How to Live a Wholehearted Life: 10 Research Backed Tips

Living a wholehearted life.

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. – theologian Howard Thurman

I have a colleague who can’t fathom how Brené Brown’s TED talk on “The Power of Vulnerability” has been watched over 14 million times. He’s a smart guy and it completely befuddles him.

Perhaps, it’s because he’s an applied mathematician. Like me, he believes in science and prides himself on thinking logically rather than letting emotion get in the way.

Knowledge is important, but only if we’re being kind and gentle with ourselves as we work to discover who we are. -Brené Brown

I think that most people, at our core (myself included), just wish people thought less with their head and more with their hearts.

And that’s probably why I picked up Brown’s book, “The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.” It’s her guidebook on wholehearted living.

Like Charlie’s “Play it Away” and Ryan’s “The Obstacle is the Way,” I truly believe this was the book Brené HAD to write.

Included below are ten research backed guideposts on the power of Wholehearted living–a way of engaging with the world from a place of worthiness.

1.) Cultivate Authenticity: Let Go of What Others Think

“Often people attempt to live their lives backwards: they try to have more things, or more money, in order to do more of what they want so that they’ll be happier. The way it actually works is the reverse. You must first be who you really are, then do what you really need to do, in order to have what you want.” – Margaret Young

When I let go of trying to be everything to everyone, I had much more time, attention, love and connection for the important people in my life.

Think about the people you admire the most. How do you describe them? You might say they beat to their own drummer. Or that they’re comfortable in their own skin. You might think they’re a little bit different or weird, like James Altucher.

And yet you wish you had the stones to be as vulnerable and as emotionally honest as James is with his readers. As Adam Braun says, “focus on your people.” You’re never going to regret being yourself.

2.) Cultivate Self Compassion

Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life-paralysis. Life paralysis refers to all of the opportunities we miss because we’re too afraid to put anything out in the world that could be imperfect. It’s also all of the dreams that we don’t follow because of our deep fear of failing, making mistakes, and disappointing others.

It’s tough to be ‘enough’ when you’re always comparing yourself to everyone else’s perfect life depicted on Facebook.

You are going to fail, make mistakes and disappoint others. Everyone does. The truth is top performers probably fail more often than you because they’re taking the risks necessary to stand out and succeed. You should too.

3.) Cultivate a Resilient Spirit

Hopeful self-talk sounds more like, this is tough, but I can do it.

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.

Get comfortable with discomfort. Learn to develop grit. Practice your definition of spirituality in a way that inspires you.

4.) Cultivate Gratitude and Joy

For many of us, our first waking thought of the day is “I didn’t get enough sleep.” The next one is “I don’t have enough time.” Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it. We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don’t have enough of… – Lynne Twist “The Soul of Money”

If we’re not practicing gratitude and allowing ourselves to know joy, we are missing out on the two things that will actually sustain us during the inevitable hard times.

Chances are you’re starving for gratitude. Slow down. Start a gratitude journal. Stop long enough to be grateful for life’s ordinary moments that bring you joy.

5.) Cultivate Intuition and Trusting Faith

What silences our intuitive voice is our need for certainty. Most of us are not very good at not knowing. We become fearful and look for assurances from others.

When we start polling people, it’s often because we don’t trust our own knowing. It feels too shaky and uncertain. We want assurances and folks with whom we can share the blame if things don’t pan out.

Let go of the need for certainty. Take responsibility for your decisions. Trust your intuition, but understand that sometimes a ‘bad feeling’ means you need to gather more data and investigate further. Believe that things will work out.

Here are 5 ways to turn fear into fuel from the master of uncertainty, Jonathan Fields.

6.) Cultivate Creativity

The only unique contribution that we will ever make in this world will be born of our creativity. If we want to make meaning, we need to make art.

I like Seth Godin’s take on art: Art is what we’re doing when we do our best work.

Comparison is all about conformity and competition. Comparison is the thief of happiness.

If you’re comparing, chances are you aren’t creating. Brené shares William Plomer’s description of creativity as “the power to connect the seemingly unconnected.” Creativity will continue to emerge as a critical skill in a world where businesses are increasing their dependence on information technology and more of us are becoming knowledge workers. Maria Popova shares some of my favorite information on networked knowledge and combinatorial creativity.

7.) Cultivate Play and Rest

Many of us still believe that exhaustion is a status symbol of hard work and that sleep is a luxury.

I used to brag to colleagues about only getting/needing 4 hours of sleep a night. Now I set an alarm; not a time to get up, but a time to go to bed.

We are a nation of exhausted and overstressed adults raising overscheduled children. We use our spare time to desperately search for joy and meaning in our lives. We think accomplishments and acquisitions will being joy and meaning, but that pursuit could be the very thing that’s keeping us so tired and afraid to slow down.

If we want to live a Wholehearted life, we have to become intentional about cultivating sleep and play, and about letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth.

In truth, I could quote this entire guidepost because so much of rings true. That’s why, at this very moment, you’re nodding your head and getting pumped up that someone finally “gets it.”

When I look back at the times, in my working life, when I’ve been the happiest I had the following:

  • Work I enjoyed and was aligned well with my skill set
  • Clear boundaries between work life and personal life (i.e. I left work at the office and went home at a decent time)
  • 7+ hours of sleep, plenty of time to hang out with friends, pursue hobbies, and do something active (like playing)

If you’re interested in deep diving this guide post, I highly recommend both Stuart Brown’s “Play” and Charlie Hoehn’s “Play it Away.”

8.) Cultivate Calm and Stillness

The men and women I interviewed weren’t anxiety-free or even anxiety-averse; they were anxiety-aware. They were committed to a way of living where anxiety was a reality but not a lifestyle. They did this by cultivating calm and stillness in their lives and making these practices the norm.

Start with deep breaths. It’s simple, but it works. Whether you meditate, pray or something else, you need to build time into your life for quiet reflection and alone time.

I’ve always felt so unproductive being still and quiet. “But I could be writing a blog post,” I’d protest. Yet it was amazing how many ideas for blog posts came to me when I set aside quiet time to “do nothing” and reflect. Leo Babauta has some great, practical tips for living a quieter life.

9.) Cultivate Meaningful Work

Self doubt undermines the process of finding our gifts and sharing them with the world. Overcoming self-doubt is all about believing we’re enough and letting go of what the world says we’re supposed to be and supposed to call ourselves.

What does meaningful work mean to you? What inspires you? Carve out some time to think deeply about these questions. Then carve out time in your life (even if it’s not part of your day job) to work on those things.

If you’re scared of getting started, I highly recommend Julien Smith’s “The Flinch” (it’s free!) and Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art.”

10.) Cultivate Laughter, Song and Dance

Laughter, song and dance create emotional and spiritual connection; they remind us of the one thing that truly matters when we are searching for comfort, celebration, inspiration, or healing: We are not alone.

When we value being cool and in control over granting ourselves the freedom to unleash the passionate, goofy, heartfelt, and soulful expressions of who we are we betray ourselves. When we consistently betray ourselves, we can expect to do the same to people we love.

Some nights I like to jam out to my favorite Texas Country songs while playing hearts or Freecell before bed. Alaina and I make mix CDs for road trips with titles like “Summer Time Tunes”  or “Throwback Top 40” with music from our high school days. James Altucher has a great post called, “What Happened to All the Laughter?”

We should all laugh more. And do goofy things that we’d be embarrassed to show people.

Here’s a great example of me being really goofy one night with friends I love and trust:

In Conclusion:

The truth is that meaningful change is a process. It can be uncomfortable and is often risky, especially when we’re talking about embracing our imperfections, cultivating authenticity, and looking the world in the eye and saying, “I am enough.”


Many of the links above are affiliate links, which means I get like $0.37 if you buy Brené’s book. And you should. She condensed years of research into the most applicable highlights and is offering it to you for less than $10. Books like these can help you find meaning, understand yourself  and make your life better. Books are one of the best investments you could ever make.

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