Brené Brown - Break Out of Your Comfort Zone, Find Self-Worth & Embrace Criticism
By Kris Deichler, Associate Partner & Mentorship Coach, Lighthouse International
"Life Begins At The End of Your Comfort Zone"
~ Neale Donald Walsch
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you felt completely out of your comfort zone? Perhaps you were speaking in public for the first time, taking on a new job at work, becoming a parent for the first time, or opening up to someone about something very personal in a way you've never done before.
These are the kinds of situations where we might feel 'out of our depth', uncertain or perhaps particularly open to judgement, criticism, or even mockery. Guaranteed we've all been there in some way or another at some point in our lives, but how people deal with them can be very different. There are some who embrace such uncomfortable and challenging situations, some who will grit their teeth and bear their way through them and some who simply run for the hills to avoid them.
Whichever one of these we might be, the truth is we can all learn to improve and get better at being comfortable with discomfort. But how?
Understand Why We Get Uncomfortable
If you've not heard of her, Brené Brown is a popular psychology researcher, author and speaker, who has become famous for appearances on the Oprah Winfrey Show, as well as her TED talks on the subjects of vulnerability and shame (which you can see at the end of this article). One of the overriding things she's learned from her many years of research interviewing people about what makes us 'authentic' and what gives us emotional strength - is that the reason we fear or avoid stepping out of our comfort zones is a fear of vulnerability. It's those who are more comfortable with vulnerability that she has referred to as 'wholehearted' people.
When we're showing a side of ourselves to people we haven't done before, trying something we haven't done before or putting ourselves in a situation where we don't feel confident in our ability yet, we tend to feel vulnerable. We often feel this way because we feel we might be criticised, mocked or even face confrontation from others - which can be a painful experience for many of us. If we're not emotionally resilient or certain enough in ourselves in relation to such things, the reaction is normally to avoid the situation as much as possible.
Vulnerability Is NOT Weakness
How many of us see vulnerability as a weakness? I know there are many people reading this who would say yes. It's something we are often raised to believe. Have you ever heard sayings like "never let 'em see you bleed" and keep a "stiff upper lip"?
In other words, don't show anyone your softer or less certain side. These are all ways of reinforcing a belief that vulnerability is weakness and leaves us open to attack. However, as Ms Brown powerfully asks in her TED talk below, how many of us admire and respect vulnerability when we see it genuinely in someone else? How much do we see it as a sign of strength and courage - not weakness?
"Vulnerability is not weakness. I define vulnerability as emotional risk, exposure, uncertainty. It fuels our daily lives and I have come to the belief [after 12+ years of research] that vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage! To be vulnerable, to let ourselves be seen, to be honest."
~ Brené Brown
Changing The Way We See Failure & Criticism
As she points out in her talk, Brené Brown believes the reason we don't connect vulnerability with strength or courage in relation to ourselves, is because of shame - which is the main topic of her talk. Shame is the feeling of not being worthy or 'good enough' and is the emotion many of us feel in reaction to vulnerability.
As Ms Brown points out, it's something that's in all of us and perhaps much more than any of us would like to admit. As human beings, we are much more likely to be most harsh and critical of ourselves than we are of others. So it's our sense of self-worth that's at the heart of being able to be courageous, vulnerable and to step out of our comfort zones in order to grow and become more confident in who we are.
"Shame is the voice that says "ah ah, you're not good enough, you never finished that MBA... Your wife left you... I know your dad wasn't really in Luxembourg, he was in Sing Sing... I know you don't think you're pretty enough, smart enough, talented enough, or powerful enough... shame is that thing."
~ Brené Brown
One of the biggest reasons we feel shame in our perfectionist culture today is in relation to failure. How often do we feel bad about ourselves, every time we make a mistake or get something wrong? How often are we terrified of failure because of the shame we attach to it?
The way we see and how we feel about failure, will affect how much we are willing to step into situations or areas where the chances of making a mistake or of failing is higher. A lot of this is connected to how we feel about the potential criticism, mockery and judgement of others we might receive as a result of our errors too, which for many, can feel like a cold hard nail of shame to the heart.
The message Ms Brown is giving however, is that we can view mistakes, failure, criticism and all these things differently. We simply have to change our 'paradigm' (our perspective or viewpoint) towards them. Encouragingly, this is something any of us can do.
Develop a Perspective of Daring Greatly
The good thing is that, wherever we are right now with this, the absolute truth that legends prove and tell us time and again, is that we can all learn to get better at it. We can reduce the shame we feel and increase our willingness to be vulnerable. We can learn to become someone courageous and willing enough to put ourselves 'out there' and embrace our discomfort and challenges. We can even start to enjoy them.
Everything starts with our perspective. Change that and everything else will change with it. When we see vulnerability as weakness we're going to want to avoid it. When we do that we reinforce in ourselves the belief that we are weak, unworthy and that we can't be strong, capable and successful.
However, when we realise that we feel small, unworthy or incapable because we are avoiding the vulnerability of mistakes and criticism, we can start to change our attitude and approach to life. When we see making mistakes as a healthy part of growing and learning about ourselves and start to see that being more vulnerable actually increases our sense of personal courage and certainty in ourselves, the more we will embrace it.
"Let me go on the record and say, vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change. To create is to make something that has never existed before. There is nothing more vulnerable than that! Adaptability to change is all about vulnerability."
~ Brené Brown
One Step At a Time
Changing our perspective or 'paradigms' on anything can take time and is something we need to constantly work at because our old beliefs are hard-wired in us. It might feel alien and very uncomfortable at times, but that's a healthy sign of growth. So get out there, challenge yourself for where you are and don't feel you have to go all out, guns blazing from the start.
Learning to dare greatly starts with even the smallest of steps - the important thing is to start. Whether that's speaking up in a business meeting, having the conversation with your partner you've been avoiding, applying for that promotion, or even just admitting you need to reconsider your career choices; being in the 'arena' of life, rather than watching from the sidelines, is going to be worth it. Enjoy Ms Brown's talk below 🙂