Rising Strong: How to reckon with emotion, rumble with your story and write your own ending
Falling hurts. We feel it at all levels of our being. From the scrapes on our knees to the bruise on our ego, to the anxiety that haunts us when we try to attempt the same thing all over again. Plain and simple, falling is painful. But, it's also a part of life. From infants to elders, it happens and it comes in many shapes and forms, some of which include:
Losing a job and being paralyzed by loss and uncertainty;
Being emotionally vulnerable with a loved one and being met with judgment;
The end of an important relationship, which leaves you questioning your self-worth and identity;
Making a mistake at work and being left feeling professionally (and personally) inadequate;
Struggling to make a new lifestyle change (i.e. adopting a regular exercise and nutrition routine), and feeling like a failure when you can't quite manage to get those workouts in.
Any of these ring a bell? Experiencing failure can really shake us up, and leave us reassessing who we are and where we're headed. So, how can we embrace the tumbles (both big and small) and pick ourselves up to keep on moving? Introducing .... the rising strong process.
The Rising Strong Process
Brené Brown is the academic badass/storyteller behind this approach. She believes that if we are brave enough often enough we will fail. And I happen to agree. There are three stages in the rising strong process: the reckoning, the rumble, and the revolution, and I'm going to break them down for you.
1. The Reckoning.
During the reckoning, we have to make the wholehearted decision to walk into our story and recognize that we are experiencing a challenging emotion (enter mindfulness!). We then have to engage with our feelings and get curious about the story behind them... which is often a lot harder than it sounds. As a society, we have been conditioned to not only avoid emotion but to FEAR it. Historically, emotional vulnerability has been equated with weakness, and some of those beliefs still plague us on the daily.
Personally, I used to do everything in my power to avoid coming into contact with and expressing "scary feelings". I was well equipped with distractions - from over-exercising, to indulging in chocolate chip cookies, to over committing to community projects and initiatives.... I did it all. But, unfortunately, we cannot selectively numb emotions. When we numb the challenging emotions we also numb the positive ones, and a large part of my journey has been learning to embrace and experience the whole spectrum of emotion that flows through me.
So, how do you learn to reckon with your emotion? Here are a few tools that can help with this practise:
Mindful awareness and meditation: The body is a window into our emotional experience. If we can slow things down and take note of our bodily sensations (e.g. tightening of the throat, butterflies in our stomach, shallow breathing), and thought processes then we can connect with our emotional reality. This guided meditation by Dr. Kristen Neff offers a compassionate approach to allow, soften, and soothe challenging emotions.
Deep breathing: Believe it or not, our breathing is often the first thing to go when we are emotionally activated. Our breath becomes more shallow, and when our brain (and body) aren't getting all of the oxygen that they need, things go downhill pretty quick! If you notice that you are having an emotional reaction, stop what you're doing and take 5 deep belly-raising breaths.
Creative expression: Journaling and art can be an excellent way to process and integrate our emotional experience. I know this may sound a bit "coombaya" to some, but trust me (and the massive body of science behind it). Next time you become aware that you are emotionally overwhelmed, whip out your journal and write about it.
2. The Rumble.
Once we have granted ourselves permission to get up-close and personal with our emotions, then we can start to rumble with the meaning that we have attributed to the situation that we are in. As Brené writes, "the goal of the rumble is to get honest about the stories that we're making up about our struggles and to revisit, challenge, and reality-check these narratives as we dig into [these] topics". Often we get into a tug-of-war between reality (what actually happened) and a conspiracy (what we believe happened). And the rumble is all about sorting through both stories to understand more about ourselves, and the other parties involved. Why do we create these stories? Well, it turns out that we are story-telling creatures. Our brain actually releases dopamine every time that a story helps us to understand something in our world - even if it's incomplete or wrong!
So, how do we tease apart the fact from the fiction? First off, we need to get those journals out, and write out what Brené refers to as your Shitty First Draft (SFD). The core of your SFD should include the following six sentences.
The story I am making up:
When you're capturing your SFD, don't filter your experience, or get hung up on words or grammar. Just get it out. This process is not about writing the perfect story. It's also not about being mean or hurtful. Instead, it's about making sense of your fall and the story that you're telling yourself about the incident.
Here's an example of a SFD that I hear from clients often, related to meeting health and wellness goals.
The story: I haven't been able to complete my workouts this week, therefore, I worry that I might gain back the 15 pounds that I lost and I will never reach my wellness goals.
My emotions: I feel angry that I didn't complete my workouts. My body: My breathing becomes more shallow and I feel a tightening sensation in my throat when I think about how I let myself down.
My thinking: I have failed. I will not be able to get back into my wellness routine. My beliefs: I am the only person who was unable to get her workouts done. If I cannot stay this size, my husband will find me unattractive and will leave me. Women who are not fit and healthy are not appreciated or taken seriously.
My actions: I didn't complete my workouts, and the more that I thoughts about how much I let myself down, the more I mindlessly ate ice cream.
Once we have our SFD written down, it's time to RUMBLE. Brené offers a series of questions that you can use to get curious about your story, including:
What more do I need to learn and understand about the situation?
What do I know objectively?
What assumptions am I making?
What more do I need to learn and understand about the other people in the story?
What additional information do I need?
What questions or clarifications might help?
What more do I need to learn and understand about myself?
what's underneath my response?
what am I really feeling?
What part did I play?
Try to work through these questions to create some more context for your story. Once you have gone through the questions above, then you can tease apart the differences between the reality of the situation, and the story that you initially told yourself.
Here's an example of the rumble applied to the example above:
What do I know objectively? I had a lot going on this week. Both of my children had the flu and stayed home sick from school. I also had a work deadline which required me to stay late two nights.
What assumptions am I making? By missing my workouts I will automatically gain weight. By gaining weight, my husband will find me unattractive. If I do not look or feel a certain way then I am unworthy of love and connection.
What more do I need to learn and understand about myself? Has this happened to me before? Yes, it has - I worked so hard to drop the baby weight after my second child was born, but gained it all back after the loss of my cousin, when I defaulted to emotional eating to relieve some of my grief. What were the stories that I learned as a child about worthiness? I have always struggled with my weight and remember my peers making fun of me for being "chubby". I often struggled to make friends, and believed that if I could just be skinny then the kids would like me.
What's underneath my response? When I stopped doing my workouts, I felt a sense of disappointment with myself for not being able to do it all. A part of me felt like I was right back in the place I was after my cousin's death. And I also felt like a failure as a mother, partner, professional, and individual.
What am I really feeling? I am feeling ashamed that I can't just figure out how to take care of myself. I feel fear that my partner won't be attracted to me anymore. I feel unworthy of love when I don't look or feel a certain way. I'm also feeling exhausted and like I need a break.
What part did I play? I struggled to set boundaries with my work so that I could balance my personal and professional life. I also did not ask my husband or best friend for support, even though I know that they would have been able to offer support.
Can you start to see some of the context that the rumble gives to the SFD? All of a sudden, instead of being in a place where you have completely failed, you can develop some more understanding for how and why you got to this place. In the example above, the sense of failure wasn't just related to missing workouts, but it had deep, dark connections to this woman's self-concept and sense of worthiness. When we just accept our SFD as the cold hard truth then we miss some really meaningful opportunities to go deeper into our emotional experience, challenge our beliefs, integrate our past hurts and grow. We also miss opportunities to take responsibility for our story so that we can change the outcome next time (i.e. through setting boundaries, asking for support, or sharing our emotional truth with others).
3. The Revolution
The third part of the rising strong process is the revolution (aka making the above an intentional and daily practice). We all have choices in this life and even though it can be painful, looking failure straight between the eyes can help us to heal and grow. When we choose to show up, put ourselves out there, and take risks in the face of failure, we can create beautiful opportunities for learning and change. When we reckon with our emotion and rumble with our stories, we become active participants in our lives. We also get the opportunity to write our own victorious endings.
The revolution can be boiled down to this: Are you willing to be brave, reckon, rumble, and grow in your personal and professional life? As Joseph Campbell says, "the big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure." So, are you in?
*This blog post is based on Brené Brown's latest book Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution. If you want to learn more about her work I would highly recommend picking up one of her books, or watching her TED talk.