I have learned many powerful lessons from Brené Brown who is a storyteller, researcher and professor in the University of Houston’s social work program. Brené studies vulnerability, shame, courage, empathy and leadership and has published insightful books and videos that have really resonated with me. Here are 10 lessons from Brené Brown that have greatly benefited me. I hope they resonate with you too.
Don’t bottle up your emotions, become self-aware and “reckon” with your emotions
Most of us have been told to hide our emotions or to keep a stoic profile at some point in our lives. However, this causes nothing but continuous pain and stress. Brown states: “when we deny our stories and disengage from tough emotions, they don’t go away; instead, they own us, they define us.” In other words, the more we try to suppress our emotions, the more control they have over our thoughts and behaviour. Instead, Brown says we need to become more self-aware and explore our emotions, asking questions to get in touch with how we’re feeling and thinking in a given moment.
In her book Rising Strong, Brown writes that the only way to rise strong from adversity is to “reckon” with emotion. She outlines two steps to the reckoning process: engaging with your feelings and getting curious about the story behind your feelings. Engaging with your feelings simply means being aware that you are in the present moment feeling something. Maybe you want to hide from the situation; your stomach is tied up in knots; or you just fired off a snippy email to a co-worker. You’re having an emotional reaction.
Getting curious is potentially more complicated. You can ask yourself: Why am I being so hard on everyone today? Or, what’s setting me off?
Asking these questions and reckoning with your emotions is a great way to develop your self-awareness and to embrace your emotions.
Seek excellence, not perfection
Brown says perfectionism is, “the belief that if we live perfectly, look perfectly and act perfectly, we can avoid the pain of blame, judgment and shame.” I’m a perfectionist and this isn’t necessarily a good thing.
According to Brown, perfectionism isn’t about growth, improvement, or personal achievement, it’s about fear and avoidance. Therefore, Brown believes that what we should really be focused on is realizing excellence, the best version of ourselves despite our flaws. This has been a major lesson for me – a lesson that is healthier and leads to real personal growth as opposed to a rosy-glassed perspective of perfectionism.
Setting boundaries is about having the courage to love yourself.
As a people-pleaser I am sometimes influenced by what others want or expect from me. Brown states “daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” This means putting our own self-care first and setting better boundaries.
Being clear is kind and being unclear is unkind
I think we sometimes fall into the trap of being unclear or vague for the sake of “niceness” and to avoid conflict and the potential of hurting someone’s feelings. However, one lesson I’ve learned from Brené Brown is that “being clear is kind and being unclear is unkind.” Brown’s research revealed that most of us avoid clarity because we tell ourselves we’re being kind; when what we’re actually doing is being unkind and unfair. In her book Dare to Lead, Brown makes these four points:
- Feeding people half-truths or bulls**t to make them feel better (which is almost always about making ourselves feel more comfortable) is unkind.
- Not getting clear with a colleague about expectations because it feels too hard, yet holding them accountable or blaming them for not delivering, is unkind.
- Talking about people rather than to them is unkind
- It’s easier than a tough conversation to say “Got it, on it” and run.
When I read these, I recognised these tendencies in myself and that I was actually being unkind when I thought I was being nice. This has been a huge lesson for me, and now I’ve really pushed myself to have clear courageous conversations with others – which I now know is kinder.
What other people think of you is none of your business.
“I carry a small sheet of paper in my wallet that has written on it the names of people whose opinions of me matter. To be on that list, you have to love me for my strengths and struggles.” ~ Brené Brown
This really resonated with me, as the truth is there are only about five people in my life whose opinions of me matter – and they are the people who love me for my strengths and flaws. I often fall into the trap of worrying about what people think about me and nowadays when I do I remind myself of the people whose opinions actually matter to me.
Feedback is required for mastery
“If you’re occasionally getting your butt kicked…and…you’re also figuring out how to stay open to feedback without getting pummeled by insults, I’m more likely to pay attention to your thought[s]…On the other hand, [if] you’re not helping, contributing, or wrestling with your own gremlins, I’m not…interested in your commentary.” – Dr. Brené Brown
Brown says that feedback is required for mastery. Let’s face it, receiving feedback is tough. It stings. And for those of us who aren’t used to rejection, it can feel like a total blow to one’s ego. However, Brown acknowledges that receiving feedback is a vulnerable experience and one that is important to the growth of the giver and receiver, and for addressing conflicts and problems. Being open to feedback is a hard but vital lesson.
Lead from the heart, not from hurt
In her work with business leaders, Brown sees one pattern repeating itself. “Many people lead from a place of hurt and smallness, and they use their position of power to try to fill that self-worth gap,” she says.
Whether it’s trouble in a relationship or personal self-doubt, these elements of hurt can fall on the people around us. Leading from the heart is about examining our own issues, working through them and leading from a place of curiosity and forgiveness. You can read more about leading from the heart, not from hurt on Brown’s blog post.
Review and take control of your story
Brown states “the story you tell yourself is often a stormy first draft.” In other words you might not be seeing a situation or incident clearly as your perspectives may be clouded by emotion or bias. Brown says:
“If I could give men and women in relationship and leaders and parents one hack, I would give them, ‘the story I’m making up,’” “Basically, you’re telling the other person your reading of the situation — and simultaneously admitting that you know it can’t be 100% accurate.” This is a great strategy as it’s honest, it’s transparent, and it’s vulnerable.
If there are issues or thoughts you can’t talk about, Brown encourages people to get those fears and negative thoughts out of your mind by writing them down and then revising them to create a better story. According to Brown’s research our brains are hardwired to recognise a narrative; it wants a story, without regard to accuracy.
So when self-doubt and negative thoughts take over your mind’s narrative, your brain will believe it. That’s why Brown states “don’t let your story run away from you…[instead] be the author of your story.”
“Vulnerability is not weakness. It’s the most accurate measurement of courage.”
According to Brown, vulnerability is the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome.
“If you’re brave with your life and with your work, you are going to get your butt kicked. That’s the physics of vulnerability…The bravest among us will always know heartbreak.”
Nothing’s harder or more painful than not being yourself — so be authentic.
“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,” – Brené Brown
The final and perhaps most important lesson of all is that you must dare to be yourself– at whatever the cost. The forces of fear, insecurity, and doubt will never truly go away no matter how hard you try to avoid, hide from, or attempt to bury them. Instead, face them with courage and confidence in your authentic self and know that who you are is a treasure worth valuing.