Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection (2010)

Blog posts are not supposed to be in a continuity, but what a gap between the book of my last review and this book! The world depicted in an espionage thriller couldn’t be further away from this essay that praises self-compassion and trust.

How I can bridge the gap between those two, except to say that I enjoyed both, each in its own way? My reading is very diverse this year, with probably a lot more psychology guides than before. If this trend is here to stay, I can’t say. I can’t even pinpoint what I was looking for when I picked up the book. It came with high recommendations, and Brown seemed kind, sensible and caring. That day it was enough for me (I’m not quite saying that I will buy every book from kind, sensible and caring people, but perhaps it’s a good place to start – on the other hand, great writers have been known to be mean and insufferable).

I bought The Gifts of Imperfection thinking that it was a self-help guide, but clearly it has larger ambitions because the approach is different. Brown defines herself as a scientist. Her book isn’t about giving tips and advice, and she doesn’t address the reader like her best friend (good!). She explores patterns of behaviour everywhere (including in her own life) and wants to mould definitions out of this… mess. At the beginning, this style grated on me (we don’t have this demonstration method in France), but then I learnt to pause and ponder on her definitions, because it’s a nice way to concentrate powerful meaning in a few words, then expand it before moving on to the next step.

Now, on to the content itself, some things that made me pause and think (these are my reading notes, sorry for not quoting properly):

– the proper definition of perfectionism: not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is not self-improvement. It is trying to earn approval and acceptance (people-pleasing; other-focused)

– the definition of hope not as an emotion but as a cognitive process: setting goal + having tenacity / tolerate disappointment + belief in our own abilities (as opposite of fear of disappointment and sense of entitlement), therefore hope can be learnt and taught.

– I love Brown’s definition of faith: “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”, that is why some scientists understand that need to accommodate uncertainty while some religious extremists can’t tolerate it and think that have the whole truth.

It was not ground-breaking novelty, but her fine analysis and synthesis skills were enough to make my reading worthwhile! You can find some information on her website too.

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