Shame Doesn’t Lead to Behaviour Change, Accountability Does

This morning on her podcast, Unlocking Us, Brené Brown published an episode called Brené on Words, Actions, Dehumanization, and Accountability. I think it’s an incredibly important listen.

Horrible things are happening right now. Horrible, destructive, violent acts of white supremacy. We’re also (understandably!) seeing and feeling a lot of shame and fear.

Brené does a wonderful job of explaining why although we so want to shame people, that “othering” doesn’t lead to behavioural change. Accountability does.

Shame drives things underground, and change and accountability don’t happen there. Maybe you’ve seen that in your own family systems (pushing down or ignoring bad behaviour, pretending something didn’t or isn’t happening). Like Brené mentions in the podcast, we can see this stuff play out in systems across every level of our society, from family units all the way up to national governments.

I’ve been spending time studying how what we’re seeing now is reflective of patterns that have played out across history, and these are some questions that are helping me:

  • What happened? Name it. (Which requires vulnerability)
  • What got us here? (Curiosity)
  • What would someone have to believe to act this way? (Empathy)
  • How could we design more just and resilient systems, where accountability is baked into the whole thing? (Creativity)

I’m working hard to develop a critical lens, to be a discerning consumer and a responsible builder. I’m full of questions and uncertainty, but I can tell you this:

I will not fight fear with fear.
I will not meet shame with shame.
I will not put another human below me and call that progress.

Photo is the cover of Elise Gravel’s book Not Bad, seen in the window of Queen Books here in Toronto. Something about these words felt, you know, related ;).

Resistance vs Reluctance

Whether you’re leading a client or leading yourself, it’s helpful to be able to spot the difference between resistance and reluctance when faced with inaction.

Resistance is the fear we feel when we create something new. Steven Pressfield gives us this great rule of thumb: “The more important a call of action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.” We don’t act because we’re uncomfortable with the unknown and terrified of what might happen.

Reluctance is the unwillingness to do something. We don’t act because we’re simply not interested. Often, this is due to a lack of clarity or a misalignment between goals, actions, and values. Or, maybe we’ve changed our minds and want something different!

On the surface, they both look like inaction. But they’re caused by different things and thus need different treatment.

Getting clear on which you’re dealing with can help you ask better questions, provide better support, and get moving.

The Fundamentals of Marketing

What are we talking about when we talk about marketing? To me, a discussion of marketing is a conversation about a few core fundamentals. Namely:

1. Attention

How do we get it and what do we do with it once we have it?

2. Trust

How do we earn and maintain it? What’s the promise we’re making and how do we show up to it?

3. Perspective

Having a brand means having a point of view. What’s ours? How do we express it in everything that we build and do?

And when it comes to our audience, how do they see the world? How can we meet them where they are?

4. Resonance

Good marketing resonates. It’s pre-verbal. How can we communicate in a way that leverages all of the senses, connecting us with and to our full selves?

5. Responsibility

It’s a privilege to show up and advocate for a group of people that trust you to lead the way. How can we, as Seth Godin says, make things better by making better things? How can we contribute by building something that’s inherently generative?

In short: how can we use what we have to do what we can?

What Matters Here?

I’ve heard Rob Bell say this on his podcast a few times and it’s become one of my favourite prompts.

What matters here?

I apply it across my personal and professional life, particularly when I’m feeling overwhelmed or stuck. It simultaneously anchors me in the big picture while revealing what the next right action is.

More than anything, this question is a call to presence. Much like meditation, it slows us down so that we can listen to what is. It reveals where the work is, both internally and externally, and shows us where we can put our care and attention.

Two very, very precious resources.

Creative Constraints

More options don’t always lead to better outcomes.

A blank slate at the beginning of a creative project sounds enticing, but often that excitement gives way to overwhelm and indecision. With so many possibilities, how do we move forward?

To get (or keep!) moving, it’s helpful to have constraints. Take options off the table. Give yourself limits, such as the amount of time or money you’ll spend on a project, or rules around how often, when, and where you’ll show up.

Giving your project limits frees you to get creative with what you do have.

Sometimes, narrowing one lens is the best way to open another.

Notes From The Valley

When we’re in the valley (see above—super fun), our downward spiraling thoughts tend to stem from two beliefs:

  1. I shouldn’t feel this way
  2. I’m alone in this

We’re scared and insecure and doubting ourselves…. and we believe we shouldn’t feel that way. Because if we were really an artist, if we were really an entrepreneur, if we were truly good enough or smart enough or talented enough… we believe there’s no way we would feel like this.

Which brings us to that feeling of being alone. Our brains have this lovely way (looking at you, shame) of convincing us we’re alone in this. That no one in the history of creative beings has ever felt this. No one could possibly understand. No one can help us hold this. Or, perhaps most insidious, that we’re not worthy of help.

Wherever you are in the valley and whatever meets you there, know that you’re not alone. It’s all part of the journey—everyone’s journey.

And remember:

Life is at work in these valleys, too.

What Are You Willing to Say No To?

To loosely quote Elizabeth Gilbert…

“It’s not just saying no to things you don’t want so that you can have the stuff you do. It’s saying no to the things you do want, but just don’t want as much.”

This is the hard bit. Sure, perhaps you can do all those projects. But would they all be the quality you want? Would doing it all give you the life you want?

Be clear about what you want from your work. Be honest if what you’re doing right now helps you get there.

Saying no—or no for now—is more than OK.

Get in Motion

Making a decision is hard. Probably because we’re hellbent on making the right decision. Thanks to some delightful evolutionary wiring in our brains, we’re convinced that the more we think about it or the more information we gather, the more likely we’ll be to get it right.

There’s some value in this, of course, but there’s a limit to what you can see from where you’re currently standing. At some point, you have to do more to know more. It’s the new experiences that lead to new data.

Often, it’s helpful to remember the following:

Change isn’t an intellectual exercise, it’s an experiential one.

When in doubt, get in motion.

Copywriting in the Wild #1

You can learn a lot about copywriting (and marketing!) by paying attention to what’s around you.

Have a look at this sign I saw outside of my local library. “Welcome back to your library.” Not the library, your library. By implying ownership, they’re creating a personal connection. Why is this important? Because we’re more likely to appreciate and care for things we think belong to us.

And this AirPods case…

It could say something as simple as “Made in China”—which would also be true—but it doesn’t. They want you to know it’s Designed by Apple in California. Because all of those words mean something—they represent the luxury and status we associate with the brand. They’re also aware that “Made in China” might have a negative connotation to their customers, so they’ve used the word Assembled.

Each word is deliberate. A cue that reinforces their brand—what you think and feel when you see an Apple product, buy your own, or see their logo.

A Question for Sunk Costs

It doesn’t matter how much time, money, or energy went into building the thing—is it still helping you get to where you want to go?

If yes, keep going.

If no, quit.

I’m facing this with one of my own creative projects right now. It’s been a significant part of my identity for most of the last decade, but it’s feeling like time to let go. Not because I don’t love it, or can’t do it, but because it doesn’t fit into what I want for myself now. We’ve gone as far as we can together. And that’s OK.