2020 was pretty crappy. So, I really wanted to make something good out of 2021. I went into this year with a shit-ton of motivation. I knew there would still be a lot of rough stuff going on out there and there was plenty I couldn’t change. I also knew that there were things I could change. I could help my clients make career and life changes that would bring them more joy and balance. I could connect with and help out the people I love. And, I could get ahold of my own challenges and face them head on. Here’s what came out of my personal journey of transformation.
Prioritizing Health & Wellbeing
1) Giving Up Alcohol: If you’d told me in December 2020 after my latest delivery of wine arrived at the house that on January 9, 2021, I’d give up drinking alcohol, I’d have said you must be crazy. For a couple years, I’d been drinking a glass of red wine every night. Faithfully, at 8pm, I’d go in the kitchen and pour. It was my day’s end, let’s relax now, gift to myself. Over time, I bought a larger glass that could handle more wine and filled it to the brim. With more time, I’d begin thinking about my nightly glass of wine earlier and earlier in the day, wanting 8pm to just come faster. I convinced myself it helped me sleep and was good for me, ya know, warding off heart disease and stuff like that. But underneath it all, there was a truth I knew—I was craving it and relying on it and that seemed super adjacent to addiction. In January, I decided to quit it. What a journey. My body had forgotten how to sleep without it. I was waking up an average of 4 times a night. I tried various supplements from the health food store and replaced the wine with tea and other healthier drinks before bed. After a few months of sleep issues (AKA withdrawal), my body adjusted and now I sleep beautifully. I’m almost one year alcohol free.
2) Eating Mindfully & Intentionally: Like a lot of folks, food became a primary vice for me in 2020. Really, it was always a vice. Between 2019 and 2021, I’d gained quite a bit of weight and was just feeling lethargic and physically uncomfortable. I knew I needed to do something, but I also knew it had to be very different than the somethings I’d tried in the past. This time, it couldn’t be all about weight, it had to be about health and long-term wellbeing. My mom has always been an amazing role model for maintaining her health and still does so at the age of 71. Because of her, I knew that starting a long-term health habit at 46 was genuinely possible. I chose an easy way for me to begin—Nutrisystem. It had worked for me in 2018 (then I gained it all back and then some in 2019 and 2020). I knew this was only a starting point. I’d need to learn how to eat mindfully and intentionally and teach myself about nutrition so I could sustain any positive outcomes and long-term health. I started using a food tracking app to begin eating with intention and create accountability for myself. I took some courses in health and nutrition and I learned. I read about protein. I made water and vegetables my friends. I mainly just drink water, tea, and unsweetened iced tea, as I gave up soda in 2018 and coffee in 2019. I taught myself about red and green superfoods and supplements. I created a daily supplement regiment to make sure I was getting what I need. I created eating routines and paid attention to my hunger so I could avoid mindless eating. I was eventually able to transition from Nutrisystem to my own system because of all I learned. In the past, I’d never sustained thoughtful eating for more than a few months. I’ve been eating mindfully and intentionally for close to a year now.
3) Taking a Walk a Day: I’d never been fond of exercise. Each time I tried any form of it, it never lasted long. I just didn’t like it. It filled me with dread, not joy. However, I knew that true health and wellbeing could not come from changing eating habits alone. I had to incorporate exercise. The only form of exercise I’d ever liked was walking. When I walked, it had never been in an effort to exercise, it was because I absolutely love nature. I can get lost in trees, flowers, grass, sky, wind, and animals. Making walking my form of exercise was worth a shot. So, on January 22, I started taking a walk a day. Immediately, I noticed a boost in my sense of peace and joy. This made the physical aspect of it much easier. I quickly became hooked. While I’ve missed a day here and there, I’ve taken at least a daily 30-minute walk nearly every day this year. I joke that walking is totally my new wine. I think about it as soon as I wake up, I crave it, and I rely on it for my overall wellbeing.
4) Losing 42 Pounds: The eradication of alcohol, mindful eating, and daily walking culminated in losing 42 pounds. I’m proud of this outcome, but prouder that I maintain the habits that helped me achieve it because the habits have become more valuable to me than the loss of weight. The habits have transformed my life and my wellbeing.
5) Discovering the Wild World of Mushrooms: During my self-education on health and supplements, I stumbled across literature on the Lion’s Mane mushroom, great for the mind, mood, immunity, and more. Lion’s Mane led me to Cordyceps, then to Turkey Tail, Shiitake, Maitake, Reishi, and Agarikon. I’ve read books and articles on fungi and watched documentaries, including Fantastic Fungi, discovering Paul Stamets and Host Defense. Mushrooms each have their own unique magical benefits. I take a regiment of mushroom supplements each day and feel better than ever before.
6) Becoming Vegan: My dad was a Vegetarian for many years. He had read about the treatment of animals raised for food and decided he could no longer eat meat. While I continued to eat meat myself, I always admired his decision. I tried to eat vegetarian about 3 or 4 times throughout my 20s, 30s, and 40s. I never made it more than 3 months. I’d eventually crave a pork roll, egg, and cheese sandwich or chicken parmesan, give in to my craving, and be done with it. Having sustained positive eating habits through 2021, in August, I decided to give it a go again, feeling like I was genuinely ready to give up meat and fish. Quickly into this journey, drawing a lot of inspiration from a client who has been a Vegan for 15 years since her childhood, I decided to take it to the next level and go Vegan, letting go of dairy and eggs. It’s been over four months now and I gotta say, it’s not nearly as hard as I expected. I’ve found many awesome meat substitutes, fabulous vegetable and plant-based meals, and great Vegan snacks (I love snacks!). I’ve also found that most restaurants have Vegan options.
Developing a Morning Routine
7) Starting the Day on the Treadmill: I’d tried the treadmill thing before. Even kept it up for two months once. But alas, I wasn’t consistent and always stopped. However, I knew I wanted to start my day by getting my blood, brain, and energy flowing and the treadmill seemed like a good way to do that. 15 minutes first thing each morning after I brush my teeth, wash my face, put in my contacts, feed the cats, and pack my son’s school lunch. That’s it. I’ve barely missed a day since I began on February 2. It starts my day with positive energy and motivation.
8) Reading (or Audio-booking) Each Morning: I always wanted to be “a reader.” People often just assumed I was because I went to school for such a long time, lol. But, really, I would just read parts of articles and pieces of books here and there without ever finishing much of anything. I blamed it on a short attention span and gave myself that as an excuse. Inspired by several clients who were avid readers, I began a habit of reading every morning for 15-30 minutes on February 21. I didn’t really think it was gonna stick because it hadn’t any time before. But, strangely, this time, I loved it! In the beginning, I could spend hours each day reading. I realized my busy schedule couldn’t sustain that, so I decided 15-30 minutes was manageable. I currently vacillate between books and audiobooks, but reading is now part of my daily morning routine. I gravitate toward personal growth and books about trees, plants, and mushrooms. In 2021, I read 31 books. I think my previous annual record post-grad school was two, lol. My 2022 goal is a manageable one book a month – already have them picked out! Here’s the 2021 reading list: The Success Principles, You Are a Badass, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, The Confidence Code, Your Time to Thrive, Mindset, Success is a Choice, The Science of Self Talk, The Four Agreements, Eat That Frog, Miracle Morning, Atomic Habits, Small Habits Big Changes, 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management, 5-Minute Self Discipline Exercises, Think & Grow Rich, The 4-Hour Work Week, Switchers, Anti Racist Ally, How Women Rise, I Thought It Was Just Me, Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, Braving the Wilderness, Dare to Lead, Buddha’s Brain, No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners, Forest Bathing, The Hidden Life of Trees, and Entangled Life.
9) Eating Breakfast Outside: Even now in 20-something degree weather. I started this part of my morning routine in the summer when it was warm. I found that eating breakfast outside while watching the birds, squirrels, and our neighborhood foxes brought me peace and joy. I loved starting my day in nature. Once it got cold, I kept it up, now I’m just wearing a fluffy robe.
10) Reclaiming Roller Coasters: I loved roller coasters as a kid, teen, and young adult. At the age of 4, I loved to go on Space Mountain in Disney World with my dad. In my teens, I loved the Loch Ness Monster and Big Bad Wolf in Busch Garden, VA. In my young adulthood, I loved everything at Six Flags. Until the age of 25. My ex-husband and I used our Six Flags season passes to check out the new roller coaster, Nitro, in 2001. I was psyched as always. I can’t really say why or what happened, but I remember beginning to freak out during the climb. The whole ride is a blur, but somehow it traumatized me so much that in the 20 years that followed, I only went on little piddly runaway train like coasters. After 20 years of roller coaster love, I just swore them off. My husband and son love them though. They go on everything. For the last 7 years, while they went on roller coasters, I held the bags and drinks and sat on a bench. But, I wanted to connect with them in their coaster adventures. In July of this year, I decided no more letting fear block me from joy and connection. I wanted that old thrill I once felt back again. I decided to face this 20-year fear through a modified version of systematic desensitization. I started with coasters one level up from a runaway train. Once I survived that, I went another level up. Then another. My heart palpitated before each new ride. I did breathing exercises and pep talked myself to get me through it. Each time I calmed myself just enough to push through and just do it. By the end of the year, I’d gone on 12 new roller coasters. I went on ones that go backwards (Sidewinder), ones that turn you face down like you’re flying (Superman), ones that stand up (Green Lantern), ones that spin (Joker), inverted ones (Great Bear, Talon, Batman), floorless ones (Bizarro, Hydra), ones that launch you 0 to 72 mph in 2 seconds (Storm Runner), ones with 97-degree angle drops (Fahrenheit), and wooden ones (Thunderhawk). I even went on a water tube ride where a trap floor drops out from under you and shoots you straight down (Snake Pit). And every time, despite the initial fear, the ride was exhilarating! I got to feel that thrill I used to have each time. Can’t wait to see which ones we go on in 2022!
11) Driving into the Unknown: In my 20s, while sitting in traffic, a car struck me in my driver’s door, tossed my car (and me) into a triple roll over, landed me several car lengths away in an intersection, and totaled my car. Following that experience, my pre-existing love for driving disappeared. I fought panic attacks while behind the wheel for years, which I overcame, only to be struck from behind while sitting in traffic three more times in my 40s. I’ve tried to keep my driving close by and only to places I know for the most part. I don’t freak out in the car, unless on specific bridges, on the Garden State Parkway (too many lanes, too fast), at driving circles (it’s an NJ thing), when I need to get over multiple lanes quickly, or when unsure where I am and where to turn. I’d really missed how much I had loved driving. I was once fearless and adventurous. I decided to push myself to drive into the unknown more often this year. I drove to a lot of new places I didn’t know how to get to and when a trigger situation (like those mentioned above) presented itself, I did breathing exercises and talked myself though it (“You’re okay, Colleen. You got this.”). I kept my trips to a max of 45 minutes away. In 2022, I’m going push to an hour away. Facing this fear and trusting my ability to be resilient has made me feel more independent and stronger.
12) Letting Go of the Mask: I don’t mean the COVID mask – still wearing that! I actually mean makeup. I still wear it, just not every day. I started wearing makeup at age 14 in 1989. I haven’t ever stopped except for one year – 2002 – 2003, where I decided to see if I could love myself without it. Turns out I do, lol. But, from 2003 to 2021, anytime I go out or I’ll be seen online (Zoom, Skype), I wear it. I’ve always held a belief that I look tired and sick without it, so it embarrassed me to not wear it around others. I don’t even know why, but in October, I decided to see what it would feel like to go out to the store without it. It didn’t feel weird. Perhaps the COVID mask covering half my face mitigated the discomfort. So, I decided to take some of my daily outside walks without makeup. Also felt fine. So, I went out without it again, and again. Then, I went make-up free on Zoom to teach and in client sessions. Also didn’t feel weird. I’ve gone a couple week stints without wearing it. Then, sometimes I wear it if I feel like it. But, I’m happy to not need to makeup mask and let it be a mood choice. I feel just as good without it now.
13) Adventuring & Connecting at Parks, Hiking Trails, Gardens, Woods, & Lakes: Developing a love for walking made me crave more and more of it. I wanted to find new places to go. I wanted to experience more of nature’s beauty. I began researching parks, hiking trails, gardens, woods, and lakes. I made a list of places I wanted to adventure to. I also turned these trips into a time to connect with the people I love, including my son, husband, parents, and friends. We went lots of new places – 10 gardens/arboretums, 8 parks, and 3 additional hiking trails, including two pieces of the Appalachian Trail! Instead of sending my son to camp this year, I told him he would be attending “Colleen’s Nature Camp.” For all of us who went on these adventures, it was a wonderful time to connect with one another while soaking up all of the beauty God has created for us. Here’s the full 2021 visit list: Duke Farms, Leonard J Buck Gardens, Laurelwood Arboretum, Willowwood Arboretum, Rutgers Gardens, Frelinghuysen Arboretum, Cora Hartshorn Arboretum, Rutgers Ecological Preserve, Reeves-Reed Arboretum, Cross Estate Gardens, Watchung Reservation, Bicentennial Park, Colonial Park, Cheesequake State Park, Echo Lake Park, Washington Valley Park, Johnson Park, Raritan Bay Waterfront Park, Brundage Park, Appalachian Trail Boardwalk, and Appalachian Trail Stairway to Heaven.
14) Exploring Quaint Historic Downtowns with a Friend: This is my newest joy inducer. My friend and I decided to check out a historic downtown a half hour away, Clinton, NJ. We ate at a restaurant established in 1743. We visited an old grist mill built in 1810. We shopped at some cute shops downtown. The whole trip was amazing, including the company. It was such a joy to soak up everything we saw. She and I have since visited another historic downtown, Bethlehem, PA, and are planning out our 2022 explorations.
15) Visiting Beaches & Boardwalks: I realized this year that there were a couple NJ boardwalks I’d never been to, including Asbury Park and Ocean City. So, this summer we planned out trips to each of the main NJ boardwalks, including these two, Wildwood, and Seaside. It was so much fun to compare and contrast the different boardwalks and experience new ones. We didn’t get to Point Pleasant and Atlantic City this summer. In 2022, we’ll do them all!
It was a year of change. Not all of the change was good. COVID took people we knew and cared about. It also made people we love sick. It wasn’t only COVID that struck in 2021. The lowest point of the year was very unexpectedly losing my mother-in-law at the age of 65 2 days before Thanksgiving. We weren’t ready for that. Not that you ever are. We miss her and it’s very strange knowing she’s not here anymore. Got her special chef collection on display in our dining room. It makes me smile when I see it every day. And cry sometimes too. We love you, Mama D.
Amidst the rain are rainbows. I think we gotta always be looking for them and creating them. Always doing our best with what we got. I’m committed to discovering and designing more rainbows in 2022. I hope you are too <3
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