On Episode #1, “Brené on FFTs”, of Unlocking Us with Brené Brown, Brené provides a three-step strategy to how we can successfully navigate the challenges first experiences can bring. When we normalize the experience, put things in perspective, and set proper expectations, we can make sure our first try isn’t the last time. The recent health pandemic is a great chance for us to apply this strategy.
Read this if…
• You feel anxious about the coronavirus.
• You find yourself in a new situation and don’t know what to do.
• You need a step-by-step guide to approach fist-time experiences.
Brené Brown is a best-selling author and professor. She holds the Brené Brown Endowed Chair at the University of Houston's Graduate College of Social Work. She is also a visiting professor at McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin. Aside from the academe, Brown is the CEO of The Daring Way, a company established to provide professional training and certification program on the topics of vulnerability, courage, shame, and empathy.
the distilld lessons (extended)
New things, situations, or experiences are exciting. This excitement, however, is fleeting. When it subsides, we are left with the challenges of adapting to the new situation, and the discomfort that comes with it. But if we set realistic expectations for ourselves, and pace our progress properly, we can make sure that our first try won’t also be the last.
On this first episode of Unlocking Us, Brené talks about how we can get through experiences she refers to as “f***ing first times”, or FFTs, for short. When we try new things for the first time, we normally feel excited. But when that subsides, discomfort and difficulty follows. Brené call this FFTs. She provides a three-step strategy for managing our discomfort, mindset, and expectations, so we can see our first-times through.
These are the distilld lessons.
1. Name your FFT
Brené insists that before we strategize how to go about our FFTs, we should acknowledge the experience as one. She says that this is the most powerful part of the strategy. This is because naming is key to how humans understand things. We give names to concepts and objects so that they have consistent and definite meanings.
Name your FFT. This means that when you’re having a hard time trying something out, ask yourself, “Why do I feel this uncomfortable doing something that’s not inherently stressful? Is this an FFT?" It probably is.
When we name our FFTs, we can give the difficulty we’re experiencing some structure. We can justify the trepidation that naturally comes with new things, instead of beating ourselves up because they overwhelm us. We can see challenges for what they are. As a result, we will understand how to better implement our strategy.
Naming the FFT leads to three steps: one, we can normalize the difficulty of our FFT; two, we can put into perspective the discomfort our FFT is causing; and three, we can match our expectations to how fast we can possibly improve, given the circumstances.
From here, Brené encourages us to implement a three-step strategy:
2. Normalize the difficulty
The first step after naming our FFT is normalizing it. We can do this simply by telling ourselves, “This is new, and you aren’t experienced at it yet. That’s why you’re not doing as well as you thought you would.” We need to acknowledge that we can’t immediately be good at things because we essentially don’t know how they work.
When we’re on our FFT, we naturally have no personal experience to draw from. We feel apprehensive, frustrated, and confused. This is normal. When we accept the difficulty of the situation as normal, we can shift our focus and energy from fighting our negative emotions, to working on our own growth and improvement.
2. Put the discomfort in perspective
The second step of the strategy is putting in perspective the difficulty we’re facing. We can do this by thinking of our struggles as just temporary. We can assure ourselves that as long as we put in the time, effort, and patience required, we’ll look back at our current difficulties as times of learning.
This isn’t the first time that we’ve had a first time. It may sound paradoxical, but if we think about it, anything that we're deeply interested in now — hobbies, topics, careers — all started out as FFTs. We weren’t good at them nor did we know everything about them when we first started out. But over time, through more exposure, more reference and more experience we developed a level of familiarity with them. Remembering this process whenever we have FTTs can allay the discomfort that's usually associated with first times. When we realize this, we can have more confidence in our capabilities and dissolve the pang of stress and anxiety.
3. Ground your expectations in reality
The fourth and last step of the strategy is giving ourselves a reality check in managing our FFTs. We have to realize that we can’t predict every possible complication that may arise when doing something for the first time. Our progress may be slower than we thought; the FFT may be even more complicated than we thought; we may encounter totally unrelated roadblocks than we anticipated. Again, this is all normal.
The coronavirus pandemic is a good example of an unpredicted FFT. The entire world literally changed in a matter of weeks. Nobody predicted that. And as such, we’re all handling it for the first time. COVID has catalyzed circumstances that the vast majority of us — if not all of us — have no reference of and thus present us with an opportunity to practice the three-step strategy Brené introduces for FFTs.
When we ground our expectations in reality, we can be more patient with ourselves. We can give ourselves more time and understanding. This is because we know that not all factors are within our control. And these factors can slow down our improvement. Knowing this prevents us from being discouraged by our pace of progress. It can even help us improve our strategy as we recognize the challenges of the current situation.
4. The pandemic itself is an FFT
This is the first time in modern society that we’ve been hit by a pandemic of this scale. This means that the pandemic is an FFT of its own. And we can deal with it as such. Since we’ve already named it, we can then normalize its difficulty.
A lot of us are anxious, afraid, and uncertain. It’s okay to feel all these emotions. We’ve all suddenly had our connection diminished through social distancing. People have had their livelihoods shut down. People have lost their loved ones. We have to allow ourselves to properly emotionally respond to all this. We have to be patient with ourselves and realize that this is the reality we live in right now.
We can then put our difficulty in perspective. This may have been our first time experiencing a pandemic, but it isn’t our first time experiencing difficulty and loss. We can assure ourselves that we can make it through this situation, because we’ve made it through many others in the past. The situation may seem bleak and blurry right now, but like all problems, they will eventually clear.
Finally, we can ground our expectations in reality. We don't have control over when the world will open up again. As quickly as we'd like for our lives to be restored to a normality that resembles pre-COVID, the timeline isn't up to us. There are too many unknowns about the virus, the global response and the consequent implications on our lives to predict. So, it means that we need to manage our expectations about how quickly we believe this situation will pass. We need to understand that as an FFT, the progress of the pandemic is also unpredictable.
In the context of FFTs, the feelings of fear, anxiety and overwhelm the world is experiencing in response to the pandemic becomes natural. Although there has been — and will continue to be — inevitable hardship, labelling the pandemic as an FFT at least orients a strategy for us to approach it. We can name it, normalize it, manage our perspective and our expectations. Doing so will encourage, like other FFTs, for COVID to also eventually transition to a situation that we view with less anxiety and trepidation.
For a shorter conversation, the distilld lessons summary are here.