Are you enjoying your life, or are you often tired and overstretched? Are you often striving to please, or be better than, others? Do you sometimes secretly think of busy-ness and exhaustion as status symbols?

A new book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, shows another way. It’s time for us to ease up on ourselves, says its author, respected American sociologist Professor Brené Brown. ‘Wholehearted living involves…cultivating the courage to wake up in the morning and think, no matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.’

Prof Brown invites us to start again, by cultivating habits that energise us instead of engaging with life in ways that are endlessly draining.

Here are some of her key pointers:

  1. Cultivating gratitude and joy

Even if it feels that there’s little to be joyful about, try practising gratitude. ‘Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognise how good things really are’ (Marianne Williamson, author and founder of a meals-on-wheels programme to AIDS sufferers in Los Angeles).

If you stop long enough to be grateful for the ordinary moments which make up so much of life, and become mindful of the joy they bring, you’ll foster a sense of gratitude that infuses life. ‘I tried to bring this principle into our recent house renovations,’ says Sally Bingham, a Cape Town life coach who has incorporated several of Professor Brown’s principles both into her coaching and her own life. ‘They could so easily have been a source of stress, but I made a conscious decision to face them with a spirit of gratitude for being able to make changes to our home. This transformed my daily experience of builders on site. I both spoke and thought this gratitude to the builders, friends and God. It made a huge difference to this protracted process.’

  1. Cultivating meaningful work

‘Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go and do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive’ (Civil rights leader and theologian, Howard Thurman).

Meaningful work depends on discovering, knowing and using our gifts. Focus on the work and activities that leave you feeling life is good! Of course, there’s nothing to say your existing primary focus or job isn’t meaningful… perhaps you just never thought about it that way before?

‘we never even tried’

  1. Cultivating ‘self-compassion’ and a resilient spirit

Striving to please others and get things right can be paralysing. We can be so caught up with getting things right that we miss opportunities to do new things in case they don’t work out. Too often, we rob ourselves of the chance to try because we can’t bear the humiliation of failure. So we fail because we never even tried. Hopeful, resilient self-talk in uncertainty or adversity sounds like: ‘This is tough, this is uncertain but I will try, and can do it’. And if the outcome isn’t perfect so what? Our imperfection, not our perfection, is the common thread uniting humanity.

Sally Bingham recalls how this worked in her own life. ‘When I left stable employment and started my life coaching business, I had to say to myself, “I’m going to give this a try and if it doesn’t work out, so what?” I told myself I’d just have to look for the next best answer: success or failure is not what defines who I am.’

  1. Cultivating play, rest, laughter

We have a biological need for play, just as we’ve a biological need for rest. Take something off your to-do list and have a nap instead! Put on your favourite music, listen to songs you love in the car, go to that ‘chill flick’, watch that silly YouTube clip that your friend sent you, even if you feel too busy for it. Make time to have fun with family and friends. It’s not about the meal or what you actually do, but the opportunity just to ‘be’ together.

  1. Cultivating authenticity

‘To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody but yourself means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting’ (E.E. Cummings, poet).

Being true to what we believe releases us from the inner tension that comes when we say or do one thing while actually thinking another. When our actions are in line with what we’re thinking and feeling, does it really matter what people think of us? Authenticity is freeing. ‘Some would say that all that really matters is what God thinks of you,’ says Sally. ‘You might consider connecting with Him a little better, knowing He thinks you are pretty marvellous… and ditch worrying about what other imperfect people only might be thinking!’

  1. Cultivating creativity

Your unique and individual creativity is completely original and can’t be compared. Without comparison, concepts like ahead, behind, best or worst lose their meaning. What a great thought: just good enough! Carve out time for creativity. As long as we’re creating, we’re cultivating meaning. Get making and creating with DIY, writing, cooking, art, photography, sculpting, dancing, decorating, woodwork: just make sure that you plug yourself into something you love. And of course, afterwards there’s that little nap to right the balance again…

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are is available online from and Exclusive Books.

Watch Brené talking about vulnerability on YouTube:

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