I recently finished reading an incredible book called ‘Rising Strong’ by Brenè Brown. This book is about challenging self-doubt and fear, about being curious of the stories we tell ourselves about how the world works and about picking ourselves up after a disappointment, loss or mistake. Reading this book has revolutionised the way I think about and respond to my emotions and my thoughts and I highly recommend it to every single one of you.
I very much consider myself an emotional person – I feel things very acutely and I think this, in part, accounts for why I can have very long periods of feeling very low – I take bad things that happen to me very personally and so often they fuel my feelings of not being good enough. I have also recently realised that there are some emotions which I don’t do very well. Anger for example: I just don’t really get angry at things. When something happens to me that is unfair, or something hurtful is said to me, I just absorb it. I rarely (I might dare to say, never) get angry at a situation or person. My immediate thoughts are that I have done something wrong, and that I am a terrible person. Usually then in situations like these, I cry (not always immediately, but at some point, there will probably be tears!). Until recently, I had just kind of accepted that this was part of my personality. But reading ‘Rising Strong’ has got me to start to challenge why this happens: to ‘get curious’ about my emotions.
The concept of ‘Rising Strong’ is a process which involves us engaging with our emotions, challenging why we react in particular ways and using this knowledge to overcome hardship. The part of the ‘Rising Strong Process’ that really got me was ‘The Rumble’. The Rumble is where we get really honest with ourselves about the stories we’ve made up about our struggles and become willing to revisit, challenge and reality-check them. So, for me, when a situation arises where I feel criticised, my immediate reaction is to tell the story ‘this means that I am not good enough’. This narrative then begins to seep into other parts of my life. A perceived failure at work makes me start to lose confidence in my competency as a runner, a friend, a blogger and a human being. Rumbling with these thoughts is a chance to challenge them. Our immediate reactions to a situation are often driven by emotions and the immediate need to self-protect. This means that they are, most likely, inaccurate and irrational. By getting curious about this reaction, we can start to ask the questions that can help us overcome it. Brenè lists these key questions as (1) What more do I need to learn and understand about the situation? (2) What more do I need to learn and understand about the other people in the story? (3) What more do I need to learn and understand about myself?
Point number (2) is one that hung over me for a while. My assumptions about other people tend to be that they see me as ‘not good enough’. I don’t know why I think this (I’m still rumbling on that one), but I know that I do, and this makes me very anxious about certain interactions with other people. What usually gets me, are things like having to present my work to my supervisor, meeting people for the first time, trying something new in the gym; I have this overwhelming feeling that I am going to be judged as incompetent or that I’m going to get ‘found out’ as not very good at anything at all. In the PhD world, this has been termed ‘Imposter Syndrome’ – the feeling that everyone else knows what they are doing and you are the only one struggling; it’s only a matter of time before you do something to confirm to everyone that you are actually incompetent and only managed to get to where you are out of sheer luck. So, I’m very wary of judgement by other people. But there is this fantastic phrase in ‘Rising Strong’ that really helped me with this. It’s the one I’m referring to in the title of this post; the one that has made me change the way I view the world. ‘Everyone is doing the best they can’.
By assuming that everyone is doing the best they can, I could start to grow compassion. I started to challenge the assumption that everyone was judging me, that everyone was ‘out to get me’. I also started to rumble more on that point number (2): what I need to understand about other people in the story. I might not know exactly why someone acted a certain way, but if I assume that they are doing the best they can, that provides me with some kind of relief from the thought that they are doing it just to hurt me. As Brenè writes in ‘Rising Strong’: the world seems like a better place when we assume that everyone is doing the best they can.
This phrase also reminded me of something else: that I am doing the best that I can. I’ve written before that I am a massive perfectionist and this can lead to feelings of never being good enough, of never quite having done enough to achieve some kind of undefined standard. Reminding myself that I am doing the best I can has helped me start to go a bit easier on myself, and with that, comes an increase in confidence and a reduction in those feelings that other people might not think me ‘enough’ – after all, who cares if they don’t? I am doing the best that I can.
I am still rumbling with a lot of things; really understanding our emotions and the reasons for our thoughts is something that might take a lifetime. But reading ‘Rising Strong’ has made me realise that it’s so important. It is so important to challenge our belief systems and to get curious about why we think the things we do. If nothing else, it gets us connecting with our feelings and helps us to better understand what we need. It helps us make sense of the actions of those around us, to look upon other people with love and compassion and it helps us come to terms with our own reactions to adversity.
So, the next time you have a confrontation or an argument with someone, or you find yourself judging other people, or you are feeling bad about how you reacted in a particular situation, start to get curious about what you are feeling. Remember, you are doing the best you can.