Striving vs. Self-Acceptance, Removing Trauma Armor, and More – Brené Brown on The Tim Ferriss Show

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Key Takeaways

  • “Sometimes, this world is tough because we shame and diminish ordinary … We chase extraordinary moments instead of being grateful for ordinary moments until hard shit happens. Then, in the face of the really hard stuff—illness, death, loss—the only thing we’re begging for is a normal moment.”Brené Brown
  • It’s possible to practice self-acceptance while striving for improvement
  • “Wherever you go, you’re carrying your mind with you. To develop a familiarity with that, I think, is the crux skill that underlies everything else.” Tim Ferriss
  • No one escapes childhood without trauma. The problem, though, is that trauma leads us to develop pathological armor we carry into adulthood where it eventually stops serving its purpose, preventing us from 1) being seen by others and 2) reaching our full potential.
    • In midlife, make an effort to recognize this armor, dispose of it, and replace it with a sense of curiosity

Books Mentioned


  • Host – Tim Ferriss (@tferriss)
  • Dr. Brené Brown (@BreneBrown) is a research professor at the University of Houston who’s spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy

Why is Brené Brown Universally Enamored By Women?

  • “People appreciate my research and work, but what I really think connects people is that they like watching me struggle with my work … It’s a combination of giving people language for experiences we all have and being really forthright about how hard it is for me—they’re watching the struggle.” – Brené Brown
    • In other words, Brené’s ordinariness, vulnerability, and willingness to discuss her struggles make her relatable

Humans Chase the Extraordinary and Shame the Ordinary (Until the Hard Shit Happens)

  • “Sometimes, this world is tough because we shame and diminish ordinary … We chase extraordinary moments instead of being grateful for ordinary moments until hard shit happens. Then, in the face of the really hard stuff—illness, death, loss—the only thing we’re begging for is a normal moment.” – Brené Brown

The Fine Line Between Self-Acceptance and Striving for Excellence

  • Further, where’s the line between embracing imperfection and striving for improvement?
  • Two questions Tim pondered heading into 2020:
    • “How can I be self-accepting without becoming complacent?”
    • “How can I be high-achieving without being self-flagellating or self-abusing?” 
  • But, after reading Already Free, Tim re-worded his phrasing and began pondering: “How can I make room for both striving and self-acceptance?” (and making room for both is 100% possible)
    • Daily gratitude journaling helps Tim, who’s naturally achievement-driven, shift more towards self-acceptance
      • “These [what he’s grateful for] are generally small things. Sometimes, they’re big things, but I try to include at least one small thing, so I don’t become myopically fixated on the extraordinary. One of the risks of being heavily achievement-focused is that you only pat yourself on the back when you’ve done something that’s the equivalent of a home run talk, massive project launch, or setting a world record of some type.” – Tim Ferriss
    • Tim adds:
      • “I spent most of my life hating myself, or at best, tolerating myself. There was always a lot of self-loathing driving performance. For a long time, I viewed any type of self-acceptance as complacency, and that I always needed to be own devil whipping myself in the back to try harder.” 
      • “You can be forgiving of whatever you’re experiencing in your body, in your psyche, or in the moment while still putting in place steps to improve whatever it is you’re hoping to improve. It’s possible to do both.”

Self-Acceptance Drives Lasting, Meaningful Change

  • “I don’t think you can truly change for the better in a lasting, meaningful way unless it’s driven by self-acceptance.” Brené Brown
    • In essence, beating the sh** out of yourself to improve performance only works for so long

Positive Behavior Change Accompanied By Self-Loathing is Still a Loss

  • “Lasting behavioral change, at least psychologically, if you carry unproductive and self-defeating tension within you… Even if you’re technically changing a behavior, if you carry self-loathing, or even partial self-loathing with you—hating an aspect of yourself or a certain emotion within yourself—I view that as a loss.” – Tim Ferriss

Tim’s Worried That Discussing More Inner Game Concepts Will Cause Him to Lose His Audience

  • Historically, Tim’s books were written with the sole goal of helping readers improve performance —whether cognitive or physical 
  • Nowadays, his content’s shifted—he focuses much more on inner game-related topics and the importance of developing a keen level of self-awareness (Why? So you can examine the contents of your consciousness)
    • Tim adds:
      • “Wherever you go, you’re carrying your mind with you. To develop a familiarity with that, I think, is the crux skill that underlies everything else.”
      • “We all know plenty of achievers who are miserable—high-performing, well-known people who are unutterably miserable. The question of, ‘How can that be?’ is the question I’m incredibly interested in these days.”
      • “I worry that, having built an audience who’s largely go, go, go, win, win, win… that I may lose a large portion of those people shifting into more of these inner topics.”
    • Brené, as you might have guessed, couldn’t be more encouraging of Tim’s shift
      • “Unlocking performance is one thing; unlocking people—way harder. Unlocking ourselves and creating self-awareness—to me, you’d be remiss not to go here.” – Brené Brown
  • One note: Tim’s audience is now 40-50% female

How to Shed Your Pathological Armor and Feel What You’ve Been Avoiding

  • Tim prefaces this discussion with a quote from one of his favorite books, Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach:
    • “There’s only one real question that matters: ‘What are you unwilling to feel?'”
  • “95% of what I see that people call pathology is armor—it’s behaviors and ways of thinking that you’ve developed to protect yourself from being hurt” – Brené Brown
  • How does Brené go about advising people who are afraid of feeling certain emotions—those fearful of opening Pandora’s box and getting dragged into the deep waters of emotions they’ve kept under lock for so long?
    • Simply, whether you open Pandora’s box or not, it’s something you’re going to deal with (if you aren’t already)—it’s contents WILL manifest, somehow, someway
      • “Emotion and cognition—undefined and unexplored—drive every decision you make. You either develop self-awareness, or these things control you.” – Brené Brown
        • This relates to a famous Carl Jung quote: “Keep your shadows in front of you—they can only take you down from behind.”
    • “What I always say: ‘We all grew up and experienced trauma and disappointment in varying ways—the hard stuff, and armored up. At some point, though, that armor no longer serves us? … How is not talking about this serving you?'” – Brené Brown
      • Brene continues: “Now, the weight of the armor is too heavy. It’s not protecting you, and it’s keeping you from being seen by others … This is the developmental milestone of midlife: the universe comes down, puts her hands on your shoulders, pulls you close, and whisperers in your ear, ‘I’m not f***ing around. You’re halfway dead. The armor is keeping you from growing into the gifts I’ve given you—that’s not without penalty. Time’s up.’ … This is where everything that we thought protected us keeps us from being the parents, the partners, the professionals, and the people that we want to be.”
  • A quote to wrap this up: “It’s so much easier to offload pain than to feel pain.” – Brené Brown
  • A related book recommendation from Tim: The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk M.D.

Replace Your Pathological Armor with Curiosity

  • Don’t just pull off your armor, replace it with curiosity
    • “Curiosity is the superpower for the second half of our lives—it keeps us learning, it keeps us asking questions, and it increases our self-awareness.” – Brené Brown

No One Escapes Childhood Without Trauma

  • No matter your childhood—whether you were sexually abused, emotionally abused, or grew up on the margins of society—there’s trauma for all of us; we just experience it at different levels

Maintaining Her Marriage for 25 Years is the Hardest Brené’s Ever Done; What’s Helped?

  • The ’80/20′ hack:
    • Brené prefaces: “Everyone says marriage should be 50/50; it’s the biggest crock of bull sh** I’ve ever heard. It’s never 50/50—ever.”
    • In terms of overall levels of energy, kindness, and patience, Brené and her husband will quantify (daily) where they are on a spectrum of 0 to 100. Then, based on their assessments, they’ll “make up” for what’s lacking.
      • For example, if Brené comes home from work feeling ~10%, her husband will aim to make up for the gap, pulling them to 100%
      • “We know we have to sit down at a table anytime we have less than 100% combined and figure out a plan … Marriage isn’t something that’s 50/50; a partnership works when you can carry their 20%, and they can carry your 20%, and when you both just have 20%, you figure out a plan.” – Brené Brown
      • What might Brené and her husband do if they’re both <50%?
        • Make life easy by ordering out, hiring the housekeeper for an extra day, etc.
  • Maintaining a “family-focused family” (as opposed to a parent- or kid-focused family)
    • Brené views her family as a “system that everyone serves” — keeping the family healthy is the #1 priority
    • For instance, if someone (her husband, Brené, or one of her two daughters) wants to do some sort of extracurricular activity, it’s only allowed if it doesn’t jeopardize the family’s health

Why Brené Encouraged Her Super-Academic Daughter to Slow Down & Explore Her Interests

  • Her logic? – Don’t rush through high school/college. Slow down—take the time to fully explore your interests and learn about yourself.
    • “If I had a dollar for every interview I did with someone in their late-20s or early-30s who got on the engineer, lawyer, or doctor path because that was the leading escalator for smart people at the time who’s now depressed and hates what they do, never realizing they could be a shoe designer, casting director, or microphone builder… If I had a dollar for every one of those, I’d be set for life.” – Brené Brown
      • (Knowing what you don’t want to do is often more valuable than knowing what you do want to do)

Everyone Should Have to Work One—Preferably Two—Service Jobs Early in Life

  • “Everyone I know who’s waited tables is a better human being” – Brené Brown
    • Brené adds: “Don’t EVERY date a guy who’s a dick to a waiter” 

Brené’s Evolving Business Mindset: Further, Faster to Slower, Closer

  • “I’m not a further, faster person—the further, faster I go, the crazier I get. The slower, closer I am to my real life, and grocery shopping, and unloading the dishwasher, and loving on people, the better I am. I’m a slower, closer person.Brené Brown
    • Brené’s old mindset: Do everything possible to scale her business
    • Her new mindset: Create world-class research/content and partner with people who scale (when the timing is right)

Brené’s Sobriety is Her Superpower

  • Brené’s been sober for 23 years (and she rarely misses alcohol)
    • Following a ketogenic diet has undoubtedly helped Brené abstain from booze (most alcohol kicks you out of ketosis)
    • “My sobriety is really a superpower. I would attribute my marriage success, how I’ve raised my kids, and my career success to the fact that I’m sober. When shit gets hard, I stay in it.” Brené Brown

Brené Changed Her Opinion on the “If You Can’t Do it 100%, Don’t Bother” Mindset

  • Specifically:
    • Any workout > no workout
    • Cooking a so-so family meal > not sitting down with your family to eat at all
  • “Perfectionism is not only a defense mechanism; it’s the worst procrastination tool in the world.” – Brené Brown

The Weird

  • Brene will frequently sit down for a movie night with her husband and only watch movie trailers
  • Brene is obsessed with Rick Beato‘s YouTube channel
  • Brene’s favorite TV content? 
    • British crime procedurals and Gogglebox (in essence, you’re watching people watch TV)
  • Brene is hooked on TikTok; Tim has different thoughts:
    • “TikTok, for me … I feel like someone’s peeking around a corner late at night going, ‘Hey. Heroin: $10.’ I’m afraid to go on TikTok because I can understand why I’d get hooked.” – Tim Ferriss
    • Check out Brene’s favorite TikTok video

Additional Notes

  • “I don’t know that anyone who’s trying, primarily, to be famous has anything interesting to say.” – Brené Brown
  • “What differentiates us as a social species is the need to be seen and known and loved, and the need to see and know and love others.”Brené Brown
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