Mapping meaningful connection

Celebrated University of Texas visiting professor Brené Brown presents heartfelt clinic on Today

UT visiting professor Brené Brown presents heartfelt clinic on Today

Brene Brown headshot
Brown's new book is out November 30. Photo by Maile Wilson

Texas’ favorite researcher of psychology and the human condition — and a visiting professor to UT who is treasured in Austin as a renowned empathy sage — made a mighty appearance on Today on Monday, November 29.

On the show to push her latest book, Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience (due out November 30), Brené Brown, the No. 1 New York Times bestselling author, held a clinic with Hota Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager.

The beloved TEDTalk star/relationship guru coached the hosts up on navigating the complex zeitgeist of emotions, expectations, anxiety, and fitting in versus belonging.

Regarding emotions, Brown described “big buckets of angry, happy, and sad,” but cautioned that language matters, as does granularity, when trying to relay those emotions to others. In her family, anger was allowed, but not hurt feelings, she explained. Thus, explaining the issue correctly becomes important.

“We say we’re mad, but we’re actually disappointed,” she explained, joking that her husband recently requested the “script” of the “movie” of her expectations ahead of time. Brown shares that she “reality checks” expectations: Are they realistic or unrealistic?

Plus, naming emotion gives us power, she noted, rather than just giving the feeling power. One tool that research data shows is effective, says Brown, is writing down intentions.

For those finding that they rush to gain the opinion of friends and family when dealing with an interpersonal issue with a loved one or partner — and come back unfulfilled — Brown advised asking instead, “What am I needing?”

On anxiety: She differentiated between daily anxiety and the kind that impedes making major choices; those dealing with the latter would benefit from professional help, she said.

Brown also relayed that she calibrates emotions by a question test, asking whether this will matter in five minutes, five hours, five days.

Turning her attention to themes of comparison — especially on social media — Brown actually offered some compassion, noting that to compare is to be human (indeed, our neurobiology drives us to reflexively compare, she said). However, she noted, the choice is in what we do with such comparisons.

Shifting to the concepts of belonging versus fitting in, Brown posited that we are wired to be part of something bigger than us, but that fitting in is the “biggest barrier to belonging.” Belonging, she added, says, “This is who I am. I hope we can make a connection.”

Austinites who want more of Brown’s sessions can register for an exclusive online Atlas of the Heart event at 7 pm Thursday, December 2, hosted by Brazos Bookstore in Houston, where the author resides. The $30 admission includes a copy of Atlas of the Heart and the viewing of Brown’s Zoom chat with host Priya Parker.