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#28: 8 Lessons from Brene Brown

Brene Brown's work has been a big influence on me. As you dive into her work in this podcast, I think you'll understand why. 

I've distilled 8 lessons I've learned from her over the years. I've also listed her most popular books below if you'd like to go even deeper. 




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Each of these links will take you to Amazon. If you make a purchase, I'll receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.

The Gifts of Imperfection – Have you ever heard that little voice inside you keeping you small? Maybe you even believed it? This book is for you.

Daring Greatly – Brene focusses on how we can create connection through vulnerability in this book. It's awkward and uncomfortable, but she somehow makes it comfortable because she's so open about her own experiences and resistance to vulnerability.

Rising Strong – In this book she talks about working through discomfort and leaning into emotion. This is the book where she made the discovery that people are just doing the best they can (even if it's difficult for us to muster this belief).

Braving the Wilderness – Here she has great conversations about how we're disconnecting with one another, why we're doing it, and what we can do to change things. If you've ever been appalled at how people treat one another on social media, and maybe even found yourself engaging, you'll find this book fascinating.

Dare to Lead – This is her latest book focusing on how we can bring the concepts she discusses in her books to our workplaces. “Leaders must either invest a reasonable amount of time attending to fears and feelings, or squander an unreasonable amount of time trying to manage ineffective and unproductive behavior.”


Hello there.

Thank you for being here today. I know you have a lot of options on your podcast player, and I appreciate that you’re listening to me on Soul Roadmap today. It means a lot to me.

If you haven’t already joined me on Instagram, follow me @dina.cataldo where I share instastories and mini-blogs in my posts. Instagram has been my go to place lately.

I’ll link to that in my show notes along with some other things I’m mentioning today at

So here’s the deal with today’s podcast, it’s inspired by an interaction I had with one of my friends.

I discovered recently that not everyone knows about Brene Brown and her work. I was kinda shocked considering everyone in my circles seem to know about her.

My friend asked me who she was, and I said, “she studies shame and vulnerability and distills her findings into stories and practice applications in her books.”

Sounds like what a lawyer would say, right?

I felt like that was a pretty good description, but there’s really a lot more to her than that, and there’s a reason why she and her books are so loved by people like, y’know, Oprah.

Before I tell you more about her and a few of the key concepts I’ve learned from her, I want to share with you something that has impacted me, and I’ve created a 45 minute audio talking more about it and a quick downloadable PDF that you can get free in the show notes at (P.S. You're already there.)

The difference between how I handle my feelings now versus how I handled my emotions 10 years ago is huge. And one of the tools I’ve used to create more ease in my own life are mantras. The word mantras may sound woo woo to you, so you can call them affirmations, reminders or setting an intention if that makes a difference to you. All of those words mean the same thing to me, but mantras sounds cooler.

In the PDF I’ve written down 99 of my favorite mantras, but in the audio I’ve included much more than that. I go through the list, but I also talk about what they mean to me and how I use them in my day to help create ease in my life.

Our lives can be intense, and each of us needs tools to ground us and help us manage our emotions. Mantras have been one of the most effective tools I’ve used. 

I tell you more about how I use them in the audio, so if you want more ease in your life, you can get these mantras including the 45 minute audio free here:

Okay, back to Brene. Because I’m gonna call her Brene from here on out because she feels like that gal you know you’d be friends with if you actually met.

Why is she so loved? I think it’s because she’s incredibly honest about her personal failings and discoveries while doing her research. She’s been called to speak in front of large groups of people — including groups of people not known for sharing their feelings like 350 SWAT team officers, parole officers and prison guards — BECAUSE she’s willing to be so vulnerable with her own struggles with what she’s learned about shame and vulnerability.

She makes it clear that doing the work is a lifetime practice, and it’s not easy. It’s courageous work. It’s the work we don’t want to do because it feels uncomfortable. But once we do it, we find the keys to better relationships with other people and ourselves.

Brene’s first TED Talk is one of the top 5 TED Talks of all time, and I’ll link to it in the show notes. There she talks about the power of vulnerability to a relatively small group of University of Houston students, and then it went viral and has been seen over 37 million times. Her entire academic career was based in social work, and she loves organizing. So she’s organized all the touchy feely emotions to understand them better.

And then she’s written several books that are New York Times Best Sellers like The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, Braving the Wilderness and including her latest book Dare to Lead. I’ve linked to all of them in the show notes too.

There are 8 concepts I want to highlight in today’s episode that I hope will help bring awareness to your every day understanding of these topics and how they show up in our lives daily.

I understand from my own experience that wrestling with some of these topics is uncomfortable, and I want you to know that I work through these every single day. She doesn’t talk about the easy stuff. Doing the hard stuff brings the biggest payoff in life.

1. The first concept may be the easiest one because Brene has done it for us. We have to break down big concepts into small pieces, so we have the words to use to address it with ourselves and with others. It actually makes it easier to talk about hard topics. It helps us pinpoint why we’re feeling what we’re feeling.

If you’ve been following along with the podcast, you’ll know that feelings are created by our thoughts about circumstances we have. Other words for circumstances is evidence or objective facts. Once we pinpoint what our thought is about a circumstance, then we have the power to change our thoughts. When we change our thoughts, we can change our feelings. When we change our feelings, we can change our response and that impacts the outcome we can create.

Trust, vulnerability, shame are all big topics that we don’t usually consciously bring up in nuanced ways. I’m not going to break them all down — you can read her books for that — but I am going to break down trust. So let’s do this. 

2. Trust – She breaks down trust into the acronym BRAVING. BRAVING is something that we do with ourselves as well as others. Here’s the kicker. We can’t ask people to give to us something we don’t believe we’re worthy of receiving. We can’t ask people to trust us when we don’t even trust ourselves.

B – Boundaries. If you’re clear about your boundaries – say no honestly – and you’re respectful of my boundaries, then I can trust you. How often have you recognized that you weren’t cleat about your own boundaries. How can you expect anyone to trust you when you can’t clearly lay out your boundaries? Have you ever been resentful of someone for asking too much for you but you stuffed it down? That was because you didn’t set clear boundaries. You said “yes” when you really meant “no.”

R – Reliability. You’re reliable – you say what you’re going to do consistently.

A – Accountability – I can only trust you if when you make a mistake you’re willing to own it, apologize and make amends and vice versa. You’ll accept me and allow me to make mistakes and let me own it, apologize for it and make amends for it.

V – Vault – What I share with you, you will hold in confidence and vice versa. This trust is violated when a good friend or co-worker comes up and tells you something about someone else that wasn’t theirs to share, then our trust for that person diminishes. I must see you acknowledge confidentiality with others in order to establish trust. Another thing that we do to create the insta-soup of connection (she calls it hot wiring connection) – gossip. We can’t build true connection with gossip – it’s counterfeit trust.

I – Integrity – The concept is this: “I can’t trust you unless you act from a place of integrity and encourage me to do the same. It’s choosing courage over comfort, what’s right over what’s fun, fast or east. It’s practicing your values not just professing your values.” 

N – Non-judgment. I can fall apart, ask for help be in struggle without being judged by you and you can do all those things, and I won’t judge you.

G – Generosity. Our relationship is only trusting if you can assume the most generous thing about my words, intentions, and behaviors, and then check in with me rather than attack. So if I screw up, you’ll make a generous assumption. Brene gives a great example. Practicing generosity in this way means saying to a friend, “Yesterday was the one year anniversary of my mom's death, and it was really tough for me. I talked to you about this last month, and I was really hoping you’d check in with me yesterday. I know you care. I just wanted you to know that I was thinking about that.” 

As opposed to not reacting to your expectations by not returning calls, ignoring emails and waiting for a moment to spring it on your friend by saying something like, “Well you forgot to call,” when there’s an opportunity to strike back and cause pain.

The interesting thing about trust is that we want people to trust us, but it’s a Catch-22. We must give trust before we can get trust. And trusting others takes vulnerability.

This isn’t easy, but it promises a big reward in connection, which is what her work is all about. It’s about creating connection at home, politics, work. And it’s a continuing practice.

It’s the little things that build trust.  knowing the names of your friends’ family members, attending funerals, being there when they need you. Trust is built in the smallest of moments. It means we have to pay attention – be in the moment — which we have such a difficult time doing.

She talks about a trust researcher named John Gottman who says that skipping an opportunity to build trust and connection is a betrayal. He describes a moment when he wanted to get into bed and read his mystery novel because it had just got to the good part, and he was going to find out who the killer was. He walked past  the bathroom and saw his wife brushing her hair. In that moment he had the thought, “Just keep walking.” But instead of doing that, he stopped, took the brush from his wife, and asked her what was wrong. How many times do we skip opportunities to build connection by rushing through our day?

3. There are three major ways that we create the illusion of control and defend against vulnerability: Foreboding joy, perfectionism and numbing

    1. Foreboding Joy – We are happy and undercut it with thoughts of negativity. Scarcity drive is. Gratitude is the antidote.
    2. Perfectionism – We say we’ll do something but only when it’s perfect. Which prevents us from putting something we’ve made into the world. “Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval.” “I am what I accomplish.” The antidote she says is self-compassion. For me, it’s action. Put something out into the world even when it’s not 100%.
      1. I also see this perfectionism reflected in words she used in Braving the Wilderness
        1. “I’ll never write enough books or earn enough degrees to meet the standard I set up for “smart” — the New Yorker smart, the Ivy-League smart,  the anywhere but where I”m from smart. No credentials or letters behind my name can change the fact that I”m a fifth generation Texan with imperfect grammar, the tendency to cuss too much when I’m tired or fired up, and an ongoing struggle to police my long vowels and colloquialisms.” [page 231]
      2. I also see it with using intelligence as a shield to have power over someone. That blocks vulnerability and connection. Maybe even trying to move shame from our own shortcomings onto someone else we can have power over.
    3. Numbing the feelings with food, substances, unhealthy behaviors like overusing phones (candy crush, email, social media).
      1. In the Gifts of Imperfection she wrote
        1. “I wasn’t raised with the skills and emotional practice needed to “lean into discomfort,” so over time I basically became a take-the-edge-off-alcoholic. But they don’t have meetings for that.”
        2. The antidote is feeling your feelings, staying mindful of numbing behaviors, learning to lean into the discomfort of their feelings.
    4. A fourth one that’s big for lawyers and other high-achievers: Viking or Victim

She said that in her experience, those who use this shield to vulnerability have “responses to the idea that vulnerability might have value ranged from dismissive and defensive to hostile.”

Either you’re a victim in life — a sucker who’s always being taken advantage of — OR you are in control and dominate and you never show vulnerability.

The American Bar Association Journal article reported that experts on lawyer depression and substance abuse attributed the higher suicide rate to lawyers’ perfectionism and on their need to be aggressive and emotionally detached.” This trickles down to our home life. “When we teach our children that vulnerability is dangerous and should be pushed away. We lead them directly into danger and disconnection.” Fear and scarcity drive this armor.

4. “Opting out of speaking out because we may get criticized to me is the definition of privilege.” I don’t have to speak out because I don’t have X problem.

Her solution to the nerves she has when she becomes vulnerable on a FB live is to start with “I know this is going to be imperfect, but I'm not going to let my imperfection move me away from the conversation because it’s too important.” She recognizes that no matter what she says, people she believes are her “people” will criticize her because she’s saying something imperfectly, and people who disagree with her who aren’t on board with her message will also criticize her.

I loved her message to them: If you’re one of the people who criticize instead of have a conversation “shut up because it’s not useful.”

What is useful?

        1. If you want to enter a conversation and express why you disagree, that opens the space for growth.
        2. She doesn’t respond to anyone who’s anonymous because they’re not in the arena. They’re not being brave.
        3. There’s a difference between shaming someone versus having a conversation to create growth. Shame drives rage, anger, rationalization and blame. It doesn’t drive healing. Shaming someone hurts them and yourself.  

5. The people who have a strong sense of love and belonging have a belief that they’re deserving of love and belonging.

She calls these people wholehearted people. What they had in common was a sense of courage: from Latin word coeur. She said it originally means to tell the story of who you are with their whole heart. They had the courage to be imperfect, the compassion to be kind to themselves, they had connection as a result of authenticity – they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were. They also had in common that they fully embraced vulnerability – releasing control. 

6. It takes less energy to give people the benefit of the doubt even though it seems harder. She doesn’t quite describe it like this, but this is how I’ve experienced what she’s taught.

    1. She teaches that People are doing the best they can.
    2. Brene gives an example in one of her books of when she shared a hotel with a woman who, after eating something greasy, wiped her hands on the couch.
    3. Giving the most generous interpretation of someone’s behavior really does feel better than complaining in your head.
    4. Self-compassion. We can’t give compassion unless we’re compassionate with ourselves. This goes for us too. When we become resentful – at something we agreed to that we really didn’t want to do for instance — we were doing the best we could with the info we had in that moment. We don’t judge people when we feel good about ourselves.
      1. Maya Angelou: “I don’t trust anyone who says I love you if they don’t love themselves.”

7. Women are hard on ourselves, but we’re just as hard on men. Expectations that have been instilled by society. We want them to be vulnerable yet strong. Putting them on a white horse.

  1. When she started studying men — after being confronted by a man after a book signing about not addressing men in her work — she saw that generally, shame manifested in men by them either shutting down or getting pissed off. And it’s instilled in men at a young age when they’re being yelled at by a coach, father, mother, teacher. Being a man in our culture means
    1. I’m not allowed to be afraid
    2. I’m not allowed to show fear
    3. I’m not allowed to be vulnerable
    4. Shame is being afraid, showing fear, or being vulnerable.

It’s important to recognize that we as women often miss opportunities for connection with our partners when we shut down their ability to be open with us. We have to recognize that each of us has insecurities and are imperfect. And that’s okay.

8. “If we want to reignite innovation and passion, we have to re-humanize work. When shame becomes a management style, engagement dies. When failure is not an option we can forget about learning, creativity, and innovation.”

    1. Creating something brand new requires the ability to be vulnerable. When we shut that down in the workplace, there’s no room to grow.
      1. Example of checklists in the OR versus attaching self-worth to sutures

Those are the big 8 concepts I wanted to share with you. I actually pared down this podcast. There’s so much more that she offers I her writing with so much depth and with expert storytelling.  I highly recommend reading each of her books. I’ve linked to them in the show notes.

And if you’re ready to begin building a foundation to bring awareness to your thoughts daily, which will bring more ease to your day, I’ve also linked to the free audio and PDF with 99 mantras in the show notes at (You're here right now.) 🙂

Thanks again for joining me today, and I hope to see you on instagram and I’ll be back next week with more goodness for you.

Have a great week!

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