Mindset Masters: Brene Brown

by | May 1, 2020

It’s time for another instalment of my blog series Mindset Masters. I hope you’ve been enjoying the series so far.

This month, I’m looking at Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.

Daring Greatly by Brene BrownBrené Brown, PhD is a research professor at the University of Houston. She has spent the last two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy, and is the author of four Number 1 New York Times bestsellers.

In Daring Greatly, Brown offers a transformative new vision for the way we lead, love, work, parent, and educate – that teaches us the power of vulnerability.

In my podcast, I cover the entire book in more detail, and consider how Brown’s ideas can make a difference to us in later life. In this blog, I’ve taken one of the ideas: the ‘vulnerability armory’, as I thought it would be of particular interest to you.

To set the scene, early on in the book, Brown talks about how “enough” is the opposite of scarcity and that the properties of scarcity are shame, comparison, and disengagement. Shame, comparison, and disengagement feature prominently in retirement and that is why it is being shared here with you. Well, it appears that believing that we’re enough is the way out of the armor. It gives us permission to take off the mask. This lay at the core of every strategy illuminated by research participants, for freeing themselves from their armor:

– I am enough
– I’ve had enough
– Showing up, taking risks, and letting myself be seen is enough.

Brown has practiced the following strategies on her own and she knows that they are life-savers. Three forms of shielding form part of the common vulnerability arsenal: Foreboding joy, Perfectionism and Numbing.

Shield 1: Foreboding Joy

Joy is probably the most difficult emotion to feel. Why? Because when we lose the ability or willingness to be vulnerable, joy becomes something we approach with deep foreboding. This shift from our younger self’s greeting of joy with unalloyed delight happens slowly and outside our awareness. We don’t even seem to know that it’s happening or why. We just know that we crave more joy in our lives, that we are joy-starved.

When she asked participants about the experiences that left them feeling the most vulnerable, she did not expect joy to be one of the answers. She was shocked to hear people say that they were at their most vulnerable when:

– Standing over my children while they’re asleep
– Acknowledging how much I love my husband/wife
– Loving my job
– Getting engaged
– Going into remission
– Falling in love

Practising gratitude can help you feel more joy in your life

When we spend our lives, knowingly or unknowingly, pushing away vulnerability, we can’t hold space open for the uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure of joy. For many of us, there’s even a physiological response – a coming out of our skin feeling.

The antidote? Practicing gratitude. The shudder of vulnerability that accompanies joy is an invitation to practice gratitude, to acknowledge how truly grateful we are for the person, the beauty, the connection.

Shield 2: Perfectionism

Perfectionism is not the path that leads us to our gifts and to our sense of purpose: it’s the hazard detour. After using data to bushwack her way through the myths, Brown developed the following definitions of perfectionism:

– Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system
– Perfectionism is self-destructive simply because it does not exist. It is an unattainable goal
– Perfectionism is addictive
– Perfectionism actually sets us up to feel shame.

We should embrace the beauty of imperfection

The antidote? Appreciating the beauty of ‘cracks’. If we want freedom from perfectionism, we have to make the long journey from “what will people think,” to “I am enough.” That journey begins with shame-resilience, self-compassion, and owning our stories.

We have to be willing to give ourselves a break and appreciate the beauty of our cracks or imperfections. There’s a quote she shares every time she talks about vulnerability. It’s from Leonard Cohen’s song, Anthem, and the words are: “There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in”.

Shield 3: Numbing

First, one of the most universal numbing strategies is what Brown calls crazy-busy. Second, statistics dictate that there are very few people who haven’t been affected by addiction. She believes we all numb our feelings.

Numbing vulnerability also dulls our experiences of joy, love, belonging, creativity, and empathy. We can’t selectively numb emotion: numb the dark and you numb the light. We need to examine the idea of ‘taking the edge off’ and that means considering the glasses of wine we drink while we’re cooking dinner.

The antidote? Setting boundaries, finding true comfort, and cultivating spirit. Research participants consistently talk about learning how to actually feel their feelings; staying mindful about numbing behaviours; and learning how to lean into the discomfort of hard emotions.

If we want to fully experience love and belonging, we must believe that we are worthy of love and belonging.

Daring Greatly gave me so much to think about when it comes to the advice I offer retiring baby boomers. You can hear further ideas from the book – and how they relate to retirement – in my podcast,  but I hope in the meantime this deep-dive into the idea of a ‘vulnerability armory’ has given you food for thought.

George Jerjian
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