What story are you telling yourself? A night with Brené Brown

Last week I saw Brené Brown speak in Sydney about her new book Rising Strong. Brené is a research professor who studies and writes about shame, vulnerability, authenticity, courage and worthiness. She’s best known for her Ted Talk on vulnerability, which to this day, she’s never seen, but 23 million others of us have. She’s since written three New York Times bestsellers: The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly and her most recent book, Rising Strong.

Brené spoke passionately about the nature of Rising Strong: the experience of falling down, struggling, then getting back up again in life. And how the stories we tell ourselves about our failures and struggles define our ability to courageously rise and get back into the arena.

Don't believe the first draft

Brené encouraged us to notice that we tell ourselves stories all the time. And she suggests we view the stories we make up about situations as our Shitty First Drafts (SFDs) (the kids version: Stormy First Drafts). That's because our first stories are missing important facts, and our brains, not liking ambiguity or uncertainty, fill in the blanks with all kinds of assumptions based on our fears, insecurities and values. And we barely notice.

In the absence of data we will always make up stories. It’s how we are wired. We fill in the blanks.
— Brené Brown

Bypassing our emotions

We have a tendency to bypass our emotions and move straight into rationalising what happened. There’s always an emotional response to the events of our lives, whether noticed or not. That's what drives us to make up stories - the hurt, sadness, shame, anger, embarrassment, betrayal and fear. 

Brené said we like to think of ourselves as thinking beings fully in control of our emotions, but we’re having ourselves on. Her research shows we are emotional beings, who'll go to great lengths to avoid the discomfort of feeling our emotions.

Body awareness

Brené has found that resilient people habitually challenge their first draft stories. They also know what shame and other strong emotion feels like in their body. For example they notice the hot flush in their cheeks, heat rising into their neck and face, a feeling of weakness in their arms, pulse racing, stomach churning, chest tightening and incessant angry thoughts running rampant in their minds (to name a few). 

They notice their urge to disappear, people please or fight back (the three most common reactions to shame).

When we react to our first stories, 95% of the time our behaviours move us away from our values and integrity.
— Brené Brown

Noticing these telltale signs gives us clues that we've been triggered and are having an emotional reaction. Which is a red flag to pause before reacting on 'not enough' information. Ultimately, what makes resilient people different from everyone else is they then get curious about their emotional reaction.

You don’t need to know the exact emotion… Brené says it’s enough to notice that you are in the grip of emotion. See if you can notice where you feel it in your body, because emotion always has a corresponding physiological reaction in the body. Getting into the habit of checking in with your body builds emotional intelligence and resilience over time.

The Rising Strong process

Brené has three steps in her Rising Strong process: The Reckoning, The Rumble and The Revolution.

  1. The Reckoning: Be willing to face the story you’re telling yourself about what happened, notice the emotions, and get curious about them. 

    Ask yourself: “The story I’m telling myself is …”

    Ideally, write down your first draft story, because it’s 70% more likely to lose its power over you if you do.
  2. The Rumble:  Next, be honest with yourself, and get curious about the stories you’re making up about what happened, especially any conspiracy theories. Challenge your stories

    Ask yourself - what’s true? What am I assuming here about the other person, and about the situation? What more do I need to know?

    You have to rumble with the story. What am I making up?
  3. The Revolution: When you own your story of struggle, failure, hurt, disappointment and heartbreak, you get to write the ending.

    If you deny the story, it owns you and defines you - keeping you in the victim stance of your life, forever hustling with the story that you refuse to own.

If you’d like to go into more depth with the Rising Strong process, I highly recommend reading Brené Brown's books or you can listen to her Ted Talk here