by Mina Simhai

I write this as my beautiful son is turning four. A Christmas tree brightens our living room. Guests are greeted with a holly wreath. In January, I will embark on an incredible professional opportunity.

And yet, until last night, I had been feeling a little overwhelmed with it all. So I raided my positive psychology toolbox. Using my top VIA strength, love of learning, I flipped open Brené Brown’s excellent new book, Rising Strong. Two gems for finding happiness now and during the holiday season leapt out at me right away.

“The trick to staying out of resentment is maintaining better boundaries … holding myself more accountable for asking for what I need and want.”

Of course, I want to say “yes” to all the things that make this time of the year so special (while not dropping the ball on other fronts) and that necessitates saying “no” to other things that I also value. In order for me to say “yes” on the professional front, I’ve gotten my husband to say “yes” on the family front, so I can start my work day at 6:00 am and still be with my kids when they get out of school. Last week, I said “no” to a couple of fun invitations so I could say “yes” to a special family celebration for my son’s birthday. Each “no” created the freedom to live into a “yes” mindfully, and enjoy it without feeling distracted and torn. Saying “no” creates more space for the things that are a “hell, yes!”

“Self-righteousness is just the armor of self-loathing.”

For many of us, the holidays involve more social interactions, from holiday parties and family gatherings to conversations with store clerks. Self-righteousness can come up in ourselves, and we can also recognize it in others. Seeing it come up in ourselves can be a signal that we need to practice self-compassion. When we see it in others, remembering this quote can help us respond from a place of kindness, rather than becoming judgmental or walking away.

The Rising Strong Process
That was a lot of wisdom from Brené in only one page! In the other 279 pages, she sets out a three-step process that we can use to pick ourselves up when we fall. Its elegant simplicity makes it easy to understand and remember. The challenge begins when we actually try to live it, with the mud fresh on our faces.

The Reckoning
This is where we get curious and decide to write our own story. (When we realize the alternative is letting others write our story and determine our worth, taking the reins becomes very appealing.) According to Brown, the reckoning means “1) engaging with our feelings, and 2) getting curious about the story behind those feelings.” For those of us who were taught not to wear our hearts on our sleeves or not to show weakness, this can be challenging. Applying this in our lives means we stop hiding behind blame, criticism, and judgment. We move beyond our fear of difficult emotions. According to Brown’s research, when we feel good about ourselves, we judge others less, so judging others actually says more about how we see ourselves than about the other person. See what I mean about the practice being much harder than understanding the concept intellectually?

The Rumble
Brown suggests that we engage in the process of “rumbling” with our stories by answering these three questions:

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 situation?
3. What more do I need to learn and understand about myself?

It’s good to ask ourselves these questions because, without these data points, we sometimes just make it up. Really, research shows this to be true. Brown cites a study that Jonathan Gottschall includes in his book The Storytelling Animal: Shoppers were asked which pair out of seven pairs of socks they liked best; even though all the socks were identical, each person picked out one pair and made up minor differences, like stitching, color, or softness. None of them said, “Gee, I don’t know.” They made their choice, then justified it to themselves. While this is not problematic when sock shopping, it shows how, if we don’t bother to think through the answers to these three questions, we might just fill in the blanks with made-up stuff. I’d prefer to fill them with honest introspection.

The Revolution
In Brown’s words, “We are authors of our own lives. We write our own daring endings.”

Brown names the third and final step the “revolution” because living into the reckoning and the rumble can lead to revolutionary, transformational change, in ourselves and in those around us. She spends less time on this part, because it’s not about the end result; it’s about the messy work of getting there. Is radical transformation possible through this process? I don’t know, I’m not there yet. But the possibility of a revolution will have me reckoning and rumbling long after the reindeer have come and gone.

So, let’s get ready to rumble! Join us for our virtual book discussion at 7:30 pm EST, Monday, January 4, 2016. We’ll have a special guest: Dr. Maria Sirois, WBI’s Vice President of Curriculum, who offers the Teaching for Transformation course beginning February 23, 2016. An expert on resilience, she also teaches Crafting the Resilient Life, at Kripalu beginning February 1, 2016.

Dial in: 323-476-3997
Conference ID: 218555#
International dial-in numbers click here.

Find out more about WBI’s virtual book discussion group.

Mina Simhai earned her Certificate in Positive Psychology from the Wholebeing Institute, and currently serves as a teaching assistant for CiPP4. She is a recovering lawyer turned yoga teacher and mother. Her latest project is bringing the tools of positive psychology to lawyers and others in the DC area and across the country. Her top strengths are judgment, love of learning, curiosity, love, and appreciation of beauty. Mina is an avid reader and looks forward to launching the WBI Book Club with you.