how i get it done

How I Get It Done: Brené Brown, Author and Research Professor at the University of Houston

Illustration: Lauren Tamaki

Brené Brown is a University of Houston researcher and best-selling author who studies shame, courage, and vulnerability. Her TED Talk on “the power of vulnerability” has been viewed over 39 million times and her new motivational special The Call to Courage premiered on Netflix this month. Brené lives in Houston with Steve, her husband of 25 years and their son (they also have a daughter in college). Here’s how she gets it all done.

On mornings: I wake up around 6:30 or 7. I hold gratitude practice — I try to do this before my feet hit the floor every day. I usually say I’m thankful for another day and I’m going to choose courage over comfort today. That’s my little mantra in the morning. I try not to go downstairs in my pajamas. I try to go in my workout clothes. I make my son breakfast and my husband usually takes him to school. And then the day starts.

On breakfast: If I eat the biggest breakfast in the whole world or I eat nothing, I’m the same amount of hungry at 11 o’clock every day. So I really just try to drink a lot of water in the morning. I’ll have this stuff called cloud bread, which is just bread made out of egg; I’ll have avocado, mayonnaise, cloud bread, and Trader Joe’s “Everything but the Bagel” seasoning.

On exercise: I work out in the morning, either with a trainer a couple times a week, or I walk or swim. There’s always a prison kettlebell, really small movements of bending and lifting and pushing and pulling that makes you surprisingly sore and stronger.

On sleep:  I’m an eight to nine-hour girl, for sure. And I think that people really underestimate sleep. I don’t think you can out-diet or out-exercise sleep deprivation. The kind of forging for carbs and fats we do when we’re exhausted … to me, sleep is the best remedy for that. My husband’s really strict about that. He’s like, you gotta go to sleep right now. I think I’m probably pretty hard when I don’t get enough sleep.

On her nighttime routine: I work till I go to bed. Yes, I’m going to get eight or nine hours of sleep, but I’m going to work until that time is up.

On managing stress: Swimming and walking are really a three-fer for me: exercise, contemplative time, and alone time. I don’t think anything is actually better than swimming. It’s like a deprivation chamber. No one can call me, it’s completely quiet. It’s very rhythmic, I just kind of count strokes, I breathe. I have a very rhythmic way of breathing when I swim. You’ll know if I’m really stressed out, because it’ll be pouring down rain in Houston, and I’ll be putting on my tennis shoes and my rain jacket, and I’ll just go for a three-mile walk in the rain.

On her office-supply addiction: I don’t think you can ever have too many pens or Post-it notes. I come from a long, matriarchal line of office-supply addicts. The pens and the Post-it notes and the tablets and the special pencils — I think it’s just so full of hope and possibility.

On her jewelry: You want to hear something crazy? You know what I did when I was in L.A. for this week, for the Netflix launch week? My 20-year-old daughter and I went and got pierced yesterday. We both just got third holes on both sides. I’m really into that little curated ear right now.

On getting over a “vulnerability hangover”: It goes back to constantly challenging yourself, and constantly having to remember that that awkward, cringey feeling, that’s what courage feels like. This idea that we can be brave and comfortable is mythology. That no one ever does anything truly brave without feeling vulnerable. I was in the car yesterday, and I looked up, and there’s a billboard of me. I’m not a billboard person! But then I remembered, I’m trying to put my work in the world, I believe in it, I’m trying to be brave. And so, cringe on, you know? You gotta embrace the suck of vulnerability and you have to remember that as long as your intentions are in the right place for what you shared and how you’re sharing, it’s not supposed to be comfortable.

On being an introvert: I have to have alone time. I at least have to have like a half a day a week, where I can just fiddle and be alone and not have to talk to anybody or see anybody. I’m so happy alone. I’m so happy alone with my data, or just alone watching TV.

On setting boundaries: Everyone has to find their line. It doesn’t have to be the same line that I have. My line is I’ll share what’s vulnerable in my life, but I’m not sharing what’s intimate in my life. I’m just not gonna do that, because I’m a private person. I think the biggest key to that is really understanding your intentions behind sharing. So, whether it’s in person or online, does your self worth or your healing depend on the reaction of what you hear back when you share something? So I try not to share anything where I’m dependent on how people are going to react.

On hobbies: I love photography. Photography is a really important gratitude practice for me. Sometimes when I’m struggling, I’ll just grab my camera and go outside. I’ll put a macro lens on or something and I’ll lay in my front yard and take a picture of blades of grass or flowers or, and then I love editing those, sharing those. My favorite subjects are my kids and nature. Not sweeping mountain landscapes, but just the environment that I’m around. Some daisies in a mason jar on my table in my kitchen. Just really simple stuff, the things that I walk by every day and don’t notice.

How I Get It Done: Brené Brown, Research Professor & Speaker