Belonging: Why it Matters and How to Cultivate it
January 19, 2022
Episode #86: Belonging: Why it Matters and How to Cultivate it
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About the Episode:
Belonging is a thought and feeling combination that can set us up for big successes, fulfilling relationships, and a lot of inner peace.
The opposite of belonging, however, feeling insecure or rejected, can cause a lot of harm to our brains, bodies, and relationships.
In this episode, we explore why belonging matters and how to start cultivating it for ourselves.
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Dr. Vanessa Calderón, MD, MPP has over 20 years of leadership experience. She is a Harvard grad, ER physician, Life and Leadership coach, and a mother of 2. She's a first generation Latina and is dedicated to uplifting her community. She's the founder of the Latina Leadership Accelerator, where she uses education and coaching to support the personal and professional development of women at all stages of their lives and careers.
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Full Episode Transcript:
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86. Belonging Why it Matters and How to Cultivate it
Welcome to the Empowered brain, the only podcast using science, psychology and coaching to help you rewire your brain and create a life you love with your host, Dr. Vanessa Calderon, a Harvard grad physician, master coach, and mother of two.
Hello, I'm so happy to be here with all of you today on the Empowered brain. I am so excited about the new name, I love how it is aligned with what we actually do. And I'm totally digging the cover art. It's so beautiful. So I'm so happy to be here with all of you today on the Empowered brain podcast. That's right. And I want to do a few shout-outs before we start the episode today. So first, a huge shout out to all of my students in the journey, formerly the Life and Leadership accelerator. My students there are doing such incredible things in their lives.
And it is just so beautiful to witness and to guide them on their journey. They're doing things like getting promoted, they're taking jobs that they used to feel so insecure about, like they didn't belong, like imposters. And now they're taking those jobs and showing up and leading it's so beautiful. They're learning how to love themselves, how to accept themselves, how to really harness self-compassion, with active practices every day, it is just so incredible to watch. They're saying no to societal pressures, to take jobs that they don't love, or to follow the traditional path of getting married at a young age and having kids they're saying nope, no, thank you, not me now, and a day are resting more. And I think rest is such a beautiful form of resistance.
Because when you think about the societal pressure to produce, produce, and the more you produce, the more worthy you are. And you actually saying, No, thank you, I am choosing to rest because I value myself I know my self-worth and it doesn't come from productivity. And to see these incredible type hyper achievers, choosing to rest or choosing to play instead of like create new instead of doing more with their time is just so incredible to witness. So it is just so awesome. And I want to give a big shout-out to all of you in there. If you're listening, I just am so proud of all the work you're doing. So my friends, if you are thinking of joining us on the journey, this is the best time and we just added an awesome community component.
So you now have access to our weekly coaching that we come together. And we do weekly live coaching or weekly live q&a sessions. And we added that community component now. So you have access to each other to network lift each other up to support each other to commiserate when needed. In our virtual community. It is just so incredible. And on top of all that you have all the incredible teaching modules that are backed by the latest research in neuroscience and psychology. So so many good things in there. And I'm adding bonuses all of the time. So I just really want to invite you in if you've been interested in joining thinking, you know, is this right? For me? The answer is yes, probably. It is such a great place to be. So I'd love to welcome you in there. And one last shout-out. I want to give a shout-out to my parents. So you guys have heard me talk a lot about my mom on this podcast. And she really is one of my biggest heroes. But my dad is equally awesome. And you haven't heard me talk about him as much.
And he's just so amazing. I spent this last weekend with my mom and dad just spending quality time with them. And my dad is just one of my biggest cheerleaders and he does it in this like Silent Way where he's not always like, you know, like talking about me or lifting me up or that's that's how my mom shows me to love but now my dad. My dad, though, when I first started my listserv a few years ago, and I had like five followers on my listserv. My dad was my number one follower key and subscribe to my listserv right away. He signs up for all of my webinars. He listens to all and he shows up to my webinars shows up live and does not wait for the replay. He listens to all of my podcast episodes on his walks. It is just like, I just think it's so beautiful. And I was just so proud to see him love me like this. It's just so awesome.
You know, I heard this quote once. And we are our ancestors, wildest dreams. And when I think about the journey that my dad took, you know, like living through a civil war, coming to this country with nothing, not even speaking the language, and working his butt off to start his own business, buy a home, you know, put his daughters through college like all of that stuff. It's just so inspiring to see that he was his ancestors' wildest dreams. And now I get to like have the blood of my mom and my dad running through me and all of our ancestors, you know, running through me and I get to know to show up I give my gift bags to the world because of the opportunities that they provided for me. And so Dad, see us pass escuchando if you're listening as the episode does not adequately, I dedicate this episode to you.
Okay, let me what my tears away now. Alright, so today I want to talk about belonging. So belonging, I think is such a unique subject because it is so important and how we show up in the rooms where we live, where we lead, and where we just want to be in the community. So what I want to talk about today is, what belonging is, why it matters to us, and how we can start cultivating that feeling of belonging. So, I'm going to use the definition of one of my favorite psychologists Carl Rogers to define all the longing, and I'm going to break it down into three different components. So number one, belonging is this sort of unique and subjective feeling, which means it's different for everyone. And it's this experience that we have of yearning to connect with others, this wanting to be in connection and community with others. It's also the need for positive regard, which means we don't want to just be in a community with others, we want them to love and accept us.
And lastly, it's a desire for interpersonal connection, which means we want to have something in common. So belonging is this unique need to be with others, to have them love and respect us, and to have something in common with them. So why does belonging matter? And really, really matters, my friends, but why does it matter? Well, for one, if you go way back to the primitive age, so remember, when we were born, we are born with the primitive brain, that's the sort of our caveman's brain. And that's the part of our brain that wants us to stay safe, alive, fed, and reproduce. So humans want to feel safe. And Belonging Matters, because belonging helps us feel safe. Why is that? Now if you can imagine belonging meant survival. because way back during our caveman days, we needed to belong to a tribe to survive.
If we were out there on our note, on our own, it was likely that we were going to freeze to death or get eaten by a saber-toothed Tiger. So we need belonging to survive. So belonging has been wired into our brains as survival. And what is so fascinating that's been shown by research over and over again, by M functional MRI studies is that when we belong, our brain rewards us with those feel-good hormones that we have, like pleasure. So belonging triggers the same hormones that we experience when we are experiencing pleasure. Again, belonging is linked to survival. And the way our brain rewards us so that we can continue to try to be long is by showering us with that feel-good hormones, like dopamine and serotonin. So the same chemical rewards that you get when you feel like you belong, are similar to the same chemical reward you get if for example, you're at work, and you get a new financial bonus. Isn't that interesting? Okay, so
why else does belonging matter? So belonging also matters because human connection mitigates trauma. It mitigates burnout. And we know that the opposite is also true when you are alone, you're more likely to have bad health outcomes, and you're more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and sadness, all of those things will happen when you are experiencing loneliness. But when you are experiencing a sense of belonging, you're more likely to mitigate trauma and experience more happiness. So this is why support groups work really well. Because support groups support you and witness or normalize the stuff that you're experiencing. That gives you that sense of belonging you are not alone in whatever you're experiencing. And it helps you create a sense of connection, a human connection, which is why support groups are so important.
Okay, so what is the opposite of belonging? So I said loneliness. But the real true opposite of belonging is rejection. Rejection is so fascinating because rejection is a feeling, right? We feel rejected. And rejection, our brain takes it like an actual threat. Like we're totally safe at that moment. Our lives are not in danger when we get rejected, but we perceive rejection as a threat. And our brain doesn't have that nuance or primitive brain doesn't have the nuance to separate a perceived threat from an actual threat. So if you are being rejected, it is really scary. It feels horrible. Imagine, just think right now about the last time you felt rejected. Maybe you got broken up with, or maybe you apply for a job and didn't get it. Maybe you went to go give a speech and it didn't go the way you had hoped. How did you feel? We tend to describe that feeling as hurt, right? It really hurt me or I'm in a lot of pain. I remember one of my broken hearts way back in my younger days. And I remember describing it as this is so hard, it really hurts. Isn't that so fascinating?
We describe that sensation of rejection as physical pain as hurt as pain, because our brain interprets rejection the same way interprets actual threats. And wanting to belong, or wanting to avoid rejection holds us back from so many big things in life. Like what like speaking up in public, we're afraid like a lot of people are afraid to public speak because they're afraid to be humiliated. And they're afraid to be kicked out of the tribe or rejected. The same feeling is the same as wanting to avoid rejection or wanting to feel like we belong, it keeps us in relationships longer than we need to. It keeps us in friendships longer than we need to. Sometimes it's time to, you know, end that chapter of a relationship or a friendship, but we don't because we're afraid and we want to be long, or we're afraid of rejection. So again, belonging is important because the opposite of belonging, rejection keeps us playing small, but belonging supports us in living to our fullest potential, or expressing ourselves to our best, you know, self-expression, really letting ourselves be known. So I'm gonna share a quick story about my own experience with belonging.
So growing up, I really felt lonely child. I was introspective, I was pensive, and I was quiet. And I think it's so fascinating. Because when I look back on my childhood, now, I can see how I was showered with so much love, love for my parents and love from my uncles, and aunts, you know, I grew up in a Latina house, which means it was always full of family, and it was always really loud. And I wasn't as loud as everybody else, you know, I was introspective, I was quiet, I was just gonna sit in a room and read a book. And it made me feel like I didn't belong, which is so interesting. And a lot of you might have similar feelings like you don't belong in the rooms that you're in, you don't belong with your families. And what I want to offer again, is belonging is a feeling, but it's an important one that we want to cultivate. And when we're young, like for me as a kid, that was, you know, between the ages of probably, I don't know, five and seven, where I really felt lonely.
But then as I got older, I wanted to fit in. And now there's a difference between belonging and fitting in. So let's talk about that. Belonging is when you can show up as the real you and be loved and accepted. Fitting in is when you try to hide the real you to assimilate to what you think others around you want. So you dress like them, or you talk like them. How many of you guys did that in high school and junior high? I know, I definitely did. And I did it at the beginning of college too. I just wanted to fit in, I wanted people to like me. And so that's the difference between belonging and fitting in. Okay, here's the thing, though, we can create belonging. So you guys all know now what belonging is and why Belonging Matters. And guess what? We can create it. So I want to walk you through a process to help you figure out how you can create longing. So belonging is a thought I belong. And it's a feeling I feel like I belong belonging.
Okay, it's a thought and feeling. Now, if you think back to the cognitive thought model, now, if you don't know what I'm talking about, go back to Episode Six where I go through it in detail. But just a quick review, the cognitive thought model, you know, comes from the stoics way back from 300 BCE, also used in cognitive behavioral psychology essentially says that every circumstance in our life causes us to think the thought that thought leads us to feel a feeling. And that feeling is what leads us to take all of our actions in life. So when we're feeling motivated, for example, we're going to get up and we're going to go for that run we had planned, but when we're feeling defeated, what do we do? We turn off our alarm, crawl back into bed and we go back to sleep.
Okay, so thoughts and feelings can either propel us forward to take the actions we want to take in life and create intentional results in our lives, or they can hold us back they can paralyze us and cause us to stay stuck to stay hidden to you know, feel defeated and causes To have unintentional results in our life. So having that cognitive thought model in place, again, every circumstance in our life causes us to think the thought that thought causes us to have a feeling and that feeling is what leads us to take action. And based on those actions is how we create our results in life. Okay? So having that in mind, I want you to think about right now, what you do and how you show up when you think you do not belong. So what are some thoughts you might be thinking when you don't feel like you belong? I'm going to share a few examples that have come up for me, or it's come up for my students. This isn't for me. I don't belong here.
They're so much smarter than I am. I'm not good enough to be here. I don't have enough experience. They're smarter than me, or they're richer than me. They're richer than me is kind of an interesting one. And I'll we have time in the end, I'll share a story of how that showed up for me. So those are some thoughts. Now I want you to come up with your own thoughts. What are thoughts that show up for you when you're thinking that you don't belong? So when you think about those thoughts, this isn't for me, I don't belong here. There's so much smarter than I am. I'm not good enough. I don't have enough experience. They're smarter than me. And how does that make you feel?
Here are some common feelings I hear. I feel insecure. I feel like an imposter. I'm afraid I'm scared. Now, what do you think you do when you feel insecure? When do you feel like an imposter when you're afraid when you're scared? Let's go through some of the actions that those feelings cause. Maybe you don't speak up, because you're afraid to be judged. Maybe you sit at the corner, instead of at the actual table where the decisions are being made. Because you're afraid to be seen. Maybe you take everything personally. Somebody says something you're like, oh, they must be saying that about me. They must be judging me. Maybe you don't share your ideas out loud because you're afraid. Maybe you don't share your experience. Maybe you don't ask questions to clarify things because you because you're afraid that everyone else must know the answers except you. Maybe you don't learn I'm sure you can come up with a bunch of other actions that you do or don't do based on these thoughts and feelings combination when you don't belong. Now, when you think about that, think of those actions, what are the results that cause in our lives?
Number one, it blocks you from showing up as the real you when you feel like you don't belong. When you feel like you don't have enough experience to be there. Like other people are smarter than you. You don't speak up. And what else happens if you don't share your gifts with the world there's another result number one you block yourself from showing up as a real result number two, you block yourself from sharing your gifts with world result number three, and you don't make effective change. You sit there quietly other people must be right I must be wrong. Ultimately, what are you doing, you are blocking yourself from belonging. So I want you to see here how our thoughts are always going to show up in our results line.
If you start with this isn't for me, guess what you're going to take you're going to have felt like an imposter, insecure, and self-doubt. And you're going to eventually take a bunch of actions that really do show up and your result line like this isn't for you, because you block yourself from belonging. Now let's do another cognitive thought model that in this cognitive thought model, let's put in feeling like we do belong. Okay. So what are some thought-feeling combinations when you do belong? So here are some thoughts. I belong here. This is for me, they're just like me, we all have so much in common. I'm good enough to be here. I'm just as smart as everybody else. We all have different experiences in life. Okay, so when you have those types of thoughts, what feeling does it create for you?
Number one, probably confidence, probably safety, probably security, and definitely a feeling of belonging. When you think I belong here, or this is for me, you're gonna feel like you belong, confident. Those are the feelings. So what actions do those feelings cause you to take? So they probably cause you to sit at the table. If you think you belong here. This is for you. Instead of walking into a boardroom and sitting in the back where the chairs are, you're probably going to sit at the actual table, probably even in the front. You're going to speak up with confidence.
You're going to share your ideas out loud. You're going to ask questions because you're genuinely curious without the fear without fear of being judged without fear of thinking your question isn't good enough. It's not smart enough. Everyone else must have the answers. Because you know that you belong there, you feel confident, what else you're going to listen to others, you're going to actually connect with those people around you, you're going to learn from them, you're going to get that feedback and take it in and just continue to improve and be better. As opposed to getting that feedback and feeling judged and insecure, you're not going to close yourself off, you're not going to feel self-conscious.
So what happens when you're coming from this cognitive thought model as I belong, this is for me, when you're feeling like you belong, when you're feeling confident, safe, secure, what are the results? Number one, you show up like a badass leader, you sit at the table, you raise your hand, you make a difference, and you share your gifts with the world. Ultimately, you create that sense of belonging for yourself, you make effective change. And ultimately, the result is you belong, you create that sense of belonging for yourself. So I want to share a quick story with all of you. So many, many years ago, I applied for this master's degree at Harvard and had gotten accepted. So I also applied for this really crazy competitive scholarship. And I had made it through the very last stage of the scholarship application. And I've made it through the written part of the interviews, and now I was at like this dinner. And here I am. This like, you know, little Makossa, daughter of immigrants coming from South Central Los Angeles in East LA, and I was going to be interviewing in person at this dinner for, for the scholarship. And I felt like such an imposter. I didn't have the terminology then or the insight to know what I was thinking or feeling. But when I was preparing for this podcast, I was thinking back and I was like, Oh, how interesting.
All the times that belonging has shown up for me, and gotten in the way. So I show up to this big fancy dinner. And here I am, you know, in the ivory towers of Harvard. And like, who am I to think that I belong there? Who am I to think that like, you know, this daughter of immigrants belongs in this like big fancy dinner, they had like, the Harvard this acapella student group calm and perform for us. And they had all these, like the Dean of the school walking around meeting us and all of the other students were there. And there were alumni from the program that was there. And I felt so insecure, I felt like I didn't belong. Everybody else there had graduated from, you know, I beg Ivy League schools, or their parents had graduated from Harvard and were alumni of the program, or their parents were donating to the program, everyone else took vacations together, or they all had some friend or colleague or experiences that other like really elite boarding schools. And here I am a product of the public school system in the same room as then, and I felt like such an imposter. And it definitely got in the way of how I showed up.
I remember sitting at the table totally insecure, I didn't share, I didn't share my ideas. I didn't speak up, I didn't try to get to know the people around me because I just felt like I didn't belong there. And lo and behold, I did not get that scholarship. And you know, what's interesting is I had already got accepted to the school, I was already there. All I needed to do was like show up. And I had already passed all of the stages of this felt this fellowship, this scholarship, all I needed to do was show up at the dinner. And I was so intimidated by everybody around me that I shrunk. When I got there, I was so afraid. And I didn't get it. And I just think it's so fascinating when I look back to see how belonging has gotten in the way for me in an episode in times like that. And what I want to just make available to all of you. And what I want to invite you to do now is to understand that you can create that feeling of belonging because I don't want anyone else to have opportunities taken away from them or to have that just like you know, not be an option for you.
Because you feel insecure because you feel like you don't belong. And because had I known who I am today with the brain that I have now with the work that I've done Now, had I now been put in that space and in that room, I'd be so grateful to be there. I'd be excited I'd be meeting everybody. I'd be like excited to meet people the Deans I'd want to know all about the places where everybody summers quote unquote. And you know, but that wasn't my experience back then. And you can see how different I would have shown up with the energy excited I can't wait to meet people I can't wait to go meet the dean and ask questions. Be curious, really shine really let the real meat be known. You can imagine how to But that would have been. So I share that story with you again because I want you to know that you can create that feeling of belonging for yourself. And you no longer have to let insecurity or impostor syndrome get in the way of you showing up big. So how do you do it? How do you create belonging? So, you know me, I'd love to walk you through processes. So I'm going to walk you through this three-step process.
And the first, as I always say, start with awareness. The very first thing I want you to do is to notice how it shows up for you. How does not belong shows up for you? How does that feeling of insecurity, of being afraid to be rejected? The feeling of imposter syndrome? How does that show up for you? I just want you to be aware. And when I say aware, like really notice when you're in those spaces when you go throughout the rest of your day to day, really notice how it shows up for you. Oh, look, I'm feeling insecure. Oh, look, I notice, I noticed that I'm feeling like an imposter. Oh, look, I noticed that I'm feeling like I don't belong here. So just to have the awareness, that's the very first step. And the second step, sounds really simple.
The second step is simple. But it's not always easy. And that's this, decide that you belong. That's it, decide that you belong. For some people, it's going to be simple. You can just hear this, hear me say the statement, that's it, all you have to do is decide you belong, and just show up like you belong, and then that's all you need. But for others, you're going to need to take this third step. And I know I need to take this third step a lot. Every time I practice that I want to belong in a new space, I take the third step, which is to practice the thought I belong. I belong and insert the rest of it, I belong in my family. I belong in that boardroom. I belong in that hospital, I belong in that operating room, wherever it is that you want to belong, where you're feeling insecure, where you're feeling like an impostor, I want you to practice this thought I belong.
The more you practice that thought to yourself, the more you practice that thought, the more your brain will start to accept that as a reality. Oh, you do really belong. And I will tell you that this still shows up for me, you know, I've been doing this work for a decade now. And I still have experiences of feeling like an imposter or feeling insecure. And I still go through this three-step process to make sure that I wire my brain toward belonging because I know the difference I can make. And I know how I show up when I belong versus when I'm insecure. And what is the difference? It's not my level of experience. It's the thought I belong. When I have that thought I belong, I show up bigger, I show up more welcoming, I'm more compassionate to the people around me. And I'm more compassionate to myself. Okay, my friends, I want to leave you with a quote by Brene Brown on belonging. So this is what she says. True. Belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world.
Okay, that's her quote, true. Belonging only happens when we present our authentic and perfect selves to the world. And here's the thing, my friends, when you think about that, presenting my authentic, imperfect self, that might sound scary. And it can be scary, it can feel vulnerable, to show up as yourself. But guess what, the more you do the work to love yourself, the more you do the work to accept yourself, the easier it is for you to allow others to see what makes the real you because you become proud of who you are. You become in the love with who you are of who you've become. You become in the love with the adversity that you faced because you see how that adversity has fueled your successes and has given you that grit inside. And when you do that, and when you become proud and in love and accept yourself, you are able to let other people in and you are able to show up more and more as you belong.
And this is the last part of the quote of Brene Brown's quote. So she says true belonging only happens when we present our authentic and perfect selves to the world. And here's the last part. Our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance. Okay, my friends, I'm going to leave you with that. And I want to remind you to practice that you belong because you absolutely 1,000,000% do. You belong in every room that you're in? You belong in every board room that you're in. You belong at every operating room. You belong in every space of leadership. You belong Hang in that big ivory tower. Hey old Vanessa, little Vanessa, you belong in that big ivory tower with all of those students you belong there. All of you belong. So do the work every day, practice this thought I belong. And do that work. Do take that journey for yourself the journey of self-love of self-acceptance. Because I promise you that feeling like you belong is so much better than feeling like you don't. Alright, my friends, I will see you next week.
Hey, sweet friends, if you love what you're learning, then you've got to join us on the journey. It's my all-inclusive program and the best community out there giving you the education you never knew you needed to help you create a life you love. Join us at Vanessa Calderon md.com forward slash join. I'll see you there.