Review — The Gifts of Imperfection

My latest audiobook for the commute in the car has been The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. I was looking for something that would explore self-image and confidence, but that wasn’t too self help-y. I’m going to cover the things I found inspiring and that I’ve been working on since listening to the book. As you’ll see I found some great advice in it, so I’d recommend it.

Wholehearted Living

The book is based on research carried out by Brown in to the difference between people who say they live contented, fulfilled lives, and those who don’t. She has interviewed hundreds of people, and uses the name “Wholehearted Living” to describe the common practices she found. There are 3 main tenets to Wholehearted Living:

  • Courage — it takes courage to live our lives to the fullest, to embrace new experiences and be vulnerable.
  • Compassion — it’s easy to be critical of ourselves and others. Practicing compassion is about not jumping to judgemental conclusions of others, and being kind to ourselves.
  • Connection — Cultivating our relationships is the most important thing we can do to experience a fulfilling life.

These 3 concepts were probably the most influential part of the book for me. Since listening to it I’ve been trying to be more courageous about being open with people, especially my wife. I’ve also found that practicing self-compassion has helped me to be more accepting of the fact that I find being open difficult sometimes, rather than punishing myself. This has also helped me feel a sense of achievement and congratulate myself when I put myself in a vulnerable position. My experience of the first 2 concepts is all about the 3rd — they are helping me achieve more meaningful connections with the people I love.

The book goes on to cover 10 areas of Wholehearted Living, which all come back to these 3 concepts in one way or another.

Scarcity

I associated particularly strongly with this paragraph, quoted from Lynne Twist:

“For me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is “I didn’t get enough sleep.” The next one is “I don’t have enough time.” Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it. We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don’t have enough of… Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds are racing with a litany of what we didn’t get, or didn’t get done, that day. We go to sleep burdened by those thoughts and wake up to that reverie of lack… This internal condition of scarcity, this mind-set of scarcity, lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice, and our arguments with life.”

This week I made it a mindfulness target to be more aware of this condition of scarcity and it’s made a difference already. It’s definitely true that those thoughts of “I didn’t get enough sleep” in the morning set you up to think in those terms for the rest of the day. By applying that awareness I’ve found myself more appreciative of the positive things that have happened this week.

Authenticity

For me, Brown’s concept of Authenticity is about being honest. Quite often when I know I need to have a difficult conversation with someone, I will run it over in my head, round and round. I’ll forecast the ways that the other person could get upset, or angry. That, in turn, makes the conversation more difficult to have because I’m expecting it to go badly. As a result, I bottle up whatever I’m feeling to avoid a difficult conversation. A got a great tip from the book on approaching this differently; if you go in to a conversation not wanting someone get upset or angry, and they do, you feel like you’ve failed. The same is true if you want to feel accepted and appreciated — if you don’t, it hurts. Instead, she suggests approaching conversations with the goal of being authentic. If a conversation ends and you’ve been honest about how you feel, it was a successful conversation. (Obviously this doesn’t mean you can say what you like without taking other people in to consideration.) Yes, people might’ve gotten upset or angry, or not agreed with you, but that’s part of human connection.

Media

Brown discusses the influence of the media and advertising on our lives and perceptions, quoting Jean Kilbourne:

Advertising is an over $200 billion a year industry. We are each exposed to over 3000 ads a day. Yet, remarkably, most of us believe we are not influenced by advertising. Ads sell a great deal more than products. They sell values, images, and concepts of success and worth, love and sexuality, popularity and normalcy. They tell us who we are and who we should be. Sometimes they sell addictions.

I’m definitely in that group of people that thinks they’re not influenced by advertising. What I took away from this section of the book was that being influenced doesn’t mean you see an ad and go out buy the product; it’s more subtle that that. She suggests that we subconsciously look for confirmation of our biases in media, especially the inadequacies we feel about ourselves. It’s not that the media somehow reaches in to your head and makes you think you should be toned, fit, great in bed, making good money. It’s more that over time, little by little, you come to associate what’s portrayed in the media as normal, making you abnormal. An easy example of this is body image, but again it’s more subtle than that, and we’re influenced in lots of different ways. I’d definitely like to read more on this subject.

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