After watching her TEDx talk on vulnerability and listening to her podcast with Tim Ferriss I decided to read Brene Brown's book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.
Below are my highlights from this book. Note that the emphasis is mine, that some small parts were changed to turn them into sentences and that all errors are probably mine :-).
How much we know and understand ourselves is critically important, but there is something that is even more essential to living a Wholehearted life: loving ourselves.
Introduction: Wholehearted Living
Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.
Courage, Compassion, and Connection: The Gifts of Imperfection
Practicing courage, compassion, and connection in our daily lives is how we cultivate worthiness.
Courage is one of the most important qualities that Wholehearted people have in common.
Speaking honestly and openly about who we are, about what we’re feeling, and about our experiences (good and bad) is the definition of courage.
Every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little braver. And our world could stand to be a little kinder and braver.
In her book The Places That Scare You, Chödrön writes, “When we practice generating compassion, we can expect to experience the fear of our pain. Compassion practice is daring. It involves learning to relax and allow ourselves to move gently toward what scares us.”
If we ask our kids to keep their clothes off the floor and they know that the only consequence of not doing it is a few minutes of yelling, it’s fair for them to believe that it’s really not that important to us. It’s hard for us to understand that we can be compassionate and accepting while we hold people accountable for their behaviors.
The key is to separate people from their behaviors—to address what they’re doing, not who they are.
I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.
Until we can receive with an open heart, we are never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgment to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgment to giving help.
Exploring the Power of Love, Belonging, and Being Enough
If we want to fully experience love and belonging, we must believe that we are worthy of love and belonging.
Here’s what is truly at the heart of Wholeheartedness: Worthy now. Not if. Not when. We are worthy of love and belonging now. Right this minute. As is.
Love: We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness, and affection. Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them—we can only love others as much as we love ourselves. Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed, and rare. Belonging: Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.
Practicing self-love means learning how to trust ourselves, to treat ourselves with respect, and to be kind and affectionate toward ourselves.
When we don’t practice love with the people we claim to love, it takes a lot out of us. Incongruent living is exhausting.
The Things That Get in the Way
If we really want to live a joyful, connected, and meaningful life, live and love with our whole hearts, and if we want to engage with the world from a place of worthiness, we have to talk about the things that get in the way—especially shame, fear, and vulnerability.
Here are the first three things that you need to know about shame: We all have it. Shame is universal and one of the most primitive human emotions that we experience. The only people who don’t experience shame lack the capacity for empathy and human connection. We’re all afraid to talk about shame. The less we talk about shame, the more control it has over our lives. Shame is basically the fear of being unlovable—it’s the total opposite of owning our story and feeling worthy.
Shame resilience is the ability to recognize shame, to move through it constructively while maintaining worthiness and authenticity, and to ultimately develop more courage, compassion, and connection as a result of our experience. The first thing we need to understand about shame resilience is that the less we talk about shame, the more we have it.
Shame needs three things to grow out of control in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment.
Guilt = I did something bad. Shame = I am bad.
Guilt is just as powerful as shame, but its effect is often positive while shame often is destructive. When we see people apologize, make amends, or replace negative behaviors with more positive ones, guilt is often the motivator, not shame. In fact, in my research, I found that shame corrodes the part of us that believes we can change and do better.
Guidepost #1 - Cultivating Authenticity: Letting Go of What People Think
Often people attempt to live their lives backwards: they try to have more things, or more money, in order to do more of what they want so that they will be happier. The way it actually works is the reverse. You must first be who you really are, then do what you really need to do, in order to have what you want. — Margaret Young
Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.
Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are. Choosing authenticity means cultivating the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable; exercising the compassion that comes from knowing that we are all made of strength and struggle; and nurturing the connection and sense of belonging that can only happen when we believe that we are enough.
Yes, there can be authenticity growing pains for the people around us, but in the end, being true to ourselves is the best gift we can give the people we love. When I let go of trying to be everything to everyone, I had much more time, attention, love, and connection for the important people in my life.
Katherine Center says, “You have to be brave with your life so that others can be brave with theirs.”
Guidepost #2 - Cultivating Self-Compassion: Letting Go of Perfectionism
Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame.
Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval and acceptance.
Healthy striving is self-focused— How can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focused— What will they think?
Exploring our fears and changing our self-talk are two critical steps in overcoming perfectionism.
So, if we want to live and love with our whole hearts, how do we keep perfectionism from sabotaging our efforts? When I interviewed women and men who were engaging with the world from a place of authenticity and worthiness, I realized that they had a lot in common regarding perfectionism. First, they spoke about their imperfections in a tender and honest way, and without shame and fear. Second, they were slow to judge themselves and others.
self-compassion has three elements: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness
- Self-kindness: Being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.
- Common humanity: Common humanity recognizes that suffering and feelings of personal inadequacy are part of the shared human experience—something we all go through rather than something that happens to “me” alone.
- Mindfulness: Taking a balanced approach to negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. Mindfulness requires that we not “over-identify” with thoughts and feelings, so that we are caught up and swept away by negativity.
Perfectionism never happens in a vacuum. It touches everyone around us. We pass it down to our children, we infect our workplace with impossible expectations, and it’s suffocating for our friends and families. Thankfully, compassion also spreads quickly. When we’re kind to ourselves, we create a reservoir of compassion that we can extend to others. Our children learn how to be self-compassionate by watching us, and the people around us feel free to be authentic and connected.
Our imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together. Imperfectly, but together.
Guidepost #3 - Cultivating a Resilient Spirit: Letting Go of Numbing and Powerlessness
Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning, and purpose to our lives.
From this foundation of spirituality, three other significant patterns emerged as being essential to resilience:
- Cultivating hope
- Practicing critical awareness
- Letting go of numbing and taking the edge off vulnerability, discomfort, and pain
Hope happens when:
- We have the ability to set realistic goals (I know where I want to go).
- We are able to figure out how to achieve those goals, including the ability to stay flexible and develop alternative routes (I know how to get there, I’m persistent, and I can tolerate disappointment and try again).
- We believe in ourselves (I can do this!).
Hope is learned!
To learn hopefulness, children need relationships that are characterized by boundaries, consistency, and support.
Tolerance for disappointment, determination, and a belief in self are the heart of hope.
Most of us engage in behaviors (consciously or not) that help us to numb and take the edge of off vulnerability, pain, and discomfort. Addiction can be described as chronically and compulsively numbing and taking the edge off of feelings. We cannot selectively numb emotions. When we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.
- A = Have I been Abstinent today? (However you define that—I find it a little more challenging when it comes to things like food, work, and the computer.)
- E = Have I Exercised today?
- I = What have I done for myself today?
- O = What have I done for Others today?
- U = Am I holding on to Unexpressed emotions today?
- Y = Yeah! What is something good that’s happened today?
Guidepost #4 - Cultivating Gratitude and Joy: Letting Go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark
Without exception, every person I interviewed who described living a joyful life or who described themselves as joyful, actively practiced gratitude and attributed their joyfulness to their gratitude practice. Both joy and gratitude were described as spiritual practices that were bound to a belief in human interconnectedness and a power greater than us. People were quick to point out the differences between happiness and joy as the difference between a human emotion that’s connected to circumstances and a spiritual way of engaging with the world that’s connected to practicing gratitude.
So, what does a gratitude practice look like? The folks I interviewed talked about keeping gratitude journals, doing daily gratitude meditations or prayers, creating gratitude art, and even stopping during their stressful, busy days to actually say these words out loud: “I am grateful for …” When the Wholehearted talk about gratitude, there are a whole bunch of verbs involved. It seems that gratitude without practice may be a little like faith without works—it’s not alive.
//]: # "BOOKMARK"
When I’m flooded with fear and scarcity, I try to call forward joy and sufficiency by acknowledging the fear, then transforming it into gratitude. I say this out loud: “I’m feeling vulnerable. That’s okay. I’m so grateful for ____________.” Doing this has absolutely increased my capacity for joy.
Guidepost #5 - Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith: Letting Go of the Need for Certainty
As I mentioned earlier, if we learn to trust our intuition, it can even tell us that we don’t have a good instinct on something and that we need more data.
Intuition is not a single way of knowing—it’s our ability to hold space for uncertainty and our willingness to trust the many ways we’ve developed knowledge and insight, including instinct, experience, faith, and reason.
Faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty.
//]: # "BOOKMARK"
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Guidepost #6 - Cultivating Creativity: Letting Go of Comparison
“I’m not very creative” doesn’t work. There’s no such thing as creative people and non-creative people. There are only people who use their creativity and people who don’t. Unused creativity doesn’t just disappear. It lives within us until it’s expressed, neglected to death, or suffocated by resentment and fear. The only unique contribution that we will ever make in this world will be born of our creativity. If we want to make meaning, we need to make art. Cook, write, draw, doodle, paint, scrapbook, take pictures, collage, knit, rebuild an engine, sculpt, dance, decorate, act, sing—it doesn’t matter. As long as we’re creating, we’re cultivating meaning.
//]: # "BOOKMARK"
Letting go of comparison is not a to-do list item. For most of us, it’s something that requires constant awareness. It’s so easy to take our eyes off our path to check out what others are doing and if they’re ahead or behind us. Creativity, which is the expression of our originality, helps us stay mindful that what we bring to the world is completely original and cannot be compared. And, without comparison, concepts like ahead or behind or best or worst lose their meaning.
Guidepost #7 - Cultivating Play and Rest: Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self-Worth
A critically important component of Wholehearted living is play!
Play shapes our brain, helps us foster empathy, helps us navigate complex social groups, and is at the core of creativity and innovation
“The opposite of play is not work—the opposite of play is depression.” He explains, “Respecting our biologically programmed need for play can transform work. It can bring back excitement and newness to our job. Play helps us deal with difficulties, provides a sense of expansiveness, promotes mastery of our craft, and is an essential part of the creative process. Most important, true play that comes from our own inner needs and desires is the only path to finding lasting joy and satisfaction in our work. In the long run, work does not work without play.”
//]: # "BOOKMARK"
If we want to live a Wholehearted life, we have to become intentional about cultivating sleep and play, and about letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth.
//]: # "BOOKMARK"
“When things are going really well in our family, what does it look like?” The answers included sleep, working out, healthy food, cooking, time off, weekends away, going to church, being present with the kids, a sense of control over our money, meaningful work that doesn’t consume us, time to piddle, time with family and close friends, and time to just hang out.
Guidepost #8 - Cultivating Calm and Stillness: Letting Go of Anxiety as a Lifestyle
Unless we had calm modeled by our parents and grew up practicing it, it’s unlikely that it will be our default response to anxious or emotionally volatile situations. For me, breathing is the best place to start. Just taking a breath before I respond slows me down and immediately starts spreading calm. Sometimes I actually think to myself, I’m dying to freak out here! Do I have enough information to freak out? Will freaking out help? The answer is always no.
//]: # "BOOKMARK"
//]: # "BOOKMARK"
From meditation and prayer to regular periods of quiet reflection and alone time, men and women spoke about the necessity of quieting their bodies and minds as a way to feel less anxious and overwhelmed.
In our increasingly complicated and anxious world, we need more time to do less and be less. When we first start cultivating calm and stillness in our lives, it can be difficult, especially when we realize how stress and anxiety define so much of our daily lives. But as our practices become stronger, anxiety loses its hold and we gain clarity about what we’re doing, where we’re going, and what holds true meaning for us.
Guidepost #9 - Cultivating Meaningful Work: Letting Go of Self-Doubt and “Supposed To”
We all have gifts and talents. When we cultivate those gifts and share them with the world, we create a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives. Squandering our gifts brings distress to our lives. As it turns out, it’s not merely benign or “too bad” if we don’t use the gifts that we’ve been given; we pay for it with our emotional and physical well-being. When we don’t use our talents to cultivate meaningful work, we struggle. We feel disconnected and weighed down by feelings of emptiness, frustration, resentment, shame, disappointment, fear, and even grief. Most of us who are searching for spiritual connection spend too much time looking up at the sky and wondering why God lives so far away. God lives within us, not above us. Sharing our gifts and talents with the world is the most powerful source of connection with God. Using our gifts and talents to create meaningful work takes a tremendous amount of commitment, because in many cases the meaningful work is not what pays the bills. Some folks have managed to align everything—they use their gifts and talents to do work that feeds their souls and their families; however, most people piece it together. No one can define what’s meaningful for us. Culture doesn’t get to dictate if it’s working outside the home, raising children, lawyering, teaching, or painting. Like our gifts and talents, meaning is unique to each one of us.
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Make a list of the work that inspires you. Don’t be practical. Don’t think about making a living; think about doing something you love. There’s nothing that says you have to quit your day job to cultivate meaningful work. There’s also nothing that says your day job isn’t meaningful work—maybe you’ve just never thought of it that way. What’s your ideal slash? What do you want to be when you grow up? What brings meaning to you?
Guidepost #10 - Cultivating Laughter, Song, and Dance: Letting Go of Being Cool and “Always in Control”
Dance like no one is watching. Sing like no one is listening. Love like you’ve never been hurt and live like it’s heaven on Earth. — MARK TWAIN
If we believe that laughter, song, and dance are essential to our soul-care, how do we make sure that we hold space for them in our lives? One thing that we’ve started doing is turning on music in the kitchen while we do a family cleanup after supper. We dance and sing, which in turn, always leads to a good laugh.