The Tim Ferriss Show Transcripts: Brené Brown — Striving versus Self-Acceptance, Saving Marriages, and More (#409)

Please enjoy this transcript of my second interview with Dr. Brené Brown (@BreneBrown). Brené is a research professor at the University of Houston, where she holds the Huffington Foundation – Brené Brown Endowed Chair at The Graduate College of Social Work. Brené is also a visiting professor in management at The University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business.

She has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy and is the author of five #1 New York Times bestsellers: The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, Braving the Wilderness, and her latest book, Dare to Lead, which is the culmination of a seven-year study on courage and leadership. Brené hosts the Unlocking Us podcast, and her TED talk, The Power of Vulnerability, is one of the top five most viewed TED talks in the world with over 45 million views. She is also the first researcher to have a filmed lecture on Netflix. The Call to Courage special debuted on the streaming service on April 19, 2019.

Transcripts may contain a few typos—with some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it’s difficult to catch some minor errors. Enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform. You can also watch the conversation on YouTube

#409: Brené Brown — Striving versus Self-Acceptance, Saving Marriages, and More


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Tim Ferriss: Brené, welcome back to the show.

Brené Brown: I’m excited to be here.

Tim Ferriss: It’s so good to see you.

Brené Brown: I love your digs.

Tim Ferriss: Thank you very much. Beautiful Austin, Texas.

Brené Brown: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Although you can’t see much of it right now with the cloud cover, but I wanted to start with two things that happened today.

Brené Brown: Okay.

Tim Ferriss: Number one, talking to my girlfriend this morning and she says, “Oh, who are you interviewing today?” And I say, “Brené Brown.” She goes, “Ah, I love how casually you say that.” And then a woman downstairs, I won’t mention by name, who works in the building. Similar story, similar reaction. And I have met so many women who are otherwise very tightly composed, who start gushing at the mere mention of your name.

And what I would love to hear you comment on is what chord do you think you have struck, or what archetype are you providing that gets that response? Because it’s not a common response. I know a lot of very successful or very famous women who do not elicit that kind of response from people. How do you explain that?

Brené Brown: No idea.

Tim Ferriss: No idea.

Brené Brown: No idea. I don’t know.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Brené Brown: Do you know?

Tim Ferriss: I have perhaps a theory. I mean, the only other person I’ve heard elicit similar responses is Esther Perel. So I—

Brené Brown: Love her.

Tim Ferriss:—have to imagine (she’s great), that it has something to do with vulnerability. But is it just that? I mean, what is the feedback that people give you?

Brené Brown: Okay. So I do have a theory and I don’t know if this is the driver of that reaction because it’s still shocking to me. Normally if I walk up and somebody goes, “Oh,” I still look behind me like, “What’s happening?” Mostly I’m looking for danger because that’s how I’m wired. But here’s what my new theory is.

My new theory is that it’s not that people, I mean, people I think appreciate the research, they appreciate the work, but I think what really connects to people and kind of across gender is what they really like is watching me struggle with my own work. So rather than being someone that’s like, “Here’s what we should all be doing –“

Tim Ferriss: “I’ve got it all figured out.”

Brené Brown: “I’ve got it all figured out.” I’m like, “This shit sucks.” And if I didn’t think we had to do it, I’d be like, “No way in hell am I doing this.” And so I think it’s a combination of giving people language for experiences that we all have and then being really forthright about how much, how hard it is for me and how much I hate it sometimes. Do you know what I mean? I think—

Tim Ferriss: I do.

Brené Brown:—watching the struggle.

Tim Ferriss: In the description of your new podcast, which will be launching shortly and is already dominating the charts of the preview—congratulations.

Brené Brown: Thank you, I’m excited.

Tim Ferriss: One of the phrases that stuck out to me, and I might butcher this slightly, but it was something like the magic and messiness of relationships or the human condition. But the magic and the messiness. So maybe what you’re speaking to is not providing the highlight reel, which I think is common—

Brené Brown: Yeah, totally.

Tim Ferriss:—but also giving people the low-lights, which are part of everyone’s experience.

Brené Brown: Yes. I’m not a—it’s like the ESPN play of the day.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Brené Brown: Like there were like 5,694 pop flies missed. And then that means there’s like 300 outfielders that are in a shame shit storm. And to me, that’s much more interesting than the play of the day.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Brené Brown: Yeah. I like the play of the day. I watch the play of the day. I’m a big sports person. But I don’t often make the play of the day.

Tim Ferriss: Me neither.

Brené Brown: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Which is precisely why, when every once in a while I’ll talk to someone involved with media, and they’re like, “Can we shadow you for a day?” And I’m like, “Absolutely not.”

Brené Brown: No, no.

Tim Ferriss: It’s because it’s 99 percent just like missing the pop ball and having it hit me square in the face, that’s 99 percent of the day. And I’m like, “That’s not going to make for compelling media coverage.”

No, And I get asked that sometimes too and I’m just like, “Well first of all, no, because like, okay, I’m making a lunch for school—for my kid going to school—I’m unloading the dishwasher. And yeah, this goes into a whole different topic. But I also have like, there’s a line. Like, this is my life.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Brené Brown: The people I love can’t follow me, so strangers are definitely not following me. I don’t like anybody enough.

Tim Ferriss: How did you, and I know we spoke about using a certain format for this conversation and we’ll get to those. But I’m curious as someone who, as best I can tell, was not trying to become famous, you gave your TED Talk that now has 35 plus million views, some of the top talks of all times. It seems from the outside looking in that you were thrust into becoming a public figure. How did you navigate determining where to draw lines and boundaries?

Brené Brown: Well, I don’t know. It’s still a daily practice. I’m still drawing them every day and I’m readjusting them every day. But I am so grateful that this didn’t happen to me when I was younger because I don’t know—there’s this working theory that a friend of mine, Jennifer, shared with me that, she said, “I don’t know that anyone who is trying primarily to be famous has anything interesting to say.”

And I think part—and I think that’s true. I didn’t want to be, I don’t know that I’m famous, but I didn’t want to be a public person because I’m too self-conscious for that really, to be honest with you. And I’m a tough person, but I get my feelings hurt.

And so when people make fun of what I look like or what I say, or if I use the wrong word or mispronounce something, it can take me down less than it used to be able to, less than it did, I guess. But so I didn’t really want the public part. So when that first started happening after the TED Talk, I already had a team together because I was, I wanted to get my scale, my work, I wanted to get to as many people as I could with my work.

I just wanted you stand down and push my work into the world and not be—there’s a lot of people whose work is in the world, but we don’t know who they are. But again, going back to your first question, I don’t think it’s my work. I think it’s me as a vessel for the work that resonates with people because I think I am—it’s like a terrible paradox. It is a terrible paradox.

I’m having a moment like that, it’s my ordinariness that makes me relatable and it’s also my ordinariness that makes me where I take all the hits. Do you know what I’m saying?

Tim Ferriss: I do. And I also think, I mean, I’m not going to—I would over drinks maybe debate the ordinariness, but I do understand what you’re saying and I think that in your displaying of your fully imperfect self, which we all are, right? In that ordinariness doing what you do and putting your work into the world as you have is extraordinary.

And so, I think that may be a piece of why people connect and find it so inspiring. Right? As opposed to seeing like a LeBron James or whoever, isn’t going, “Well, that guy’s a mutant! That is a separate planet. There’s no room for me to aspire to emulate that because it’s so out of reach.” Does that make sense?

Brené Brown: It totally makes sense.

Tim Ferriss: Whereas when you are very vulnerable and discuss the struggle, people go, “Oh, shit. That’s how I feel. I didn’t know people who do things like put work into the world in a TED Talk and this, that, and five bestselling books and so on, could also feel that way and do the work that they do.”

Brené Brown: Oh, yeah. Yeah. So yes, I definitely feel that way. I mean, and I think the people who have followed my work for a long time were just growing up together and learning together. I mean, when I started, I didn’t understand that I could be brave and afraid at the same time. And now I live in that. I’m like, I feel brave right now because I’m with you here doing this. But I’m also afraid and I’m like, I’m literally thinking, “How much longer can I hold in my stomach and talk to him?”

And at some point, I’m just going to have to breathe! These are the things I think about, you know! Then I’m like, “I shouldn’t have worn the clingy Rolling Stones shirt. I should have worn something puffier so I could breathe.” I’m just a normal person. But yeah, I’m just a normal—I am a really, I think we’re all kind of ordinary people. I get to do extraordinary things, but I think we’re all ordinary people. But I think sometimes this world is tough because we shame and diminish ordinary. Ordinary lives or small lives.

Ordinary moments are—we chase extraordinary moments instead of being grateful for ordinary moments until hard shit happens. And then in the face of really hard stuff—illness, death, loss—the only thing we’re begging for is a normal moment. Like, “Oh my God, could I please have that ordinary moment back? Can I please hear him come through the screen porch door? Can I please get a call from my mom or a crazy text?”

Like, then we want the ordinary moments. But in them with all the noise, it’s about the extraordinary right now. And I’ll tell you a true story, I’m debating right now whether I should tell it or not because it’s so fresh. But I just had to do a photoshoot for the podcast, like the image for Apple and everyone to use. And I was—the photographer was great, Randal Ford. It was fine. It was at the Hotel Saint Cecilia here in Austin, which was a really fun place to do it.

Tim Ferriss: It’s a great place.

Brené Brown: So [camera clicking sounds] and I’m uncomfortably doing that like, “How much is too toothy?” you know, that whole thing. And they said, “Well, come and look in the monitor, they’re great.” And then I stepped around to look at the monitor and it was such a shock to me because this was the thing playing in my mind. I’m 54, I know who I am, I really like who I am. But then I’m looking in this monitor and I’m like, “Oh, my God.”

Because my training for 54 years has been, “Why are you taking pictures and having all these fancy people here when you’re not perfect looking?” This is the realm of perfect people. Like models do this and stuff, you know, but to see on these big screens with all these professional people against a white backdrop like me, I’m like, “Oh, my God. This is not what we normally see in a photoshoot behind the scenes,” right?

And it was just this moment that like, it was such a metaphor for life. It’s like I earned every single one of these F-ing wrinkles and stretch marks. And this is the body that raised my kids and you know, like, but that ordinariness can almost be—for those of us who haven’t found a way to love it in ourselves—repulsive.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, the realness.

Brené Brown: The realness. Like, this is me. So when they were doing the photos, like, getting ready, photoshopping the photos, I was like, “Make sure that I look my age because I don’t like the shock and awe when I show up someplace and they’re like, ‘Damn! Was that an old photo?'” It’s true. It’s like really grappling with—and I’m just going to say these things out loud. Do you know we’re like—and maybe that’s why people are like, “Oh, thank God someone’s saying them out loud.”

Tim Ferriss: Yeah right.

Brené Brown: Because they’re normally relegated to our secret shame lives.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Brené Brown: You know, and we all have them.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, oh for sure.

Brené Brown: Right?

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Well, I’m glad that you are, it’s odd to put it this way, but showcasing that, right? I mean, I think it provides a sigh of relief to a lot of people who feel like they have to keep all of these things relegated or feel like they have to divorce those parts of themselves in some ways.

Brené Brown: Yes. Yeah. And I think it’s, there is a divorcing, there’s an orphaning even, I would say, of these parts of ourselves. And it’s not like—you know, it’s weird too because people always say—this is an interesting question. I should ask you this question.

Tim Ferriss: Fire away.

Brené Brown: People always say, “Where’s the line between embracing imperfection and vulnerability and kind of our humanity and striving for excellence?” Do you know what I mean?

Tim Ferriss: Absolutely.

Brené Brown: And I’m a striver, like we’re serious about our brand and my work and attributions and I work out all the time. And you know, you asked me that before we started, we were checking like, what did you have for breakfast? And I’m like, “I am intermittent fasting.”

Tim Ferriss: And I’m like, “Damn it, we just need 10 seconds of audio.” What are you fantasizing about eating for lunch?

Brené Brown: Keto bar.

Tim Ferriss: Keto bar.

Brené Brown: So it’s not like embracing your imperfection is giving up. How do you answer that question? If I said, “Tim, where’s the line between being our best selves or striving for excellence and embracing who we are?”

Tim Ferriss: Funny you should ask, because we’re recording this in January, 2020 and I thought a lot about this on New Year’s Eve and in the few days after the passing of the New Year when I was going through notes and photographs and everything from the past year. And I’m actually still doing that review. I mean, we’re well through the midpoint of January and I’m still doing my last year review.

And one of the conversations with my girlfriend, with some of my best friends, was this topic exactly. And I can tell you where I landed because I wanted to try to get the right phrasing for me of the question. So I talked about the line, right? And there were a number of different versions of the question. One was: “How can you be self-accepting without becoming complacent?” Right?

Brené Brown: Oh, God that’s right. That’s it.

Tim Ferriss: Like that was one, right?

Brené Brown: That’s great.

Tim Ferriss: That was one. And then—

Brené Brown: That’s good.

Tim Ferriss:—how can you conversely, how can you be high-achieving without being self-flagellating or self-abusing? And I thought about the—

Brené Brown: Another good one.

Tim Ferriss:—I thought about the line as you phrased it. I thought about the line and I realized that I had trouble answering that question. Like where the line is. So the question that I started to ask myself, which was informed by a book I’ve been reading for the last month or so-called Already Free, which is written by a Boulder-based psychotherapist who also is a Buddhist contemplative.

And he’d be the first to say these two do not mesh. They actually contradict each other in some ways, but you can make room for and use both. So informed by this book, which I was reading during the passing of the New Year, I thought to myself, “Maybe the question is ‘How can I make room for both striving and self-acceptance?’”

And so this might seem really clinical and boring, but I just schedule blocks of time for both and practices for both. So for instance, there’s a journal called The Five-Minute Journal and part of that is what I’m grateful for, three bullets. What made today great, three bullets. And those are generally small things. Sometimes they’re big things, but I try to include at least one small thing so that I don’t become myopically fixated on the extraordinary.

Brené Brown: Right.

Tim Ferriss: Right. And because I think one of the risks of being heavily achievement-focused is that you only give yourself a pat on the back when you’ve done something that is the equivalent of a home run talk, or a massive project launch, or setting a world record of some type in your mind. And you can become really miserable that way.

So in my personal life, driving and achievement and being in gear six is, and has been forever, the default. Right? And I think that’s a coping mechanism for a lot of things that happened when I was younger. But nonetheless that is the default. So the self-acceptance is putting things in the calendar as practices that will ensure I take time for that because my experience is that if I don’t put them in the calendar, they just get squeezed out by everything else. How do you think about it?

Brené Brown: Well, I’m changing in real-time because I love to make room for both. But I think the only place that I have come to around using my question about the line, where’s the line between—I love that—complacency and what did you say? Complacency and?

Tim Ferriss: Self-acceptance and complacency.

Brené Brown: Self-acceptance and complacency. And for me, I always think where is the line between—so I’ll just take it to our organization and my role as a leader in that organization. We believe in excellence and beauty in all things. And we are not jacking around.

Like if a font’s wrong, I will notice it. So where is the line between excellence and beauty in all things and perfectionism that is paralyzing, no work gets out? So there’s always, where’s the line between my perfectionism and my being my best self?

The only thing I’ve come to so far that has been the shift for me between, it’s a midlife shift. I think it’s a midlife shift for everyone and it’s taken me a good five years in midlife. I will determine the line. You will not determine the line for me. So I know, I know that for me it doesn’t matter what I’m achieving or accomplishing, if I’m not eating in a way that makes sense for me, working out and sleeping, that it doesn’t matter.

So, whether you’re saying, “Boy, you need to lose 30 pounds,” or you’re on the side where you’re like healthy at every, you know, whatever. It doesn’t matter. I don’t care what you think on either side. What I think is, I know I need to work out five days a week. I know that I need to eat this way. I know I need to write down what I’m eating because otherwise, I’m like, I can be a stress carb person.

So for me the day I reclaimed that line as internally set, not externally set, was a huge changer for me. But I do think I need to make room for both. I’m going to look into that. It is very Buddhist.

Tim Ferriss: It is and—

Brené Brown: It’s not the competition conflict thing.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. And what this author, I’m blanking on his name, but we’ll put it in the show notes. What he uses as labels are on the Western psychotherapy side, he talks about the developmental view. So you look back at the outdated strategies that have become patterns in your life that are no longer applicable or are being overused. And then you take steps to improve or change your behaviors.

And that would include your thought patterns. And then on the Buddhist side, I would just say if Buddhist as a word bothers you, you could, just on the awareness side, he would call it the fruitional view, which is being effectively becoming and cultivating the ability to be okay with whatever is.

And so another aspect of this that I’ve been thinking about a lot is there are different types of self-acceptance, and I think this is really important and it’s only something I’ve thought very closely about in the last handful of years because I spent most of my life hating myself, at best tolerating myself for moments. But there was a lot of self-loathing driving performance.

And I, for a long time, viewed any type of self-acceptance as complacency. Just self-acceptance equals complacency. Period. And you need to be your own devil, whipping yourself in the back to try harder. What I’ve realized, and this is informed by a lot of reading of course, is that there is complacent self-acceptance where you say, “Everything I’m doing is just fine. I don’t need to change anything and I shouldn’t change anything.”

Brené Brown: Yeah, I want to, you can just stop there for a second. You can edit it, but I’m a pauser. I need a—I have to think. There is such a thing as what?

Tim Ferriss: And I can modify. I can modify.

Brené Brown: But I want you to say what you just said.

Tim Ferriss: What I said is I do think there are multiple types of self-acceptance, and that term, self-acceptance, could be used to excuse complacency in the sense that you could say, “I am practicing self-acceptance, which means everything is great, everything is as it should be la, la, la. I don’t need to change anything.”

But then, I’ll just add one more piece. There is a self-acceptance which says, for instance, as an example, I’m making this up like—

Brené Brown: I have to write this down.

Tim Ferriss: But like, “Right now I am nervous and I’m frustrated and I’m angry because A, B, and C is happening in my life, and we’re doing this podcast, and I’m bald now, unlike in 2007, and oh, my God, is my head just a shiny cue ball on camera right now? Blah, blah blah.” And I could accept all of those things as true because they are—those are my experience. And then for some of them I could resolve to take steps to improve upon those things, right? “So there’s a situation I need to fix? Great, let me go fix it, because that’s making me—or agitating me—in some way.”

So I think that there’s a self-acceptance, which is a macro, “I don’t need to change anything.” And then there’s a self-acceptance, which is really just truthfully accepting whatever you’re experiencing at the moment as what is happening, as opposed to saying, “I don’t want to feel angry. I don’t want to feel angry.” And like fighting and fighting and fighting and tugging yourself in multiple directions.

So that might sound esoteric, but for me it’s been very profound in that you can be forgiving of whatever you are experiencing in your body, in your psyche, in the moment, while still putting in place steps to improve whatever it is you’re hoping to improve. Right? I think it’s possible to do both.

Brené Brown: I think it’s possible to do both too, for sure. I do because I think I live both and I do, I go back to the Jungian belief that the paradox is the only real thing that is, has enough tension to capture human experience. So I think you can have self-love and self-acceptance and want to be better in ways, I think.

And in fact, I don’t think you can change without—okay. So here are the things I want to unwind. I don’t think you can truly change for the better in a lasting, meaningful way unless it is driven by self-acceptance.

Tim Ferriss: I agree with that.

Brené Brown: So I think beating the shit out of yourself for performance, which you know, I work with a lot of sports people now, it works. And if all you have to do is pay someone for one season or all you do is one game or one whatever, you’re okay. But lasting, meaningful change has to be driven by self-acceptance.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Brené Brown: The other thing that is just so shocking to me about complacency and self-acceptance is as I think back, and I would really have to go into the data, but just sitting here, I don’t think I have ever come across a single person who I—not a single person that I can think of—who was complacent, driven by self-acceptance.

I don’t think, I don’t know that that is not an oxymoron. I’ve got to tell you that. Self-aware complacency doesn’t work for me as a construct.

Tim Ferriss: Self-aware, no. I don’t—

Brené Brown: Or self-accepted complacency. I don’t know that I believe that.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. I mean, I’ll push a little bit. I would say—

Brené Brown: I knew you were going to by the look on your face!

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. I would say—

Brené Brown: I hope you caught that in the camera.

Tim Ferriss:—and I think that I’m struggling for the right terminology, but I think we all know people who are alcoholics, have various issues, and they are in denial of having problems.

Brené Brown: Yes, let me stop you there and say that is neither self-awareness nor self-acceptance.

Tim Ferriss: Definitely not self-awareness.

Brené Brown: But not self-acceptance either.

Tim Ferriss: Well, I would, and maybe there’s a better word, but I would just say that there are people who are delusional to the extent that they either believe they don’t have a problem that they have, or they have a problem and refuse to accept it as a problem. I think that—

Brené Brown: For sure.

Tim Ferriss: Right. So and we can go a lot of directions with this, but I would say that I think we can agree there are complacent people, right? There are complacent people. And among those complacent people, I think there are those who hate themselves. There are those who love themselves and are narcissistic. And I know a number of these. And then there’s a lot in between.

And I think that there are complacent, in some respects, complacent narcissists who—almost by definition of being a narcissist—love themselves. So is that self-acceptance? Maybe yes, maybe no. I would say that it is, but it’s a disabling self-acceptance. Whereas to your point about lasting behavioral change, I think that at least psychologically, if you are divorcing parts of yourself, if you hate parts of yourself, aspects of yourself that have been informed by your history that—and I’m borrowing this phrase from somewhere else—but like, what you resist persists, right?

Brené Brown: Oh, for sure.

Tim Ferriss: And that you are going to carry that unproductive and, in some ways, self-defeating tension within you even if someone is forcing you to change your behavior or incentivizing you to change your external behavior, right? And so even if technically you’re changing a behavior, if you carry self-loathing, even partial self-loathing with you, hating an aspect of yourself or certain emotion within yourself, I view that as a loss.

Brené Brown: Agree.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. So this is getting out there a bit, but this is the type of stuff that—sometimes I worry that I’ve lost my audience. Could I make a confession?

Brené Brown: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Because for a long time, I was thinking about writing a blog post about this, but for a very long time, if you look at all the books that I’ve written, it’s like book on entrepreneurship, book on physical performance, book on cognitive performance and learning, and 4-Hour Chef, et cetera, et cetera. It’s mostly developmental. It’s about improving performance in one or more areas. And now what I’ve spent more and more time on, like we’re spending time on it right now, is the inner game.

Brené Brown: For sure.

Tim Ferriss: And the importance of developing a keen level of self-awareness so that you can examine the contents of your—this is going to get super woo for a second—the contents of your consciousness, right? Like wherever you go, you’re carrying your mind with you. And so to develop a familiarity with that, I think, is the crux skill that underlies everything else. And you and I both know plenty of achievers who are miserable, who are—

Brené Brown: For sure.

Tim Ferriss:—high performing, well-known people who are utterly miserable. And to me, the question of “Why is that? How can that be the case?” is the question that I’m extremely interested in these days. But I worry that having built an audience who is largely, not entirely, kind of “Go, go, go rah, rah, rah, win, win, win,” there’s nothing wrong with that. But people who are trying to develop skills and competitive advantages and so on that I may lose a large portion of those people in shifting into talking about more of these things.

We’ll see where it goes. But that’s something that has occurred to me, and I think I’m willing to make that trade. I think I’m willing to take that if that’s the cost of doing business. I don’t know.

Brené Brown: So a couple things. One, the “Go, go, go” audience that you’ve built, this may scare them, but I mean, as someone who works with elite athletes and professional folks and CEOs and those things, what I can tell you is this is the hardest challenge you’ve issued. And it’s not about the conceptual complexity of what we’re talking about, it’s about—unlocking performance is one thing. Unlocking people, way harder, way scarier. And unlocking ourselves and creating self-awareness? To me, you would be remiss not to go here.

Because I don’t know, I think like something you said when you were talking about we all know a lot of narcissists and they love themselves, but that’s actually not true. Do you know that narcissism is the most shame-based of all the personality disorders? Narcissism is not about self-love at all. It’s about grandiosity driven by high-performance and self-hatred.

I define it as the shame-based fear of being ordinary. And so you have to me, you have this audience that, and I’m one of them, I mean like, and I’m probably an outlier, I guess. It’s like me being a Rush fan—of course there’s always outliers.

Tim Ferriss: No, the audience is like 40 to 50 percent female.

Brené Brown: Is it?

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, it is.

Brené Brown: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: It’s shifted a lot in the last handful of years.

Brené Brown: Yeah. But I think when I get invited in by a Fortune 50 CEO and he or she says, “Look, we need help. We need help with the team.” They’re not asking me to help with time productivity. They’re not having me to set up a scrum or agile process for software development. They’re saying, “We’re at each other’s throats; we hate each other.” It’s a shame-based finger-pointing. It’s all about self-awareness and changing those behaviors.

And to me, the hard thing about this area and your work is a lot of what I’ve learned from you that has changed my life has been not only effectiveness-based, but efficiency-based. And so where you can lose people with this conversation is “This is not an efficient process.”

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, right.

Brené Brown: Do you know what I mean?

Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Brené Brown: I don’t think there’s a 4-Hour Self-Awareness. It’s like—

Tim Ferriss: No plans to write that one.

Brené Brown: Yeah. But I mean, but people would love it if you could, if you could unlock that fast. But to me this is the capstone conversation for you. Yeah. Do you know what I mean?

Tim Ferriss: I do.

Brené Brown: Because what’s it F-ing for?

Tim Ferriss: Yeah right.

Brené Brown: You know, like, “I’m fit, I’m winning, I’m smart, I’m successful, and I’m on my third marriage, and I don’t speak to any of my children.”

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Which you see a lot.

Brené Brown: I see all the time.

Tim Ferriss: All the time, yeah.

Brené Brown: Right. Because I’m going to tell you—not to dismiss the importance of that work—that’s easier.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Yeah. It is easier.

Brené Brown: It is easier. You know, because the thing about these conversations that you and I end up having every time we sit down, this is the second time, but both times we’ve sat down is 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. And no one rides for free. We all come into this adulthood with hard stuff. And what I would say is true about complacency, and 95 percent of what I see that people call pathology, is it’s armor.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Brené Brown: It’s not—it’s armor. It’s how—it’s behaviors and ways of thinking that I’ve developed to protect myself from being hurt.

Tim Ferriss: So I have a question for you about that, and I’m just going to reach in and—there you go. All right. So you’re good. You’re good. So my question related to armor is—I’ll get there through a segue, which is a quote that I want to say Tara Brach, the well-known meditation teacher, also writer—Radical Acceptance is a fantastic book—shared with me, which I’m going to paraphrase and it’s along the lines of, “A great sage once said, ‘There’s only one real question that matters, and that is: what are you unwilling to feel?’”

I’ve thought about that a lot. And not to say I have any concise answers to that, but I think it’s an anecdote really worth meditating on. I’ve thought about it. What do you say to the people you meet who are on the third marriage, their kids don’t talk to them, and there are certain things that they have convinced themselves—subconsciously or otherwise, maybe through an abusive upbringing or trauma, whatever it might be—that it is unsafe to feel certain things?

And you come in, they’ve asked for help, but they do not want to open Pandora’s Box. Right? They do not want someone to drag them into the deep waters of emotions that they’ve kept under lock and key for so long. How do you help someone like that? What do you suggest to them? Because it does get messy. Right?

It’s going to get messy before it gets clean, right? At least in my experience, it’s like, oh, you’re going to do spring cleaning? Guess what? You’ve got to take all the things that are up on the shelves, all the things in the drawers, all the things that are hanging on coat hangers, and you’re going to put them in the middle of the room. And it’s going to be a mess. It’s going to be a fucking mess.

Brené Brown: And you’re going to be pissed that you did it halfway through.

Tim Ferriss: And that is—but you can’t really get past go without that type of steps. So for someone who’s listening to this and says, “You know what? I buy it. I get it. And yet what do I do? Because I’ve been—I’ve had on this armor for so long?”

Brené Brown: So I would say a couple of things. I mean, the first thing I always feel like is really important to say is that I’m a researcher, and so I’m not a therapist. That would differentiate me with Esther. I don’t see clients. If I go in and I’m working with CEOs and this question comes up all the time, what I would say to people is, “Pandora’s Box is closed right now, but are you under the impression that you’re living outside of the Box or in the Box?”

Tim Ferriss: I like that.

Brené Brown: Yeah. “I mean, you don’t want to open Pandora’s Box, because that’s strange to me, because you’re living inside Pandora’s Box. And what I feel like you’ve asked me to come here to open it up, like we’re not going to do this process without walking through some deep shit. There’s going to be deep, swift water. And if the water is super deep and swift, you need to go through that with a therapist and get that settled before we work in the organizational way.”

But what I would say to people, what I always say is the same for me and I’m sure the same for you, that we all grew up and experienced to varying degrees, trauma, disappointment, hell, you know, hard stuff. We armored up and at some point that armor no longer serves us. And so what I think I would say to that person is “How is not talking about this serving you?”

I’ve been sober for 23 years. So someone in AA would be like, “How’s that shit working for you?” I probably would put a softer spin on it than that—over black coffee and a cigarette. But I would say that “It’s not serving anymore. And now the weight of the armor is too heavy and it’s not protecting you. It’s keeping you from being seen and known by others.”

And so this is, I mean, to just tell you quintessentially, this is the developmental milestone of midlife. From late thirties to, through probably your sixties, this is the question. Yeah. This is when the universe comes down and puts her hands on your shoulders and pulls you close and whispers in your ear, “I’m not fucking around. You’re halfway to dead. The armor is keeping you from growing into the gifts I’ve given you. That is not without penalty. Time is up.” So this is what you see happen to people in midlife, and it’s not a crisis. It’s a slow, brutal unraveling. And this is where everything that we thought protected us keeps us from being the partners, the parents, the professionals, the people that we want to be.

And there are only, I’ve only seen—this is a fork in the road—I’ve only seen two responses to this visit from the universe. Well, I guess there’s, there was my response, which I was like, “Screw you. Bring it. You think you can best me?” And then it was just one nightmare situation after another until you know, you’re not going to win that fight.

I think if you say, “You know what? I’m not going to do it,” then you’ve got to double down. These are the people that walk through the world, double down on their own shit in denial, cheeks squeezed as they walk, and cause so much pain in the world.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. To themselves as well.

Brené Brown: I mean, yes because it is so much easier to offload pain than to feel pain.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Brené Brown: And so you really have a choice in mid-life whether you’re going to be—you’re going to identify the first step of it, the whole process, is: “What armor?” And I’m not saying just pull off all the armor and streak through Austin, because I think you can replace the armor with something—I think it’s curiosity is what you replace. You just become very curious about yourself, about the world.

“Why did I react that way when Tim asked me that question? I wanted to hit him over the head with a Topo Chico bottle! You know, what was going on there?” Do you know what I mean? Like, “What is my obsession about this?” You just become very curious.

Curiosity is really the superpower for the second half of our lives because it keeps us learning, it keeps us asking questions, and it increases our self-awareness. But when you see, and I think it’s really hard because you know, I’ll walk into a situation and there’ll be the person who invited me is usually the CEO.

And then you’ll have the cross-armed, pissed off, clenched cheek, F-you looking person, usually in operations or technology. And then they’re like, “What’s the business case for you being here? Because, you know, here’s our stock price, here’s what’s going on, here’s our valuation. What do you need?” And then the CEO’ll usually say, “We fucking hate each other and this can only last for so long.”

It’s the end of every great band, right? Like, “This is going to come to an end and it’s going to be terrible.” And so, I don’t know, I think you can’t pull it all off at once. You have to—for all of us, there’s trauma.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Brené Brown: And people are like, “No, there’s not trauma for all of us. There’s trauma for people who have ever been abused physically, sexually, emotionally. There’s trauma for people of color and people who have been on the margins.” There’s trauma for all of us. It’s just different levels of trauma.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Brené Brown: You know, I mean, to escape childhood with nothing is—I haven’t met that person yet.

Tim Ferriss: No, I haven’t, either.

Brené Brown: Right. So the trauma stuff, literally the trauma message in our body is: “You take this armor off, we die. So you protect us at all costs and leave this on.” A lot of that work has to be done with a therapist.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Yeah. There’s some really good books. I mean, there are a lot of terrible books on this type of topic, but the, I think it’s The Body Knows the Score—or The Body Keeps the Score by—

Brené Brown: Bessel van der Kolk.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, yeah Bessel van der Kolk.

Brené Brown: Brilliant.

Tim Ferriss: Is very interesting in terms of tying the physiology and somatic experience into these past emotional experiences. And you know what you were saying about Pandora’s Box and the question which I liked of, “Do you think you’re living outside of Pandora’s Box or are you just locked inside Pandora’s Box?” Is a really insightful question and also reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend of mine who had a very, very tough time, multiple divorces, fortunately are on good terms with his kids, but a lot of interpersonal strife.

And he said—no doubt you’ve heard a lot—which is like, “Yeah, I’m just not sure I want to go there. I’m not sure I’m ready to open that. Not sure I’m ready to deal with it.” And what occurred to me as I was listening because I experienced this for a long time is “Oh, you’re dealing with it.”

Brené Brown: I was going to say, “Yeah, you’re dealing with it!” Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, your choice is, do you want to deal with it head on in the sunlight, or do you want to have it come oozing out of the corners in the darkness where you can’t contend with it in a direct or systematic way? So you’re dealing with it no matter what. The question is: how are you dealing with it?

Brené Brown: A great Jungian saying: “Keep your shadows in front of you; they can only take you down from behind.”

Tim Ferriss: Oh, I like that. I like that.

Brené Brown: Yeah. You’re dealing with it! Like, here’s the thing: emotion and cognition, undefined and unexplored, drive every decision you make. I mean, you either develop self-awareness or these things control you. I mean it’s, but it’s really, I have to say that it can, as someone who chooses affect or effect words carefully, it can be terrifying for people.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Brené Brown: But rarely does anyone around them who knows them—like you with your friend—say, “Oh, my God, I’m shocked to hear this,” when the reveal comes out.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Brené Brown: You’re like, “Your whole life has been defined by this.”

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. And I would also like to say, and this has just been my experience and my experience observing a pretty decent-sized group of close friends who have had this realization in the last, say 10 years, that the process of becoming curious about your subconscious programming and the old scripts and the armor can feel messy, and it probably will be messy, and it’ll feel terrifying.

But not all changes need to take 20 or 30 years. Some changes can, in my personal experience at least—you know I had some terrible things happen to me as a kid—and in the last, say, five years with the right tools, and the right prompts, and the right books, and the right accountability partners, like my girlfriend who’s a very well-developed empath and a very clean fighter, which is really important.

Brené Brown: Huge.

Tim Ferriss: Huge. And one thing that she does really well that has been instrumental for me, she’s been the clearest mirror maybe I’ve ever had in the sense that I have my stuff, she has her stuff, I have my scripts and my sensitivities, many of which are out of date. And we set time to do what we call batching. So rather than having lots of interspersed criticisms or constructive pieces of feedback that may not be taken the best way—by me, especially—at 3:00 p.m. on a weekday, we’ll set time aside to sit down and we will take turns. And this is a format, it may not be the best format, but it’s something we came up with that works for us, where we’ll tell the other person what they’re doing well, like what they’re really doing well, what we think we are doing well, and then we’ll ask for what we would like more of.

And in that format you can start to spot patterns, right? And so if you do that once a week or every two weeks, certain things come up. I’m like, “Oh, wow. The first time you said that, I thought it was just an exception. But now I realize that is a pattern that I have.” When X, Y and Z happens, I go, “Ah-ah, let’s talk about it later, don’t want to deal with it now.” And I shove off certain types of topics or questions and then you can begin to experiment with working on alternatives.

And the reason I’m saying all this is just because I don’t want people to feel like the curiosity, if you’re willing to take that first step, about your patterns, your programming, these attitudes, strategies, and armor does not necessarily lead to you trying to run an ultra-marathon with a blindfold on. There are actually tools and resources and books and methods that can be really, really, really helpful in short order.

Brené Brown: And you’ll be surprised. I mean, it’s really like putting off the mammogram or the prostate check or whatever it is that you have to do, putting it off. All the shit you make up about it, all the scary stories. You collect as many horrible things as you can. And then you go and you’re like, “Wow, the fear leading up to this was so much greater.”

Tim Ferriss: So much worse.

Brené Brown: I mean, I’m not saying it’s not going to hurt; it’s going to hurt. But I do think, I mean, the two hacks that we have, Steve and I have been together for 32 years, dated off and on for seven years, then married for whatever the delta is there, 25 or whatever we are right now. Hardest thing I’ve ever done, hands down. Hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Brené Brown: You all hear me out there? Hardest thing. He and I both come from our parents’ marriages on both sides, divorced, remarried several times. Shit shows. We had no idea what it was supposed to look like. Right? We just were willing to keep showing up and the conversations like you and your girlfriend have, we do that too.

It’s uncanny how similar it is. Yeah. Especially what we want more of, what’s really working. “I really appreciated this this week.” We try not to, unless it needs to be done in real time, we’ll usually wait until we’re in a good place to do it, you know? And I don’t know, I don’t think that he saw dirty fighting, but all I saw was dirty fighting.

And like, shame, humiliation, put downs, stuff that leaves marks, stuff that you can’t—and I can default there when I’m in like a powerless corner, I can come out like, mean, and it’s hard to believe, but no, it’s really not. I know.

Tim Ferriss: Throwing elbows and headbutts.

Brené Brown: Yeah, no for sure. I can kind of—and verbal ones that really are way more serious than a physical headbutt.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Brené Brown: The other two hacks that I think have saved our marriage besides just showing up and using some of these things, like what’s working, what was hard is the 80/20. So everyone says marriage should be 50/50. It’s the biggest crock of bullshit I’ve ever heard. It’s never 50/50. Ever. And so what we do is we quantify where we are. So if Steve comes home and he’ll be like, “I got 20.”

Tim Ferriss: Just in terms of energy.

Brené Brown: Just energy, investment, kindness, patience, “I’m at 20.” And I’ll be like, “I’ll cover you. I got you, brother. I’ll pull the 80.” Sometimes we come home, which we have done a lot, and my mom has been sick, and I’ll say, “I’ve got 10,” and like, Steve two days ago said, “I’m riding a solid 25.” So we know that we have to sit down at the table any time we have less than a hundred combined and figure out a plan of kindness toward each other.

Tim Ferriss: Oh, I love that.

Brené Brown: Yeah, because the thing is, marriage is not something that’s 50/50. A partnership works when you can carry their 20 or they can carry your 20. And that when you both just have 20, you have a plan where you don’t hurt each other.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, you’re threadbare, right?

Brené Brown: Yeah. And so what we’ll say is I’m like, “I’ve got 10,” and he’ll be like, “I got maybe 25.” We’re like, “Put all the groceries that are supposed to be great and healthy in the freezer; we’re ordering out. Get the housekeeper here an extra day, and we’re canceling anything with people that we really actually don’t like.”

Tim Ferriss: So how can we create some buffer in the system?

Brené Brown: We do that. So like, and then we’ll like a day or two later I’m like, he’ll be like, “I’m riding to 60,” I’m like, “Oh, my God, work is kicking my ass. I’m still at 20.” He’s like, “I got you, but we’re a spare of 20. So let’s ask Charlie if he wants to skip water polo practice today and let’s all turn in at 8:00.” Like, huge. The other thing I would say too, that now I’m thinking about that, is we made a determination very early there’s kid-focused families, parent-focused families, and family-focused families. We’re a family-focused family.

So that means that if you want to do water polo, Eagle Scouts, tennis, and skeet shooting, and then that comes to the family, and the family agrees what will keep the family healthy. Like we can, you know, I’ve got a book launch, I’ve got this, Steve’s got patients, he’s taking on others, you know, he’s a pediatrician, he’s doing this. So what works for our family right now is you can do two extracurriculars and I’m going to have a two-week tour, not a four-week tour, but we put the family as the system that we serve. It’s not the kids at the parents’ cost or the parents at the kids’ cost. It’s the family and it is remarkable.

Tim Ferriss: How do you weigh, if you do it all the voting system, so to speak, right? So if you all come to the table, does everyone have equal vote in the decision-making process with respect?

Brené Brown: No. This is a dictatorship! Yeah. Oh, no. Yeah. No. Like, we don’t even bullshit around that. It’s like when my kids, like if I say like, “Oh shit,” my kids are like, “Ooh, you can’t say that.” I’m like, “I say anything I want. You can’t say that. And when you’re old enough, you can do whatever you want.”

Tim Ferriss: “You get your cursing license!”

Brené Brown: Yeah, right now I can totally do that. Watch me. But it’s so we have very, we talk to our kids about everything. We’re super open. Steve and I both have veto power and we rarely use it. I bet I pulled out my veto card once in the last five years.

Tim Ferriss: Veto meaning kid says, “I want to do X,” and you say, “Can’t do it.”

Brené Brown: Or Steve.

Tim Ferriss: Or Steve.

Brené Brown: Yeah. I’m like, “I have to veto that. I cannot do that.” And then we really respect the veto because we don’t overuse it. So our thing with our kids, this is my theory on parenting. My theory on parenting is the best we can do is a loving course from compliance to commitment that your kids need to do what you’re asking them to do out of compliance. “You don’t run into the street.” “Don’t do this.” “You’re not allowed to watch that kind of TV.” “You’re not allowed to play that kind of video game.” You need to comply, otherwise, there’s some natural consequences.

At some point—I’ve got a 14-year-old now—he’s at other people’s house doing video. And so if all I teach him is compliance and don’t give him the why about why you can’t do that. If I don’t say yes every time I can and explain the nos, then when he’s there, and I can tell you that like we got a call from a parent maybe a month ago and said—the boys were having a sleepover they wanted to watch, I don’t know, some R-rated violent thing.

And Charlie said, “Can we watch something else? My parents are not cool with this.” And he couldn’t. He didn’t have to do that. But he’s moved to a commitment to our family values because we say yes every time we can. We don’t do any of that stuff that my parents did—“Because I said no!” We explain.

So in the voting process, we’ll sit down and say, “Here’s the fall semester.” Charlie’s like, “I’ve got guitar, I’ve got this, I’ve got this and I’ve got this and I’d really love to do this.” And Steve’s got, “Here’s what my fall looks like. We still keep time in semesters. Here’s what my time looks like. We’re going to be able to do two curriculars, you can choose.”

“Why not?” “A lot of my friends are doing this.” “I totally understand. Different families have different ways of operating.” It was like my daughter when she went to high school, she’s a junior now in college, but we sat down with her and said, “The number of AP courses that you’ll take will be limited by your time. You won’t go to bed past 10:00. You will not miss a single dance. You will do something every weekend with friends. We will not participate in the race to nowhere.”

“You don’t need to graduate with four”—and she’s a super academic kid. She’s like, “What?” And she’s like, “But I need to take this and I need to take this,” and I’m like, “It’s not going to work that way.” And then when she got to college, we were like, “We’re not paying for it if you already know what you want to be. You’re 18.”

Tim Ferriss: So what does that—say more! I’d like to hear more. So does that mean that you wanted her to—well, actually I’m not even going to speculate. So could you elaborate on that?

Brené Brown: “Take every class that’s interesting to you. Learn who you are.” Because if I had a dollar for every interview I did with a late-20, early-30-year-old that got on the engineer, lawyer, doctor path—because that was the moving escalator for smart people—who was depressed, hated what they did, never even knew that you could be a shoe designer or a casting director or a microphone builder, if I had a dollar for every one of those—

Tim Ferriss: Set for life.

Brené Brown: Set for life. Yeah. And I said, “You need to explore.” And she’s like, “That’s so cringey, Mom. That’s so, so cringey. Everyone at freshman orientation knows exactly what they’re going to be, where they’re going to go to grad school.” I’m like, “That’s great. That’s not the way we work.”

And so, I’ll call, I’m like, “What are you taking?” She’s like, “Taking a class on black power movements, Germany in the 20th century, statistics in multivariate analysis,” and I’m like, “Great.” I mean, granted, that’s postgraduate school, but she’s like, “As it turns out, I don’t think I want to do this. And I don’t want to do that.” And I’m like, “Super valuable.”

And she’s like, “No, are you sure it’s as valuable as knowing what you do want to do?” I’m like, “Oh yeah,” knowing what you don’t want to do, you get to save all the part in your 30s and 40s where you hate work, you’re drinking heavily, you get to save a lot of that. Like figure it out. Nothing’s wasted.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Brené Brown: Yeah. I graduated from college when I was 29. I was like, “Go see the world, get a job, wait tables.” Everyone I know is better who’s waited tables—a better human being.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. I think everybody, everyone should have to work at least one, preferably two service jobs.

Brené Brown: Yes.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Yeah. You really learn a lot.

Brené Brown: Yes. Yes. I mean like that and like that’s what I always tell Ellen, “You get one job where you’re serving the public, and you’d not ever—do not ever—date a guy who’s a dick to a waiter.”

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Brené Brown: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: So I’m going to suggest—we could talk for hours and hours and hours because I know we have a finite amount of time today—that we switch to the format that was anticipated. And I did this previously with my friend Dr. Peter Attia, and it was fun. So I want to try it again.

And it is talking about things you’re excited about or thinking about, things you’ve changed your mind on and then silly, absurd, stupid anything that you love doing.

Brené Brown: I’ve got my homework.

Tim Ferriss: Perfect. Yes.

Brené Brown: I’m so glad we’re going to do this because I did, I prepped.

Tim Ferriss: I know, I know.

Brené Brown: You know I like my gold star. I’m a self-aware person, but—

Tim Ferriss: I’ve got my gold star.

Brené Brown:—I still like my gold stars.

Tim Ferriss: I’ve got my gold star in my wallet. And so, why don’t we start and we’ll go one from each bucket.

Brené Brown: Oh, really?

Tim Ferriss: Is that okay? Or we could do the other way. How would you like to do it?

Brené Brown: Oh, no, I want to do it batched.

Tim Ferriss: You want to batch it?

Brené Brown: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Okay. Let’s batch it.

Brené Brown: Is that me being, like inserting myself into your process?

Tim Ferriss: I’m all for it.

Brené Brown: Okay, great. I’m good at asking for what I need. I’m working on it.

Tim Ferriss: Which category would you like to start with?

Brené Brown: Oh, okay. Tim, let’s take five things I’ve changed my mind about in the last few years.

Tim Ferriss: Oh, great. Wonderful. Let’s do it.

Brené Brown: Okay. And this is like a rapid fire?

Tim Ferriss: You can take as much or as little time on it as you’d like. I will probably ask some follow-up questions, but fire away.

Brené Brown: Five things I’ve changed my mind about in the last few years? Further, faster —

Tim Ferriss: Okay. What does that mean?

Brené Brown:—was always my motto. How can we go further, faster? how can we can go further, faster? And then investors started coming about five years ago and saying, “Can we invest in your business?” I’m like, “You know, when you’re a thought leader, what does that look like?” And I’m like, “No, I don’t want to do that.”

So we self-funded learning platforms and ways to scale the business further, faster. I’ve learned through painstaking—weirdly, have you ever heard this? Painstaking success?

Tim Ferriss: Mm-mm. I haven’t, but I got it.

Brené Brown: I’m the only person that shut down businesses that were doing really well because I hated it.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Brené Brown: Like so the one thing I’ve changed my mind about is I’m a slower, closer kind of a person. I’m not a further, faster person. So we’ve changed our Jim Collins hedgehog to scaling our own work to creating world-class research and content and partnering with people who scale as opposed to scaling it. I just—we were hiring all these people and getting new desks and I was like, “What’s happening?”

Tim Ferriss: “What’s happening here?”

Brené Brown: Yeah, it’s like scale, the magic word. I’m not a further, faster person. The further, faster I go, the crazier I get. And the slower, closer I am to my real life and grocery shopping and unloading the dishwasher and loving on people, the better I am. So I’m a slower, closer person.

Number two, sobriety is a superpower. Yes. I thought it was like a—I never thought it was a pain in the ass, to be honest with you. I have never missed drinking. No, I’ve missed drinking five or six times in the 23 years I’ve been sober. And I can’t explain it to you except it’s when my anxiety, which I can struggle with, is so high that I feel like the only thing that will put it out is something that I shouldn’t be using. So—and I’ve never wanted a drink when I’m in my food zone.

Tim Ferriss: When you’re in your food zone?

Brené Brown: Yeah. So my food zone is pretty like my normal—and I text you about this all time, so I just want your advice. But my food zone is my food zone not because it’s a thing, but because it’s my food zone, it’s kind of keto-y.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Brené Brown: Yeah. So I’m probably insulin-resistant from a lot of yoyo dieting my whole life. And so just that kind of macro of kind of high fat, moderate protein, low carb is my jam and I just feel good. So I think of my keto prick, and it’s binary, which I learned from you. It’s like when I texted you like, “Should I go slow carb or what are you thinking about this?” And you were like, “The thing about keto that you need to be careful about is the binary nature of it. You’re on it or off it.”

Tim Ferriss: Yeah you’re either in ketosis or you’re not.

Brené Brown: Right. And so for me that helps me with my, with the food addiction stuff. because I’m not a—I’m an abstainer. I’m not a moderator.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Brené Brown: You know what I mean?

Tim Ferriss: I totally understand. I’m the same. I’m very binary.

Brené Brown: Yeah. And so for me it’s great. I just don’t eat that stuff. It’s not like I negotiate the bread basket, I just don’t eat the bread basket. And in the Big Book they talk about when you work a program—

Tim Ferriss: Can you describe for people what the Big Book is? Because I had never even heard of this term until yesterday.

Brené Brown: Really?

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Brené Brown: Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book. And I’m not a big—I worked at AA for the first year and then for the last 22 years I worked my own program. It’s got components of AA, but it’s also got some Buddhist stuff in it and some kind of daily examined Catholic stuff and my own thing. I worked my own program with some serious accountability partners.

But in the AA Big Book they write one of the promises of sobriety, if you stay in fit spiritual condition and do your work, is the gift of neutrality where you’re neither running as fast as you can away from the booze or the food, nor are you running away—you’re not running for it or away from it. It’s just neutral.

And so for me, like the bread basket now is neutral. The wine. But my sobriety is really a superpower. I would attribute, including my marriage and the fact that I’m proud of how I’ve raised my kids and my career, to the fact that I’m sober. That when shit gets hard, I stay in it. You know what I mean?

Tim Ferriss: As opposed to trying to—

Brené Brown: Numb it out.

Tim Ferriss:—dull or numb. Yeah.

Brené Brown: Yeah. Work it out, workout it out, drink it out, eat it out. So I really changed my mind looking at it from an albatross to it’s kind of a superpower.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Brené Brown: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: I like that.

Brené Brown: Bangs. I just got bangs.

Tim Ferriss: Me too. Not true.

Brené Brown: You’re just so cute. You’ve kind of got like the curtain bang! I like it. You’ve got a really big curtain bang.

Tim Ferriss: Just bangs. I’m going to get implants. Just bangs.

Brené Brown: That’s so, what are their names?

Tim Ferriss: Just forehead curtains.

Brené Brown: What is that? Three Stooges. I changed my mind about bangs. Usually I only got bangs in my 20s after I broke up with some asshole. So it’d be like cigarettes, wine coolers, and bangs was always the answer to that.

Tim Ferriss: That could be the next memoir!

Brené Brown: Yeah and every woman in the world would be like, “Oh my God! Cigarettes, bangs, and a wine cooler.”

Tim Ferriss: “I’m in.”

Brené Brown: “Some asshole just broke up with her.”

Tim Ferriss: “Buying 10 copies!”

Brené Brown: Yeah. If you, this is my last one, I’ve got six, but I’m going to just share four—five! Okay. One thing I’ve changed my mind about—this goes back to our earlier conversation. If you can’t do it a hundred percent, don’t bother. Yeah. I was like, “I’m not going to cook every meal at night until I can do this class I really want to do at the CIA,” the Culinary Institute of America.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Brené Brown: And now I’m like, “You know what? My kind of pretty good fish tacos is still a family meal where we’re sitting down and saying grace together and it’s good enough.”

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Brené Brown: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Brené Brown: Okay. I see. So it used to be, the mantra used to be “100 percent or not at all?”

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Brené Brown: I’m not going to work out until my schedule opens up for me to work out every day at five o’clock.

Tim Ferriss: Right.

Brené Brown: But my schedule will never do that.

Tim Ferriss: Will never do that.

Brené Brown: Yeah. So I’m doing my little bands and my stuff on my phone at my house or whatever. Like, yeah. The hunt of perfectionism is not only a defense mechanism, it’s the worst procrastination tool in the whole world.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, it’s a great avoidance tool.

Brené Brown: It’s avoidance. Just real quickly, I will say sleep. I’ve changed my mind about sleep. Like why exercise, eat well, any of that stuff if you’re not sleeping? Sleep is like the best, isn’t it?

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Brené Brown: But no one in their 30s or 20s will believe you. And functional medicine, I’ve changed my mind about that. Okay. Five absurd, stupid things.

Tim Ferriss: Let’s do it.

Brené Brown: Do you want to do that last?

Tim Ferriss: I’d say, no, let’s do the absurd, stupid stuff and then we’ll go to exciting.

Brené Brown: Okay. So this is so interesting for me because I, as a qualitative researcher, really found a thematic analysis here. I’ve got some kind of unprocessed problem with the British.

Tim Ferriss: The British?

Brené Brown: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Okay.

Brené Brown: But okay, so, five absurd, stupid, fun things I do. On movie night—I give myself a movie night, because I love movies.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, me too.

Brené Brown: I only watch movie trailers.

Tim Ferriss: Huh? Wild.

Brené Brown: Yeah. I watch like 20 movie trailers. Oh, don’t! You all look judgy over there.

Tim Ferriss: Do you do it on YouTube or how do you find the trailers?

Brené Brown: Apple Trailers.

Tim Ferriss: Oh, wow.

Brené Brown: Yeah. And it’s like the happiest place, like ever. It’s my, it’s like I probably emanate light. Like, okay, so I watch movie trailers on movie night. It’s so—you get the whole emotional rush and narrative within a minute.

Tim Ferriss: Without the 90 minutes.

Brené Brown: Yeah. This is a stupid thing I do. I really am a bad trash-talker and super competitive. So whether it’s like ping pong, or we play a lot of family foursquare. I play a lot of cards. I’m a shit-talker.

Tim Ferriss: Wow.

Brené Brown: Yeah. Terrible shit-talker.

Tim Ferriss: You know, I can see it. I can see it.

Brené Brown: Oh, my God, yes you can see it.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I can see it.

Brené Brown: Yeah. Okay. This is a confession. Okay. So I’m obsessed with Rick Beato videos on YouTube.

Tim Ferriss: Wait who’s this?

Brené Brown: Rick Beato.

Tim Ferriss: I don’t know who that is.

Brené Brown: He’s a music producer and so he does the best countdowns. He does these great countdowns. So the 20 best acoustical intros to rock songs. And he’s my age, and so like, yeah. The 20 best vocal, like I really took a problem with it. He’s a Beatles fan, so there’s a lot of shit ton of Beatles in there. So like let’s just do this, three best vocal, I’m a big music person, and a big rock and roll person, and Texas music person.

Tim Ferriss: I’m about to get very much trumped.

Brené Brown: You’re going to get trumped.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I’m going to get schooled here. Okay.

Brené Brown: Okay. So I thought there would be only one song that could be the number one vocal introduction to a song. What would your guess would be? Just thinking about harmony.

Tim Ferriss: Harmony? I’m already out of my depth here.

Brené Brown: Kansas.

Tim Ferriss: Kansas. Okay. I was thinking Whitney Houston from The Bodyguard soundtrack, but—

Brené Brown: Lord have mercy on somebody!

Tim Ferriss: I know.

Brené Brown: We’re going to—

Tim Ferriss: “I love you, Whitney.”

Brené Brown: “I love you, Whitney, too, but this is Austin, Texas.”

Tim Ferriss: I know.

Brené Brown: And I’m going to take you out one night and we’re going to watch some Rick Beato videos.

Tim Ferriss: I’m ready.

Brené Brown: Okay. Yeah. So it was, he did Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody. Which I think, “Good.” Kansas was three, Paperback Writer from the Beatles was two. I just take exception. So I watch all those, best acoustical guitar intro, all of the ’70s, like Jim Croce and stuff. Best electric guitar, I still have some issues with some of his, but I watch a lot of Rick Beato videos. Okay.

Tim Ferriss: Oh wow. The paper goes down.

Brené Brown: I’m here to change your life.

Tim Ferriss: I’m ready.

Brené Brown: Okay. I watch a lot of British crime procedurals.

Tim Ferriss: All right.

Brené Brown: Okay. Like, yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Crime procedural.

Brené Brown: Like Law and Order, but British.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Uh-huh. Yes.

Brené Brown: I watch a ton. A ton.

Tim Ferriss: A ton.

Brené Brown: Yes. Gogglebox.

Tim Ferriss: Goggle…

Brené Brown: Have you watched this?

Tim Ferriss: No, never even heard of it.

Brené Brown: Okay. I think it’s all over different countries now, but I watch the UK Gogglebox. It’s where you watch people watching television.

Tim Ferriss: Oh, it’s like response videos. So you get to see how they respond.

Brené Brown: Yes, and you fall in love with these families. So I’m obsessed with British crime procedurals and Gogglebox.

Tim Ferriss: Gogglebox.

Brené Brown: Yes.

Tim Ferriss: Also sounds like a near future dystopian technological—like Terminator kind of thriller.

Brené Brown: It does, but it’s better.

Tim Ferriss: Gogglebox

Brené Brown: There’s no action at all! It’s just like these are normal, ordinary British families going “Oi!” And you’re like, I just laugh really hard. And then TikTok, I’m spending a lot of time watching TikToks.

Tim Ferriss: Really?

Brené Brown: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Oh yeah, I do get sent—TikTok for me I, it’s kind of like, I feel like someone’s peeking around a corner late at night going, “Psst, hey!”

Brené Brown: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: “Heroin, $10.”

Brené Brown: Oh, yes!

Tim Ferriss: And I’m just like, I’m afraid to go on TikTok because I can understand why I would get hooked.

Brené Brown: You have to on my Instagram, I just put my favorite TikTok.

Tim Ferriss: All right.

Brené Brown: Let me do it with you.

Tim Ferriss: Okay.

Brené Brown: Let me ask this question. Would you rather eat a baby goat, or a matter baby?

Tim Ferriss: Or a?

Brené Brown: Matter baby?

Tim Ferriss: What’s a matter baby?

Brené Brown: Nothing’s the matter! What’s wrong with you?

Tim Ferriss: Oh, my God! Is that from TikTok?

Brené Brown: Yes! Wait ‘til you see it!

Tim Ferriss: Oh, that is good. I get it. That is good!

Brené Brown: Okay, so my kids say that—

Tim Ferriss: You got me hook, line, and sinker. Yeah, that was easy.

Brené Brown: Will you please promise me, pinky swear right now, with your pinky, that you will put a link to this specific matter baby from TikTok on my episode?

Tim Ferriss: Confirmed! Matter baby. Yeah.

Brené Brown: Because this is like this Irish guy and his dad. He’s like, “matter baby?”

Tim Ferriss: “Matter baby?”

Brené Brown: But you get it, okay, yeah.

Tim Ferriss: “For fuck’s sake, Daddy! For fuck’s sake! Matter baby!”

Brené Brown: They say that more than I do.

Tim Ferriss: Oh, yes.

Brené Brown: They’re good. The Irish are good.

Tim Ferriss: It’s an undervalued phrase.

Brené Brown: Okay.

Tim Ferriss: That was excellent. So—excited about?

Brené Brown: Excited about two big things for 2020. One is that I am taking a visiting professorship at Texas McCombs at UT, University of Texas, Austin.

Tim Ferriss: Whoa.

Brené Brown: Yeah, hook ‘em!

Tim Ferriss: High five! That’s amazing.

Brené Brown: So I’m going to be there for a year and I’m bringing Dare to Lead to UT, Texas McCombs. And so we’re going to do our trainings out of the University of Texas. More research, develop some cloud-based tools for organizations to use. It’s really exciting.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah go ATX.

Brené Brown: Go ATX and UT.

Tim Ferriss: That’s awesome. I know. Amazing.

Brené Brown: Podcast. The new podcast is starting. I’m really excited.

Tim Ferriss: What is the name of your podcast?

Brené Brown: Unlocking Us.

Tim Ferriss: Great title, by the way.

Brené Brown: Very much, thank you, very much what we were talking about, right?

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Brené Brown: Super excited about less travel, because I feel like the podcast may be a way for me to do that. That will eat you up.

Tim Ferriss: Travel.

Brené Brown: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. I am so excited to be parking here in Austin for a few months straight. I’m thrilled about it.

Brené Brown: It’s a big deal.

Tim Ferriss: And I look back and say my 20s, when all I wanted to do was travel.

Brené Brown: Me too.

Tim Ferriss: And after a while you’re like, “Oh, I feel like George Clooney in that movie Up In The Air.

Brené Brown: Up In The Air, yeah. Yes.

Tim Ferriss: I’m beginning to feel like I’m never quite unpacking and I don’t like this feeling.

Brené Brown: No.

Tim Ferriss: And there’s a lot to be said for seeing new places and so on. But man, do I love the energetic conservation of just having a nice routine.

Brené Brown: But don’t you think routine will set you free?

Tim Ferriss: I do. Absolutely.

Brené Brown: I do too, like yeah. So I’m excited about a new work thing that we’re doing where 30 percent is leading my team and my organization. 70 percent is white space creative time.

Tim Ferriss: Wow.

Brené Brown: We’ll see if we can make it happen, but we’re—

Tim Ferriss: That’s great.

Brené Brown: It’s a big—

Tim Ferriss: That’s a big percentage.

Brené Brown:—yeah.

Tim Ferriss: What are you hoping to do with that 70 percent, or do you have any idea what types of creative projects—

Brené Brown: I’m working on new research, big research. And so it’s hard research on human experience. And so, I love that. Like my happy places alone with my data.

Tim Ferriss: Curled up watching—curled up with your data.

Brené Brown: Yeah, like snuggling with my data. Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Snuggling and watching movie trailers.

Brené Brown: Yes! And TikTok on the side. Yeah. I’m going to do one more TikTok to you before we leave!

Tim Ferriss: Oh, I’m ready! I’m ready for it.

Brené Brown: It’s very fun. Okay. I’m going to work on a new book. I’m going to write more. I’m going to think about—remember, the podcast is going to take a lot of creative white space for me because I want to be really thoughtful.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Brené Brown: I feel like you’re really thoughtful, like you think through what you want to talk to people about and I want to do—like we have our discernment lens for the podcast for success for us is contribution. And so, if at any point I feel like a book won’t not make a contribution, I pull it back. If at any point I feel like this is just contributing to all the bullshit and the noise, I’m going to pull it back.

So, I think in order to meet that discernment goal of contribution, I have to be really thoughtful and I still think that’s going to take creative space.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I think you’ll do great. I also think you have an attunement to other people’s emotional states that elicits a lot of very vulnerable truth. And I think if you have that, you’re set. As far as contribution, I think that checks the box. There’s some of that, certainly there are a million-plus podcasts, so there’s some of that out there, but to get it consistently I think is still quite difficult.

Brené Brown: I think it is hard.

Tim Ferriss: As an audio listener, if you’re looking for those raw moments of truth and messiness within which you can find and learn so much, I think you are very gifted at doing that. So if you do that consistently, I think you’re in good shape.

Brené Brown: Thanks. I’ll come to you for mentoring. I will.

Tim Ferriss: I will make no claims to have good answers, but I can certainly make up some answers and do my best.

Brené Brown: Okay, one last for TikTok.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, let’s do it.

Brené Brown: Okay. I’ll just put this down. You can hold that.

Tim Ferriss: Okay. I’ll hold this. Oh, wow it’s a graphic TikTok.

Brené Brown: Okay. What is this?

Tim Ferriss: What is that? Looks like to me, looks like a butterfly.

Brené Brown: Okay. What are these?

Tim Ferriss: Wings.

Brené Brown: Okay, and what is one called?

Tim Ferriss: A wing.

Brené Brown: Okay. Put your microphone down. And then give me two thumbs up. You have to get closer to me. Okay. Now I want you to say the word that you just said to me 10 times fast. 

Tim Ferriss: Wing, wing, wing, wing, wing, wing, wing.

Brené Brown: Hello?

Tim Ferriss: First one’s on us!

Brené Brown: That was so funny!

Tim Ferriss: That was good. That was good!

Brené Brown: You can’t be too cool for that joke!

Tim Ferriss: No, I’m not. I’m not.

Brené Brown: “I will not allow it!” -Tim Ferriss!

Tim Ferriss: Wing, wing, wing. wing! Please tell me there’s like an Elmer Fudd somewhere in that TikTok.

Brené Brown: There has to be.

Tim Ferriss: There should be like—

Brené Brown: There has to be.

Tim Ferriss:—an animated remix with Elmer Fudd.

Brené Brown: There has to be, yeah. That’s probably our age. We might be too like, but this is my hashtag wholesome TikTok.

Tim Ferriss: I like it. I love it. 

Tim Ferriss: Oh, well, I’m so happy that you’re going to be spending more time here in Austin.

Brené Brown: Yes.

Tim Ferriss: How exciting.

Brené Brown: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: And where can people learn all about your latest interests, including TikTok, your latest projects? Where can people best find you? Brené is the—

Brené Brown: All of the things.

Tim Ferriss: Brené

Brené Brown: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: So nice to see you again.

Brené Brown: It’s so nice to see you too. It’s so fun.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. So to be continued.

Brené Brown: Yeah. Oh yes.

Tim Ferriss: To be continued.

Brené Brown: To be continued.

Tim Ferriss: And for everybody who’s watching or listening, you can find show notes, links to everything we’ve talked about, including the promised TikTok videos in the show notes at

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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One Reply to “The Tim Ferriss Show Transcripts: Brené Brown — Striving versus Self-Acceptance, Saving Marriages, and More (#409)”

  1. Where are tik tok links? I have scoured notes and can’t find. Also i cannot bare to listen to the info at the end with that EDM so loud. Consider turning the music way down?