Mindfulness and Cognitive Science Neurobiology and Behavior

Growing through stress – GRE reflection

Three weeks ago I took the GRE general test. As I move on to the next stage of applying for PhD programs I wanted to take a moment to reflect on what helped me perform well.


Staying emotionally + mentally engaged throughout the pursuit of a goal can be tough. Here's a case study of how mindful preparation helped me on the GRE as I head toward my goal of starting my PhD.

You could classify me as an anxious test-taker. Especially when it comes to reading comprehension, stress kicks into high gear and I find myself reading passages over and over again unable to decipher any meaning. So six years ago when I took the GRE for the first time, I knew I would put up with whatever score I got because there was no way I’d ever voluntarily take a standardized test again. In fact, it’s been a lingering thought in my head ever since, knowing I was likely to see my scores expire before I made it to grad school – what could I go on to do after my kids grow up a bit that doesn’t require a GRE score?


So it was surprising when, last January, I made the decision to return to my previous intentions of PhD programs in molecular biology. I was someone who wrote off a career dream in forensic pathology because I couldn’t imagine taking the MCAT. But here I was choosing to take a test that involved math I haven’t studied in 10-15 years.


I realized something as I weighed the options…taking a test doesn’t have to be dreadful (surprise!). And I don’t have to keep living the same story I’ve lived most of my life – where I’m the girl who says no to things that matter because the journey looks too hard. Even in entrepreneurship – heck, even in college – I would see people who were willing to go the extra mile to get what they wanted. People who would stay up all night studying (I tried it for a few weeks, wasn’t worth it) or burn the midnight oil because their day’s list wasn’t done…working to the point of adrenal fatigue even! But in the end the got what they set out for…And I couldn’t understand it – how do they get themselves to do that? No I certainly don’t want health problems but I would like to be able to be productive after my kids are in bed. The struggle here is one of the reasons for lingering shame over my own business journey…yes my decisions make logical sense, but did I ever really go “all in”? How would it have turned out if I had?



Now I could go on listing all the complex pieces of those decisions or follow the trails of questions and predictions my mind takes when I read that last sentence but that would take me away from the point which is that while a GRE itself isn’t a significant part of going to graduate school, it was my first step in writing a new story. One where my goals are not short-circuited by my fear of failing. One where, with eyes open to the cost of this pursuit, I push all my chips in and maintain a thoughtful, intentional approach to success. I have no intention of shutting down my self-awareness and pushing to the point of exhaustion or relational stress. I do intend to use mindfulness to both take care of myself AND maintain a relentless pursuit of my goal.




With the rest of this post I want to look at what helped me push my test-anxiety to the side and perform well on the GRE. I’ve spent a good chunk of these last 6 years trying to understand stress and habit formation – I used it to write a program helping clients push through the struggle to change their bodies and I’ve used it in my own life to get closer to who I want to be. So here are a few principles that I applied as I prepared for my test:


Switching from fight-or-flight to thoughtful engagement

I grew up playing sports…eventually sticking with soccer as my primary pursuit. My team had all sorts of pre-game rituals to get us into the game-time mindset from music to drills to handshakes. Moments before the whistle blew to signal game on I would get my jitters out with one more personal ritual…nothing special, but it was my private agreement with myself to put my energy into the game. It was how I coped with anxiety…because it was always there, no matter how insignificant the game.


At the time I didn’t know that I was teaching myself to combat my fear by transforming it into a challenge response. While I didn’t receive much mental game training, I unconsciously habituated my body to engage in the problem causing the stress rather than run from it. Now, this was a very crude first attempt that didn’t really transfer itself into other areas of my life, but it gave me something to look back on when I came across Kelly McGonigal’s book The Upside of Stress.


It took me a long time to actually sign up for my test date. I was taking practice tests and setting score goals but fear was keeping me from actually solidifying game-day. When I finally did it, I had about 3 weeks to prepare. My mind started racing and I was tempted to do what I’d done throughout high school and college – study like a chicken with its head cut off. But the last several years have brought awareness to this tendency and a way to calm things down so I can approach the stressor with a level head.


The ability to step out of the fight-or-flight reaction of the brain is largely due to practice in slowing down. Some call it riding the cortisol wave (rather than getting pulled into the rip tide). As I would start to feel anxiety rise when I sat down to practice math I would feel the draw to distract myself with other things – or jump all over the place in an “I’m not enough” frenzy – but instead I treated it like I treated a soccer match. See the anxiety as normal, expected even, and channel it toward my work. In the last few days I worked through hundreds of math problems – including an entire GRE math review book – in the little pockets of time I had. The old me would’ve watched tv while telling herself she was studying (or that there was no point in practicing).


The effect: Stamina. I had a plan going in on how I would attack the test, and I had a plan for how to stay calm. Despite a time crunch I remained engaged throughout the entire test. I saw an increased mental endurance where my last section was just as focused (if not even more) as my first section. Previous experience told me to expect a dropping off – a growing disinterest in my performance as the 3.5 hours wore on.



Using my stress response to focus in on what mattered


Brain chemicals like dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin serve a very important purpose. You wouldn’t intuitively know it based on our modern culture but they actually serve to focus our attention. They are involved in our pursuit of survival and help to highlight what we need or determine the focal point of a moment.


Imagine you’re sitting in a meeting or think back to your 10am college class – what happens when you realize you’re hungry? If you don’t attempt to override it, you will naturally start planning your next meal. You’ll envision the food you want to eat, where you’ll find it, how long it will take to get there, etc. That’s dopamine. Once you’ve determined a plan, you may even start to feel happier…yup, dopamine does that. It is released in the brain in anticipation of the reward.


Dopamine also plays a role in memory – which scientists believe was used to remember where food was found (or hidden). Nowadays these happy chemicals can get a little jacked up – the brain interprets stress the same whether we are getting yelled at by our boss or we are getting chased by a lion. This can mean we spend most of our day trying to “survive”, which tends to play out as putting a lot of energy into feeling good rather than what really needs our attention.


When we realize this tendency, we can start to use it to our advantage. When my kids are not listening and fighting at every turn my first response is to internalize the “I’m a failure” mantra. But that doesn’t really solve any problems, it instead puts my attention on feeling better about myself leading to disengagement from my family. Instead, with practice, I can override this reaction and choose a second response – to look at the needs of my kids, practice compassion, and choose to engage THEM, not just how I feel about them.


In preparing for the GRE there were endless opportunities to practice directing my attention to what needed to happen rather than get caught up in the shame gremlin storm. When it came down to test day, I was focused and ready – then I ran out of time on the first quantitative section. In the past this would have sent me into a panic on the next sections. But instead I was able to let go of what was now past and use the unavoidable brain chemical surges to prepare for the next thing.


Effect: Didn’t get caught up in my mistakes during practice – instead I gave my attention to understanding my errors + practicing more. During the test I didn’t let stress over previous sections hijack my attention.



Bringing my thoughts to WHY

I believe that I’ve spent most of my life letting fear be my reason why I do what I do. You could also call it a need for survival. In some cases maybe I could’ve told you my fear was driving me but for the most part, I think it’s our unconscious + automatic behavior as members of the animal kingdom.


“Know your why” is a popular phrase amongst business coaches, entrepreneurs, motivational speakers, etc. We like to blame our lack of knowing for why we get stuck, procrastinate, get moody, fail in our efforts, lose interest, fall off the wagon, and on and on.


Now in reality there are plenty of people in the world who have no idea why they do what they do (in an ultimate purpose sense). They make it by just fine. But they also probably don’t feel like they have much control over their emotional and mental state. Life is one deadline or needy person after another. They might feel compelled to serve, create, etc. but what actually helps them accomplish things is the external forces on their time and energy.


Charles Duhigg, in his newest book Smarter, Faster, Better, looks at what it takes to maintain motivation in the face of struggle (using Marines as one of his case studies) and identifies that answering their own why question helped them continue through perceived limits and struggle. There is something about manifesting an image of what matters most to you – perhaps the future you hope to bring to reality through your actions – that redirects your energy and attention to the present moment.


I have found this “why” question to be particularly useful when facing mundane or painful experiences. It reminds me that I have control over my mental state – to be frustrated by all the laundry or anxious over practice questions I struggle to answer is ultimately up to me. Like many people I am prone to disengagement when something feels uncertain. Almost especially when I realize it’s all up to me.


Effects: Envisioning what life might look like in the next 18 months and what lies beyond graduate school was a major contributor to staying emotionally involved in the process of studying. I think about graduate school every single day. Throughout my preparation I looked for ways to improve my thinking rather than simply memorizing or cramming. I see the reason behind this as taking control of the situation – rather than being enslaved to a test or the expectations of a university, I established my own terms. This made it easier to engage as it was not something being done TO me but BY me.



Remembering to breathe

I’ve written before about the “email apnea” hypothesis. Basically it is the observation that people tend to shorten or hold their breath when they are reading their email. Likely started in anticipation of stress, it can actually induce stress. If you start to notice that you become rage-y or anxious throughout the day it might be a good idea to look at how you approach your email, task list, etc.


I knew going into my test that I would be tempted to rush through. I’m usually a “get it over with” kind of girl. But that also tends to translate to holding my breath and just barely making it through alive. There are a few scheduled breaks – 60 seconds between sections and 10 minutes at the halfway point. My plan going in was to take all that time to recover and refocus. I would sit still, close my eyes, and take deep breaths for the entire minute.


Effect: I felt myself let go of whatever happened in the previous section and re-engage in the next. Almost like a small refreshment period I could re-imagine why I was sitting in that chair and I believe this is what helped me stay present and in game day mode.




I don’t expect that every person reading this is in the throes of a big test. It’s my hope that you can use these examples to think about and visualize what staying mindfully engaged in your goals might look like. It’s a mistake I often see in myself and in others to expect things to get easy at some point…nothing worth our obsession is easy. There is always a new level we can climb to in order to stimulate growth – and that requires pushing beyond our perceived limits.


I’d love to hear from you – how are your goals going? Are you seeing fruit from the above habits? Perhaps a different one? Are there any unexpected positive effects from your pursuit?



Also, if you’re not signed up for my email list you can do that here. Tomorrow I’ll be sending out a supplementary reading list on the brain chemistry / psychology of stress so if this topic has piqued your interest and you want to read more, I’ve got you covered!


Mindfulness and Cognitive Science Neurobiology and Behavior Raising Capable Kids

Why I quit my business

Back at the start of 2017 I went through a long process to uncover what this next year would look like. I couldn’t shake the feeling that what I kept working toward and what I value most were in conflict. After identifying the sources of my self-contention I made the decision to step out of the online business highway so I can live better aligned with my own values + my family. This post is to tell the story of that decision and what’s next over here at

Warning! The following content contains radical ideas such as: People should think; Empathy is addicting; And leveling up requires discomfort. Proceed at your own risk.


If we’re being entirely honest here, my story isn’t really the point. I want to disclose what I’m up to as I still intend to use this website but there are a handful of key principles that I think I’ll just lay right out:

  1. A willingness to let go of what you thought was true in the face of new [evidence-based] information is an invaluable skill.

  2. Your rate of success on reaching whatever goals you set for yourself largely hinges on 2 things: 1) how well you can make yourself do the stuff you don’t want to do and 2) how well you understand the system you’re working in…not on a specific [procedural] formula.

  3. A guru or expert will never be able to replace the role of you doing your own thinking…even if they claim they can. They can provide a framework for how to think about their domain. They can give you the working principles and the language. But you will still have work to do. If they claim otherwise, run away…They’ve spent their time on the wrong stuff and you’re not going to see sustainable change.

  4. The brain’s survival mechanism works against us in the above 3 points. Letting go of what we felt certain of, doing the stuff that’s hard + painful, relying on our own thinking…they all leave our brain screaming for happy chemicals. So we go running back to the “experts” or pick a new one since “that just didn’t work for us.” New = dopamine rush. Community = oxytocin rush. Both have the potential to keep us stuck.

  5. Community and empathy are great. But they don’t necessarily help you solve problems. So you may walk away from a webinar or girls night feeling all lit up and understood, but that doesn’t mean you now have what it takes to face your life tomorrow. The good feelings, however, can mask that reality and you’re back to square 1 trying to figure out why you still have low motivation, low follow-through, and no plan for how to change things.


Now is where I’ll go into a bit on life right now and what I’m working toward but that up there is the meat + potatoes. It’s what I’ve always wanted people to understand through my coaching. My frustration over how many women don’t seem to understand that you can’t talk about how you want to be fit/mindful/happy/successful and then keep thinking the same way you always have is part of what kept me in coaching…I wanted to do my part to bring change. But as you’ll read, I’ve chosen to let go of that as a “career” goal. It’s deeply rooted in who I am, no change there. But right now running a business around that is not what I’m going for. I think there is a better way to apply my passion and skills.


A final word as I dive in, where I’m at today is because I stopped resisting the reality of that list up there. I’m no more immune to survival brain as anyone else. So it’s my hope that in sharing some of the story you will have an example to think of as you seek to embrace them for yourself.


The original intent: January – May 2016

Originally I created to be my first step into coaching creative entrepreneurs on how to maintain their mental + emotional health while scaling their businesses. It was my transition from in-person personal training to online business. However, as I began I started to see there was a cost to that path that I wasn’t interested in paying. I don’t think details are all that important right now – I simply believe it’s my responsibility to continuously analyze how my current actions will affect the future. The future before me didn’t interest me enough to apply my energy in that direction and worse, my trying to force a fit was sucking energy away from my family. Self-contention will do that.


So on to the next idea: September – December 2016

I began interviewing women last Fall who were in positions that demanded a near-constant outpouring to other people. Teaching, Nursing, Ministry, Motherhood, etc. I wanted a better picture of where these types of women were getting stuck and how to come alongside them using my experience in wellness and my interest in high performance living. I assumed developing a coaching program would be the next step. And I was certainly moving in that direction, taking a course on marketing and reading up on programming methods.

But yet again, as the New Year approached and I started thinking about goals, I looked at what I could have accomplished by 2018 with my current path and I was just not interested. Somewhere along the way my trajectory was getting pushed off target. It was frustrating, to say the least. I could identify my hang ups but the glaring question of what to do with this passion of mine made me uncomfortable. [I’m sure I’ll look back at those journal pages and laugh one day.] So I did what I’ve learned to do when things don’t feel (or look) right – I pressed pause. Midway through an email sequence with my subscribers introducing them to new services. After already taking on my first beta coaching client. Talk about a rush of cortisol. But cortisol always subsides eventually and my priority was to understand the self-contention I was experiencing so whatever direction I went in would get my best effort. I didn’t want to go searching for a new idea that would send  my dopamine surging…the “crash” after was too familiar: Hustle, hustle, hustle. Experience exorbitant amounts of self-doubt, anger toward my family, and soon-to-follow emotional flatness / depression. I couldn’t do it again. There was something off and I had to get to the root cause.

Warning: I’m about to get on my soap box.

Pressing pause helped me learn something important about myself. Or more accurately, helped me stop denying something about myself: I don’t want to help people obsess over their health. And I definitely don’t want to enable people to stay stuck.

The marketing course I was taking stopped me in my tracks as it described the kinds of businesses that are especially successful: Businesses that teach people about money, relationships, health, and spirituality. [All major shame triggers.]

Get clients addicted to your content then profit off their cortisol/dopamine fluxes.

Now is that what everyone is consciously doing? No, of course not. I have no doubt there are many who are actively trying to help people overcome obstacles and encourage them to think for themselves. I would argue they tend to be found on a different level (and that what looks like helping is actually not). Overall, you are being promised something, and perhaps you get a taste, but for the majority, all it really ends up being is enough dopamine to tide you over until you get stuck again…you haven’t gained any real new insight into how to solve your own problem. Instead you’ve created a habit loop that tells you to go running to these “experts” every time you feel uncomfortable.

People are addicted to encouragement, quick fixes, shiny objects, over-spiritualized nonsense, and survival-based language that puts up the brain’s panic antennae and induces stress (the stupid-waste-of-time kind). The system actively inhibits a person’s ability to truly move forward in their lives. Instead it encourages obsession over the stuff that should be the background of our lives…the food we eat, our clothing brand, if we sweated enough, if we ate too much, if our self-doubt and anxiety is a sign of not enough prayer/grace/dependence/surrender, etc!

I get that people want examples and they want empathy. But empathy is also addicting. You don’t need 100 strangers empathizing with your self-doubt or #adulting struggles. You need to turn your brain on, learn how to learn (which is more than reading obsessively, btw), get curious, and expect yourself to do more with your life than live on survival-mode repeat. Which is what the majority of people are doing. Yes, even if you consider yourself “woke.”

You don’t need another person telling you how to meal plan or giving you 10 more jumping jack variations (#stopit). All the choices are eroding your confidence + hijacking your brain’s ability to think critically.

I see people blindly following “experts” (don’t get me started), demanding to know the brand of their leggings, exact meal ingredients, and how they got their hair to do that….as if morphing their exterior into this other person will restore confidence and purpose to their lives. They are caught on loop – try one thing, works a little, see people doing something else, get anxious over “doing it wrong”, try new thing, repeat.


My years steeped in the science community have integrated into my way of thinking well enough that I can’t willingly participate. I just can’t hand you a quick “superfood” recipe, sprinkle some happy dust, and send you on your way. But “it’s more complex than that!” and “it may take years!” and “the things you believe are probably wrong!” and “you’re going to have to get really uncomfortable!” don’t market very well on their own. They intrigue a small percentage of people who are sincerely pursuing high performance and accomplishment in their domain. So to continue in the direction I was going would require that I either choose to alter my values (and my priority scheme) or dissolve the goal.


So what am I doing now?

Surprise! I dissolved the goal.

My current path began with a question I’ve asked multiple times (in slight variations) at this point. “What if I took coaching off the table.”*

[*The past few years of business iteration (and motherhood) have afforded me ample opportunities to practice abandoning ideas or flipping the way I see something. As I grow in my ability to analyze and predict how a situation will play out I also see a growing openness to paradigm-shifting information. A much-welcomed skill.]

Taking coaching off the table allowed me to then consider what best aligns with my family and with my desired growth trajectory. I don’t want to participate in the deep rut of the current system. It’s not good for my own life (I feel the tug toward “quick fix” just as strongly as anyone) and it’s physically painful to see women miss the point over and over again. Seriously – anxiety, depression, headaches, muscle tension, etc have all decreased substantially as I’ve released my grip on trying to force my methods into the current wellness climate.

Instead I’m returning to what I’ve always wanted to do but had stopped letting myself consider it (while in the SAHM-entrepreneur box). I’m in process for starting work on my PhD in Fall 2018.


Now we have reached present day.

I’m in the process of preparing my application for PhD programs in molecular biology** – studying for the GRE, refreshing my mind on the basics as well as exploring where research is at right now in my desired domain, making my list of schools to apply to, etc. And I’ll tell you, it’s not easy to step back in to this field after so many years away but, despite an increased amount of discomfort + uncertainty, staying focused on the goal has felt effortless in comparison to what I experienced trying to wedge my way into the wellness industry. It’s been 6 months of consistent growth + attention to what matters most to me.

[**If you know my motherhood story then you probably know that I had already finished applying to PhD programs when I found out I was pregnant. I received an invitation to interview at the U of M a mere two days after I took a positive pregnancy test.]

When I tell people about grad school their typical next question is what will I do with the kids…will we put them in school? And the answer is that we still intend to homeschool. Knowing that I am going to be dramatically increasing my load, I’m using these next 15 months or so to systematize our home life. Coming to grips with the brevity of my remaining time as a full-time SAHM has given me a new perspective on our current arrangement. I’m diving in deep to fully enjoy this waning season with my kids and working hard to prepare all of us for what is coming.


So then what is happening with

I mentioned above that trying to influence the current system from where I’m at right now doesn’t work. I also mentioned that I’m not immune to the siren call of quick fixes and ample empathy. So as I tune my ears to the sweeter song I intend to keep writing. About what? I will maintain this site on a more personal level. Documenting what we’re doing to prepare for the next season and providing insightful information to you as you seek to improve your own environment. My hope is that I can provide an example (not a step-by-step blueprint) to living intentionally in the direction of real accomplishment.

Namely, I expect there will be articles related to my various personal aims in the following sub-identities:

  • wife + mom seeking to provide a good environment for my family as we learn, grow, work, and rest together.
  • athlete seeking ways to push my body + mind for the goal of being as fit as I can within my current constraints (I subscribe to the Crossfit approach to defining “fitness”).
  • aspiring homesteader cooking 90-95% of our meals at home (active on Pinterest but also making my own recipes as I experiment), developing my gardening skills, and always looking for ways to increase the quality of what we produce + consume.
  • woman who has struggled with mental health issues since the 6th grade – I’m seeking to better understand my body + mind across scientific domains so I can cultivate habits that bring mental clarity, energy, self-awareness, emotional balance, etc.


These articles will be written for the purpose of consolidating my own understanding and passing along a more synthesized look at various topics. There will also be the more nitty-gritty posts about systematizing our home life – self care, nutrition, movement, homeschooling routines, etc. As per the above rant you can expect that my writing invites you to think critically about your own life and environment. I write so you can walk away actually being equipped to think about your problem effectively + take action…not so you can blindly copy what I did and not know what to do the next time you get stuck.

My previous few blog posts provide a taste of what I expect to produce. If you’d like to keep in touch, I encourage you to sign up for my newsletter. I’ll be resurrecting it in the next few weeks (after my GRE test date) to provide reading lists and a more personal approach to helping you grow (I can’t help it…). That is also where I’ll be best available to answer questions or chat about your own aims.
If you don’t yet follow me on Instagram, I play around a lot with Stories to document our day to day life and sometimes talk about things that are on my mind.


To burpee or not to burpee – what you need to know

Last week I had the pleasure of participating in a burpee challenge with fellow MN-dweller, Leah Fontaine. The goal was 150 burpees throughout the day, ideally at least 15 every hour from 9am onward.

I decided to jump in for a couple of reasons – 1. I do most of my fitness stuff on my own. Knowing this would be a community effort felt good. And 2. I have a body and movement awareness that I can trust so doing a challenge at home without someone watching me isn’t dangerous — I modified when I sensed higher fatigue, stayed mindful of how my body felt, and employed recovery techniques to sore muscles.

Maybe that second reason sounds dramatic. Burpees, after all, are all the rage in at-home workouts and huge group classes. Why would a person need supervision? That’s why I decided to write this post.

Burpees are no doubt popular for getting your heart rate up but the complexity of this movement makes it easy to do incorrectly. Read more to see what you need to know to make the burpee work for you. More at


A little disclaimer:

I am not the burpee police. I don’t smirk at your group fitness class just because I’d rather powerlift or do pull ups. I have concerns about efficacy and safety based on my understanding of the body + what’s required for body change. Fitness classes are no exception to the “up the ante” rule of entertainment. It can be seen as entertainment as much (if not more) as it’s for fitness – often increasing risk to the user simply to attract new people…or including superfluous movement for similar reasons. In instances where someone is asking my opinion, I offer what I can in that context. This is largely why I have refrained from writing on movement in the past. In the end, if you ask me about your chosen fitness activity I’m going to ask “How’s that working for you?” And probably talk about how you can maximize results while minimizing risk. My preference for women is that we focus on quality before quantity of movement – choosing the movement + style that is most effective  for the given goal, not just assuming that if we move more we are guaranteed to get skinnier.

I joined this challenge knowing it meant I was agreeing that 150 burpees in a day is a fun idea. Here’s why: 1. The challenge itself is a small number in a given time frame, spread throughout the day. If it were “see how many you can do in 20 minutes and whoever loses has to walk outside naked” – I woulda been out of there quick and possibly sent a message to the organizer to talk about their proposal. 2. This challenge took out the push up at the bottom of the movement, a major cause of movement fault for beginners and fatigued intermediates. 3. There were no other movements involved – 15 burpees then rest for an hour.


Ok so what makes burpees so intense?

  1. Multiple movements in one
  2. Require Mobility + Stability
  3. Speed.

The unstable transitions the body passes through fast before achieving a new stable position make this a category 3 movement (most complex) according to Kelly Starrett. I actually didn’t include burpees in my later programs when I was a personal trainer because of these characteristics. Doing a single movement (with proper mechanics) fast takes skill let alone 3 movements done rapidly.


But since you’re doing them anyway, why not talk about it a bit and point you to good resources for scaling according to your skill level.


  1. Multiple movements in one

Not everyone includes the push up in the burpee but from start to finish here are the movements included:

  • Squat
  • Plank
  • Push up
  • Squat
  • Vertical jump


When I was teaching women in my home I taught them 1-2 movements at a time. Yup, that’s right. We would spend about 60 minutes drilling a couple of new ones and reviewing past movements. Movements like squats, push ups, overhead presses, and deadlifts require deep practice because our everyday life tends to result in decreased mobility and poor movement patterns, inhibiting our ability to achieve and maintain a stable position under load.

When you combine multiple movements into a single, fluid movement it’s important to start and finish each piece in a highly stable position. This sets up the next element until a single rep is complete.

If you do not know how to set up each movement, you perpetuate poor mechanics throughout. One effect of this is a loss of force output. You might not be thinking about that when doing burpees in your group fitness class. But a second effect is the cost of a compromised spinal position rep after rep after rep. Flexion and extension of the lumbar spine is a painful habit. [Trust me]

  1. Hip Mobility and Core Strength

The lumbar spine is made for stability. The muscles surrounding it are designed for isometric tension rather than the flexion or extension that we experience in the glute muscles or the thoracic spine. If we lack sufficient mobility in our hips or our T spine, the low back can round and the erectors are bearing load in an unstable position.

The burpee requires a person to get into a deep hip flexion position…fast. If the hamstring or glute muscles are unable to stretch sufficiently, the low back will flex in the squat. If you are unable to achieve a stable plank position due to a weak / poorly trained core, your hips will sag and your low back will extend in the push up position and hop back.

Knowledge of self is key here. When you hear a fitness instructor yell out “alright let’s see those burpees!” and you don’t realize you have poor hip mobility (or that it’s required for a successful burpee), you will blindly follow. However, if you know that your hips have limited flexion you can safely modify on the fly according to your skill + mobility level.

  1. Speed

When we are trying to force adaptation on the body we add stress. Increasing load or number of reps are two ways to increase stress. Speed is another.

When I was coaching clients we began with doing movements at a very slow rate. If a movement pattern is new to you (or you’ve never received coaching in it) it’s helpful to start with slow flexion and extension in order for build up the mind-muscle connection and look for points of fault in your mechanics. For example, when you perform the downward motion of a squat over the course of 5 seconds, you feel the pull of the hamstrings and glutes as you draw your hips into external rotation. On the upward path you can focus in on evenly distributing your weight on your foot and resisting the urge to let your hips internally rotate. This helps you form that mental image of what a successful squat feels like. This is deep practice [And in my opinion, this is mandatory].

In the burpee, you have multiple movements combined in a single “rep” typically strung together for a heart-pumping cardio-type workout.

Because of the speed requirement, it is likely that your form will break down over time unless you have a well-trained system (in which case the speed component is less of a stress and you’ll end up adding reps to tax the system).


I mentioned above that in this burpee challenge we weren’t doing any other movements, but that isn’t common practice. Usually the burpee is used throughout the course of a 30-45 (even 60) minute workout with minimal rest between circuits. This adds up to a lot of time under tension and therefore, a lot of stress on the body. Without a strong foundation, your burpee form is likely to break down pretty quickly leaving you looking (and feeling) like a floppy noodle. Then add in additional squats, push ups, lunges, etc and you find yourself less and less capable of establishing a stable core from which to move, putting your joints in jeopardy both during the workout and when you apply that movement to real life.


A workout has multiple purposes, one of which you likely don’t think about much: practice how to move. Because life isn’t about performing squats in a gym or your living room, right? It’s being able to hike the Grand Canyon simply because you’re there and you’re conditioned enough to do it safely (like we did last year). Burpees are a great functional fitness movement – which is all the more reason to practice them with knowledge of their complexity and attention to your movement patterns.



Burpees are a more advanced movement than you might be led to believe based on their prevalence in large group fitness classes. The fitness requirement on the individual can easily exceed skill. So what’s a girl to do? Skip her fave class or start looking down on those burpee-doers? Of course not. Use your intuition, friend. Now that you have more information, you can better listen to your body and consider your skill level. There’s ZERO shame in opting out of the burpees, slowing them down, or modifying. They are great for conditioning and a fun challenge. But the ROI needs to be considered in the moment. Avoid any extreme “burpee or die” mindsets and you’ll slowly accumulate the skills you need to experience the full benefits of the burpee. Like when you’re wrestling with your husband and need to quickly get back on your feet before he gets you in an ankle lock.


Looking for a good alternative to the full burpee? Jen Sinkler has a great video for you.

If you’re curious about where I get my movement mechanics information, my go-to resources come from Kelly Starrett, Mark Rippetoe, and Bret Contreras. When asked for good workout information I also always direct women to Girls Gone Strong, Jen Sinkler, and Neghar Fonooni. All of which have youtube channels with good instruction videos.

Mindfulness and Cognitive Science Self Care

How to install rituals into your everyday life

Everyday life is full of routines. Mind-numbing routines, sometimes? Don’t you think it’s about time we make those routines do work for us? What if folding laundry was more than getting your clean clothes into your drawers or washing dishes more than a clean kitchen? I honestly believe it is this practice of transforming routines >> rituals that allows me to a) get my house work done in less time, b) actually enjoy it?! and c) feel ready to do my most important work for the day.




When I first stepped into the wellness industry, back in 2010, I came through the door of bodybuilding. I’ve never done a competition but it was a thought at one point and I’m not a stranger to those kinds of workouts / meal plans. I’m very grateful for that introduction – I gained strength and muscle mass quickly, which kept me motivated and inspired me to keep learning. Plus it was a good match for my body type. It still plays an important role in how I choose to fuel + move my body [And I’m pretty damn proud of the body I’ve built] But it (like most things) has its downsides.


When I became a mom and chose to pursue being a personal trainer, I started to look at the industry from more of a removed point of view and was startled by it. “How does anybody live a “real life” while pursuing health goals?” I asked. Because what I could see is that once you converted to a “healthy lifestyle,” you became obsessed…and it became a part of your identity, from your way to make money to what your friends know you as.


Now granted, filtering has a lot to do with my perception. I’ve no doubt there are plenty of women who came before me, saw the same trends, and chose a different route, while maintaining a healthy lifestyle. But with social media, it was easy to feel like I had to make this all-or-nothing choice: either I’m a fitness girl [ruled by workouts and meal prep], or I’m just a regular jane [always wishing to be healthier but never having the time].


That does not have to be the choice, my friend.


This is why I so heavily emphasize the USE of wellness. Not as the be-all, end-all of life but a vital tool. Every bit of “everyday life” can be used to restore energy, cultivate curiosity, and release the toxins that threaten to distract our minds + bodies from doing good work.

So today I’m going to walk you through how to be more intentional with these everyday moments – how to use them to center your mind, release negative thoughts/emotions, and bring your attention back to what matters – so you can walk into your work ready to dig deep and solve whatever problem comes your way.


It’s likely you’ve heard of the concept of a ritual. It conjures up mental images of ceremony…sacredness. I’ve experienced it in church, my college fraternity, and before every soccer game.


A ritual, when boiled down, is a habit loop. Some kind of cue sets off a chain of actions that results in a reward. The difference between a ritual and a routine (also a habit loop) is the mental component.


Routines + rituals are important for gaining new habits…they are raised up by any given health coach as the way to eat better, work out more consistently, and the reason all that is so hard to begin with. Routines and rituals are slightly different from each other. Routines involve autopilot – we back out of our driveways the same way every time, without thinking about it. There isn’t much “intention” behind it. But a ritual draws our minds + hearts to a focal point and is, then, a tool for bringing the mind out of autopilot and into mindful living.


Transforming routines into rituals is a pathway to living your everyday life more intentionally.

Whether you work at home or an office, care for kids or live alone, there are some tasks that are common between us. Activities such as laundry, brushing your teeth, and cleaning up your kitchen are prime opportunities for infusing your day with more mindful action.

Guidelines for rituals:

  • Have a baseline (most important, bare minimum)
    If your morning ritual lasts 2 hours and you wake up late, it’s more likely you will skip everything. However, if instead you know what the most important elements are, you can trim the fat when necessary without losing the effect of the ritual.
  • Start with 1 at a time
    It’s great to have an evening ritual, morning ritual, and little pockets of mindful action throughout the day. But setting it all up at once is going to overload your brain. Choose one, give it some time to settle in, then begin to work on another. I recommend starting with your evening ritual first because when that is in place it becomes easier to start waking on that little bit sooner to have a more intentional morning before work/kids.
  • Know why you’re doing it
    If you don’t have a reason to wake up an hour earlier than you need to be ready for work, you will hit snooze.
  • Check in + evaluate progress
    It’s not enough to enact a ritual, you need to know if it is doing its job. Evaluating weekly, monthly, and even quarterly if you are seeing the results you want.
  • Cut it out if it’s not giving results
    Trying to do too many things before your kids wake up? Green smoothie habit not feeling worth the effort? Gym too far from home? Don’t force things that aren’t working, or worse, are causing unneeded problems. Of course you can assess your expectations and try to problem solve. (For example, green smoothies don’t have to have a bunch of fancy ingredients to give you extra servings of veggies + an energy boost). But just because you start something doesn’t mean you have to keep it.
  • Tie together a physical action with the mental care
    This is key to building a “ritual.” It’s not about going through the motions of your morning routine, it’s about engaging your mind + your heart in the doing. Whether it’s folding laundry or preparing dinner. As Ruth from Gracelaced says, “learn to love what must be done.”
  • Tie daily “chore” task with self care
    • Finish dishes > drink glass of water
    • Fold laundry > close eyes + take deep breaths
    • Make dinner > stretch or sit in a squat while it simmers

      These may not scream “self care!!” to you but taking time to nourish + care for your body in these simple ways will do a few things: a) get you in the habit of using your spare minutes more effectively, b) bring your attention to often-neglected needs, and c) bring other goals like fat loss or more movement into your everyday tasks…that kind cohesiveness breeds consistency.
  • Replace running through your mental to-do list with mindfulness
    It’s common to use showering or making breakfast to tally through the day’s task-list but that can put us into a state of anxiety leading to snapping at family or feeling rushed. Instead, let the task list be a part of the evening and morning rituals so you can be present + engaged in the moment during other activities.


Now that we’ve established guidelines, here are a few ways you can cue a ritual:

  1. Time of day – this is your ritual when you first wake up or as you prepare for bed. Also includes nap time if you are home with kids.
  2. Certain activities – what you do before you open your computer or while you wash dishes.
  3. Core habit that leads to domino effect – you probably head to the bathroom when you first wake up so that already-established habit can lead to a domino of other behaviors like brushing your teeth, washing your face, and drinking a glass of water.
  4. Jolt awake – setting an alarm on your phone can turn a normal moment into a ritual as it calls your attention back to the present. It’s as simple as “When my 9:45 alarm goes off I ______.”


Finally, here are a few ideas for rituals that will help build good mental + physical habits:

  • Brushing teeth >> running through how you want to feel today + what you’ll do to feel it (morning) / what DID YOU DO to feel that way (evening)
  • Prepping breakfast or folding laundry >> gratitude list
  • Driving >> deep breathing
  • While showering or washing dishes >> ask yourself questions
    • Where has my mind been today? What am I dwelling on?
    • How am I feeling? What’s causing that?
    • Is this how i want to feel / think today?
  • Set alarms for typical “trouble’ times to reawaken using a phrase or mantra
  • If you’re home with kids, choose healthy + indulgent activities for the first piece of nap time or post bed time.
    • Stretch while watching a show
    • Walk around your house while eating a piece of dark chocolate
    • Go take a short nap or just close your eyes and zone out for a bit. Set an alarm if you have things you need to do.


To close out here I want to point back to what I said in the introduction:

“I honestly believe it is this practice of transforming routines >> rituals that allows me to a) get my house work done in less time, b) actually enjoy it?! and c) feel ready to do my most important work for the day.”

For those who don’t know, I spend my days at home with my kids, whom I homeschool. While my husband runs a startup software development company from our home office, I act as lead problem-solver on the home front…a role I took on very reluctantly. However, over the past couple of years I’ve learned to live out what Ruth from Gracelaced often exhorts: “Learn to love what must be done.”

So instead of spending so much of my mental energy telling myself I don’t have time to do laundry or thinking about how much I despise folding or dishes or vacuuming, I started to remind myself of how important these mundane tasks are to my family’s ability to focus on bigger things. And I started to talk to myself about the habits I’m building – becoming a person to follows through, who does things that aren’t flashy, who steps fully in to each piece of her role even if it isn’t fun. I knew that’s the kind of woman I wanted to be…so I became it. And now every time I wash dishes I’m reminded of those thoughts and that purpose…and I start to enjoy it. And I’m faster at it, because I’m not looking for distractions from the work.

And because I’ve used the time to remember what my most important work even is (which looks like raising strong + capable kids while providing space for my husband’s work life to flourish in this season), I can step into that role prepared for it rather than simply worn out by the never ending task list.


Nutrition and Meal Prep

10 must try winter soup recipes

Today I’m sharing my guidelines for making a good soup plus 10 winter soup + chili recipes. Soups are an easy way to prepare meals ahead of time, can be packed to the gills with nutrients, and are easy to adapt to whatever you have in the fridge/freezer. Finish out the winter without getting bored in your meal plan!

A recipe round up of 10 winter soup + chili recipes. Soups are an easy way to prepare meals ahead of time, can be packed to the gills with nutrients, and are easy to adapt to whatever you have in the fridge/freezer. Finish out the winter without getting bored in your meal plan! Read more:

Hands down, food is my favorite part of winter. Soups + Chili in the slow cooker all day, the smell of curry, roasted veggies, juicy pot roast – these are my comfort foods.



Since I hear over and over again that meal planning is one of the more frustrating pieces of making healthy changes I’ve decided to begin sharing my pretty simple approach to feeding my family. I’m saving the details of my week-to-week planning for future posts but when I consider what soups to try, I first filter my options through what I call our winter capsule pantry.

Produce staples for winter meals. read more:

In winter, we are going for more root + cruciferous veggies. We ate cucumber and fresh tomatoes to our hearts’ delight last summer…now we’re enjoying cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, and celery.

Aromatics like onions and garlic are year-round staples, though we do cut back on them significantly in the summer months opting for the spring varieties instead. Potatoes, lemons, limes, avocado and cilantro are also year-round staples as they stay inexpensive, or in the case of avocado there is a very good reason to keep them around.


Just so you’re aware – we don’t have any food allergies nor do we side with any particular brand of “healthy” eating. We like simple and whole food. We like white rice, classic chocolate chip cookies, homemade pepperoni pizza, and cheddar cheese but I pack in veggies like crazy and we really don’t buy much for pre-packaged food unless it is frozen produce or canned tomatoes. Overall my aim is to help my children develop habits for eating nutrient dense foods and on the road to that I’d rather they eat a small amount of really good food over a large amount of a nutrient-deficient diet.

So what makes a good soup anyway??

I’ve been working on my soup game for a few years now – starting from mostly frozen ingredients + water (read: flavorless). So in case you find yourself new to the making of soup, here’s a few key things to keep in mind as you experiment with what’s in your fridge:

  • Use broth. Whether it’s homemade, from the carton, or made with bullion – broth is an essential component to a good soup. Even for chili.
  • Learn to chop well. You need to think about what is comfortable to eat off a spoon. Carrot, celery, potato – too large and they start making the eating part hard. If they are differing sizes, you’ll end up with some mushy and some crunchy.
  • Season your meat if it is being added in already cooked. It will absorb some of the flavors but, from experience, not enough. Even if it is just salt + pepper.
  • I recommend using a slow cooker. Giving the soup a chance to simmer for hours gives the flavors a nice long time to blend…and you don’t have to stand at the stove.
  • Cook on low setting OR soften onion beforehand. Crunchy veggies are undesirable. Carrots and onions can take some time to soften so if you don’t have time to cook on low (usually 6-8 hours), then saute the onion before putting them in (carrot too if you’re using it).
  • Keep an eye on your liquid level. When I use my slow cooker I always use broth + extra water because the cooking process will evaporate some. Even with chili where you’re going for a denser consistency, insufficient liquid is not tasty. Add more water if the dish is looking too thick (can happen if using a grain that is absorbing some) while everything is still cooking.
  • Follow a recipe until you get a feel for the spice ratios. After a few years of intentional learning in the kitchen I can eye how much cumin to add to my taco soup and I can guestimate how much curry to add to my cauliflower soup. But until you have developed an understanding of how flavors blend + how much is needed to season effectively, follow a recipe. Salty soup is the worst (in my opinion).
  • Add greens right at the end. Kale is great in soup but don’t leave it to cook all day. Just the last 20 minutes or so stir it in. It will turn a bright green and soften slightly but won’t become mushy.
  • Include your kids. We all know that the making of a tradition really sweetens the experience. Slow cooker meals are great in general for little helpers because there’s no hot pan to worry about. I remember the smell of our house on Wednesdays because we always had church so my mom often made Chili in the slow cooker. I also remember the group effort of filling our vegetable tray after grocery shopping. Involving your kids will imprint the beauty of the process of food preparation into their minds + hearts.


The following 10 winter recipes are both my inspiration (for my own creating) and my go-to recipes. I hope they inspire your own cooking as well! You can find all of them + more on my Pinterest page.

Soup Recipes

Copycat Panera Autumn Squash Soup from Kim’s Cravings



Beef taco soup from Simply Recipes



Half Baked Harvest has a Turkey Quinoa Enchilada soup recipe on her blog. I’m ready to dive into that bowl right about now. Whose with me?



Creamy Spiced Cauliflower Soup from Produce on Parade



Zuppa Toscana from The Bewitchin’ Kitchen



Pinch of Yum’s simple + homemade Tomato Soup.



Chili Recipes

Quinoa Chili from Damn Delicious



Chipotle Chili from American Heritage Cooking



White Chicken Chili from Gimme Some Oven (only 5 ingredients!)



Southwest Paleo Chili from Define Fettle




Now that your mouth is watering, comment below with which recipe you plan to try first!

Be sure to show some love to these awesome recipe creators, pin all 10 recipes here!


A recipe round up of 10 winter soup + chili recipes. Soups are an easy way to prepare meals ahead of time, can be packed to the gills with nutrients, and are easy to adapt to whatever you have in the fridge/freezer. Finish out the winter without getting bored in your meal plan! Read more:

movement Nutrition and Meal Prep Raising Capable Kids Self Care

20 Ideas for Winter Self Care (fight the blues + prepare for spring)

Winter in Minnesota can be brutal. We are currently enjoying a short break from the bitter cold but it almost makes it harder – because we know very well that winter can last until June so it’s going to get cold again soon.

That being said, winter is also an opportunity. And I kind of love that it’s in the midst of winter when the New Year comes with all the looking at our progress and the freshness of resolutions. Winter is the perfect time to let go of all the stuff that was draining us dry. Summer and fall often bring lots of commitments and late nights but winter draws us inside where we slow down, cultivate our meaningful relationships, and get more sleep.

Ahhh, I love the rhythm of the seasons.

20 practical ideas for self care during the winter months - action steps for your mental health, relationships, fitness, nutrition, personal development, and home life. Read more:


We need to tailor our self-care to honor the pulling in of winter. I’ve said it many times but it’s always worth reviewing – self-care is about taking the actions that will help you do good work. No matter what occupies the bulk of your time – be it raising children, teaching students, health care, business-building, public service, etc – you need your “down time” to be about replenishing your energy stores and pointing you to your values + intentions. The categories I consider when I brainstorm ways to practice self-care include: general health (including mental health), nutrition, movement, self-development, relationships, and cultivating a life-giving environment.


20 Ideas for winter self-care

General Health (including mental health)

  • Start a bedtime ritualArianna Huffington talks bedtime practices in this Business Insider article and her most recent book, The Sleep Revolution.
  • Start a simple morning ritual – include light movement (yoga, stretching, bodyweight circuit), meditation (use Headspace to get started!) and drinking water.
  • Keep a houseplant (or 10) – select from this list for plants that can help purify your air.
  • Find a conservatory or zoo with indoor exhibits – the rainforest room and Koi pond at Como Zoo and Conservatory are frequent haunts for us as we start itching for spring! Seriously, it’s my therapy.
  • Say “no” to more commitments – practice filtering social engagements and opportunities through your values and goals before committing. Is it a relationship you are purposefully cultivating? Is it a cause that’s important to you? Is FOMO or guilt behind your “yes”? I recommend The Best Yes by Lisa TerKeurst to read more about this idea. Ultimately if you pack all of your down time with obligations (that don’t reenergize you) you are choosing the road to burn out.


  • Shake up your breakfast with nutrient dense + delicious foods I’ve pinned some make-ahead breakfast ideas that will give you a great energy boost as you step into your morning.
  • Increase your greens intake – Like this Kale-Pineapple green smoothie from Lindsey at Nourish Move Love.
  • Take a break from the sweets so you can better tune in to what your body is really craving. Whether you go so far as to do a Whole30 or 21 day sugar detox or not, creating new habits in place of the 2pm sugar-fix can help you with mental clarity, consistent energy levels, and boost your immune system.


  • Try a new workout style or class – keep your interest high by changing things up when the weather outside can make you want to skip everything.
  • Start a Saturday morning movement ritual with a friend! Hold each other accountable to fitness goals with a joint workout then spend a slow morning over coffee + breakfast! Fellow fitness-lover + coach Britany of Define Fettle has an awesome tradition of “burpees then brunch” (she even made a tank about it!). That’s a tradition worth stealing!


  • Say “yes” to more quiet reading – try a new genre or re-read a favorite fiction series instead of watching Netflix.
  • Learn a new skill just because you can – guitar, knitting, painting, your personal style, how to cook Indian food, mastering a new coffee brewing method, etc.
  • Pick an everyday task and turn it into a ritual – washing dishes becomes 10-20 minutes of listing everything you are grateful for, work commute becomes mindful preparation for your day, evening Netflix with roommates or significant other becomes an intentional point of connection before hitting “play.”


  • Initiate a weekly or monthly gathering with friends – trade off hosting – with emphasis on hospitality and deep connection – Shauna Niequist wrote a great book to both inspire + equip you in this area.
  • Start saving money for a summer vacation with friends – give yourself something to look forward to that doubles as incentive to be more thoughtful about your spending.

Life-giving environment

  • Declutter your spaceslet your mantels, corners, and countertops breathe (it doesn’t have to be forever)!
  • Try your chemistry skills: make your own household cleaners, makeup remover, body scrub, etc.
  • Buy fresh cut flowers – one of the beautiful things about our modern culture is a bouquet from California sitting on your kitchen table when it’s snowing outside.
  • Diffuse essential oils into your home – the olfactory nerves make your sense of smell the only sensory input that goes straight to the brain, making it the fastest physical sense to calm or energize!
  • Plan a garden for spring – we’re all thinking about the changing weather anyway so make use of it! Try planting some greens from seed or growing herbs in your kitchen window!
  • Get a head start on spring cleaning – tackle a room per week (or biweekly!) with deep cleaning. No doubt it will give you fresh eyes for your spaces! It may be “work” but it’s also very therapeutic to get rid of dust bunnies. Trust me.


As you can see, I consider a wide-range of activities to be self-care. I mean fresh cut flowers and spring cleaning in the same list?? But after 5 years of shouldering a start up business, becoming a mom, dealing with depression, anxiety, and general low energy – I’ve found that self-care is not the obvious things you think of when you’re on the cusp of burn out. Yes, a massage or weekend away can be helpful but it’s the stuff you do every day to align your life with what really matters that keeps you moving forward despite the responsibilities, stress, and fear. These are what fight against the winter blues, loneliness, and cravings most effectively.

The main roles we play in our lives require us to show up. Solving problems, nurturing people, making wise decisions – they can’t be done well when your time spent alone / away from work is a hodge podge of poor habits and trying to escape stress. Any one of the ideas up there can act as a catalyst for becoming a stronger, more capable woman.


I would love to hear about where you begin. Comment below with one thing (on or off the list) you are going to incorporate into your life in 2017 for better self-care.


Mindfulness and Cognitive Science Neurobiology and Behavior Nutrition and Meal Prep Self Care

How to have a happy holiday

The holiday season is not a black hole. It’s not the proverbial Vegas where anything goes and we’ll just pretend it didn’t happen. But we kinda pretend it is, don’t we? Things like nutrition, movement, and good connections often get pushed aside as we work really hard to enjoy the season. How’s that for paradox.

As if personal life wasn’t enough, five years of marriage to an entrepreneur + running my own business has taught me something else about holiday season: Mid-November through December is always a battle. There’s a lot to do week-to-week and that doesn’t just stop because we got the perfect snowfall or there are Christmas movies that need watching.

So things like nutrition are thrown off but the need to perform remains the same (or is perhaps even raised since available time decreases). Nutrition and human connection are vital assets of quality performance – giving you energy, focus, mental clarity, and stamina. Poor nutrition choices can not only leave you feeling “blah” but also set you up for being down & out in the aftermath. So how do we make this work?

Or perhaps the better question, how do we use the holiday season to our advantage – strengthening the relationships that keep us grounded, celebrating the big and small of the year, and throwing love and hope around like confetti? All of which serve us and our community in the long run but often get stifled by the poor habits that come out when family, food, and stuff enter the picture.

We all want time with our family and friends to feel happy and meaningful. Perhaps overeating and little squabbles feel like a part of the package - but they don't have to be. Here are 12 ways to be mindful during your holiday season and a happier and healthier you. Read more:

So how DO we make this work??

We prepare, my friend.

This post is going to be full of lists. And that’s because it’s going to be full of tools for you to take with you on your holiday vacation, your office party, your neighbor’s open house, New Year’s, and beyond.

To start, let’s set our intention for the holiday season:

  • I will not overstimulate my mind + body with excessive decisions. I will prepare now so I can be present + engaged then.
  • I will use this extra time with friends + family to foster deep connection. I will choose my people over food, comfort, activity, etc.
  • If time with family is usually difficult: I will intentionally spend time with people who love + support me [from grocery shopping to laundry folding to a small holiday party] so I can go into family events anchored to truth even as the tensions rise.

Next list. Here’s what I know about the holidays:

[Getting a handle on the common pitfalls and weak points can help us know where to focus our energy for best results.]

  1. Nostalgia is exciting — and comfortable. We love comfortable and it very quickly becomes the unseen goal of the season if we are not careful.
  2. Food gets a lot of attention. Planning meals for 30 people for 4 days will do that! Unfortunately that leaves many people with guilt, shame, frustration instead of joy.
  3. Scarcity mindset runs rampant – holiday favorites from food to movies to activities, we want it all right now before it’s too late. It becomes an excuse to eat way past full – we lose our minds trying to take it all in [quick!].
  4. Family time dregs up all sorts of memories we want to forget driving us toward our usual numbing habits to stifle connection and sterilize the environment. Social media, sarcasm, overly competitive, food, drink, vegging out, passive aggression, perfectionism – we armor up and coast through at surface level.

It doesn’t have to be that way. So to help you I’ve compiled my best strategies for staying mindful and optimizing for connection during social gatherings. This is straight out of the nutrition portion of my coaching program where I help women establish a habit of moderation in all circumstances.

To begin, here are 6 ways to prepare for successful holiday gatherings:

  1. Picture the people you will see, think about how you want them to feel during the holidays, and especially after they spend time with you. Hold that image in your mind and compare it to eating your favorite dessert or dish – mentally remind yourself that people > food.
  2. Practice mindful meditation – take 10-20 minutes to focus in on your breath, letting thoughts and emotions pass you by. Tuning in to the present will help bring awareness to your decisions and your behavior — your best shot at avoiding old habit pathways. If you’re new to mindful meditation, the free app Headspace has a 10 day intro. Apps Calm and Insight Timer also have lots of free + short meditations.
  3. Prepare a few meaningful questions to ask the people you sit with at dinner or while you’re sitting around or playing games. Especially during meals, having a conversation about an adventure you want to take in the new year or a habit you want to develop can help everyone stay more present and eat slower. Now you’re getting real connection AND you’re more likely to stop eating when you feel satisfied.
  4. Meditate on an abundance mantra as you drive to your event. “I am satisfied”, “I have enough”, “My life is full of blessings”. Focusing your attention on contentment and satisfaction can help you stay sober-minded about food or other habits you have when you’re feeling rushed or not enough.
  5. Alternatively, play a game in the car of naming as many things you’re truly, deeply grateful for as you can. Go 2-4 layers deeper than “my car” or “my family.” Get really specific and say WHY.
  6. Finally, and this is really practical, if it’s an evening event – like a work party or neighborhood party – eat a small meal beforehand. A bowl of soup or chili to take the edge off your hunger. It will be easier to be selective about what you choose to eat if you’ve already gotten some protein + fat in your system. [Also, drink plenty of water.]

To wrap up our holiday lists, here are 6 ways to stay mindful while you are at your holiday gatherings:

  1. If you have a past of restrictive dieting, don’t tell yourself an outright “no” about anything. You are more likely to hyperfocus on it. Instead, I’ve got a couple of guidelines to help you enjoy in moderation:
  2. Neghar Fonooni’s 1st bite rule: Every bite should be as good as the first. As soon as it no longer does, choose to be done. (This means you are paying attention to + tasting every bite). This goes for all kinds of food or drink.
  3. Jill Coleman’s 3-bite rule: When it comes to dessert, take 3 bites and move on. Skip the part where you say “I could never do that!” I promise you can. It will take practice, of course, but you’re bound to have plenty of opportunities in the next few weeks.
  4. Avoid filling your plate full, even for meals. Take small portions and take a break between helpings. Give yourself space to start digesting and make a mindful decision about what you will eat. Remember: it might feel like this is the only time you can eat mashed potatoes, but it really isn’t. You can make them (or buy them) any day of the week.
  5. Make a personal game of telling as many people as you can 1-2 things you like about them specifically or why you are thankful for them.
  6. Lastly, remember that the mind plays tricks (not on purpose…): we have a harder time saying “no” to colorful food – use it to your advantage with vegetables and beware with Christmas cookies. Also, your brain will try to tell you that food (or Instagram) will help you feel less awkward/lonely/uncomfortable. It won’t.


These strategies are designed to pull your attention into the present moment to maximize human connection while minimizing poor nutrition choices. If you can increase the quality of your holiday gatherings, you will return to your work engaged, inspired, and ready to face new problems.

I so deeply hope your holiday season is filled to the brim with connection and meaning. But I know that is hard to come by so these strategies are my gift to you so you can have moments that are filled to the brim. May this be a time when you forego assumptions or putting on a face that garners praise in exchange for real human connection that will take you further into the New Year than anything else.

Mindfulness and Cognitive Science Nutrition and Meal Prep Self Care

How to embrace the limits of the season

We walk through grocery aisles that give us any food we want at any time of day. We scroll websites and find clothes ready to be sent to our door. Hop on a plane and experience a summer day in the middle of your winter. Each one a [mostly] beautiful development in our society that can serve to simplify our lives and widen our gaze beyond our individual contexts.

And easily transformed as the channel through which we expect to have everything we want as soon as we think of it.


Sustainable wellness can only come if you're willing to embrace - not resist - the present. Read more:



What’s the quickest route to overextending yourself? Start seeing life through the “never enough” lens.

As a North Dakotan-turned-Minnesotan, limiting seasons like winter have always been in my life. It’s a rhythm we have to embrace because we cannot will the weather to comply with our hopes and dreams. For a large part of the year, it is dark and cold and windy. We find alternatives to Vitamin D and eat a lot of soup with root vegetables.

What if instead of trying to turn your winter season into summer, you embraced the limitations and let them do the work they are meant to do?

At our house, winter is a time to slow down and get close. We build fires, feed birds, read lots of books, and learn new skills. All things we start to move away from (or do differently, at least) once we can be outside [without 5 layers] again.

I can easily transfer this concept to any area of my life. I’ve had seasons of motherhood where I’ve needed to pull in – huddle closer to just the essentials in order to preserve my energy + focus for going deep and heavy into raising little people.

As a family we have been in seasons of setting limits on our time and the types of things we do because we’re working together to grow a business into a sustainable living.

If we choose to zoom in on the stuff we can’t do, then we will grow to resent the present. We will try to force the season to be different. We will say yes to things as if the commitment somehow makes our lives different. Overextension, overcommitment, always reaching for what we think we must have right this second.

But what is winter, really? Sure, on the surface we see dormant trees and green >> brown. We see creatures go into hiding. But why do they do that? To gather their strength. To prepare for a new season of extension and outpouring when the necessary resources are abundant.

If you’re in a season where the stuff coming in is more limited, by necessity, let that change your level of output. It’s not giving up. It’s being human.

The giant oak tree drops its leaves and goes quiet in response to the waning hours of sunlight and decreased access to water. It knows that trying to produce acorns in January would likely lead to death (“knows” being a loose term, of course). But by flowing with its environment, it can come forth again to do what it is designed to do >> provide beauty, shade, and make new little oak trees.

Rather than lamenting what you can’t do, look instead to what you can. Living simply – a well-worn path to sustainable wellness – includes doing the work for today that will, little by little, prepare you to plant new seeds and reap new harvests. In the time that is allotted.

Nodding your head with me? Read these articles to get started:

  1. A call to wellness: How you see yourself matters
  2. How to start a wellness journey
  3. How to transition from work >> home