How to live a more ‘Brené Brown kind of life’

So you’ve watched Brené Brown’s powerful Netflix special “The Call to Courage” and you want to start living a more ‘wholehearted life’?  As Brené Brown explains, her research has demonstrated that humans experience more joy, love, and belonging when we courageously choose vulnerability.  Vulnerability involves bravely facing imperfection, rejection, making mistakes, criticism, honesty, looking ‘uncool’, not having it all together, and not winning, in order to be truly authentic.  This authenticity enables us to forge deeper connections, live in alignment with our values, and possess a stable sense of self-worth.  All wonderful parts of what Brené Brown describes as living a wholehearted life.

So how do we start living the kind of ‘wholehearted life’ that would make Brené Brown proud?  How can we choose vulnerability?

Here are some examples of things you could practice to choose courage and vulnerability in order to deepen your connection with others and live a more wholehearted life…

Choose to say sorry

What if you embraced the fact that we are all human and therefore we all make mistakes?  When we truly embrace this, and practice the skill of self-compassion, we are much more able to authentically own up to our mistakes.  We are not so terrified of them, as we know we have the tools to cope with the uncomfortable feelings that inevitably follow when messing up.  We are then able to to choose vulnerability and apologise rather than hide, avoid, cover up the error, or fight like crazy to prove it wasn’t a mistake!  As we all know, a sincere apology can be incredibly healing in a relationship, deepening our connection with others rather than driving us apart.

Choose to try things you might not be good at

Trying new things, or doing things we know we’re not that good at, is vulnerable. What will people think? How stupid will I look? The risk is being criticised. Think for a moment what the costs are of never trying new things, and never allowing yourself to do things you’re not proficient at. The costs are missing out on learning and developing new skills, enjoyment, innovation, participation (and perhaps social connection), adventure, and we also role model to young people that it’s excellence or nothing. I used to be terrified of karaoke. I’m a sub-mediocre singer on my best days so the thought of singing in front of people filled me with shame. What would they think? Who do I think I am? I am a person who can be vulnerable and reap the benefits of that! I’ve now done karaoke multiple times, sung badly, had an absolute blast, and will do it badly with great gusto again.

Choose to say no

Think back to the last time you were knee deep in work and family commitments, juggling a To-Do list that was making you panic, when someone asked you for something. Everything in you screamed “Noooo. I’m not the person for this", yet you found yourself saying yes. Think back to the last time you were invited to a social event that you really didn’t have the interest, energy, or the time to attend. In your head you thought “No thanks, I need a date with my couch that night”, yet you found yourself saying yes. We worry about letting people down, whether we’re being ‘selfish’ - and you see a pattern - we worry What will they think? It’s vulnerable to say no, draw our boundaries, and stick to them. If we don’t, how will we avoid burnout and authentically nurture the relationships and projects we really treasure? Recognising our own needs and choosing to say no is brave but an important part of a wholehearted life.

Choose to admit you’re struggling

It takes courage to share that you are struggling in a culture that constantly performs ‘having it all under control’. When we’re surrounded by carefully curated social media highlights, and stories of women doing it all, it’s easy to feel like we’ve failed if we’re anything less than awesome. When asked “How are you?” everyone seems to have a knee-jerk superficial response of “Good” or “Busy!” It can feel like there’s little room to say, “You know what? I’m having a pretty hard time at the moment.” What if you were to summon the courage to be the first in your family or friendship group to be open and honest that you’re struggling? Would it create an opportunity for people to get to know you on a deeper level? Would it create the opportunity to be able to talk about your concerns? Would it be a welcome relief for others and they’ll follow suit?

Choose to allow space for others to be vulnerable

Living a wholehearted life is more than just choosing vulnerability. It also involves choosing to support and encourage the vulnerability of others. When someone expresses they are struggling, we can compassionately listen instead of uncomfortably shutting the conversation down or minimising their pain. When someone tries something new and they’re not good at it, we can admire and commend their efforts instead of criticising them. When someone says No to something we’ve asked of them, we can respect their No instead of getting angry or trying to manipulate a Yes. The move towards a courageous vulnerable life can’t happen in a vacuum.  

When you choose vulnerability you are choosing: 

  • Connection over disconnection

  • Authenticity over pretending

  • Engagement over disengagement

This may make it sound simple, but practicing vulnerability is not easy. Check out this Thought Catalog article for ways you can feel more comfortable with vulnerability

Does that mean we share our darkest shame stories with everyone?  Do we express our deeply held anxieties to the local baker when we’re buying our bread?   Do we ask the person next to us at the bus stop to help us with our relationship struggles?  Brené Brown reminds us that’s not vulnerability, that’s oversharing.  Brené says, “Vulnerability is about sharing our feelings and our experiences with people who have earned the right to hear them.”  Start with the people you know well and trust.  Or counselling can be a really safe space to start learning more about the power of vulnerability.

If you’d like support in becoming more vulnerable and wholehearted, I’d love to help. Please get in touch about counselling via telephone, Skype or face to face in Melbourne, Australia.


by Jodie Arnot

Jodie is a registered counsellor with a Masters in Counselling from Monash University. She provides counselling via telephone, Skype, and in person, and is passionate about helping women to feel good about themselves and live a life they adore.