What If You Decided to Play Big? My Interview with Dr. Christina Heilman

Have you ever wondered how elite athletes push through pain and self-doubt (not to mention actual physical obstacles) to achieve the seemingly impossible?


Ever wondered if any of that magic could be applied to your own life (athlete or not)?


I have.


Enter Dr. Christina Heilman.


Dr. Chris is a coach, speaker, author, and athlete who, for the past 20 years, has helped empower people to go beyond their limitations to achieve peak levels of physical, mental, and lifestyle performance. She’s a skier, climber, and endurance runner herself, so she understands the mental game not from the armchair, but from real life experience. Learn more about Dr. Chris here.


In today’s episode, I ask Dr. Chris things I’ve always wanted to know, like:


… how important is meditation, really?


… how do you get a runner to push past mile 45 in an ultra-marathon?


… how do you arrest a full-blown freak out happening to a climber who’s facing a terrifying obstacle, high above the ground?


And more importantly, are any of these techniques transferrable to us average folks??


I loved this conversation, and I learned some new techniques that are pushing me to higher ground, and my hope is that listening to this episode will do the same for you.


Click here to listen to my conversation with Dr. Chris Heilman.


Show Notes


We covered a lot of ground in this conversation, but here are the ideas and tidbits that really knocked me out:


· Want to have the biggest possible impact on the world? Become the best version of yourself. What tends to hold most of us back are the stories we tell ourselves about what is possible. And while some of these stories are designed to keep us safe, some of them are outdated, misguided and downright false. And while we can’t control a whole lot in this lifetime, we can control our ability to sift through these stories to sort the useful from the hurtful.


· Thought patterns really do have physical consequences. Chris’s exercise using the “strength test” is an eye-opening experiment to see just how much our thought patterns influence the amount of physical strength we bring to bear in a situation.

· I loved hearing about Chris’s approach to dealing with negative thoughts. She calls her own negative mental storyteller “Bob” which is an acronym for “Big Old Bully.” Sometimes Bob shows up with some really vital guidance to keep you safe. But sometimes Bob is just there to mess with you, and to keep you playing small. I dug her approach to working with Bob so that she can peacefully co-exist with this aspect of herself. “Bob is a guest you can choose to welcome in, or slam the door if the situation demands it.” The key is to be in a good position to distinguish which strategy is right for the situation.

· What if you accidentally let Bob in, even though you know it was the wrong call, and now you’re freaking out?? According to Dr. Chris, you hit Bob with the Triple As: Acknowledge. Accept. Act. First, acknowledge that you are having an attack of negative thinking. Don’t push it away or bury it. Call it what it is. Next, accept it. It’s ok and it’s perfectly natural for negativity to arise, especially if you’re attempting to play big. Be kind to yourself. Lastly, act. What can you do right now to improve your situation? This takes us into a place of choice and strength. Before you know it, Bob will be on his way out the door. Here’s a link to a terrific blog post Dr. Chris wrote on this topic.

· Joy drives excellence. Finding joy can seem like a luxury item, but it’s the key to peak performance. How might you find ways to incorporate more joy and pleasure into any aspect of your life you’re trying to improve on?

· Begin experimenting with listening to your own intuition, which is its own form of intelligence. Train yourself to notice when something “feels light or heavy.”


· “ACE” your performance: Attitude, Concentration, Enjoyment.


ATTITUDE Before you begin something: check in with your attitude, because as Chris said, “Your attitude determines your altitude.” Your self-talk will determine your success (or lack thereof). If you find that your attitude is in the toilet, ask yourself what you need in order to get into a better head space. Do you need to wallow for a bit? Set a timer for 3 minutes and lean in to the wallowing. Or go for a walk, or listen to music that makes you feel good. Give yourself what you need, and then get back to business.


CONCENTRATION: Wherever your focus goes, everything follows. Do what you can to block out interruptions, and stay as present as possible. Before you begin something, ask yourself, how might I guard my focus and concentration?


ENJOYMENT: Ask yourself: how can I put a smile on my face right now? “Lose your mind and come to your senses.” Instead of indulging in negative self-talk, look around … what do you see? What do you hear? What can you feel?


-  Meditation is key to peak performance. But it doesn’t have to be hard. Even a 5-minute breathing exercise (see below) counts as meditation. Choose a simple technique and stick with it every day. At first, it won’t seem like it’s having much of an impact, but trust that the benefits are pretty major, but they happen over time.


· Final thought … take a minute to ask yourself two questions:


How am I playing small?

What would it look like if I decided to play big?


Resources mentioned during our conversation:


  • Connect with Dr. Chris via Instagram and Facebook @mindsetdr

  • 5, 4, 3 Meditation: Take a walk and mentally name 5 things you can see, then 5 things you can feel, and 5 things you can hear. Next, name 4 things you can see, feel and hear. Lastly, name 3 things you can see, feel and hear. By the end of this exercise, you will feel far more present and engaged. I LOVE doing this meditation while I’m walking my dog.

  • Square Breathing Technique: Close your eyes. Get centered. Make sure your seat bones have equal weight, and your spine is nice and long. Head should be equally balanced on shoulders, and go ahead and roll them up and down your back, just noticing your breathing. Don’t change anything, just notice. Next, imagine a square in your mind’s eye. Any color that you want (mine is rainbow). Notice all four sides of the square, as well as each of the four corners. Begin by bringing your attention to TOP left hand corner. Inhale and breathe down left-hand side. Pause at corner. Exhale across the bottom. Pause. Inhale up the right. Pause. Exhale across the top. Repeat. Then try and turn it into a rectangle by lengthening out the exhale, which triggers your “rest and digest” reflex—the opposite of the fight or flight reaction. Inhale for four, exhale for 4-8 seconds, pause. Repeat. I swear, I feel like I’ve had a nap after I do this for a few minutes.


Current Obsessions:

People Who Eat Darkness

Richard Lloyd Parry

(Note: this is the cover art for the UK edition of the book. I began reading it while in London, thanks to the recommendation of my cousin Jeffrey who shares my book obsession. The UK cover art was just so much cooler, I had to go with it. Just didn’t want you to be confused when you saw the U.S. cover art on Amazon.:)


In the year 2000, a young British woman by the name of Lucie Blackman disappeared in Tokyo and was never heard from again. People Who Eat Darkness is a phenomenal piece of investigative journalism that tracks the arc of Lucie’s mysterious disappearance and tragic end. What I found especially heartbreaking but fascinating was how one woman’s economic choices (or her perception of a scarcity of economic choices) lead her to be in Tokyo in the first place. It made me think about the connection between money, power and misogyny, and how this is a story that plays out all over the world every single day. But as much as People Who Eat Darkness may sound like your typical “true crime” “sweet girl meets terrible end” trope, its twists and turns and commentary on the culture of Tokyo, the Japanese justice system and workings of the police make this book one of the best I’ve read this year, and a fresh contribution to the genre. But be forewarned: It is dark. VERY dark. Like, EXTREMELY dark.

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Harry Potter Studios London

In July, while visiting family, the kids and I hopped on a double decker red bus and headed to Hogwarts. Literally. The Warner Bros. Studios where the Harry Potter films were lovingly rendered sits just 20 minutes outside London, and I don’t have words to express how rad they were. I honest-to-God teared up when our tour guide threw open the gigantic wooden doors, and welcomed us into the ACTUAL Great Room where all of the Hogwarts students gathered to eat, receive their mail (howlers occasionally), and tend to the wounded and dead (sorry, spoiler). We saw Dumbledore’s actual robes, the Gryffindor Common Room, the car that Ron and Harry stole to get themselves to school on time… my poor muggle heart nearly exploded. The only downside of visiting this place is that it forces you to finally accept that your letter from Hogwarts is never coming. It was all just a movie. Sigh. If you love Harry Potter like we do and are planning on being anywhere near London, get on that big red double decker bus like the dork you are, and GET OVER THERE. It is worth all the gold in Gringotts and then some.



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Flack is an irreverent, smart, vile series is about an American woman in London practicing that rarified form of Public Relations: the fixing of high profile celebrity f*ck ups. Think Scandal meets Entourage. From closeted footballers to pedophile actors, Anna Paquin’s character Robin has the morally flexibility required to do whatever it takes to bail them out, keeping their reputations worthy of the millions they make. When asked whether she likes doing P.R., Robin dead pans, “It makes the most of my natural talents: lying and drinking.” Warning: the subject matter is edgy (that’s probably an understatement) and at times heartbreaking, but the one liners delivered by the head of the PR firm (played brilliantly by Sophie Okonedo who was nominated for an Oscar for her work in Hotel Rwanda) and Robin’s side kick (Lydia Wilson) are absolute comedic genius. And despite the fact that the main characters are awful human beings, we can’t help but root for them. Available through Amazon.


As always, thank you for being here. And if you haven’t, consider sharing this note with a friend who needs it. Or head over and give the podcast a rating or review. Every little bit helps! J


Shine on, you crazy diamonds.

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