On this episode of Unlocking Us
This might just be the toughest, most personal episode yet in the Summer Sister Series on The Gifts of Imperfection. As Ashley, Barrett, and I tackle Guideposts #5 — Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith: Letting Go of the Need for Certainty — and #6 — Cultivating Creativity: Letting Go of Comparison, we reflect on our upbringing, which was marked with uncertainty, unpredictability, and plenty of eggshell living. It’s no surprise then, that letting go of certainty is one of my greatest challenges. We talk about that and how we try to show up differently in the families we are raising now.
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown
For over a decade, Brené Brown has found a special place in our hearts as a gifted mapmaker and a fellow traveler. She is both a social scientist and a kitchen-table friend whom you can always count on to tell the truth, make you laugh, and, on occasion, cry with you. And what’s now become a movement all started with The Gifts of Imperfection, which has sold more than two million copies in thirty-five different languages across the globe.
What transforms this book from words on a page to effective daily practices are the ten guideposts to wholehearted living. The guideposts not only help us understand the practices that will allow us to change our lives and families, they also walk us through the unattainable and sabotaging expectations that get in the way.
Brené Brown: Hi everyone, I’m Brené Brown, and this is Unlocking Us.
BB: Welcome to our Sister Strong, six-week series on The Gifts of Imperfection. I can tell you, right before we started recording this, Ashley was like, “Oh boy, these two guideposts are up in my grill.” We’re doing guidepost number five and guidepost number six, this week. Guidepost number five is, Letting Go of Our Need for Certainty and Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith, and the next one is, Letting Go of Comparison and Cultivating Creativity. Is it the need for certainty, that’s going to be hard about this one?
Ashley Brown Ruiz: Oh yeah, for sure. Yeah, I mean, I’m a number six on the Enneagram, so I really like to know what’s coming, I like to have some certainty, I like to feel safe. So this is up in my grill.
BB: Barrett, what about you?
Barrett Guillen: Yeah, same. Number six on the Enneagram. But for me, actually, the comparison creativity will be more up in my grill, I think.
BG: Mm-hmm, yeah. So when I start that gratitude journal on my own, in my own house, in my own room by myself.
BB: Oh, got it. Okay. Well. Yeah. So let’s look real quick, at our assessments. So for.
ABR: Five, we don’t test.
BB: Five, we don’t test and we don’t test it for all the research geeks out there, because faith is too hard to operationalize, so we just don’t test it because people have different understandings of what that is. So we just do the need for comparison and creativity. I’m about 50%, a little over 50%.
ABR: I’m a little over 50% also.
BG: I’m between a quarter and a half, I think.
BB: Got it. I would have never guessed that. I can’t wait to dig into this.
BG: Yeah I mean, I think it’s just like a pretty recent… I was 47 years old, when I realized. (laughter)
ABR: I was today years old.
BB: Today years old. I was, an hour ago. All right, we’ll be back with this conversation. We’re glad you’re here.
BB: Okay, let’s just dig in. Let’s just jump right in. Guidepost number five. Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith: Letting Go of the Need for Certainty. So…
BG: Boo! (laughter)
BB: Barrett, wow coming out strong early, with your “boo.”
ABR: I like it.
BB: Let me just pretend like I’m Ashley. “Say more.” (laughter)
BG: Therapist alert. Therapist alert. Woo, woo.
BB: Say more. But really.
BG: Oh, I just love me some certainty. I want to know how it’s going to turn out, before I get going, and in really anything.
BB: How do you show up in uncertainty?
BG: I think I can get shitty in uncertainty. I think I can get fearful, I think I can be snappy. I think when I’m not sure how things are going to turn out, I try to control the situation. And instead of just letting go and letting God.
BB: Are you talking to me? (laughter)
BG: Did you rub my lamp? No, I just, I like to know. I have some control issues, I don’t know you if y’all know that about me.
BB: Don’t make eye contact. (chuckle)
BG: So I do enjoy some certainty, but I can be shitty when I’m not sure how it’s going to turn out.
BB: Me too. I can be scary when I’m scared.
BB: I agree.
BG: And sometimes, I don’t know.
BB: You can, Ash-Barrett.
BG: That was aimed at Ashley, FYI. (laughter)
BB: Okay, can I just go there?
BB: I think this is not only about who raised us, but how we were raised.
ABR: I agree.
BG: Yeah, I second the motion.
BB: I think there was a lot of uncertainty in our household, growing up, and I think it was very mercurial, like you didn’t know.
ABR: No, you didn’t know. You didn’t know if you were going to get a laugh or something fearful.
BB: Yeah. Yeah. And it was completely unpredictable.
BB: And some days it was fun, and the same exact thing could happen on a Thursday and be great, and then happen on a Friday and lead to a complete nightmare.
BB: So I think that’s where it came from. I think it came from that. And I think Mom grew up with no certainty at all.
ABR: I agree.
BB: So, Me-Ma’s addiction pattern was really tough, growing up, because she drank every other day. And so, while there was some predictability in that, it was also hard, so I think Mom controlled everything she could. She was valedictorian and head of the drill team and head of everything, yet at the same time, no one was allowed to come to her house, because she had the mom who was an alcoholic. And can you imagine that situation in the ‘50s, where everything was supposed to be perfect? And so, I think that’s why, I’ll speak for three of us, and y’all interject if it’s not true, but I think it’s why the three of us are so committed to doing a lot of our own work in therapy, is because we don’t want to pass this down to our kids. And one of the ways I think we can pass it down to our kids, is being afraid all the time, because we don’t have the rage and the kind of violent outburst kind of stuff that we grew up with, but we have the fear. And that can also create its own eggshells, right?
BG: Do you think we grew up on eggshells?
ABR: Oh yeah, 100%.
BB: Yeah, because we just didn’t know.
ABR: Yeah, I think, pre-divorced, during the divorce, post-divorce, I think, all of it.
BB: Yeah, and I don’t think people understand the level of trauma that goes along with eggshell living. You just never know. It’s like a land mine. You never know what you’re going to step on. And I think it’s traumatic because you don’t know what the variable is, that sparks it.
ABR: It has gotten in my way of doing things that I want to do. Like the fear of “what would happen if I did it.” But one time someone asked me if I like to travel and the first thing that came to my mind was, “if someone was holding my hand, almost like a kid.” Like, if I would be walking around the streets in Paris, wherever, if someone was holding my hand. I went to this place of needing… I would love to do stuff like that. And you and I have been traveling around the world together, but I need some safety in that. I went with you, as my older sister, so there was some safety in that, but to go back over there, once I got over the fear of going across the pond, over water, I would need to feel safe there. And so, I don’t want this to stop me from doing things that I want to do anymore. So it’s something I’m working on, but I think it shows up in parenting, at work, in all the different parts of my life.
BB: Yeah, it’s really hard, because we’re fearful, kind of because of how we were raised. And so then we end up raising our kids with the same lack of a sense of safety, and not because we’re mercurial or outbursty, but because we’re afraid, because of that’s how we were raised. Do you know what I mean? It’s hard. I keep going back to that bridge metaphor that I’ve talked about, so many times on the podcast, where you’ve got that old wooden bridge over the ravine, that’s a 1,000 foot drop. And I think, the way we were raised is, it didn’t have handrails. And then it was like, “Run, now. Go across, run.” “No, I’m scared.” “Run, run or I’ll throw you across.” That kind of parenting, right.
ABR: And then when you start walking, they do a jump on it, to make it go like that.
BB: To double bounce you a little bit. And it’s kind of funny, but then it’s not. Yeah, and so then I think, the way we’re trying to raise our kids is with… And for those of y’all that haven’t heard on the podcast before, it was a piece of parenting advice that I got early on, that really helped shape my parenting, that was parenting and boundaries. And that parenting is like sending a child across one of these rickety old bridges over the 1,000-foot ravine, and boundaries are handrails across that bridge, so that the kids have something to hold on to. And that’s predictability, stability and boundaries. And so, I think this chapter is about letting go of our need for certainty and trusting ourselves, our intuition, and our faith.
ABR: I’m even like this. “Exactly how do you define faith?”
BB: Yeah, and so I’ll tell you. I’ll define it in here.
BG: Glad you asked. (laughter)
BB: Yeah, glad you asked. Nice segue, Ash. We could take this on the road. So I’ll define both of them because they’re big gauzy word. So intuition, this is how I define it. Intuition is not a single way of knowing, it’s our ability to hold space for uncertainty and our willingness to trust the many ways we’ve developed knowledge and insight, including instinct, experience, faith, and reason. And you have to understand, that when you say like, “trust your gut.” If you look at the research on intuition, intuition is not independent of reasoning process. Psychologists believe that intuition is a rapid-fire, unconscious associating process–like a mental puzzle. The brain makes an observation, scans its files, and matches the observation with existing memories, knowledge, and experiences. Once we put together the matches, that’s how we get that “gut” that we talk about. Sometimes our intuition, or our gut tells us what we need to know, other times, it steers us toward more fact-finding and reasoning. Intuition might be that quiet voice within, but it’s not a voice that’s limited to one message.
BB: Sometimes, the voice will say, “Hey, you should do this, follow your instincts,” but sometimes your intuition is the voice that says, “We don’t have enough data to make a decision. We need to understand more. We need to know more.” So the problem, and here’s what I think we can all work on, not just us, but everybody. The problem is to understand and hear our intuition. That kind of rapid-fire unconscious system in us. We have to hear our voice over the noise. And some of the noise is other people telling us what we should do, but sometimes the noise is fear, our own fear, our own shame, our own not good enough, not smart enough, not safe enough. So I think, we have to learn how to hear what we’re saying, and I think that’s why people say meditation is life-changing, because it’s not just, “Oh, I’m going to get quiet and hear the voice about what the big challenge is, of the day.” It’s, “I’m going to train myself to know how to get quiet so I can listen for it when I need it.” Does that make sense?
BG: Yeah, it’s so hard for me.
BB: It’s so hard for me too. It’s so hard.
BB: So that’s how I define intuition. Again, not a single way of knowing, it’s our ability to hold space for uncertainty, and our willingness to trust the many ways that we develop knowledge and insight, including experience, faith, reason, facts, and instinct. So I’m going to read a little bit from 117, because I think this is a helpful grounding in the chapter. “I’ve come to realize that faith and reason are not natural enemies. It’s our human need for certainty and our need to ‘be right’ that have pitted faith and reason against each other in an almost reckless way. We force ourselves to choose and defend one way of knowing at the expense of the other way. And I think that faith and reason can clash and create uncomfortable tension, and those tensions play out in my life all the time and I can feel them in my bones. But this work has forced me to see that it’s our fear of the unknown and our fear of being wrong that create most of our conflict and anxiety. We need both faith and reason to make meaning in an uncertain world.”
BB: So how I define faith, from the data in this book is, faith is a place of mystery where we can find the courage to believe in what we can’t see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty. I think it’s a good example, because I would consider y’all both pretty faithful people. Do y’all think you’re faithful people?
BB: So let me give an example. Y’all had no idea what was going to happen with the recording of these podcasts.
BB: You didn’t.
BB: And we didn’t know how far we’d get into our family of origin stuff, we didn’t know, but y’all showed up. Right? Because I think there’s a faith that we have. We know how to listen to ourselves when it comes to each other, and there’s trust too, so trust and faith probably go hand in hand. But I think, I don’t know. I’ll speak for myself, but I’d love to hear what y’all think about yourselves, but it’s like shooting a three-point shot. You have to shoot 1,000 of those before you make one. I don’t think I’ve put getting still and quiet so I can hear myself, into a practice. I don’t think I’ve built those muscles very well.
BG: I have not either.
ABR: I even got that app that one time, that’s like, “Okay, we’re going to start with five seconds, and then we’re going to go with 20 seconds.” I’m like, “yeah, and done.” I gave up on it too soon. I think I could get there, but yeah, it’s just, my mind races. I’ll never forget doing a guided meditation one time, and I was just sobbing afterwards, because it was… The pictures that I was creating in my head, were beautiful and wonderful and I loved them, and it brought me so much joy, and that’s where the tears were coming from, and I was so surprised by that. So I imagine there’s a lot of power in it, but there’s also a lot of fear in it, for me, to just be still and…
BG: I just can’t concentrate. I have so many other things going on. I have not… It’s like a muscle.
ABR: Unload the dishwasher?
BG: No, it’s not the dishwasher so much, but I just… If it’s a muscle, I have not built the muscle memory. I get so distracted, so easy.
BB: The only place I can do this well is in making business decisions. I am very intuitive and very… Trust myself and I can get really still and quiet, but I’ve never met a problem that cannot be solved by walking.
BG: And you don’t listen to music or anything. So I think you have built muscle memory.
BB: I guess so. I guess I do walking meditation. I’m going to say that, moving forward.
BG: Yeah, I think you do.
BB: Yeah, because I do get really quiet, and even if I have to drive to Austin or something, I won’t listen to any music or anything, and I’ll just force myself to be in the quiet, and then… At first, it’s like “dt.dt.dt” crazy, and then it gets really calm and still and I start making connections between things. So maybe I have. Yeah. Maybe I have. I write about this in the book, I always know when I’m not listening to myself, when I start polling people about what I should do next. It’s such a red flag that no one talks about, but it was such a finding in this research. When you start going, “Should I wear my hair short or long? Should I do this? Should I say yes? Should I let Charlie do this? What do you think about letting Ellen do this?” Once you start polling people, you’re in shitsville.
ABR: I do that a lot, too, because I’m a single mom, so I get you all to help me make some really big decisions about schools and stuff like that. And so, I also believe that I was good at being quiet and narrowing down the choices, but then needed to get to you all, to the final choices. I think, while at work, I’m not as good at it, but I think when it comes to Amaya, I can be a little bit better at it.
BG: But is that polling? I don’t think that’s polling. I think that’s co-parenting.
BB: I don’t think that’s polling. Polling is literally not even asking people whose opinions you really give a shit about. I think, you coming to us and saying, “This is what I’m thinking about with Amaya, what do you all think?” That’s just family. But I think polling is… It’s almost trying to see what people think, when you know you’re not going to take it into consideration, even. Do you know what I mean? (laughter) “Should I cut my hair short?” “Uh, yeah.” “Fuck you, who asked?” You know, you’re like.
BG: You don’t know me.
BB: “You don’t know me.” Yeah. You just asked.
BB: Okay, I think we should do this, because I think this was a hard one for all of us. On page 118, the Dig Deep. Let’s see what I wrote 10 years ago. “Letting go of certainty is one of my greatest challenges.” Check. (laughter) “I even have a physical response to ‘not knowing’- it’s anxiety and fear and vulnerability combined.” Still. “That’s when I have to get very still and quiet. With my busy life, that can mean hiding in the garage or walking, driving around the block. Whatever it takes. I have to find a way to be still, so I can hear what I’m saying.” That is the biggest thing in my life. I’m not even kidding y’all. I trust myself 100%. Whatever chart that is, I’m off the… I really… “Can I get to a place where I can hear myself over the bullshit and the noise?” That’s the question.
BB: “Get Inspired. The process of reclaiming my spiritual and faith life was not an easy one.” Oh, this was that quote from Anne Lamott, “The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty.” What inspires y’all around faith and intuition, and letting go of uncertainty? How do you get going, even? Is there a prayer, a mantra, or breathing?
ABR: I love the Serenity Prayer. I say that a lot. And you know, what’s so weird is, every time I pray at night when I’m going to sleep, I always start off with gratitude to God for the life that I have and the family, and that. Because earlier in the day, I’ll have prayed, “It’s raining really hard, please let Amaya get home safely. Thank you, God, for letting Amaya get home safely.” But you know what’s so weird is, when you think about this mystical place that we have a bigger connection than ourselves. For me, it’s not so much church, but it’s the singing at church.
BB: Oh God, me too.
ABR: It’s like being at camp and singing with everybody and just hanging on the lyrics and feeling connected to something that’s way bigger to me, and it feels like everyone is connected to that same place, or together. It’s like… I miss camp.
BB: Yeah. Yeah.
ABR: And then we went a couple Sunday’s ago, for Confirmation, I was just waiting for someone to bust into my song. So it’s just like… I just sit down and I just want to sing.
BB: Collective joy.
BB: You love that, because you love concert, you love to be in connection with people in that way.
BB: You should do more of it.
ABR: I should. I did just go see the Air Supply group.
BB: Which you said women over 60 were caught smoking pot in the bathroom, at Air Supply.
ABR: Oh my God. Cheryl’s hashtag was 60 plus and us. (laughter)
BB: Okay, Barrett, what about you?
BG: I think, for me, I find myself connecting to like family. When I pray, I pray a lot to Me-Ma. I pray a lot… Sometimes I pray to Aunt Peggy. Sometimes I just… It depends on what the prayer is, is who I need to summons up in my prayer. But we have a lot of gritty amazing folks who have loved us along the way, that I call on in my faith.
BB: Yeah. I love that.
ABR: Me too. Because it doesn’t matter, whatever you look at in our family, on either side, Mom’s or Dad’s, there’s never ever a question of how much everyone loves each other.
BB: No, there’s just a question of how much work people have done and not done, and how much pain they either can deal with or they put on other people.
BG: What’s my mantra from the other guidepost?
ABR: Well said.
BG: Do your work.
BB: Oh, yeah. We’ll close… I love this quote from Paulo Coelho’s, The Alchemist, “Intuition is really a sudden immersion of the soul into the universal current of life, where the histories of all people are connected and we are able to know everything because it’s all written there.”
ABR: That’s so good.
BG: It’s such an amazing book, too.
BB: Yeah. You have got to read The Alchemist. It’s graduation season, I ordered 1,700 of them from the book stores. Okay.
ABR: You don’t even know what The Alchemist is doing to you, while you’re reading it.
BB: No, you really don’t.
BB: All right, we’ll be back next week, with Guideposts seven and eight. [chuckle] Sorry, that was like an evil laugh.
BG: It’s going to get real.
BB: Yeah, if it gets any realer than this… (laughter)
ABR: Yeah, shit, Barrett.
BB: Yeah. Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self-Worth, Cultivating more Rest and Play, and then Letting Go of Anxiety as a Lifestyle, and Cultivating Calm and Stillness. There’s an episode page for the podcast, on BreneBrown.com. Both Dare to Lead and Unlocking Us are exclusively on Spotify, and we’re very happy to be here. If you need anything from the website, you can go to brenebrown.com. Y’all stay awkward, brave, and kind, and we’ll see you next time.
BB: Unlocking Us is a Spotify Original from Parcast. It’s hosted by me, Brené Brown. It’s produced by Max Cutler, Kristen Acevedo, Carleigh Madden, and Tristan McNeil, and by Weird Lucy Productions. Sound design by Tristan McNeil and Andy Waits, and music is by the amazing Carrie Rodriguez and the amazing Gina Chavez.
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