Fitness & Cultivating Fearlessness: How I’m Learning To Get Over My Fear Of Failure

holly miller athlete.jpg

Let me give you steps of a completely different kind because there is no checklist to getting over your fears; there are no shortcuts here. For what it’s worth, I’m learning it has more to do with leveraging a balance of mental and physical strength. Getting into a routine that helps you build physical strength and mobility is undoubtedly going to do wonders for your confidence, body, health etc. But in addition to that, there’s the “health” and strength of your mind – specifically your thoughts.

The mental work will be largely based on personal preference, but here are some good places, I’ve found, to start:
1.  “Practice Focus” Episode 5 – Living with Courage podcast.
2. “Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life” by Susan David, PhD.

It’s normal (evolutionary, even) for us to feel fear. But what holds us back is the fact that we can cling to fear and accept it as reality. For weightlifting, it can be a thought like, “the weight that’s on the bar is heavy. I can’t do it.”

Now, I’m not going to step up to attempt a lift on a loaded bar of weight I’ve never lifted before because that’s not a good idea; you need to be training and building up to the weight (listen to the podcast). But, there is a way to create a new mental pathway that can help in your practice. It comes from “distancing [yourself] from both the physical effects of [your] fear–the cortisol surge, the accelerated heart rate, and the hyperventilation–and from any self-doubting narratives that might have already hooked [you]…” Learning to acknowledge yet distance yourself from your emotions and connecting with why you actually want to do something is how you learn to go forward in spite of the fears that are holding you back.

It may not be okay right then and there. But it will be okay.

You can lift the weights. You can engage in the difficult conversations with your significant other. You can speak up in a company meeting. You can do these things with your fear and the internal self doubt and still go forward.

It’s not about being fearless but having the courage to go forward with both your fears and your values on board because it’s intrinsically important to you.


Life Advice: Cut Loose

Lately I’ve found that the secret to being able to do something is to mentally not overthink or pre-frame it first.

I’ll give you an example from weightlifting. There are times when I start to mentally psych myself out of executing a lift when I know how much weight is on the bar because I start to think, “oh, that’s heavy, I haven’t done that before.” But other times, when you start at 80% of a weight you know you can hit and gradually build up reps handling the weight from there, it’s surprising what you can do.

Fun fact, I recently did this while doing a 5x back squat and got up to 170 lbs. Five times, down and driving up on 170 pounds! And I currently weigh 125 lbs!

The mental coaching I had stepping up to a loaded iron bar was “Cut loose. And stand up.”

This got me thinking later; what kinds of limitations are we placing on ourselves? In our work, our relationships, especially in the relationship we have with ourselves. If all limits are self imposed, it’s only yourself that’s holding you back.

Remember, if all else fails, the song Footloose by Kenny Loggins will definitely help you cut loose 🙂

Fitness & Food: How Drinking A Protein Shake Before a Workout Helped My Hunger Later

I had gotten into the habit of consuming my protein shake on the drive home from an evening workout. Good, healthy habit, right? Well, lately I noticed that once I got home, I wasn’t hungry for a real meal. This was happening fairly regularly over the past few weeks and for as much as I spend on groceries (and how much I enjoy food!) it wasn’t a good trend.

There were also times when I had been experiencing some nausea post-workout which also caused me to not eat a sufficient dinner. I think the upset stomach had more to do with the level of exertion during the workout. Still, it’s not a good sign to consistently have your body be unwilling to replenish its nutrients. Not eating dinner also meant I was missing out on hitting my macro nutrient goals; these are the “big three” I learned to keep a close eye on if you really want to impact your weight loss or weight gain – protein, carbs, and fats. In a way it felt good to put in the hard work that’s often required for a CrossFit workout but I also felt like I was robbing my body of the fuel it needed to sustain me in my desired level of activity.

I really dislike feeling sick in any capacity. I’m one of those people who has those giant bottles of Tums from Costco that you gradually chip away at. And while this sometimes helped to subside the nausea, as an athlete, you look forward to eating 😛

I decided to change things up today and performed a little test on myself. An hour before heading to the workout, I had my protein shake. I’m happy to report it worked! I was hungry afterward. And! The workout was definitely a good test of my exertion too.


All of this…took me roughly 27 minutes to complete.

50 push ups
30 pull ups (I did them with a band)
50 bench hop over’s
30 alternating dumbbell snatches (25 lbs)
50 wall balls (14 lbs)
30 slam balls (15 lbs)
50 lateral ball throws (14 lb)
30 burpee broad jumps

So, after finishing that little whopper, for dinner I enjoyed a modified version of home-made chicken noodle soup (I love improving upon the classics). Instead of noodles, I added different kinds of carbs in the form of vegetable pot stickers and diced red potatoes. I didn’t have carrots so I substituted with a larger helping of celery. For an extra bit of taste, I added a dash of balsamic vinegar.


I ❤ dumplings 🙂

So there you have it. My hope is that if you’re experiencing something similar, don’t be afraid to switch things up on yourself. Eating right and being active are important ingredients to living a balanced life. Sometimes you need to keep yourself on our own toes.


Protect Your Own Well

Today, looking through Feedly, my eyes flashed across these words from Seth Godin’s blog:

“The single most important part of any project is the battery, the source of energy, the optimism and effort that turns the long shot into the sure thing, one day at a time.”

And, especially if you’re that battery, taking this idea a step further, it’s so important to protect your own source of energy. Your internal well of optimism, playfulness, lightheartedness, curiosity and overall zest for life.

reebok spartan race sacramento hot chick

At the Sacramento Super – that Spartan bucket life 😉

It’s crazy; I’m slogging through mud carrying a heavy bucket of rocks. People that built the pyramids probably dealt with something similar to this and I don’t think they looked nearly as happy.

But while the Spartan Super was genuinely challenging, it’s also inherently fun for someone like me.

There have been times in my life when I’ve realized I haven’t been being good to myself.  When I haven’t been protecting what fuels me. All I can say is, it’s important to develop an understanding of what makes you happy on a daily basis and what contributes to your own personal energy source. Even more important, is when you find yourself out of alignment, reconnecting to what gives you energy is how you can course correct to get yourself back to that place of balance.

Ready to tackle the next challenge and the next.

You never know who you might be inspiring.

I happen to really like quotes. Particularly of the inspiring kind 🙂

Anyway, I’ve had this one tapped up to my desk for a few months now:

“Make your life a model of what can happen if you take chances, think big, and go for your dreams. You never know who you might be inspiring”


You never know who you might be inspiring.

Tonight, as I was walking away from the gym where I now train in the Bay Area, one of the younger girls from the youth fitness class, called out to me–by name–as I was leaving. “Bye, Holly!” She yelled. I was shocked and flattered that she somehow did.

I felt sheepish that I didn’t immediately know her name but I returned her “bye!” with just as much enthusiasm. All I know is that when the young ones are gathering, watching us finish up a workout while waiting for their class to start, I try to be an example of someone who puts in the effort, strives for proper technique (especially under fatigue), and maintains a positive energy (let’s be honest, especially under fatigue). I realize being a true example of this is probably someone who lives up to these things even when everyone’s back is turned. But, they’re kids and they need good examples. So I might as well do a good job when they’re actually watching.

I guess today I don’t have any wisdom just this observation and acknowledging my gratitude to be able to train among the other females at the gym who actively support each other, are playful and funny and strong. They definitely inspire me and I hope the young ladies who see us are inspired too.

Quick, shameless plug 🙂 if you have youngsters and want to introduce them to fitness, this is your man! Courage Performance.

Always be prepared…to run a Spartan Race

I’m excited and nervous for this weekend gearing up for the Spartan Sacramento Super. Wooo!  This will be my second Spartan race this year after doing the Sprint at AT&T Park back in May (that’s my game face while on those monkey bars!). Let’s be honest, I’m way more excited for the obstacle parts than the running aspect of it all.  But, for what it’s worth on this one, me and five of my closest gym pals will be out trekking around the rolling hills of Van Vleck Ranch and I am definitely going in prepared.

I got some tips from a friend who also happens to be a veteran in the US Army.  Basically this guy used to get paid to do what I’m paying to get to do. Where’s the logic in that? 😉

Here’s what my Army friend recommended packing along in a small CamelBak:

  1. Duct tape (seriously, you guys. Why not?)
  2. Clif Bar Builder’s Protein bar
  3. Extra pair of socks (in a ZipLoc bag)
  4. Sunscreen & sunglasses
  5. Hard candy like Sweet Tarts or Life Savers (for a quick sugar boost)
  6. Bandana
  7. Cording
  8. Ace wrap
  9. Water in the CamelBak + a small bottle
  10. Gloves, elbow/knee pads

Of course, back at the car I’ll have a second bag with a towel, baby wipes, more water and an extra change of clothes and shoes (I love the Redmond Low Hiking shoe by Columbia Sportswear). Hopefully this info is also helpful to other Spartans heading out there this weekend. Here’s to some #EpicDoing this weekend! 🙂

Spartan Race, Under Armor

“For Spaaaaaarta!” 🙂


Gratefulness Begets Greatness

A friend in the advertising industry recently interviewed me about being involved in CrossFit as part of a research project he is conducting working on the Reebok account. While I’m nowhere near a being a competitive lifter, his questions, however did make me reflect on how grateful I am to be able to dabble in the sport of Olympic lifting and compete in ballroom dance.

This week is Thanksgiving and in the spirit of being grateful, I’ll say a few words about what I am thankful for as it relates to my involvement in Dance Sport and Cross Fit. I’ve only met one other person who actively trains and competes in ballroom and lifts with the determination of a serious athlete. She is the reason I became active in CrossFit where I parlayed that cardio and strength training into more endurance and athleticism while on the competition floor. Being able to be competitive in a sport I love by way of another sport—especially with this unusual pairing—is a daily source of gratitude in my life.

I consider myself extremely fortunate for my body to be able to adapt to two different types of competitive sports. To be honest, it is challenging to translate the technique, body mechanics and timing between dancing and lifting, but at the very least, proper posture and dedication to refining my technique in both arenas are transmutable factors. I doubt I will ever be fully satisfied in terms of being truly proficient at either because I’ve realized along the way that achieving greatness is an incredibly frustrating, mind-game process.

Achieving perfection of movement is an illusive destination because our bodies are constantly changing. I’ve spent years being hard on myself for my perceived shortcomings as an amateur athlete competing in the sport of ballroom dance. But I’m starting to realize that by being grateful for the opportunity to be involved in the sport at the level that I am, I’m great at it.

Relocating to the Bay Area has become an incredible opportunity to now increase my involvement in CrossFit as I’m no longer geographically close to my dance partner. Still, we’re making plans to dance at a competition in San Jose in 2016 and I am so thankful to have found a CrossFit gym that I enjoy so that I can maintain (at least somewhat) of a competitive edge in terms of endurance, physique and have the opportunity to be around people who fuel my motivation towards improvement–whether I’m lifting a barbell just enough to duck under it or lifting my arms to take frame with my dance partner.

Everything in life is a process. Everyone seeking to improve at something can relate to setbacks and obstacles. But I encourage you to remember that your health and physical strength are a gift. The technique will come. With enough deliberate practice, it always does. Gratitude for the ability and opportunity to move should be exercised just as much.

I’ll close with a nod to The Hunger Games where even Katniss knows the value in cultivating a mental list of good deeds she’s grateful to have witnessed:

Did you have a nightmare? I have nightmares too. Someday I’ll explain it to you. Why they came. Why they won’t ever go away. But I’ll tell you how I survive it. I make a list in my head. Of all the good things I’ve seen someone do. Every little thing I could remember. It’s like a game I do it over and over. Gets a little tedious after all these years, but… There are much worse games to play.
~Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

Surely, we can all use more odds in our favor.

Embassy ball ballroom dance competiton

Flexing before foxtrotting at the Embassy Ball, May 2013.