Welcome to my personal journey to become more wholehearted. As a lifelong perfectionist, I’ve struggled with my sense of inherent worthiness. For most of my life, I believed that my value as a person was a reflection of my grades, appearance, generosity, job title, income, weight, and net worth. Then one day I realized the perfection I’d been chasing wasn’t an unattainable goal.
Letting go of my need to be perfect opened up a whole new world of opportunity for me. But it hasn’t been easy.
In 2018 I published a vulnerable post about my limiting beliefs that was very difficult to write. The morning it went live I shared the link on social media then went a lecture with a friend. When I returned to my car after the talk, I checked social media to see what people were saying.
There was only one comment and the reader explained they’ve never felt anything like this. Rather than having a rational reaction, like, duh, anyone else who struggles with this isn’t going to speak up publically online, I plummeted into a shame spiral. I told myself, I’m such an idiot for publishing this. Now no one will ever take me seriously. I should just shut it all down and quit. I knew I wasn’t cut out for this. God, I’m so stupid.
I carried that self-doubt into the weekend. I knew these feelings of shame all too well and I wanted nothing more than to stop them. But not just for now. I wanted to put an end to them permanently. So while I cleaned the house that Saturday, I pulled up Brené Brown’s TED Talks about shame and vulnerability and began listening, over and over, for hours on end.
This is the day that my year of wholehearted living began.
As I listened to the talks, I stopped now and then to scribble some notes in the back of my journal. The first line I wrote down was, “People who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging.”
In her research, Brown called these people wholehearted. I wrote down the word, wholehearted, and I knew instantly that was my one word for 2019. I thought, If I could learn to live wholeheartedly, maybe I could let go of all these years of unworthiness and striving for perfection.
Below are some of the other notes I wrote in my journal that day.
- Wholehearted people share the following qualities: courage, compassion, and connection.
- Courage isn’t about being brave but telling the story of who you are with your whole heart.
- The wholehearted have the courage to be imperfect.
- Wholehearted people are willing to let go of who they thought they were supposed to be in order to be who they are.
- Wholehearted people embrace vulnerability.
- The wholehearted believe that what makes them vulnerable also makes them beautiful.
I wanted to live all of these things more than anything. So in order to hold myself accountable, I decided to share my wholehearted journey with my email subscribers. I picked a theme for each month, incorporating Brown’s 10 Guideposts for Wholehearted Living and got to work. I used this list because I knew it would challenge me. If I were creating my own, there’s no way things like laughter, song, and dance would have made the cut.
It wasn’t easy at first. I had to fight a lifetime of limiting beliefs. There were times I thought it would be easier to go back to the way I lived a decade ago, numbing this discomfort and vulnerability with cigarettes, booze, and food. But then I remembered how hard I worked to get to where I am today and I used that to keep moving forward.
For an entire year, I followed the plan I share with you below. And then one day I felt it. I was hiking in a neighborhood park and I noticed a feeling of wholeness and worthiness. I felt wholehearted.
It wasn’t because I was outside or because I was being a good girl and exercising. I felt worthy just for being. I was so grateful that all of this deliberate practice was finally becoming a part of who I am. Let me assure you that this feeling still comes and goes. But at least now I know it’s in there somewhere.
Here’s how I became more wholehearted.
Step One – You Are Worthy
The first step is to practice believing that you are worthy of love and belonging. You are worthy just as you are today. Not when you lose 10 pounds or get that promotion.
This can be a difficult mindset switch for those of us who were raised in cultures where our value was tied to our achievements. But think of how different your life would be if you could let go of the belief that your worthiness is tied to your “success”.
While I was working through this step, I happened upon this podcast episode that brought a lot of clarity to the topic. Whatever you believe spiritually, consider listening. I believe the message is valuable to everyone and that it will help you on your wholehearted journey.
Step Two – Just Say No
The second step to become more wholehearted is learning to say, “No” to anything that challenges that sense of worthiness. This could include anything from friends, family, and coworkers, to social media, and your own disempowering beliefs.
If my interactions on social media are causing me to question my worthiness, I need to step away. When a story I’m telling myself makes me feel unlovable, I need to rewrite that script. If there’s a person in my life who communicates with venom and insults, I need to take a step back until I can respond in a healthy manner.
Learn to recognize what’s triggering your feelings of unworthiness and find the courage to just say no.
Step Three – Let Go
The next ten steps follow The 10 Guideposts for Wholehearted Living. If you want to dive deeper into the guideposts, I recommend reading Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection.
The first guidepost to wholehearted living is to cultivate authenticity by letting go of what people think. I wrote an entire post about authenticity that you can read here.
Letting go of what people think, however, isn’t easy for most of us. And here’s why. Brown says, “when we stop caring about what people think, we lose our capacity for connection. When we become defined by what people think, we lose our willingness to be vulnerable.”
This is how I walk through the process of letting go without losing my ability to be vulnerable.
1 – I catch myself.
When I published that post on limiting beliefs, for example, I was stuck in a shame spiral. I was repeating variations of, “Ugh, I can’t believe what I shared about my limiting beliefs. Everyone is going to think I’m crazy. No one will ever take me seriously again. I’m going to have to shut this all down and get a job as a cashier at Aldi.”
2 – I ask what I can learn.
This was obviously triggering some old wounds. What could I learn from this experience that would prevent me from going to this place in the future?
I came to the realization that even if a thousand people hate that post but it helps one person, then it was worth it. I also learned that it’s impossible to please everyone and if you try, you will disappoint everyone, including yourself.
3 – It’s not about you.
So often, when we’re worried about what other people think, we don’t actually know what they think. We’re just responding to a story we made up in our heads.
But occasionally we’re reacting to something someone actually said. Ask yourself if the comments were meant to be helpful or hurtful? Most of us aren’t good at receiving feedback even if it’s constructive. Like everything I talk about in this post, it’s a skill we have to learn. If you believe the comment was meant to help you, spend time reflecting on what you can take away and incorporate.
Sometimes the things people say are meant to hurt us. In these cases, the comments are rarely, if ever, about us. You’ve likely heard the phrase, “hurt people hurt people”? It’s not about you but their own pain and shame. If you’d like to learn more about how to stop taking these comments personally, check out the book The Four Agreements.
Step Four – Self-Compassion
The next step is cultivating self-compassion by letting go of perfectionism.
“When we work from a place where we believe that I’m enough, we stop screaming and start listening. We’re kinder and gentler to the people around us and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves.”– Brené Brown
I told you about my struggle with perfectionism at the very beginning of this post. I wore perfectionism as a badge of honor for most of my life. Then one day I realized that it wasn’t making me better. It was paralyzing me and preventing me from achieving my potential. So for this step, I adopted a new mantra.
My best is always enough!
“There was a man who wanted to transcend his suffering so he went to a Buddhist temple to find a Master to help him. He went to the Master and asked, ‘Master, if I meditate four hours a day, how long will it take me to transcend?’
The Master looked at him and said, ‘If you meditate four hours a day, perhaps you will transcend in ten years.’
Thinking he could do better, the man then said, ‘oh Master, what if I meditate eight hours a day, how long will it take me to transcend?’
The Master looked at him and said, ‘If you meditate eight hours a day, perhaps you will transcend in twenty years.’
‘But why will it take me longer is I meditate more?’ the man asked.
The Master replied. ‘You are not here to sacrifice your joy or your life. You are here to live, to be happy, and to love. If you can do your best in two hours of meditation, but you spend eight hours instead, you will only grow tired, miss the point, and you won’t enjoy your life. Do your best, and perhaps you will learn that no matter how long you meditate, you can live, love, and be happy.’”– Don Miguel Ruiz; The Four Agreements
The next time you catch yourself rumbling with not good enough, ask yourself, did I do the best I could? If the answer is yes, tell yourself you did great. If the answer is no, be compassionate with yourself. To err is human and it’s your humanity that makes you beautiful.
Step Five – Resilience
The next guidepost to wholehearted living is cultivating resilience by letting go of numbing and powerlessness. This guidepost reminds me of something Brown said in her TED Talk and touches on in all of her books.
“We are the most in-debt, obese, addicted, and medicated adult cohort in U.S. history.”– Brené Brown
She goes on to say that you can’t selectively numb emotions. When you try to cover up all the “bad” stuff like pain, anger, and fear with a drink or two or five, you also cover up all the good stuff like joy, and love, and gratitude. And then we find ourselves “miserable and looking for purpose and meaning and then we feel vulnerable…” and the cycle of numbing continues.
I know how easy it is to fall into this cycle. When we think about numbing, we tend to only consider drugs and alcohol. But I’ve seen shopping, gambling, pills, exercise, food, and social media be just as harmful.
The average person picks up their phone about 60 times per day. Have you ever stopped to think about what you’re feeling when you pick it up? I’ve noticed that I tend to pick up my phone to distract me when I’m feeling uneasy.
Here are some things that help with my resilience when I’m feeling uneasy and powerless.
- Talking to someone I trust
- Meditation and prayer
- Positive self-talk
- Positive media — books, audiobooks, podcasts, Ted talks, YouTube
- Getting out in nature
Step Six – Be Grateful
Cultivate joy and gratitude by letting go of scarcity.
On Valentine’s Day 2012 I started a Gratitude Journal. It’s one of the first things I do each morning to this day. And I believe that it’s one of the best things you can do to live with joy and contentment.
We live in a world that operates on scarcity. Go into almost any workplace and you’ll find scarcity acted out.
Here’s an example. A local coffee shop brings in an expert to help with their marketing. Everyone who had anything to do with marketing before refuses to work with the expert, saying things like, “he came from the tech industry, what does he know about coffee shops?” What’s really happening in this situation, and every similar workplace conflict, is that these employees are reacting from a place of fear and scarcity.
I have a great post on scarcity as it pertains to personal finance, but you can apply the principles to any area of life. You can read it here.
Step Seven – Have Faith
Remember that part about using these guideposts because I knew I wouldn’t do things that were uncomfortable otherwise? This is one of those steps. Cultivating intuition and trusting faith by letting go of the need for certainty.
I love certainty SO MUCH! I’m a type-A, researcher, planner, and ducks-in-a-rower, to a T. I find it really hard to operate without certainty.
One of my goals last year was to take a solo backpacking trip. I had camped alone a lot, but being alone in the dark wilderness was a new level of scary. Initially, I planned to do a couple of nights in a state park remote campsite. I don’t how, but somehow that turned into a five-day, 85-mile hike on the Superior Hiking Trail.
This was the longest hike I’d ever attempted and my first time backpacking solo. I planned to do the most beautiful section of trail which also meant it was the most difficult. It’s a challenging trail with lots of rocks, roots, and steep descents. And coming off one of the wettest years in history, it was insanely muddy. This ankle-deep mud cut my normal speedy pace in half. While hiking, it rained for two days straight which made my pack about 10 pounds heavier with everything being wet.
It was hard and I saw a lot of people quit. But I was able to tap into gratitude, intuition, and trusting faith and keep on walking. I beat my goal and then some. I even completed my first ever 20-mile day. And the only way this was possible was by letting go of my need for certainty and to just have faith.
Step Eight – Stop Comparing
Cultivate creativity by letting go of comparison.
Think back to when you were eight years old. I bet you loved being creative. I adored coloring, crafts, embroidery, photography, pottery, writing, dance, and I even created a better dewy decimal system for when I played library.
As I got older, all of those creative things I loved doing started to disappear one by one. After I graduated from college, I saw creativity as frivolous and a waste of time. I was an “adult” and it was time to do “adult” things.
But here’s the truth; we’re all creative. Either we use it or we stifle it. And I’ve learned that stifling our innate strengths and desires leads to anger, resentment, and hopelessness.
To unleash our inherent creativity, we must move past those things that stand in our way. We’ve covered many of these roadblocks already: worrying about what other people think, perfectionism, and fear. And comparison is just one more roadblock.
Our ability to compare can be a good thing when trying to buy the healthiest food for our family while grocery shopping. But comparison can turn ugly when we start comparing ourselves to others. It’s impossible to compare ourselves because we all have unique stories and experiences.
Here are some ideas to help you move beyond comparison.
- Celebrate your accomplishments.
- Create a smile file of awards and compliments.
- Practice gratitude daily.
- Write daily affirmations.
- Commit to only comparing yourself to the person you were yesterday.
Step Nine – Rest
In step nine we’ll cultivate play and rest by letting go of the idea that our worth is tied to our accomplishments.
I know I’m not the only one who has fallen into the achievement trap. Many Americans work WAY TOO MUCH! When I worked in the corporate world, there were times I was forced to work 14+ hour days for more than three weeks straight. I will argue that this is unhealthy until the day I die. Yet I had colleagues who worked like this all the time. And those of us who refused were often shamed or threatened.
There are many reasons that we work this much. Our belief that our worthiness is tied to our accomplishments is just one of those reasons. So I’d like to share an epiphany I had one morning while journaling.
All that time I spent communing with nature the last few summers hasn’t been wasted nor frivolous. It’s been a time of healing and growth. It’s part of my story and all of the future work I’ll do. It didn’t put me behind, but exactly where I need to be.
If we don’t take time to care for our minds, bodies, and spirits, they won’t be here for us when we need them most. If we don’t stop and let ourselves heal, our bodies will eventually force us to. Taking time to stop and listen isn’t being lazy. Spending time in nature isn’t wasted. Rest is a natural part of life and ignoring it won’t help you be your best.
It’s during this downtime that I come up with some of my best and most popular content ideas. Our time away has helped us create our best life and has brought new ideas for our future. And more than anything, it’s helped me learn to love myself better.
Not taking time to rest is not only a disservice to yourself, but also your family, friends, coworkers, and every life you touch. Be sure and schedule downtime weekly and a few longer vacations at least twice a year. Ten, twenty, fifty years from now, you’ll be grateful you did.– Me
Step Ten – Keep Calm
Cultivating calm and stillness by letting go of anxiety as a lifestyle.
As much as diet and exercise, getting good rest and reducing stress are vital to our health and longevity. As someone who is more of a naturally anxious person, I’ve had to work hard to make stillness part of my daily life.
For the last several years, I’ve made calm and stillness part of the first hour of my day. My current morning routine includes reading something that feeds my soul, followed by writing a couple of pages in my journal. Then I end my power hour with a quick meditation session.
If you need more calm in your life, would you consider taking a 30-day challenge? For the next 30 days, commit to setting aside at least five minutes a day to center and calm. I enjoy doing it first thing in the morning as it sets the tone for the rest of my day. Perhaps you may enjoy five minutes of quiet before you greet your family after a long workday, or before you drift off to sleep at night.
Commit to just 30 days for five minutes. If you find that benefits you, try ten minutes for the next 30-day period and let it grow from there.
Step Eleven – Find Meaning
In this step, we’ll focus on letting go of self-doubt and “supposed to” in order to cultivate meaningful work.
Growing up, I believed the purpose of work was to make money and be “successful.” It was what you were “supposed to” do. I was never told that I should find something that aligned with my skills and passions. Nor did I believe that work could be meaningful. So I went to college, took the job that offered the most money, and ended up miserable at “The Worst Company in America to Work For.”
Those expectations of what we’re “supposed to” do run deep in our families and culture. This reminds me of a conversation I had with a woman while I was traveling this past summer. She said, “That’s one of my biggest regrets in life. All three of my sons are very successful, but neither of my daughters work. I don’t know what I did wrong.”
I’m pretty sure she knew that I didn’t “work” either, but I didn’t take it personally. I responded by saying, “Many of us learn that our value lies in our achievements and that couldn’t be further from the truth. I believe that while we’re here, we should use our gifts and talents to serve and provide value. But that doesn’t mean a woman who makes it to the C suite is a better human than the woman (or man) who chooses to stay home and raise their family.”
Everyone’s work has value. I appreciate the person who clears the leaves from the stairs in the park as much as the person who oversees park maintenance. I value the person who harvested the beans that made my morning coffee as much as the guy who started the company that buys and roasts the beans and gets them to the store.
All jobs are important. It doesn’t matter what your parents, spouse, or high school best friend thinks you should do. What matters is that the work is meaningful to you.
Finding and creating meaningful work after a lifetime of “supposed to” isn’t something that happens overnight. And you don’t necessarily need to be employed or get paid for this work. Meaningful work can be a hobby, side project, volunteer effort, or it can mean taking the very best care of your household and family.
Step Twelve – Laugh Out Loud
My final step in my 12 step program to live more wholeheartedly was letting go of being cool and always in control by cultivating laughter, song, and dance.
Ugh, being in control is my love language you guys. Ain’t nobody got time for laughter, song, and dance …except this guy.
My husband, Jeremiah, leads with playful and it’s brought so much joy to our lives. These playful times are just as good for the soul as any of the prayer, meditation, and serious things we do.
So how do we create margin for more play in our lives? Here are a few suggestions.
1 – Switch up your daily routine.
Play seems to come more easily when I step away from the day-to-day. I loosen up when we’re on vacation or in the woods. But since being on a permanent vacation isn’t feasible and would likely lose its appeal, we need to look for other ways to switch it up.
Instead of sitting down to watch TV after dinner, go for a walk or play on the playground. Ride your bike or take public transit to work. Find little ways to switch up your routine that will inevitably invite more play into your life.
2 – Schedule downtime.
Just as I need to schedule time to work on specific projects each week, I need to schedule time to shut it all down. I try to schedule one day a week to let go and play. On a daily basis, I like to schedule an hour when I can do whatever I want. And then, of course, longer vacations are a great way to really let loose.
But if you’re anything like me, you need to schedule it or it won’t happen. This time we spend taking care of ourselves is just as important as any work-related activity.
3 – Tap into your inner child.
What did you love doing as a child but haven’t tried in years? GO DO THAT!
I loved playing outside, riding bike, and ice skating. I think a lot of us had things like this we loved to do. And then somewhere along the line, many of us lost touch with those things.
What brought Jer and I back to playing outside was getting serious about our finances. When we buckled down to pay off our mortgage, our lack of an entertainment budget forced us to do free things like hiking and biking. And cutting back on fancy vacations is what got us started on our camping journey.
When we take care of our own needs, we bring the best of ourselves to others. While much of what we think of as self-care can be serious work, this assignment got me thinking about the importance of play.
What will you go and try just like you’re a kid again?
Here are three more things that helped me become more wholehearted this year.
Step Thirteen – Talk about it
I had a lot of long meaningful chats with a friend on training hikes this past summer. It brought to surface a number of issues that were unknowingly holding me back. It fostered connection and helped me feel less alone. And it helped reinforce the healthy behaviors I was trying to adopt.
Step Fourteen – Get Outside
In Step Seven, I talked about cultivating trusting faith on a solo backpacking trip. The last few summers I’ve been learning just how important spending time in nature is for me. It’s made such a big difference in my life that I try to go into the woods every day I can. I believe that connecting with nature is something we could all benefit from.
Step Fifteen – Read
I read a lot of books, and this one stood out as particularly helpful on my journey to become more wholehearted. It’s about our search for wholeness and rediscovering our true selves. And as Richard Rohr writes, “You do not climb up to your True Self. You fall into it, so don’t avoid all falling.” I’d say that’s a pretty good summary of this year of wholehearted living.
Why should living wholeheartedly be important to you?
You are the key to healing this hurting and broken world. When you learn to fully love and accept yourself, you will finally be able to love others the way they need to be loved. This will, in turn, allow them to fully love and accept themselves and love others the way they need to be loved. It’s a ripple effect that all starts with you.
“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 worthy of love and belonging.”– Brené Brown; Daring Greatly
You ARE worthy of love and belonging and my hope is that these 15 steps to wholehearted living will help you see that.