking environmental studies,

  • which is basically a semester of really bad news

  • about all the ways that humans have profoundly damaged

  • our beautiful earth.

  • And I felt like I had been dropped into a dark tunnel,

  • given no tools to get out

  • and yet expected to carry on with my everyday life

  • as if things were normal.

  • But once you're exposed to that kind of information,

  • things are not normal anymore.

  • And I was anxious, I was terrified,

  • no one was talking about this,

  • and I almost dropped out of school, for real.

  • But instead, I signed up for a field study in California,

  • and we were backpacking together as a small group for two months,

  • which I know sounds very intense.

  • And it was, but what I found is that we talked a lot.

  • We talked about how we were feeling

  • about the world,

  • openly and honestly,

  • and no one told me at any point to be more positive

  • or more hopeful.

  • Not once.

  • And surprisingly, I found myself feeling better.

  • I actually felt like I could face these issues

  • that had seemed so insurmountable

  • more head on.

  • And I had this epiphany:

  • What if by understanding ourselves

  • and one another,

  • we could find our way through this crisis

  • in a new and different way?

  • You know, what if psychology actually held

  • a missing key to unlocking action

  • on the greatest challenges facing our planet right now?

  • So when I got back from the field study,

  • I focused on clinical psychology,

  • and I researched the relationships

  • between trauma and grief and creativity.

  • And the paradox at the heart of, I think, all of this

  • is how do we stay present

  • with what's really painful,

  • how do we stay connected

  • in the face of what's threatening and overwhelming and scary?

  • And it turns out that psychology knows a lot about these things.

  • Truly, a lot.

  • But I wasn't hearing any of this being referenced

  • in my environmental studies class,

  • or the climate action meetings I started going to,

  • or the international conferences,

  • where everyone is asking:

  • Why aren't we acting faster, and what's it going to take?

  • And so this has become my mission of sorts,

  • which is that I take insights from psychology

  • and I translate them into resources and tools

  • to support those working on the frontlines to turn things around.

  • And that means for anyone, by the way.

  • We're all on the frontlines right now.

  • And it's my belief,

  • after years of straddling these worlds

  • between environment and climate and psychology,

  • that this actually is a missing ingredient in our work

  • that can exponentially accelerate our capacities to be creative

  • and resilient and capable and skillful and courageous

  • and all those things that the world is needing from us right now.

  • So I'm going to share three concepts with you

  • that I found particularly game-changing

  • and how I make sense of this moment

  • for us as humans.

  • And the first is something called our window of tolerance.

  • So Dr. Dan Siegel has described us all as having a window.

  • How much stress can we tolerate

  • while staying connected

  • and what clinicians would call "integrated."

  • Integrated, where we can actually

  • be in touch with our thoughts and feelings

  • and not just get kind of co-opted.

  • And we all have a threshold.

  • And what happens when we experience stress

  • beyond what we can tolerate?

  • We tend to go into the edges of our window.

  • And on one hand,

  • we might go into a sort of collapse,

  • what's called a chaotic response,

  • which looks like depression, despair,

  • kind of a shutting down.

  • And on the other side of this window is a more rigid response:

  • denial,

  • anger,

  • rigid.

  • And so when that happens,

  • we actually lose our capacity to be integrated,

  • resilient, adaptive,

  • all those things that we want to be.

  • And this is totally normal,

  • but it's happening all around the world right now, right?

  • We're all vacillating between these different feelings and emotions.

  • And so with something like climate change,

  • with every new scientific report,

  • documentary,

  • connecting the dots between, you know, what we're doing

  • and the impact it's having,

  • it can collectively be pushing us outside of our window of tolerance.

  • And we lose that capacity, right?

  • So, over the years, I've interviewed hundreds of people

  • from all backgrounds and political affiliations,

  • from the Midwest US to China,

  • and I talked to people about how are we feeling

  • about what's happening.

  • Not what opinions or beliefs.

  • What are we feeling

  • about what's going on with your local environment,

  • with your water, your soil, the big picture.

  • And what I hear from people

  • almost across the board, I'm telling you,

  • is a bind.

  • People tell me at some point in the conversation,

  • "I care very deeply about what's happening,

  • I'm incredibly freaked out.

  • I'm scared,

  • I love this land, I love the birds,"

  • whatever that is,

  • "But I feel like my actions are insignificant.

  • And I don't know where to start.

  • And I'm also --"

  • I hear between the lines of what people say --

  • "I'm really scared to change.

  • Really scared of any change, it's so --

  • I can't even think about it, it's like, unthinkable."

  • And this is the second concept,

  • which is something called a double bind.

  • And a double bind is when we feel sort of like, damned if you do,

  • and damned if you don't,

  • and you're just kind of stuck there.

  • It's a very intolerable human experience.

  • And we will do anything we can to get rid of it and just push it away.

  • And so all that care and concern,

  • it's there, it just goes down, it goes underground.

  • But what happens is,

  • it looks like people don't care, it looks like apathy.

  • And so a lot of folks who are seeing the urgency of the situation

  • are like, "We've got to motivate you.

  • We've got to get you psyched."

  • And we become cheerleaders for solutions.

  • Or like, "Here's the facts, this is happening, wake up."

  • And these things are actually not inherently bad,

  • because we need solutions and we need to face the facts.

  • But inadvertently, this can backfire

  • and lead to more numbing and inaction,

  • which is very perplexing for a lot of people.

  • It's like, what the heck is going on, right?

  • And so, this is because of this, you know,

  • it's not really touching what's going on underneath.

  • So imagine that you go see a therapist,

  • and you've got a double bind.

  • You're feeling really stuck,