After a Fall: How to Pick Yourself Up with Brené Brown

"Our job is not to deny the story, but to defy the ending – to rise strong and rumble with the truth."

BBPhotography: Felix Sanchez

“When we deny our stories, they own us,” says Brené Brown. “When we own our stories, we get to write the ending.” With these words, Brené – aka she of the fourth most-watched TED talk of all time – has hundreds of pairs of ears at Sydney’s State Theatre captivated.

This is just one of the many gems delivered at last week’s event held by The School of Life as part of Brené’s global Rising Strong tour. A research professor at the University of Houston Graduate School of Social Work, Brené has authored three New York Times number one bestsellers: The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly and Rising Strong. Brené has also spent the past 13 years studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness and shame – so when she gives a talk on the subject, we’re listening.

Readers of her 2015 work Rising Strong were moved by her call to arms for us to own our stories: “When we deny our stories and disengage from tough emotions, they don’t go away – they own us, then they define us. Our job is not to deny the story, but to defy the ending – to rise strong, reckon with our story and rumble with the truth until we get to a place where we think, yes. This is what happened. This is my truth. And I will choose how this story ends.”

Wednesday evening saw Brené discussing the importance of consciously choosing the ‘stories’ we tell ourselves about everyday situations, urging people to ditch the Shitty First Draft (SFD) stories we concoct in our minds whenever life starts getting tricky (hilariously illustrated by Brene’s personal battles with her SFDs, including the time her husband Steve commented on the absence of ham in their fridge, and she proceeded down a mental sinkhole that began with deciding he was deliberately trying to shame her and ended with a hasty resolution to call a lawyer and get a divorce underway. Luckily, she managed to replace her SFD with a more helpful story before things got out of hand.)

Brené, who has interviewed artists, CEOs, parents, teachers and military leaders as part of her mission to uncover what it takes to lean into vulnerability in the name of being courageous, advises several key strategies in order to ‘rise strong’ in the face of a roadblock, stumble (or sinkhole).

1)    Acknowledge when you’re getting caught in emotion
The physiological signs of this can be different for everyone, but may involve sweaty palms, tingly armpits, racing heart and rushing thoughts.

2)    Own your story
In the case above, Brené admitted that telling herself that her husband wanted to shame her for being a hopeless wife may have been a slight confabulation – not necessarily the whole truth.

3)    Go searching for the truth
Bear with us – this may involve ‘fessing up to the person whom your SFD is about: saying, “The story I’m telling myself now is…”

4)    Create a new story
In the ham sandwich situation, Brené was able to pull herself out of her own story sinkhole by realising that her husband was really just hungry, and she was feeling overwhelmed with work. The rest? Confabulation.

5)    Challenge your themes
If you’re serious about rising strong, Brené suggests pulling out the themes from the SFD stories you’re concocting on a regular basis about situations in your life – and acknowledging the underlying false beliefs that may be plaguing you. For example, she admitted to constantly deciding she was letting down everyone in her life.