The Gifts of Imperfection is one of my all-time favorite books. And I know I’m not the only one because it is one of Amazon’s top best sellers. The book is replete with wisdom on living well in an overly ambitious, materialistic, and image-conscious age. The message of the book is simple: by letting go of everything that does not serve you, you can live your best life in the present. When I read this book some time ago, I took careful attention to highlight the material that stood out to me so that I could refer back to it at a later date. These notes are perfect for someone debating whether to purchase the book or for someone who wants to freshen up on the book’s choice contents. It goes without saying the only way to receive the full benefit is to read it in its entirety. And I suspect some of you have already done so. Let me know your biggest takeaways in the comments!
Here’s the link on Amazon: The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.
GUIDEPOST #1: Cultivating Authenticity: Letting Go of What People think
GUIDEPOST #2: Cultivating Self-Compassion: Letting Go of Perfectionism
GUIDEPOST #3: Cultivating a Resilient Spirit: Letting Go of Numbing and Powerlessness
GUIDEPOST #4: Cultivating Gratitude and Joy: Letting Go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark
GUIDEPOST #5: Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith: Letting Go of the Need for Certainty
GUIDEPOST #6: Cultivating Creativity: Letting Go of Comparison
GUIDEPOST #7: Cultivating Play and rest: Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self-worth
GUIDEPOST #8: Cultivating Calm and Stillness: Letting Go of Anxiety as a Lifestyle
GUIDEPOST #9: Cultivating Meaningful Work: Letting Go of Self-doubt and “Supposed To.”
GUIDEPOST #10: Cultivating Laughter, Song, and Dance: Letting Go of Being Cool and “Always in Control”
–> I learned about the inextricable connection between joy and gratitude, and how things that I take for granted, like rest and play, are as vital to our health as nutrition and exercise.
–> How much we know and understand ourselves is critically important, but there is something that is even more essential to living a Wholehearted life: loving ourselves. Knowledge is important, but only if we’re being kind and gentle with ourselves as we work to discover who we are. Wholeheartedness is as much about embracing our tenderness and vulnerability as it is about developing knowledge and claiming power.
–> The unraveling is a time when you are challenged by the universe to let go of who you think you are supposed to be and to embrace who you are.
–> Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.
–> If we want to know why we’re all so afraid to let our true selves be seen and known, we have to understand the power of shame and fear. If we can’t stand up to the never good enough and who do you think you are? we can’t move forward.
–> Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy–the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.
–> Practicing courage, compassion, and connection in our daily lives is how we cultivate worthiness. The key word is practice… You learn courage by couraging.
–> First, I know my physical symptoms of shame–the dry mouth, time slowing down, tunnel vision, hot face, racing heart. I know that playing the painful slow-motion reel over and over in my head is a warning sign.
–> Improper responses to shame. 1) The friend who hears the story and actually feels shame for you. 2) the friend who responds with sympathy rather than empathy. 3) The friend who needs you to be the pillar of worthiness and authenticity. 4) The friend who is so uncomfortable with vulnerability that she scolds you. 5) The friend who is all about making it better and, out of her own discomfort, refuses to acknowledge that you can actually be crazy and make terrible choices. 6) The friend who confuses “connection” with the opportunity to one-up you.
–> I felt totally exposes and completely loved and accepted at the same time (which is the definition of compassion for me). Trust me when I tell you that shame and fear can’t tolerate that kind of powerful connection surging between people.
–> Courage originally meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart…” Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line. In today’s world, that’s pretty extraordinary.
–> It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve learned that playing down the exciting stuff doesn’t take the pain away when it doesn’t happen. It does, however, minimize the joy when it does happen… Now when someone asks me about a potential opportunity that I’m excited about, I’m more likely to practice courage and say, “I’m so excited about the possibility. I’m trying to stay realistic, but I really hope it happens.”
–> In her book The Places That Scare You, Chodron writes, “When we practice generating compassion, we can expect to experience the fear of our pain. Compassion practice is daring. It involves learning to relax and allow ourselves to move gently toward what scares us….” Only when we know our own darkness can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.
–> The heart of compassion is really acceptance. The better we are at accepting ourselves and others, the more compassionate we become. Well it’s difficult to accept people when they are hurting us or taking advantage of us or walking all over us [be boundary-conscious].
–> Setting boundaries and holding people accountable is a lot more work than shaming and blaming. But it’s also much more effective… First, when we shame and blame, it moves the focus from the original behavior in question to our own behavior.
–> It’s also impossible to practice compassion from a place of resentment. If we’re going to practice acceptance and compassion, we need boundaries and accountability.
–> I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.
–> Until we can receive with an open heart, we are never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgment to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgment to giving help.
–> Love and belonging are essential to the human experience. As I conducted my interviews, I realized that only one thing seprated the men and women who felt a deep sense of love and belonging from the people who seem to be struggling for it. That one thing is the belief in their worthiness. It’s as simple and complicated as this: If we want to fully experience love and belonging, we must believe that we are worthy of love and belonging… When we can let go of what other people think and own our story, we gain access to our worthiness–the feeling that we are enough just as we are and that we are worthy of love and belonging. When we spend a lifetime trying to distance ourselves from the parts of our lives that don’t fit with who we think we’re supposed to be, we stand outside of our story and hustle for our worthiness by constantly performing, perfecting, pleasing, and proving… The greatest challenge for most of us is believing that we are worthy now, right this minute. Worthiness doesn’t have prerequisites.
–> One of the biggest surprises in this research was learning that fitting in and belonging are not the same thing, and, in fact, fitting in gets in the way of belonging. Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it require us to be who we are.
–> A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all women, men, and children.
–> Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.
–> When I’m having one of those days that I just described, some of the anxiety is just a part of living, but there are days when most of my anxiety grows out of the expectations I put on myself.
–> Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. Shame resilience is the ability to recognize shame, to move through it constructively while maintaining worthiness and authenticity, and to ultimately develop more courage, compassion, and connection as a result of our eperience… Shame needs three things to grow out of control in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment.
-People w/ high levels of shame resilience share these four elements 1) They understand shame and recognize what messages and expectations trigger shame for them. 2) They practice critical awareness by reality-checking the messages and expectations that tell us that being imperfect means being inadequate. 3) They reach out and share their stories with people they trust. 4) They speak shame–they use the word shame, they talk about how they’re feeling, and they ask for what they need.
–> Along with many other professionals, I’ve come to the conclusion that shame is much more likely to lead to destructive and hurtful behaviors than it is to be the solution.
–> According to Dr. Hartling, in order to deal with shame, some of us move away by withdrawing, hiding, silencing ourselves, and keeping secrets. Some of us move toward by seeking to appease and please. And, some of us move against by trying to gain power over others, by being aggressive, and by using shame to fight shame (like sending really mean e-mails).
–> The easiest way to know shame is to cultivate an awareness of our physical shame symptoms.
–> As I mentioned in the chapter on courage, compassion, and connection, I know that I’m struggling with shame when that warm wash of inadequacy comes over me, my heart races, my face feels hot, my mouth gets dry, my armpits tingle, and time slows down.
–> But as I started immersing myself in the research and doing my own personal work, I realized that, like many desirable ways of being, authenticity is not something we have or don’t have. It’s a practice–a conscious choice of how we want to live.
–> Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.
–> The problem is that when we don’t care at all what people think and we’re immune to hurt, we’re also ineffective at connecting. Courage is telling our story, not being immune to criticism. Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.
–> If you trade in your authenticity for safety, you may experience the following: anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, rage, blame, resentment, and inexplicable grief.
–> The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself. –Anna Quindlen
–> When perfectionism exists, shame is always lurking. In fact, shame is the birthplace of perfectionism…Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. It’s a shield… Perfectionism is not self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval and acceptance. Most perfectionists were raised being praised for achievement and performance (grades, manners, rule-following, people-pleasing, appearance, sports). Somewhere along the way, we adopt this dangerous and debilitating belief system: I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfect. Healthy striving is self-focused–How can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focused–What will they think.
–> Perfectionism a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect,live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame. [Self-destructive because no such thing as perfect… Addictive because when we invariably do experience shame, judgment, and blame, we often believe it’s because we weren’t perfect enough.]
–> A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day… A string of such moments can change the course of your life. -Christopher K.Germer
–> According to Neff, self-compassion has three elements: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Self-kindness: Being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism. Common humanity: Common humanity recognizes that suffering and feelings of personal inadequacy are part of the shared human experience–something we all go through rather than something that happens to “me” alone. Mindfulness: Taking a balanced approach to negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. Mindfulness requires that we not over-identify with thoughts and feelings, so that we are caught up and swept away by negativity… Her definition reminds us that mindfulness also means not over-identifying with or exaggerating our feelings… Things get in way (self-judgment, isolation, and overidentification).
–> “Today I’m going to believe that showing up is enough.”
–> Five most common factors of resilient people. 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 with others, such as family or friends…. In addition to spirituality, cultivating hope, practicing critical awareness, and letting go of numbing and taking the edge off vulnerability, discomfort, and pain.
–> Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning, and purpose to our lives.
–> I was shocked to discover that hope is not an emotion; it’s a way of thinking or a cognitive process. Emotions play a supporting role, but hope is really a thought process…
–> Entitlement is “I deserve this just because I want it” and agency is “I know I can do this.”
–> Hopelessness is dangerous because it leads to feelings of powerlessness.
–> It’s in our biology to trust what we see with our eyes. This makes living in a carefully edited, overproduced, and Photoshopped world very dangerous.
–> To cultivate resilient spirit, reality check what we see 1) Is what I’m seeing real? Do these images convey real life or fantasy? 2) do these images reflect healthy, Wholehearted living, or do they turn my life, my body, my family, and my relationships into objects and commodities? 3) Who benefits by my seeing these images and feeling bad about myself. Hint: ALWAYS about money and/or control.
–> When i interviewed the participants whom I’d describe as living a Wholehearted life about the same topic, they consistently talked about trying to feel the feelings, staying mindful about numbing behaviors, and trying to lean into the discomfort of hard emotions. [lean into joy, as well]
–> We cannot selectively numb emotions. When we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.
–> Just the anticipation or fear of these feelings can trigger intolerable vulnerability in us. We know it’s coming. For many of us, our first response to vulnerability and pain of these sharp points is not to lean into the discomfort and feel our way through but rather to make it go away.
–> Does our ____ (numbing habit) get in the way of our authenticity? Does it stop us from being emotionally honest and setting boundaries and feeling like we’re enough. Are we using ____ to hide or escape from the reality of our lives.
–> In fact, addition research shows us that an intensely positive experience is as likely to cause relapse as an intensely painful experience.
–> Whether we’re overcoming adversity, surviving trauma, or dealing with stress and anxiety, having a sense of purpose, meaning, and perspective in our lives allows us to develop understanding and move forward. Without purpose, meaning, and perspective, it is easy to lose hope, numb our emotions, or become overwhelmed by our circumstances.
–> “People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.” -Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
–> Joy <–> Gratitude [gratitude journals, daily gratitude meditations or prayers, gratitude art, stopping during day “I am grateful for…” | Love <–> Belonging
–> Joy seems to me a step beyond happiness. Happiness is a sort of atmosphere you can live in sometimes when you’re lucky. Joy is a light that fills you with hope and faith and love. -Adela Rogers St. Johns
–> Happiness is tied to circumstance and joyfulness is tied to spirit and gratitude. [neither joy nor happiness are constant as feelings/experiences]
–> We’re afraid to lose what we love the most, and we hate that there are no guarantees. We think not being grateful and not feeling joy will make it hurt less. We think if we can beat vulnerability to the punch by imaging loss, we’ll suffer less. We’re wrong. There is one guarantee: If we’re not practicing gratitude and allowing ourselves to know joy (scarcity + fear + vulnerability), we are missing out on the two things that will actually sustain us during the inevitable hard times.
–> Lynne Twist The Soul of Money Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something… Sufficiency isn’t an amount at all. It is an experience, a context we generate, a declaration, a knowing that there is enough, and that we are enough. Sufficiency resides inside of each of us, and we can call it forward. It is a consciousness, an attention, an intentional choosing of the way we think about our circumstances. [as a nation we’re starving from a lack of gratitude]
–> In other words, worth is measured by fame and fortune. Our culture is quick to dismiss quiet, ordinary, hardworking men and women. In many instances, we equate ordinary with boring or, even more dangerous, ordinary has become synonymous with meaningless.
–> Author and spiritual leader Marianne Williamson says “Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.”
–> Intuition is not independent of any reasoning process. In fact, psychologists believe that intuition is a rapid-fire unconscious associating process–like a mental puzzle. The brain makes an observation, scans its files, and matches the observation with existing memories, knowledge, and experiences. Once it puts together a series of matches, we get a “gut” on what we’ve observed… Sometimes our intuition whispers ‘Follow your instincts.’ Other times it shouts, ‘You need to check this out; we don’t have enough information!’ In my research, I found that what silences our intuitive voice is our need for certainty. Most of us are not very good at not knowing.
–> Faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty.
–> Letting go of uncertainty is one of my greatest challenges. I even have a physical response to “not knowing” –it’s anxiety and fear and vulnerability combined.
–> “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen!
–> Comparison is all about conformity and competition (stifles creativity).
–> The comparison mandate becomes this crushing paradox of “fit in and stand out!” It’s not cultivate self-acceptance, belonging, and authenticity; it’s be just like everyone else, but better.
–> There’s no such thing as creative people and non-creative people. There are only people who use their creativity and people who don’t… If we want to make meaning, we need to make art. Cook, write, draw, doodle, paint, scrapbook, take pictures, collage, knit, rebuilt an engine, sculpt, dance, decorate, act, sing–it doesn’t matter. As long as we’re creating, we’re cultivating meaning… And, without comparison, concepts like ahead or behind or best or worst lose their meaning.
–> …I now understand that play is as essential to our health and functioning as rest.
–> Stuart Brown proposes seven properties of play, the first of which is that play is apparently purposeless. Basically this means that we play for the sake of play. We do it because it’s fun and we want to…. “The opposite of play is not work–the opposite of play is depression.”
–> If we want to live a Wholehearted life, we have to become intention about cultivating sleep and play, and about letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth.
–> What if we’re normal and quiet and happy? Does that count?
–> I also wanted to figure out why I was having dizzy spells whenever I got really anxious and stressed out. I would actually get lightheaded, and the room would start to spin. A couple of times, I literally fell over… But as I started developing an awareness about Wholehearted living, it’s as if my body said, I’m going to help you embrace this new way of living by making it very difficult for you to ignore anxiety.” If I became too anxiety ridden, I’d literally have to sit down or risk falling.
–> I define calm as creating perspective and mindfulness while managing emotional reactivity. When I think about calm people, I think about people who can bring perspective to complicated situations and feel their feelings without reacting to heightened emotions like fear and anger… The question becomes, Do we want to infect people with more anxiety, or heal ourselves and the people around us with calm?
–> 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… If we stop long enough to create a quiet emotional clearing, the truth of our lives will invariably catch up with us. We convince ourselves that if we stay busy enough and keep moving, reality won’t be able to keep up. so we stay in front of the truth about how tired and scared and confused and overwhelmed we sometimes feel… In our increasingly complicated and anxious world, we need more time to do less and be less.
–> Calm and stillness are potent medicine for general sleeplessness and a lack of energy. Increasing my daily intake of calm and stillness along with walking and swimming and cutting caffeine has done wonders for my life.
–> Dr. Lerner explains that we all have patterned ways of managing anxiety. Some of us respond to anxiety by overfunctioning and others by underfunctioning. Overfunctioners tend to move quickly to advise, rescue, take over, micromanage, and get in other people’s business rather than look inward. Underfunctioners tend to get less competent under stress.
–> Gremlins are like toddlers. If you ignore them, they get louder. It’s usually best to just acknowledge the messages. Write them down. I know it seems counterintuitive, but writing them down and owning the gremlins’ messages doesn’t give the messages more power; it gives us more power.
–> In his book Outliers, Gladwell proposes that there are three criteria for meaningful work–complexity, autonomy, and a relationship between effort and reward–and that these can often be found in creative work.
–> 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.
–> Laughing hysterically can make us feel a little out of control, and singing out loud can make some of us feel self-conscious. But for many of us, there is no form of self-expression that makes us feel more vulnerable than dancing.
–> When we don’t give ourselves permission to be free, we rarely tolerate that freedom in others. We put them down, make fun of them, ridicule their behaviors, and sometimes shame them. We can do this intentionally or unconsciously. Either way the message is, Geez, man. Don’t be so uncool… What’s the greater risk? Letting go of what people think or letting go of how I feel, what I believe, and who I am?
–> A movement fueled by the freedom that comes when we stop pretending that everything is okay when it isn’t. A call that rises up from our bellies when we find the courage to celebrate those intensely joyful moments even though we’ve convinced ourselves that savoring happiness is inviting disaster.