In her book, Rising Strong, Brene Brown uses a powerful phrase that resonates as much for me as advice from the Gap and the Gain (see recent blog posts). Brown, a shame researcher, talks about falling down and finding the courage to “rumble” or reset ourselves and get back up again. Anytime we feel exceedingly vulnerable when asking for what we need, she suggests using the phrase: The story I’m telling myself… I have already used her line a number of times in the past few weeks, with positive results.

Lemurs in Madagascar provide the perfect backdrop for "rising strong" as these remarkable primates are tree dwellers.
Lemurs in Madagascar provide the perfect backdrop for “rising strong” as these remarkable primates are tree dwellers.

Brene Brown’s Lake Travis Story

As an example of how this line works, Brown shares a story about swimming in Lake Travis with her husband Steve. In it, she tries several times to connect with him on a deep, spiritual level, without getting the desired response. The fiction she creates is that she’s slow. He doesn’t like how she looks in her Speedo. Or he no longer feels the same connection toward her after years of marriage.

Meanwhile, his own story involves dwelling on a recent nightmare about losing the kids in a boating accident. While he is preoccupied with trying to remain the strong, capable man she wants him to be, she’s trying to connect. When they finally talk about it later, she uses the phrase, “The story I’m telling myself…” It signals that she feels vulnerable and tentative, and may have created a false narrative. They both share their own interpretation of the moment. As a result, they weather the rough spot with greater understanding and appreciation for each other.

Another master climber. They make it look so incredibly effortless.
The sifakas are masterful climbers. They make it look so incredibly effortless.

A Tool for Reframing Your Story

Brown’s story unlocked something for me. I tend to avoid confrontation. I also realize that I get stuck in black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking, or even partial truths. Brown’s phrase is empowering. Using it allows me to take ownership of the narrative I’m telling myself and voice it aloud. By sharing it with the other person, I can learn whether my story is close or if I have completely missed the mark.

I’ve used this with my daughter and husband. Each time, I’ve gained more clarity and learned how often the story I’m concocting is partly incorrect. Imagine having one tool that could help us clear up misunderstandings. This reframing phrase is becoming that tool.

A sifaka mom with a baby clutched to her stomach.
A sifaka mom with a baby clutched to her stomach.

An Example of Rising Strong

As an illustration, one of the opportunities I had to use the phrase revolves around my expectations. I expect when I make an appointment, the person will be ready for me. Last week that didn’t happen. The story I told myself was that I didn’t matter, that I was “less important” than whatever else was going on. Or worse, I was simply forgotten.

On using the line with myself and digging deeper with self-compassion and an openness to learning, I realized not only was I wrong, but the problem was NOT between the two of us, but steeped in technology. My phone has had issues sending and receiving texts. Since the other person texts almost exclusively, we kept missing each other. The new, true story was “My technology needs updating.” That immediately led to owning and discussing the problem, apologizing, finding a better way to confirm appointments, backing up data on my old phone, and ordering a new one. We both experienced a win-win and kept our relationship intact.

Indri singing in the rain. Their haunting calls resonate for miles in the rainforest canopy. If only we could communicate the same way, without needing all the high-tech gizmos and gadgets!
Indri singing in the rain. Their haunting calls resonate for miles in the rainforest canopy. If only we could communicate the same way, without needing all the high-tech gizmos and gadgets!

What Resources Have Helped You?

We have explored a number of tools for change in the past six months, including KISAGE (keeping it simple and good enough), focusing on the GAIN rather than the GAP, and finding joy everywhere.

If you have found it helpful to learn about resources we’ve shared that energize, educate, or shift something within you, please comment below. Better yet, if you know of books or websites that have helped YOU on your journey through change, I would love to hear about them. Perhaps one will be featured and discussed in upcoming posts.

Rising Strong Lesson: The Story I'm Telling Myself
Ring-tailed lemurs are familiar in North American zoos like Woodland Park Zoo, as they can be successfully bred in captivity.

Rising Strong into Year Two

I am gearing up for a second year of blog posts (Yo.u know who you are — thanks for your encouragement!) What resonates most with you? My ideas going forward include advice from author and life coach Tama Kieves. Precision Nutrition takeaway tips. Kristin Neff on Self-Compassion. Brene Brown’s many books. And of course, I’ll continue to share adventures with Ajax.

Rise strong with me into year two. Do you know of others who could benefit from the tips in this blog? Help me grow my subscriber list by forwarding it!

During our visit to Lemur Island, near Andasibe in Madagascar, we got to feed ripe bananas to these friendly little brown lemurs. An example of unexpected joy, for sure!
During our visit to Lemur Island, near Andasibe in Madagascar, we got to feed ripe bananas to these friendly little brown lemurs. An example of unexpected joy, for sure!

Published by Courtenay Schurman

Co-author of The Outdoor Athlete (2009) and Train to Climb Mt. Rainier or Any High Peak DVD (2002), author of Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills/conditioning chapter 4 (3 editions), and Peak Performance column for the Mountaineers Mag (2014-present). Member of PNWA, SCBWI, EPIC. Served on the steering committee for WOTS (2019-present). Completed UW Certificate program for Children's Literature and Memoir. Co-owner of Body Results, Inc. in Seattle. Climb leader with Seattle Mountaineers for over 15 years. Volunteer at Woodland Park Zoo since 2014.

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4 Comments

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  1. Creating narratives or making assumptions is something we often do. It is easier than asking questions to clarify the narratives. The four agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz is a good reference book on this topic. I read it a few times, easy and simple. It takes focus and practice to stop creating narratives…very challenging to eliminate it 100%. I stopped relationships with some people instead of asking questions on situations. They never get back to me anyway. Relationships also evolve and this is ok to turn the page. No hard feeling. C’est la vie, kind of things. Also, I stop reading “self- help” books…got really tired of self- help
    Podcast or shows. I focus on my passion- spending more time outside hiking. Finding what makes me happy. Reading good fiction books and historical books help me.

    Great news you will continue this blog. I love it.

    1. Thanks Silvie Marie! I will check out The Four Agreements. Looks like he has a companion book as well at the library. Always love having recommendations. I agree with you that relationships evolve and some (those that are toxic) are best left behind. But for those that are important, where we really want to stay and work to improve it (say, family or lifelong friends) having empowering tools such as Brene’s “The story I’m telling myself” can be just the ticket not only to better understanding of the other — that’s one of the reasons this world is struggling so incredibly much right now — but also of our own selves, wants, and needs. Not sure i will ever tire of self-help, GOOD self-help like Brown’s work or Gap and the Gain. Those that make a positive difference. Hence my request for GOOD recommendations. No wasting time here!

      Thanks for the words of encouragement, for reading, and for commenting! Readers like you keep me going!

  2. Hey there! Since you mentioned Brown’s work and are looking for resources, this book immediately came to mind. It’s a short, easy read which offers some profound ideas regarding mindset that are applicable well beyond just housecleaning.

    https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/How-to-Keep-House-While-Drowning/KC-Davis/9781668002841

    Available on Amazon – https://www.amazon.com/How-Keep-House-While-Drowning/dp/1668002841/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

    It was recommended to me by other people dealing with some of the same issues I’ve had lately with anxiety and other issues I’m having in my dissertation work leading to procrastination, and several of things really have been a game changer for me in terms of mindset (for starters, “no one ever shamed themselves into better mental health”).

    Thanks for your blog posts – I’ve really been enjoying reading them!

    1. Awesome share, Cathy! Clearly, that’s a popular resource if the online reserves queue at the public library is any indication! I will check it out. LOVE “no one ever shamed themselves into better mental health.” Hear, hear!!

      And thanks for the thanks — comments like yours really keep me motivated to continue, so I really appreciate that you took time to respond and share! Best, and good luck. Remember there are more out there dealing with the exact same thing; sometimes that’s helpful to know!