Brené Brown’s Advice for When You Feel Like Shutting Down

Acknowledge that this is supposed to suck

Nicole Peeler
Forge
Published in
4 min readMar 25, 2020

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Photo: Cavan Images/Getty Images

II have no idea what the fuck I’m doing right now. I mean, I do in the sense that I know how to wake up, make my bed, brush my teeth, and pour my coffee. But then I look at my planner and see a sea of unfamiliarity: Zoom meetings in lieu of sitting around a table. Online courses rather than classrooms. FaceTime dinner dates instead of shared appetizers at my favorite local restaurants. I’m trying to get used to this new way of existing, but I’ve been struggling to settle in.

The other day, I listened to the first episode of Brené Brown’s new podcast Unlocking Us, and she summed up what I’ve been feeling — what we’re all feeling right now — with a single acronym: FFT. It stands for “Fucking First Time” and refers to anything we do for the first time: start a job at a new company, learn a new skill, or cope with a global pandemic.

An FFT is hard by nature — it’s our fucking first time. Bad feelings are normal whenever we do something we’ve never done before. But we often forget that. As Brown points out, for a lot of us who are at least middle-aged (which she defines as “38 to death”) and have a certain amount of privilege, we’ve organized our lives so that we’re rarely forced to experience FFTs. Unless tragedy strikes or we choose to do something out of our comfort zone, like take a pottery class or skydive, our days are filled with the familiar.

This isn’t because we’re boring or unimaginative, but because routines give our brains a sense of control over our little patch of the universe. As a fantasy novelist, I create new worlds, but I also have a planner to remind me of my very predictable daily schedule. Nowhere does it tell me how to deal with terrifying news reports, or connect with friends and family while social distancing, or keep moving forward when we don’t know what’s next.

Brown explains that we associate “uncomfortable” with “unsafe,” and even the most staid of us are feeling a lot of both right now. But we can begin to shift our perception of discomfort by doing a few things. First, Brown says we should “identify and name” our FFT. Say, “I’m really anxious about going to the store during a pandemic.” Or, “I’ve never homeschooled my kid. What the…

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