Brand New Kind of Conditioning

In early March right at the onset of the pandemic, Brene Brown launched her Unlocking Us podcast series and gave us a name for what we were collectively experiencing – an FFT — Freaking First Time. It is one of the tools that she offers to us for dealing with change, especially unwanted change. The tool is – Name It. Brene gave us a very fitting name for our shared experience of overwhelming uncertainty —Freaking First Time.

Very recently, Brene went back to FFT’s — to revisit and revise the tools we can use to help us through FFT’s. We have now collectively lived through the pandemic FFT for 9 months, and even dealt with a few more FFT’s throughout 2020. What have we learned? What new information can help us? Can we do better in the future? Brene has added a key element to the 4 tools for dealing with FFT’s — getting into fit FFT condition. (Stick with me and I will share more about this at the end of my post.)

This recent podcast conversation resonated so deeply with me I could feel it in my bones. When I committed to some personal transformation five years ago, I was driven by a desire to be mentally sturdy, physically strong and emotionally grounded to meet whatever life would throw at me in my best possible ways. At the time, I could look on the horizon and see some obvious events — the birth of grandchildren and their mini-milestones, weddings and anniversaries, possible health issues, the reality of losing people I had loved all my life. What I could never have imagined was a global pandemic and subsequent quarantine.

At the onset of the pandemic, I recall feeling deep gratitude for making that commitment 5 years prior — and for sticking with it. I had a sense that I would be needed in ways I never imagined for family, friends and community. Though I was feeling up to the challenge, there was a strong inkling that I would be tested often. There were times over this past year when my family and friends felt like the tsunami-sized waves of events, emotions, crisis, weariness and information overload would just not stop. It seems we all ebbed and flowed at different times and that enabled us to stay afloat. For the record, all those “normal” events I had envisioned years ago did still happen — in spite of– and in sync with — a pandemic. Many of those normal life events were amplified in ways that made emotions run so much deeper than normal.

What served as both anchor and buoy for me over this past year was a renewed commitment to taking care of myself through mindfulness, meditation, and education. Fortunately for me, there was a plethora of incredible resources to tap into — books, podcasts, Zoom writing classes and book clubs, free meditation courses, enneagram workshops, great TV shows and documentaries. I have read more books and listened to more podcasts this year than in any other year of my life. If I were to measure my growth spurts, the chart would have to be tall, wide and deep to capture all of it.

There were a few remarkable observations that surfaced over this past year. The first observation was about the evolving transformation of “self-help”. What once was a small section in the bookstore has grown into a mainstream category of personal development that recognizes mental health and emotional regulation as significant as physical health and nutrition.

That lead me to my second observation. The career trajectory of my “go-to” teachers for personal development is on a fast track — and rising. ( Dr. Brene Brown, Ian Morgan Cron, Dr. Rick Hanson, Elizabeth Lesser just to name a few.) Some have become household names, using multiple platforms to expand their outreach and their influence including books, podcasts, online webinars, zoom conferences, and apps. Since we were mostly stuck at home and clamoring onto these platforms, their followings started to grow exponentially.

The most exciting element for me was to witness the intermeshing of so many different disciplines and fields of research into this growing category of personal well being. There is a thread weaving its way through neuroscience, mindfulness, psychology, meditation, the enneagram and Brene’s encompassing body of work in shame, vulnerability, courage and empathy. I often hear or read one of these respected resources quote and reference each other! This expansion of research and tools for mental health, psychological wellbeing and whole-hearted living is a groundbreaking game changer for humanity.

The big “aha” came as I witnessed the immersion occurring — all of these personal transformation resources are weaving their way into business, the arts, activism, civic and social entities, education and counseling. Just listen to some of the engaging, dynamic interviews on podcasts like Dare to Lead, Unlocking Us, Being Well, and Typology. The guests on these programs willingly share the connections they are discovering with the interlocking of personal development and business strategies. Listening to these stimulating conversations over the course of the quarantine, was the perfect antidote to the anxiety-inducing news stream. There are so many incredible people out there making it work, making a difference and willing to dive into really mess stuff to figure it all out. These podcast conversations always left me feeling better and stirred a desire to learn more. Across the board in all these diverse podcast subjects, there is an uplifting energy and impassioned curiosity that is driving fresh perspectives, innovation and meaningful, sustainable change.

This last observation is the one that really underscores just how much progress is being made in removing stigma around mental health and the “woo-woo” factor of meditation. The dynamic public conversations around so many diverse subjects are rich with self-awareness, groundedness, curiosity, hope — and the ability to laugh at one’s self. They are relatable and appealing — to everyone regardless of gender, age or ethnicity.

I now find myself regularly sharing podcast episodes with my sons, my son-in-law, my daughter and my friends. Trust me, when I first was listening to Ted Talks and mindful programs, none of my adult kids were even slightly interested in checking any of them out. At best I had two friends at that time that might have investigated the links. Now my kids tease me that I was woman ahead of my time.

The reason that I find all of these resources and their invaluable tools so relevant and so timely is that I firmly believe we will never return to our old normal. The reality is that life is uncertain and it’s unpredictable. Each of us can reflect on our personal experiences and admit that truth. Here is a passage from Jim Collins in his latest book, Beyond Entrepreneurship 2.0:

Historian, Edward T. O’Donnell, noted that History is the study of surprises. “This line captures the world in which we live. We’re living history — surprise after surprise after surprise and just when we think we’ve had all the big surprises for a while along comes another one.  If the first two decades of the 21st century have taught us anything it is that uncertainty is chronic, instability is permanent, disruption is common and we can neither predict nor govern events.  There will be no new normal.  They will only be a continuous series of not normal episodes, defying prediction and unforeseen by most of us until they happen.Jim Collins, renowned researcher, author and consultant on business management, corporate sustainability and growth.

So how can we best be prepared for whatever lies ahead, or for that matter what continues to unfold around us in this very moment? Jim Collins told Brene during his recent interview on Dare to Lead that her big contribution to all of us is that she gives us workable, meaningful tools to employ. She doesn’t just do the research and reveal all that she has discovered, she helps us break it down, work on it and do better.

What took my breath away when I listened to her podcast about getting in fit FFT condition was this big connection — she said and felt the same things I felt five years ago. She could feel the strong urge to live a life that prepared her for discomfort, awkwardness and discombobulation.

Here are the tools Brene offers for navigating Freaking First Times and the inevitable chronic uncertainty that unfolds in our individual lives and collectively:

  • Name It
  • Give It Perspective
  • Reality Check Expectations
  • Build in Rest and Recovery
  • Stay in Fit “FFT” Condition

In naming it, Brene is expanding on a tool used in meditation to help us reframe racing thoughts and the inevitable steaming locomotive that can get us off track. For me, it is about accepting reality. It also frees us to fully feel and honor whatever emotions are showing up.

By giving it perspective, we can see if we’ve overated something as a 10, when in reality it might only be a 2. Most of what we deal with is not permanent. She reminds us to reflect on our lives and say to ourselves -“I have evidence that I have made it through difficult times.”

Reality checking our expectations means “getting real” and avoid getting stuck in wanting things to be different or relying on wishful thinking.

Building in rest and recovery is a big one. Too often, we overload ourselves to the point of exhaustion. We even judge ourselves as lazy if we take some down time. Sleep is the very best thing we can do for our brain. Brene even goes so far as to say that sleep is self respect, a way of showing appreciation to our minds.

Get and stay in FFT condition is personal — and its up to each of us to determine what that means for us. Brene defines hers as a spiritual condition and it includes working out, meditation or prayer, alone time, connection with others and giving. Think of it as giving yourself the best conditions in which to thrive and develop resilience.

As always, I am going to share the links to some of my favorite podcasts, especially the ones that inspired this post. I continue to be encouraged with the individual personal development work so that many people are actively doing — and openly talking about in genuine, relatable conversations. It is our shared stories that foster healing and offer so much encouragement to others. Our connections and shared humanity is the glue that keeps us together and moving forward.


Unlocking Us (Brene Brown) on Spotify

Dare To Lead (Brene Brown) on Spotify

Being Well (Rick and Forrest Hanson) on Spotify

Typology (Ian Morgan Cron) on YouTube


Cassandra Speaks, authored by Elizabeth Lesser

Beyond Entrepreneurship 2.0, authored by Jim Collins

When the Heart Waits, authored by Sue Monk Kidd


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Inspired New Horizons

I am blogging about reinventing myself in my retirement years as an independent woman free to fully enjoy life's adventures, while practicing mindfulness and discovering my life's purposes.

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