Braving the Wilderness: A Mini Review

By Sasha Taskier, AMFT

I recently read Braving the Wilderness, Dr. Brené Brown’s newest book on the quest for true belonging in an era of emotional disconnection and political toxicity. I have long been a fan of Dr. Brown’s work; I try to reread her books Daring Greatly and Rising Strong every chance I get, and I am constantly recommending them to both clients and friends alike. I had very high hopes for her newest work, and let me tell you, it surpassed even my incredibly high expectations.

Here is a mini-review of the book, including reasons for its potency and relevance, and some of my favorite takeaways.

Brown explores to the rise of disconnection in our communities. She sees that our political parties have become gangs that leave no room for dissent amongst us. Perhaps more importantly, if we stay inside these bunkers, we lose the ability to connect with those on the outside. We are the most separated and siloed we have ever been, and despite being surrounded by the people who (likely) share our political beliefs, we are also the most lonely, isolated and disconnected we have ever been. So, while we may be gathered under the same bunkers of political ideology, we are really still alone.

Rather than continuing to stay in our bunkers and stonewalling (or fighting) with anyone who has a different belief than ours, Brown encourages us to learn to stand in the wilderness and begin to have the hard and painful conversations. Only through these moments of real connection can we better belong to ourselves and to one another.

To do this with any sort of success, Brown provides practices and tools that are meant to help us step into and become, what she calls “the wilderness”, both rooted deeply in our beliefs and integrity, and courageous enough to open ourselves to those around us even if we know it might not be popular opinion. We must choose courage over comfort and learn to embrace vulnerability. Both vulnerability and joy are the keys to true belonging.

Here are her tips for braving the wilderness:

  • Boundaries: Set/Hold/Respect them. The challenge is letting go of being liked and the fear of disappointing.
  • Reliability: Do not over commit or overpromise to please others or prove yourself.  Say what you mean and mean what you say.
  • Accountability: Issue meaningful apologies. Let go of blame and stay out of shame.
  • Vault: Share only what is yours to share. Stop using gossip to hotwire a quick connection with someone.
  • Integrity: Choose courage over comfort. Practice living in your values.
  • Generosity: Be honest and clear with others about what is ok and what is not.

Brown masterfully provides both research findings and anecdotes to better explain and unpack how these tools show up in our daily lives and why they are so integral to true belonging. One of my favorite sections from the book was a practice called: Hold Hands with Strangers.

She teaches that collective joy and pain are the cornerstones of human connection; “seek out moments of collective joy and show up for collective pain.” These are the moments that reinforce our human connection, such as concerts, sporting events and even movies where there is a palpable force of love and connection in the audience. Have you ever felt an experience of collective joy? For me, singing songs arm in arm with my best friends at my childhood summer camp triggers those memories. Even the joy I experienced at a Beyoncé concert, singing and dancing with strangers who loved her the same way I do. They were moments that, although maybe silly, made me feel hopeful about the goodness of people.

Moments of collective pain, such as funerals, or sitting with a friend who is grieving or hurting, are profoundly important - albeit much more difficult and uncomfortable. We need both.

Brown shares a study that examined the impact of collective assembly. The findings showed that these experiences “contribute to a life filled with sense of meaning, increased positive affect, increased sense of social connection, and decreased sense of loneliness. All essential components of a happy healthy life.” The best part is, they have a lingering effect; we hold onto these positive feelings past the events themselves.

Even since the rise of social media in the last decade, we have become simultaneously more connected and more isolated and lonely. Brown’s ultimate message resonates with me very deeply - if we want true, authentic belonging in this world, we first have to know who we are, what roots us and only then, can we turn outwards and engage with our friends and communities from a place of curiosity, vulnerability and shared humanity.

There are countless pieces of wisdom in this book, from conflict transformation tools to parenting advice, and its message could not be more important or relevant for our world today. So, pick up a copy - (and then talk to someone about it, in person!)

New Years Resolutions

By Sasha Taskier, AMFT

The new year stands before us, like a chapter in a book, waiting to be written. We can help write that story by setting goals.
— Melody Beattie

As the New Year approaches, I keep thinking about sitting down to write a lofty list of resolutions and intentions for 2017. The list sometimes feels endless: I want to break my sugar addiction. I want to heal relationships in my life that have gone unattended, or that have had conflict. I want to expand my gratitude practice. I want to find creative ways to give to causes I care about … I could go on and on about ways I want to feel better and be better in 2017.

People usually fall into two ‘camps’ of making resolutions: those who love to make lists, set goals and who find resolutions to be useful and empowering and those who feel like resolutions are a total waste of time, and usually set them up for disappointment or failure. (Of course, there is the secret third camp, those of us who are so exhausted from the year and so busy during the holiday season that the idea of sitting down to think about New Years resolutions is just not going to happen.)  

There is no denying that there is immense power in setting intentions. You can read about it in: ‘the power of your mind and setting intentions’ and ‘five steps to setting powerful intentions’. And, while I believe there is greatness in striving to be a better version of ones self, sometimes we’re not quite ready when the New Year rolls around. In fact, certain neuroscience research suggests that spreading out resolutions over time is the best recipe for success. No need to do it all at once!

A few tips for achieving your goals and making them more meaningful–

1.     Think about what you need more of this year. Talk about it with your therapist, your spouse and your friends. What brings you joy? What brings you peace? What combats your depression and/or anxiety? What is something you’ve wanted to tackle but haven’t gotten to yet? Start to make a list that serves you.

2.     Be specific with your goals. What does ‘getting in shape’ mean to you? What does it mean to ‘be healthier’? Choose specific things that you can stick to – like, practicing yoga twice a week, or finishing 3 water bottles every day.

3.     Measure progress. Perhaps this means writing down your progress in a journal, tracking it in an app, or creating milestones that you can use to track your progress. This feedback loop, hopefully, can act as a source of motivation.

4.     Share your intentions. Holding yourself accountable, in a more public way doesn’t mean you have to shout from the rooftops. You can share it with your friends, family, and/or therapist – and ask them to help support you in achieving a specific goal.

5.     Be patient and kind to yourself. This is hard stuff. We are all mere mortals. Be gentle, and remember that progress is not always a straight line, it can be forward, backwards and zig zagged.

There is a very tricky balancing act between pushing yourself to be better each year and being able to be gentle with yourself and remember, ‘I am enough – no matter what I do or don’t accomplish this year, I am enough.’ At the end of the day, no matter how much we achieve, if there isn’t some self-love attached to that self-motivation, it’s all for naught. (I love this manifesto by Jennifer Pastiloff)

So, to those of us who feel ready to tackle our intentions before the New Year, have at it! To those of us who set intentions and then slip up on the second day of the year, it’s ok. Mistakes do not mean that your intentions no longer count, or that you’ve failed. Keep going. And, to those of us just hanging on by a thread at the end of 2016: take a break; enjoy the holidays, catch up on your sleep, and reclaim your self-care. There is no reason you have to write your resolutions before January 1st, 2017. There is no rule that says you cannot write resolutions (or re-write them) in February, March, April, May, June, …or any other month of the year for that matter.

Perhaps you can keep this proverb in your back pocket and remember:

today is the first day of the rest of your life’ (Anonymous)

With that, wishing you a new year filled with motivation, love, care and peace.

Here are a few articles for inspiration for getting started & additional resources:

Self-compassion

Daily Resolutions

Ideas for resolutions

Resolutions from real people