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10 Guideposts to Whole-Hearted Living

Updated: Aug 3, 2020

everything I've written below is based on Brene Brown's incredible work (I've read all her books and loved them.)

In Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection, she describes what it takes to live whole-heartedly; living and loving with your whole heart. Living whole-heartedly is not a one-time choice, but rather a process and a practice. It is a journey of a lifetime, and something we work on daily to integrate into our lifestyle and choices.

1. Letting go of what people think and cultivating authenticity

Being authentic is about the choice to show up, be real, and let ourselves be seen. Most people value being real, and appreciate when others are real with them.

Being authentic in a culture that wants us to “fit in” and “people-please” is hard work.

Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are. It takes vulnerability, which can be difficult, but sacrificing who we are for the sake of what other people think just isn’t worth it.

Obviously, I love and live by this one, and named my practice Authentic Living as a result.

2. Letting go of perfectionism and cultivating self-compassion

Perfectionism is not the same thing as healthy striving/achievement and growth, or self-improvement. Perfectionism is trying to gain approval and acceptance from others and the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgement, and shame. Shame gives birth to perfectionism.

Exploring our fears and changing our self-talk are two critical steps in overcoming perfectionism. Cultivating self-compassion is the antidote to perfectionism.

Imperfections are not inadequacies, they are a reminder that we’re all in this together.

3. Letting go of numbing and powerlessness and cultivating a resilient spirit

Brene Brown writes about the 5 most common factors of resilient people (people who have the ability to overcome adversity) as :

  1. They are resourceful and have good problem-solving skills

  2. They are more likely to seek help

  3. They hold the belief that they can do something that will help them to manage their feelings and to cope

  4. They have social support available to them

  5. They are connected to others, such as family and friends

She also discovered that what made people able to “bounce back” was their spirituality, which was comprised of:

  1. cultivating hope - tolerating disappointment, determination, and a belief in self. Hope is a combination of setting goals, having the tenacity and perseverance to pursue them, and believing in our own abilities

  2. practicing critical awareness - we need to reality check the messages and expectations that we are constantly bombarded with via media/the world around us.

  3. letting go of numbing and taking the edge off vulnerability, discomfort, and pain - feel your feelings, stay mindful about numbing behaviors, and lean into the discomfort of hard emotions.

4. Letting go of scarcity and fear of the dark and cultivating gratitude and joy

Gratitude is a practice; it can be in the form of keeping a gratitude journal, doing daily gratitude meditations or prayers, creating gratitude art, or even stopping during a busy stressful day to say “I am grateful for…”

Sometimes, people hold themselves back from feeling joy because they’re scared it won’t last, or that it’s an invitation for disaster, or that something will soon go wrong. The anticipation and fear of something going wrong holds people back from experiencing true joy. To combat this, we must practice gratitude.

5. Letting go of the need for certainty and cultivating intuition and trusting faith

Our need for certainty silences our intuitive voice. Rather than respecting a strong internal instinct, we become fearful and look for assurances from others with questions like “What do you think? Should I do it? Do you think it’s a good idea? What would you do?” We’d rather other people weigh in so that we have someone to blame when it doesn’t work out, when in truth, we need to dig deep and listen to our own inner voice.

Brene Brown crafted the following definition for intuition, based on her research: 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.

6. Letting go of comparison and cultivating creativity

Comparison is about conformity and competition. It’s not about cultivating self-acceptance, belonging, and authenticity; it’s be just like everyone else but better. One of my favorite quotes is “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Here’s what Brene Brown learned about creativity:

  1. There’s no such thing as creative 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.

  2. The only unique contribution that we will ever make in this world will be born of our creativity.

  3. If we want to make meaning, we need to make art. As long as we’re creating, we’re cultivating meaning.

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.

7. Letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth and cultivating play and rest

Play is ‘purposeless.’ It’s play for the sake of play, doing something because we want to. In today’s culture, people are measured by what they “do”, their level of success, or income. Doing something that isn’t “productive” and “resting” are seen as a waste of time.

Stuart Brown writes, “The opposite of play is not work - the opposite of play is depression. 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.”

To live whole-heartedly, 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.

8. Letting go of anxiety as a lifestyle and cultivating calm and still

Step one is realizing that anxiety is a reality but not a lifestyle. Cultivate more calm and stillness into your life. Brene defines calm as creating perspective and mindfulness while managing emotional reactivity. Identify the emotions that are most likely to spark your reactivity and then practice non-reactive responses. Just breathing is a great response to feelings of anxiety. Breathe, slow yourself down, notice your thoughts.

Here’s Brene’s definition of stillness: Stillness is 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.

She writes, “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.”

9. Letting go of self doubt and “supposed to” and cultivating meaningful work

In Brene’s book, she outlines what emerged from her data on meaningful work:

  • 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, and disappointment, fear, and even grief.

  • Sharing our gifts and talents with the world is the most powerful source of connection with G-d.

  • 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. Like our gifts and talents, meaning is unique to each one of us.

Overcoming self-doubt is all about believing we’re enough and letting go of what the world says we’re supposed to be and supposed to call ourselves.

Theologian Howard Thurman says, “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.”

10. Letting go of being cool and always in control and cultivating laughter, song, and dance.

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.

Brene describes knowing laughter as a spiritual form of communing; without words we can say to one another, “I’m with you. I get it.” True laughter is not the use of humor as self-deprecation or deflection; it’s not the kind of painful laughter we sometimes hide behind. Knowing laughter embodies the relief and connection we experience when we realize the power of sharing our stories - we’re not laughing at each other, but with each other.

Music also stirs our emotions and creates connection.

Dancing is an exercise in vulnerability. Most people feel self-conscious when it comes to dancing in public. Not only dancing, but singing and laughing loudly in public can come along with fears of being perceived as awkward, silly, goofy, uncool, immature etc. People think, “What will people think? Everyone is watching- calm down! You look ridiculous! Get a hold of yourself.”

We want to control what other people think of us so we can feel “good enough.”

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.

I know that was kind of long, but if you're still reading at this point, then you've realized it was well worth the read. Integrating these 10 guideposts into your life is a life-time of work. Good luck on your wholehearted journey!


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