After finishing the last page of Brene Brown's book, The Gifts of Imperfection, I felt something I don't normally feel. Most books give me a sense of familiarity, the way I feel after a long pleasant conversation with someone I respect. But with Brene, it is a little different. I feel that I know her and can sense her; not in a new age-y sort of way, but in an, "I get you because you dare to call it like it is. I get you because you speak your heart." She draws conclusions from her decades of research and thousands of interviews and shares them with us, while generously exposing her own personal journey. She does a brilliant job.
Brene Brown noticed a marked distinction between those who were happy and those who were not. The pattern was clear. Those who were happy seemed to embrace life wholeheartedly. They didn't hold back; they were authentic and joyful. Here is a summary of her ideas that can help you to begin your own personal journey to embrace life wholeheartedly.
1. Cultivate Authenticity: Let go of what people think.
Being authentic is a daily practice of letting go of who we think we are supposed to be and embracing who we are. This means being imperfect, setting boundaries, being compassionate, and believing we are enough. e.e. Cummings wrote, "To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody but yourself- means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight- and never stop fighting." We are inherently bad at being what we are 'supposed to be,' and prodigies at being ourselves. Brown states, "'Staying real' is one of the most courageous battles that we'll never stop fighting." Go ahead, be you.
2. Cultivate Self-Compassion: Let go of perfectionism.
"Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. 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. It's a shield. Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it's the thing that's really preventing us from taking flight." Trying to measure up, be who every one wants you to be, is not self-improvement. It's about earning approval and acceptance, pleasing, performing, perfectly. Healthy self-improvement is motivated by what you think you need to improve. Perfectionism is motivated by worrying what others will think.
Curious about how self-compassionate you are? Take this quiz to find out.
3. Cultivate a Resilient Spirit: Let go of numbing and powerlessness.
Resilience is created by developing good problem-solving skills, seeking help, knowing how to cope with feelings, having social support available, and being connected to friends and family. And yet, above all else, the most important factor in being resilient is... drum roll please... spirituality. A connection to a power greater than oneself super-proofs you from the blows of life. It is also helpful to educate yourself on the effects of media. Remind yourself that trying to be like celebrities is a ridiculous waste of time.
Numbing yourself and 'taking the edge off' of pain gets in the way of becoming strong. Try to feel your feelings and understand that they will pass. You cannot selectively numb emotions. When you do things to avoid emotional pain, you remove the sweet, joyful emotions as well. "When we lose our tolerance for discomfort, we lose joy."
4. Cultivate Gratitude and Joy
Without exception, every person Brown interviewed who described living a joyful life practiced gratitude. Make a habit of being grateful. Often we hold back from intense joyful experiences. Why? Because they can bring vulnerability and intensity. We fear it won't last and we'll be knocked off our feet by an impending disaster. Brown points out, "Until we can tolerate vulnerability and transform it into gratitude, intense feelings of love will often bring up the fear of loss."
Practice feeling gratitude and tolerate the anxiety that sometimes accompanies gratitude; that is the path to joy.
5. Cultivate Intuition and Trusting Faith
Intuition is not about rejecting reasoning. It's more like a rapid-fire mental puzzle. The brain makes an observation and then scans its memories for a series of matches to get a "gut" feeling. Sometimes our rapid-fire thinking gives us an answer to follow our "gut." Yet, other times, it encourages us to go further, to seek out more facts. When we are able to trust our gut and go with the ambiguity that arises, we build our faith. Anne Lamott says, "The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty." Get comfortable with your gut; converse with it often; and trust its wisdom.
6. Cultivate Creativity
Make time to be creative. When we create, we make unique contributions to this world and create meaning. Take a class; find a community of like-minded creative people. It will enrich your life. It is not a waste of time. It is life original.
7. Cultivate Play and Rest
Folks who live wholeheartedly do a lot of fooling around, have fun, and hanging out. No matter your age, be playful. Create time to joke, socialize, and simply be spontaneous.
After all that playing, you'll be tired. Sleep well. Cross off something from your schedule and replace it with, "Nap." We do ourselves no service by burning the candle at both ends and living life while dangerously sleepy. Rest and sleep. You are human.
8. Cultivate Calm and Stillness
Experiencing quiet and still moments is when we open a space for feeling our gut, practicing gratitude, and sensing a connection with a higher power. Brown defines stillness this way. "[It's] not about focusing on nothingness; it's about creating a clearing. It's opening up an emotionally clutter-free space and allowing ourselves to feel and think and dream and question." So, turn off your devices and stop the rush of to-do lists to take a moment to be still. Practicing calmness is one of the most valuable tools I teach my clients. Harriet Lerner says, "Anxiety is extremely contagious, but so is calm." So, do you want to infect people with more anxiety or spread a calmness within yourself and to others surrounding you?
9. Cultivate Meaningful Work
We all have gifts and talents. When we squander our gifts we cause distress in our lives. You decide what is meaningful for you. It may translate into a job or it may not. Either way, it is important to cultivate and share what is meaningful to you. Additionally, sharing your talents with the world is one of the most powerful avenues of connection with a higher power.
10. Cultivate Laughter, Song, and Dance
Mark Twain said it all when he remarked, "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." Make jokes, dance in your kitchen, sing off-pitch. Go ahead, embarrass yourself or your kid. It's liberating to forget the judgments of others and do what your DNA calls you to.
As you embark on your journey to live life more wholeheartedly authnentically, you will begin to feel joy and a deep satisfaction through good times and bad. You will be living among the brave, something the majority of folks know little about. You will be different. Brown warns, "Choosing to live and love with our whole hearts is an act of defiance. You're going to confuse, piss off, and terrify lots of people-- including yourself. One minute you'll pray that the transformation stops, and the next minute you'll pray that it never ends. You'll also wonder how you can feel so brave and so afraid at the same time. At least that's how I feel most of the time... brave, afraid, and very, very alive."
To feeling alive,