The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown

The Gifts of Imperfection

RATING: 7/10…READ: January 6, 2012

I’ll admit, I am a sucker for these type of “self-help” books. I first heard of Brene Brown after her inspiring TED talk and this book is an extension of that. It’s a book that will teach you to accept your vulnerabilities whether you are a perfectionist, always trying to playing it cool, or are depressed. A very enjoyable uplifting read.

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I learned how to worry more about how I felt and less about “what people might think.” I was setting new boundaries and began to let go of my need to please, perform, and perfect. I started saying no rather than sure (and being resentful and pissed off later). I began to say “Oh, hell yes!” rather than “Sounds fun, but I have lots of work to do” or “I’ll do that when I’m _________ (thinner, less busy, better prepared).”

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.

Men and women who live Wholeheartedly do indeed DIG Deep. They just do it in a different way. When they’re exhausted and overwhelmed, they get Deliberate in their thoughts and behaviors through prayer, meditation, or simply setting their intentions; Inspired to make new and different choices; Going. They take action.

–One example happened just recently when I was lost in an Internet fog. Rather than working, I was just lulling myself into a haze by mindlessly playing on Facebook and piddling on the computer. It was neither relaxing nor productive—it was just a giant time and energy suck. I tried the new DIG Deep—get deliberate, inspired, and going. I told myself, “If you need to refuel and losing yourself online is fun and relaxing, then do it. If not, do something deliberately relaxing. Find something inspiring to do rather than something soul-sucking. Then, last but not least, get up and do it!” I closed my laptop, said a little prayer to remind myself to be self-compassionate, and watched a movie that had been sitting in a Netflix envelope on my desk for over a month. It was exactly what I needed.

Courage is like—it’s a habitus, a habit, a virtue: You get it by courageous acts. It’s like you learn to swim by swimming. You learn courage by couraging.

Courage originally meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.”

Its only been in the last few years that I’ve learned that playing down the exciting stuff doesn’t take the pain away when it doesn’t happen. It does, however, minimize the joy when it does happen. It also creates a lot of isolation. Once you’ve diminished the importance of something, your friends are not likely to call and say, “I’m sorry that didn’t work out. I know you were excited about it.”

One of the greatest (and least discussed) barriers to compassion practice is the fear of setting boundaries and holding people accountable. I know it sounds strange, but I believe that understanding the connection between boundaries, accountability, acceptance, and compassion has made me a kinder person. Before the breakdown, I was sweeter—judgmental, resentful, and angry on the inside—but sweeter on the outside. Today, I think I’m genuinely more compassionate, less judgmental and resentful, and way more serious about boundaries. I have no idea what this combination looks like on the outside, but it feels pretty powerful on the inside.

The key is to separate people from their behaviors—to address what they’re doing, not who they are .

One of the greatest barriers to connection is the cultural importance we place on “going it alone.” Somehow we’ve come to equate success with not needing anyone. Many of us are willing to extend a helping hand, but we’re very reluctant to reach out for help when we need it ourselves. It’s as if we’ve divided the world into “those who offer help” and “those who need help.” The truth is that we are both.

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.

Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.

To begin by always thinking of love as an action rather than a feeling is one way in which anyone using the word in this manner automatically assumes accountability and responsibility.

Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.

Children who use more shame self-talk (I am bad) versus guilt self-talk (I did something bad) struggle mightily with issues of self-worth and self-loathing.

Who do you become when you’re backed into that shame corner?

How do you protect yourself?

Who do you call to work through the mean-nasties or the cry-n-hides or the people-pleasing?

What’s the most courageous thing you could do for yourself when you feel small and hurt?

Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.

It’s easy to attack and criticize someone while he or she is risk- taking—voicing an unpopular opinion or sharing a new creation with the world or trying something new that he or she hasn’t quite mastered. Cruelty is cheap, easy, and rampant. It’s also chicken-shit. Especially when you attack and criticize anonymously—like technology allows so many people to do these days.

I think we should be born with a warning label similar to the ones that come on cigarette packages: Caution: If you trade in your authenticity for safety, you may experience the following: anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, rage, blame, resentment, and inexplicable grief.

Perfectionism is not self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval and acceptance. Most perfectionists were raised being praised for achievement and performance (grades, manners, rule-following, people-pleasing, appearance, sports). Somewhere along the way, we adopt this dangerous and debilitating belief system: I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfect. Healthy striving is self-focused—How can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focused—What will they think?

Sometimes it helps me to wake up in the morning and tell myself, “Today, I’m going to believe that showing up is enough.”

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.

When we experience something that is difficult and requires significant time and effort, we are quick to think, This is supposed to be easy; it’s not worth the effort, or, This should be easier: it’s only hard and slow because I’m not good at it. Hopeful self-talk sounds more like, This is tough, but I can do it.

When we are feeling shame, the camera is zoomed in tight and all we see is our flawed selves, alone and struggling. We think to ourselves, I’m the only one with a muffin-top? Am I the only one with a family who is messy, loud, and out of control? Am I the only one not having sex 4.3 times per week (with a Calvin Klein model)? Something is wrong with me. I am alone.

–When we zoom out, we start to see a completely different picture. We see many people in the same struggle. Rather than thinking, I’m the only one, we start thinking, I can’t believe it! You too? I’m normal? I thought it was just me! Once we start to see the big picture, we are better able to reality-check our shame triggers and the messages and expectations that we’re never good enough.

After years of research, I’m convinced that we all numb and take the edge off. The question is, does our _______________ (eating, drinking, spending, gambling, saving the world, incessant gossiping, perfectionism, sixty-hour workweek) get in the way of our authenticity? Does it stop us from being emotionally honest and setting boundaries and feeling like we’re enough? Does it keep us from staying out of judgment and from feeling connected? Are we using _____________ to hide or escape from the reality of our lives?

When we lose our tolerance for discomfort, we lose joy. In fact, addiction research shows us that an intensely positive experience is as likely to cause relapse as an intensely painful experience.

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?

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.

“What does it look like when you’re joyful and grateful, but not happy?” The answers were all similar: Happiness is tied to circumstance and joyfulness is tied to spirit and gratitude.

Joy nor happiness is constant; no one feels happy all of the time or joyful all of the time. Both experiences come and go. Happiness is attached to external situations and events and seems to ebb and flow as those circumstances come and go. Joy seems to be constantly tethered to our hearts by spirit and gratitude. But our actual experiences of joy—these intense feelings of deep spiritual connection and pleasure—seize us in a very vulnerable way.

The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.

“We seem to measure the value of people’s contributions (and sometimes their entire lives) by their level of public recognition. In other words, worth is measured by fame and fortune. Our culture is quick to dismiss quiet, ordinary, hardworking men and women. In many instances, we equate ordinary with boring or, even more dangerous, ordinary has become synonymous with meaningless.”

Intuition is not a single way of knowing—it’s our ability to hold space for uncertainty and our willingness to trust the many 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.

When I make creating a priority, everything in my life works better.

One of the best things that we’ve ever done in our family is making the “ingredients for joy and meaning” list. I encourage you to sit down and make a list of the specific conditions that are in place when everything feels good in your life. Then check that list against your to-do list and your to-accomplish list. It might surprise you.

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.

Laughter, song, and dance create emotional and spiritual connection; they remind us of the one thing that truly matters when we are searching for comfort, celebration, inspiration, or healing: We are not alone.

We hustle for our worthiness by slipping on the emotional and behavioral straitjacket of cool and posturing as the tragically hip and the terminally “better than.” Being “in control” isn’t always about the desire to manipulate situations, but often it’s about the need to manage perception. We want to be able to control what other people think about us so that we can feel good enough.

Betrayl is an important word with this guidepost. When we value being cool and in control over granting ourselves the freedom to unleash the passionate, goofy, heartfelt, and soulful expressions of who we are, we betray ourselves. When we consistently betray ourselves, we can expect to do the same to the people we love.