Are You in Your Right Mindset?

Photo Credit Troy Williams via Unsplash

A couple of years ago after a not so great singing audition that shook my confidence, I started regular voice lessons again. One day in the voice lesson when we were preparing for an upcoming audition, my teacher said to me, “Stop trying to prove yourself. You’re there.”

I didn’t get it then, but she was right.

I had been trying to prove myself.

I had been trying to prove to myself

…that my voice was trustworthy,

…that I could sing with the same quality as others who had been doing this for longer

…that everyone who had ever criticized my voice and thought I wouldn’t be able to do it had been wrong.  

I had been trying to prove to myself and others that I belonged onstage.

Like many of my clients, my mindset was holding me back.. I had come to identify so strongly with being a “wannabe.” I had to shift to a mindset of being “there.”

But how? How could I build that confidence?

Experience. I needed to just keep doing it. I would record the auditions and listen to them to hear how I sounded. My teacher noticed at first that I brought 50% of my voice to an audition. Then the percentage started to get higher. Some songs and auditions felt easier and I did better. Some were harder. I just kept going to auditions, to any event that would let me sing on stage. My confidence started to rebuild.

Even so, it wasn’t until reading Dweck’s book Mindset that I felt a significant shift in my own mindset. I already knew about the growth mindset and that students who considered success to be a result of hard work fared better than those who thought it was a result of a fixed trait like intelligence or a talent. But, I hadn’t ever realized that in the singing part of my life, I was working with the fixed mindset.

“Believing that your qualities are carved in stone — the fixed mindset — creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you only have a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character — well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them.”

I recognized myself in Carol Dweck’s words.

Something in her words gave me permission to let go of proving anything, and I shifted to the growth mindset around performing.

Every experience, even those that feel like complete failures (and there have been a few of those!) are stepping stones on the learning path. I now reframe every audition, rehearsal and performing opportunity as a chance to learn. No matter how it goes, I will learn something. And it’s been true. Not only have I learned a lot in the last year I have also performed more reliably in auditions, rehearsals and on stage. I have stepped more into my strengths as a performer.

Choosing to believe I am “there” changed the way I showed up and the way I did things. I can approach them wholeheartedly and with more courage. If I fail, it is a lesson to use for the next time. A small shift in mindset can create big changes.

What in your life are you trying to prove? What kind of intelligence, talent, skill have you always used to identify who you are? Which of those do you need to prov to yourself and others is still there?

What would change for you if you could have faith in yourself to grow and know that any current challenges are just bumps on the road along the way?

How might that change your behavior at this moment?

Contact me for a complimentary coaching session to find your right mindset and explore the underlying beliefs you may need to reach your goals. 

A certified Positive Psychology coach, Leah works with people who want to upgrade their level of influence and impact to lead others towards a vision and a common goal.

Develop the Self Awareness You Need to be a Transformative Leader

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I walked to my sixth-month review as the Director of Youth Education at the local temple wondering which programs would come up in the conversation.

Which aspects of the work I had been doing to build program infrastructure, family and holiday programs or improved communication between teachers and parents was going to be noticed?

I was stunned when the topics for discussion revolved around a handful of times when I had been less than perfectly friendly and hospitable to parents. The layperson who supervised my role had prepared for the meeting by asking people what they thought about me in an open-ended way that had invited them to share the moments when I had spoken matter of fact, abruptly or overzealously.

No one really knew how to recognize the work that I did, the quality of the programs, the changes in school culture, or any of the specifics of what had made those things successful.

What they did recognize was how I had made them feel while doing all of the above.

It didn’t matter if the distracted and concerned look on my face was from the board asking me to let go of a staff person midyear in order save money, if it was from hearing about the teacher who was drumming up conflict behind my back, or about a family that was facing hardship and financial difficulty.

It didn’t matter if the rule I had just reiterated to a parent existed for their children’s safety. Inevitably, no matter the cause, the next person I saw, would think my expression was about her and was intended for her. She might even have a reason and a story about me to go with it.

In the Jewish Tradition the ancient rabbi named Shammai teaches in Ethics of our Fathers:

Havei mkabel et kol adam b’sever panim yafot.

Welcome each person with a pleasant and smiling face.

Well, that seems obvious that we would welcome people with a smile. Would I welcome them with a scowl? It’s when I was recently reading the research on how easily smiles and happiness can travel from person to person, that the true wisdom of Shammai’s teaching and its relevancy for leaders struck me.

Daniel Goleman explains in his book Social Intelligence:

Emotions flow with special strength from the more socially dominant person to the less. One reason is that people in any group naturally pay more attention and place more significance on what the most powerful person in that group says and does. That amplifies the force of whatever emotional message the leader may be sending, making her emotions particularly contagious

Especially as leaders, we need to be cognizant of the emotions we are bringing with us into each interaction and relationships. Our emotions will affect everyone in our organization.

We need to greet everyone with a genuine smile because they will catch our smile!

An open, smiling, welcoming face on the leader, will put others at ease and can create a positivity that will influence the entire organization.

In this context, Shammai’s teaching seems brilliant to me!

In the last several years of working as a Director of Education in synagogue schools, I found it to be important to remember to always greet people with open receptivity. As long as I found a way to communicate with a genuine smile, everything went well.

(Did you get that part, “As long as I found a way?”)

How do you find a way to smile, to be open and receptive when there are stimulants in your environment or relationships making you feel otherwise?

How are you supposed to always have a genuinely happy smile when you are feeling and experiencing so many other things?

This is where self care and self management make a big difference. Not self management as in time management and organizational management, but in how you manage your own emotions.

In order to manage your own emotions, you need to develop an acute awareness of your own emotions.

So, how do you develop this kind of emotional self awareness?

To start try the exercise below:

How are you feeling right now in this moment?

  • Can you name what you feel right now?
  • On a scale of one to ten with 1 being the most negative (you have just suffered a major personal tragedy) and 10 being the most positive (you just had one of the most uplifting experiences of your life), how are you feeling right now?
  • For whatever general emotions you named, can you find a more specific word that matches how you feel right now? For example: if you said “angry” are you feeling more “frustrated,” “out of control” or “defiant?”

Now inventory your physicality to see how this mood is showing up in your body.

  • Where in your body are you feeling some tension?
  • What else are you feeling: any itching? tingling? aching?
  • What expression comes easiest to you right now?

What actions feels easiest to you right now? What do you have the urge to do?

  • Do you feel like yelling at someone, slamming a door or punching someone?
  • Do you feel like celebrating, hugging, or high fiving someone?
  • Most of our days we feel somewhere in between. What is that for you?

Recognize the urges without giving into them.

You can do this a few different times during the day then try checking in with your body during moments of heightened emotions. Just by naming your emotions, noticing your physicality and your urges, you create a little bit of space between you as an observer and you as the experiencer of the emotion. In that space is the opportunity to make a choice to react to the moment, or to bring something new with you.

In that small space, you have the opportunity to make a powerful difference in your leadership.

Contact me for a complimentary session to develop your self-awareness and self-management skills so that you can increase your impact and influence in your organization.

A certified Positive Psychology coach, Leah works with people who want to upgrade their level of influence and impact to lead others towards a vision and a common goal. 

Step Into Public Speaking

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As a young elementary school teacher, on Back to School Night, my naturally high pitched voice went even higher, even tighter and I spoke very fast. (Okay, it happened in other settings too. Think Minnie Mouse on steroids.) The excitement, stimulation, and nerves of speaking in front of all the parents influenced my speaking presence. Luckily, I was teaching in NYC where there are lots of theater professionals. Parents of a student invited me to their voice and communication workshops. Both workshops were transformative and gave me a chance to experience myself in entirely new ways.

Even so, growing as a leader and a communicator took time and is still an ongoing process. My passion for coaching communicating with presence and power grows from my own journey of becoming an effective speaker and leader. Periodically, I will use this blog to share some tips that I find working for me and my clients.

How do your nerves show up when it’s time for you to speak in front of a group?

Do you feel as if you are outside your body watching what’s happening?

Do you freeze and forget what you wanted to say?

Do you say the wrong words, say them too fast or too slow?

Do you feel short of breath? Does your pitch go up like mine did?

Do you have painful breaks between words while thinking of what to say?

Or do you ramble as the adrenaline drives your mind forward?

Here are a couple of tips for calming nerves and centering that have helped me and some of my clients. (You may also want to visit the Lighten and Let Go page to help you relax in advance.) You can use these tips to build your confidence and skills with any kind of public speaking, whether it is informal with friends, in leadership or presentational contexts.

Ground Yourself

You can do this sitting in a chair with your feet on the ground or in a standing position:

Shift your attention to the ground beneath your feet and the sensation on the bottoms of your feet. Feel solid and connected to the ground.

Imagine a purple crayon outlining your foot starting at the big toe, going over the other toes, around the side of the foot, around the heel, around the arch and back up to the big toe.

Imagine coloring in all the space within the outline and creating a purple stamp with your foot as you let your weight and awareness drop to your feet.

Do the same thing with the other foot, or do them at the same time.

Imagine all the muscles in your body melting like wax on a candle into the ground beneath your feet.


Before you start your presentation:

Take some evenly paced inhales and exhales before you start speaking. This cues your nervous system to relax. Count 1-2-3-4-5 on the inhale and 1-2-3-4-5 on the exhale.

During your presentation

Take a breath before the beginning of your sentence. Just putting attention onto breathing as you begin a thought or a sentence will naturally slow down your pacing and bring your thoughts and body more into alignment. It will also help your nerves stay calm.

When you lose a word or forget something you wanted to say, taking a few seconds to breathe will help it resurface.

Connect with Your Audience

Imagine that you are the hostess of a big event. Act as if the meeting space isyour home and welcome everyone with your body and your eyes. Feel the welcoming energy and your body will reflect that open invitation.

Send smiles with your eyes. You don’t have to have a full smile if it doesn’t feel appropriate or natural. What’s important is that you are really seeing people and that they feel seen. Try catching the eye of an audience member and let your eyes connect for a moment, just enough to welcome that person with your eyes. Notice and allow the discomfort that may arise. Ironically, if you go with the discomfort you will appear more welcoming than if you try to hide or avoid the discomfort.

You may want to practice these tips at home on your own first and notice how they feel in your body. The more you can grow a physical awareness of how it feels, the easier it will be to use these tools when you want them.

Contact me for a complimentary coaching session to grow your impact as a speaker and as a leader.  If you are local, check out my events page for upcoming workshops.

Leah Zimmerman Headshop
Photo credit: Leila Sacks

Leah is a Certified Positive Psychology Coach who specializes in working with highly educated professional moms who want to reduce stress and bring more creativity, energy, and inspiration into their lives. Leah blends her backgrounds in leadership development, education and the performing arts with evidence-based practices to help women lead more integrated lives. Contact Leah for a complimentary coaching session and to learn more about coaching.

To Reduce Stress, Free Yourself From The Word “Should!”

Woman standing by the sea with her arms open wide.
Photo credit by Nathan Dumlao via Unsplash

Margaret Atwood writes in The Blind Assassin “Should is a futile word. It’s about what didn’t happen. It belongs in a parallel universe. It belongs in another dimension of space.”

How often do you think about what you should have done?

What you should do?

What you should think?

Shoulds are often weighted with judgments, assumptions, beliefs, and fear.

Carrying should thoughts is a heavy burden and carrying it every day can add a lot of stress to everyday things.

For years, my front porch has been filled with dead plants, dead leaves and looked like it belonged to deserted owners. Oh, the shoulds that could so easily infiltrate my thinking to me from that small little piece of cement in the front of my house!

“You should clean the porch.”

“You should sweep the leaves.”

“You should take time to make it look nice again.”

“You should be better at taking care of the house.”

The truth was that while I would have liked to have a clean and more inviting porch, I just didn’t care about it enough to make it the top of my “to do” list. I forgot about it most of the time and spent my time on things that I valued more.

So, I accepted it to be the way that it was. It became a joke among friends that our townhouse unit could be identified by the dead plants on the porch. Every once in a while, I would be out there and think “we should really clean this.” My should came from external sources about what a porch is supposed to look like, and how someone might judge my homemaking. Since it wasn’t intrinsically motivated or connected to what I truly valued or found important in my life at the time, I let the thought float away.

Here are some questions to help you approach the should’s in your life differently, and if you’re daring, let them float away.

How would you end these sentences?

I should be better at ___________.

I know I should __________, but I don’t.

Pick one of the thoughts that came up as you were filling in the blanks. How would your life change if you let go of that should thought? If it just didn’t exist anymore? To feel the difference, imagine that you did the should or that it ceased to exist. Can you feel that lightness?

“But, I can’t let it go!” you say. “I really, really should do it.”

 Okay, then. It sounds like you have some strong feelings around the should. If you are determined to hold on to your “should” thoughts then do so. You may need them and be ready for them at another time. I am not telling you what you should do. (See what I did there?)

If you’re willing to explore alternatives with me, read on:

Let’s start by identifying the source of this should.

To prepare for the next question, sit for a moment letting out a deep breath and listening to the room around you. Listen for the background sounds and sounds in the distance.

After you read the next question, turn that same listening attention towards yourself and listen for an answer.

From whence comes this should? Is it a should that is emanating from your external environment, from peers, family, societal norms, from something you heard or read?
Or is it a should that emanates from within your own self?

Now listen for an answer.

If your answer is that it comes to you from external sources, then next consider if it provides you with any meaning or if it’s something you value. If not, you may want to consider letting it go at least for now.

If it does have meaning and personal value to you or you answered that it was intrinsically motivated, then it probably is truly a want. It’s something you feel that you should do because it’s something you want to do.

If it’s something you want to do, can you identify what’s in your way?

Is your should too heavy to deal with?

Shoulds carry a lot of weight. The longer we carry them around the heavier they become, the heavier the burdens that we carry.

If this should could be represented by an object, how heavy does it feel on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being as light as a soap bubble and a 10 being as immovable as a boulder?

You always have a choice to let go of the should all together, or lighten the load by relieving yourself of the judgment or by facing the obstacles.

The most common obstacle is fear. Nervousness, anxiety, procrastination, and avoidance are signs of fear. It could be fear of failure, fear of success, fear of feeling incompetent, fear of confronting something or some other kind of fear.

Some questions to ask yourself:

How strong a priority is this for me? Can it wait? (The dead plants on my porch waited for years! Just ask the friends who poked fun at us.)

What would be the worst thing that could happen if you never do this should?

What do you need in order to feel free of this should?

What magical solution, if it existed, could unstick you?

What little bit can you do just for now?

How much does your should weigh now? I hope it got a little lighter.

Repeat all of the above anytime for improved results!

To explore more about releasing any of your shoulds, releasing judgment or getting unstuck, contact me about a complimentary coaching session.

Leah Zimmerman Headshop
Photo credit: Leila Sacks

Leah is a Certified Positive Psychology Coach who specializes in working with highly educated professional moms who want to reduce stress and bring more creativity, energy, and inspiration into their lives. Leah blends her backgrounds in leadership development, education and the performing arts with evidence-based practices to help women lead more integrated lives. Contact Leah for a complimentary coaching session and to learn more about coaching.

Three Quick and Easy Ways to Bring the Benefits of Mindfulness Into Your Day



It seems as if everywhere you look, someone is touting the benefits of mindfulness.

What is mindfulness and why is it something you might want to know?

Consider mindfulness as a way of letting go of the mind, of releasing thoughts and becoming more aware of oneself as a living being. In addition to releasing stress, this tool can give us an opportunity to slow down time, gain perspective, feel more in control of our own emotions and respond to people in ways that are more aligned with our values and reduce stress.

Of course, that’s if you can figure a way to build it into your day!  

To help with that, I’m giving you three very short and easy experiences meant to introduce to you the benefits of mindfulness. In a short time, using these tricks, you can taste what mindfulness has to offer. While they each take a minute or less, you will feel more of the benefits if you can do them longer or if you can do them frequently.

1) Have you ever seen something in the distance and looked ahead with curiosity trying to figure out what it is?
Or saw something so colorful that it filled your attention for a moment?
Or walked down a street lined with trees in bloom just taking in the flowers?

Living in NYC and walking a lot, I noticed how walking outside on beautiful days, I could get so attentive to the colors, textures, people, places that my mind felt clear. I could look ahead as if what I was seeing was a two-dimensional photo and take it in visually, without naming or judging it. I didn’t even know about mindfulness then! With practice, it has become a powerful tool for me, giving me a chance to let go of thoughts and re-center myself within moments.

Try this:

Walking or sitting, shift your attention from your thoughts to your senses. Find something that can fill your visual field.

What colors do you see?

What shapes?

What textures?

What lines?

What is in the forefront what is farther back?

Investigate it with open curiosity:

What does it look like right now?

What else can you notice about it?

Even if it only holds your attention for a few seconds, it gives you the beginning of learning how to interrupt your habitual thinking patterns.

To try for longer you may want to think about exploring the visual details of one thing in your view.

Can you trace the outline and contours with your eyes?

Can you notice the small details in the surface and texture of the item?

If/when your mind wanders, just bring it back to the exploration.


2) Listening hard for something directs our attention away from our thoughts.

I use this sometimes when I am teaching a group of students to bring their attention to their surroundings. Oh, the quiet that it creates! 

Try this:

Midstream the chatter in your head, in a conversation with yourself, take a moment to listen to yourself and wonder, “What am I going to think next?”

What happens? Wait for an answer. 

Could you notice how your mind waited, listening for a second?

Try it again. “What are you going to think next?”

Don’t think.

Just listen.

Let the thought come.

This gap between thoughts opens the possibility to interrupt thoughts and to experience a moment with a clear mind.

Do this a few times during the day, and investigate what that gap in the thinking feels like.

This is a short but powerful exercise. The impact comes from exploring the gap between the question and when the answer presents itself. If you can even feel a micro-moment of stillness, you will have begun to experience a mindful break.

If you do this often enough and combined with the other exercises, you may find yourself able to listen for longer periods of time without the soundtracks in your head filling the silences.


3) A short meditation: sit and count your breaths. It’s that simple.
This is how I got started meditating every day. I just sat down and counted my breath as I inhaled and exhaled. I liked imagining the waves of the ocean coming onto the shore with the exhaled breath and drifting towards the sea on the inhale. Hearing the exhale as if the waves were lapping the shore helped me stay focused. You may find something that works for you. 

Try this: Find a comfortable place to sit.

Close your eyes, or let your gaze fall on something so that you notice the peripheral vision.

Imagine your eyes spreading towards your ears. 

Notice how your body shifts when you rest your gaze and shift your attention.

Next, without moving your gaze, give some attention to the air going in and out of your body. Just notice how it feels.

Then start counting. 1–inhale, 1-exhale, 2-inhale, 2-exhale.

If your mind wanders before 60, notice it. Let it be in your awareness as you continue counting breathes from the last number that you remember.

To do it for longer, just keep breathing and counting. Inevitably your mind will wander. That’s great! When it does, you have the occasion to bring it back to the breath. Each time you bring the attention back to the breath, you exercise your mindfulness muscle! As you practice and advance, you can let go of counting and just focus on feeling the inhale and exhale in your body.

While there is a lot to read about mindfulness, the best way to learn about how it can help you is to experience it for yourself. I hope these three easy to do strategies give you a taste of what is possible.

To read this blog in pdf format click here: 3 Quick and Easy Ways to Bring the Benefits of Mindfulness Into Your Day

Contact me for a complimentary coaching session to explore more ways that you can integrate more of the benefits of mindfulness into your life.

Leah Zimmerman Headshop
Photo credit: Leila Sacks

Leah is a Certified Positive Psychology Coach who specializes in working with highly educated professional moms who want to reduce stress and bring more creativity, energy, and inspiration into their lives. Leah blends her backgrounds in leadership development, education and the performing arts with evidence-based practices to help women lead more integrated lives. Contact Leah for a complimentary coaching session and to learn more about coaching.