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Heather Denniston: “DO HARD STUFF”

DO HARD STUFF — Wim Hoff holds twenty-six world records for cold exposure. He sits on glaciers in his underpants or immerses himself in bodies of water fed by icebergs. Why does he do this? Because he knows there are dozens of documented benefits to challenging our internal thermostat. Exercising our personal temperature gauge boosts immunity, increases […]

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DO HARD STUFF — Wim Hoff holds twenty-six world records for cold exposure. He sits on glaciers in his underpants or immerses himself in bodies of water fed by icebergs. Why does he do this? Because he knows there are dozens of documented benefits to challenging our internal thermostat. Exercising our personal temperature gauge boosts immunity, increases mental clarity, blasts fat, and might even fight cancer. Cold exposure is just one example of doing hard stuff to build resilience. When we do hard things, we mount confidence and amplify mental fortitude when unexpected challenges arise.


In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Heather Denniston DC CCWP NASM.

Dr. Denniston is a wellness strategist for elite leaders and their teams. Her proprietary Wellness Amplifier Method helps bridge the connection between personal wellbeing and professional success for high-performers looking to optimize effectiveness, productivity, and professional advancement. Her engaging and practical consulting style is refreshing and impactful. Her results-oriented curriculum is transformative.

As a keynote speaker, she has presented on resilience, stress management, burnout, trust in the workplace, and tactical wellness for professional success. She has spoken to mid and large-size companies, including multiple engagements with Microsoft.

As a writer, she has penned for several publications, authored The Three Day Reset, and was a contributor for 1 Habit For A Thriving home Office.

Through publishing, presenting, and consulting, Dr. Denniston ignites passion and inspires first steps for those looking for profound change and optimization.


Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

I had dreams of becoming a marine biologist. Shortly into my studies, I realized that instead of swimming with dolphins, I would likely spend my years looking through a microscope. While deciding on a new trajectory, I was injured doing a physically laborious summer job. My sister took me to a chiropractor for the first time.

Dr. Right was a gentle soul. With his magic hands, he eliminated my knee pain in minutes. By the time the appointment concluded, he had sealed my fate. I became a chiropractor.

After twenty years of private practice, I was led to shift into something new. I sold my practice and launched my consulting company, WELLFITandFED.

WELLFITandFED was the response to a calling to ignite passion and inspire first steps in high-performers ready to harness their personal wellness to live, work, and play optimally. Through customized presentations, small group workshops, and 1:1 coaching, the Wellness Amplifier Method curriculum delivers results in personal and professional productivity, passion, and advancement.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

This story may only be interesting to me, but I do find myself sharing the lesson I gleaned with many of my clients.

I was attending a nutrition and fitness event, and I stayed an extra day to participate in an entrepreneurial conference add-on. The speaker was mediocre at best, but I took one nugget that grew into a non-negotiable twenty-year business practice.

Here is what the mediocre speaker said. (Paraphrased)

For business owners, entrepreneurs, or just general go-getters, there is one thing that staunches our ability to create and develop dreams into reality more than anything else. It is the concept of “pressure and noise.”

His bottom line was that if we do not elevate ourselves out of the day to day in a regular and meaningful way, we grossly limit our potential and contribution to the world.

After that event, I immediately scheduled a one-day personal offsite — a self-imposed retreat with equal focus on past reflection and visioning. This time away also necessarily included brain nurturing investments like meditation, walks, and other contemplative practices.

Over the years, one day grew into two, and now these retreats are a minimum of four days. They are silent for the most part, deeply reflective, and pull forth ideas and solutions in a way that is impossible when ensconced in our typical day-to-day “pressure and noise.” Prioritizing two solo retreats a year bettered my business dramatically.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

After twenty years in chiropractic practice, I noticed something; people genuinely wanted to be well. They truly wanted to lose weight, get fit, become mindful, and be filled with passion and purpose.

But often, after a few weeks’ commitment, they would speak of derailment and failure. They didn’t know why they kept ending up back at the starting line. I discovered something; these patients were missing vital foundational blocks necessary to build wellness success. WELLFITandFED was created to provide the missing links and practices for long-term success in being and staying well.

Years later, I noticed something else; clients realized the most significant benefit when we bridged the connection between personal wellbeing and professional success. By sharing the foundational pillars to create lifelong wellness with entrepreneurs and executives, they and their teams see powerful shifts in productivity, effectiveness, promotability, and overall career satisfaction.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

He stood at the very front of the stage. He articulated clearly and loudly, “Every wellness decision you make today, tomorrow, and forever, is a slow painful suicide through poor choices, or one step toward a healthier, more expansive, and memorable life. Your choice.” James Chestnut is a chiropractor who developed a wellness certification program for chiropractors (CCWP). He is deeply respected in the profession as a researcher and teacher, and to this day is the most impactful instructor from whom I have had the pleasure of learning.

Dr. Chestnut speaks not of nutrition, but mindful fueling; not of exercise, but functional fitness. Finally, he speaks passionately about attending to the brain and mind as two entities with specific and independent needs. His instruction on true wellness has transformed the lives of thousands of practitioners personally and professionally.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

Resilience is the ability to fully recover, preserve perspective, and assign meaning in times of chaos and adversity. Put succinctly; resilience is the shortest distance between getting kicked in the teeth and dusting off. There are common traits held by highly resilient people. Resilient people combine wisdom with perspective. They hold their curious nature in one hand and courage in the other. They maintain space for self-compassion while still forging forward both in motion and bravery. And finally, resilient people have optimism. The hope and inner-knowing that nothing lasts forever.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

There are so many worthy options to consider in response to this question. Holocaust survivors, enslaved peoples, and those who pioneered great world movements are just a few. But one group kept coming to mind every time — chronic condition sufferers. People who get out of bed in the morning and have no idea how they will make it through the day. People who hold down jobs, put on a brave face, tend to their families, and go on with life even though they are in severe daily discomfort.

I have had the opportunity to connect with many patients and clients with chronic conditions — migraines, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, arthritis, pelvic floor dysfunction, Fibromyalgia, and autoimmune disorders. And many other people with a layered and baffling undiagnosable tangle of symptoms.

These brave and resilient people continue to seek answers when doors have been closed. They visit doctor after doctor and navigate periods of complete discouragement and despair. They move with ongoing hope and optimism that they will find a solution, or at least some relief.

These humans, whose struggles are often silent and unseen, are a living embodiment of the traits of resilience.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

“Can’t you just be a nurse or something?” The ski lift continued up the hill as silence fell between my mother and me. I had just told her my dream of becoming a chiropractic doctor, and she had looked at me in shocked surprise and said the words above.

I know becoming and being a nurse is no easy task. But in my mother’s mind, she meant, “aim lower” and, “don’t think so much of yourself.” Before we disembarked the lift, with the cold air whipping at our faces, I had heard all the reasons attending chiropractic school was not going to work.

In that moment, I realized that I was going to be careful about who I let speak into my life. I realized that people, particularly people close to you, can have trepidation regarding how your life choices affect them. They may have limiting beliefs on your perceived abilities or what they deem as “possible.”

I discovered that when someone says, “that’s impossible,” often the statement is saying more about them than me. I graduated as a Doctor of Chiropractic three years and four months later.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

Dr. Sherman was a savvy dentist who owned the clinic across the hall from mine. One day he caught me coming out of my office looking like I had both seen a ghost and been hit by a train. “What on earth is the matter?” he asked. I burst into tears. I had just had three of four staff quit in two days. I was devastated and in a complete state of panic.

He reached up and put his hand on my shoulder. (I am kind of tall.) He said, “Heather, you may not want to hear this, but too bad. You are the engine of this practice. Your staff are the tires. Tires are replaceable. I could tell from the beginning you had hired thin-treaded, unreliable tires. Next time get yourself some all-seasons.”

He walked out without waiting for a response. I remained, confused about tires and engines. In the candidate interview the next week, it became clear. I needed to hire with a line of sight to all weather and seasons. I needed to find a team with staying power and grit, staff who filled my gaps with their strengths, and were vested and determined to see the practice succeed. From that point forward, anytime I expanded my team, I regarded his sage and simple words. “Get yourself some all-seasons!”

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

My father collapsed outside of a Portland hotel when I was 27. He was a quiet, hard-working man. Not one to complain. Certainly not of the visual disturbances he was suffering, or the incontinence, or the imbalance. After an MRI was performed, it was discovered that my father collapsed because of a GBM.

Glioblastoma Multiform: The Shark of Brain Cancer

He died six months later, almost to the day, just like the doctor said he would. The tumor overtook his mental functions quickly. That was a blessing. Losing a parent is one of life’s cruelest dealings.

The experience became more poignant when several years later my sisters and I stood in the very same hospital listening to a surgeon say, “Your mother has BRAIN cancer.” (Oligodendroglioma: Stage-4.)

Although it was not the same “shark” that destroyed my dad’s brain, statistics suggested that this particular type of tumor didn’t extend life much beyond five years. (She lived an additional 20.)

Here is the great thing about having two parents with brain cancer. (It took me a while to be able to say that.)

These diagnoses occurred despite my belief that there was no possible way I could have TWO parents with stage-4 brain cancers.

Essentially, my parents’ dual diagnoses negated my pre-conceived notions on life’s possibilities.

And, if I had to lift the framework of possibilities I assigned to negative consequences in life, I concurrently had to accept raising the limiting framework from the side of opportunity.

Misfortunes, as I painfully found out, can be limitless, but I now believe that opportunities and blessings can also be infinite. In the face of adversity, this new belief system allows me to more easily call up hope, optimism, and courage.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

1.) SWIM UPSTREAM — During the COVID outbreak, it was published that those most susceptible to the virus had two or more comorbidities. Those who most typically succumbed to the virus were cardiovascularly impaired, obese, diabetic or had a history of cancer. The CDC collaborated that those who were healthy had little to no risk of mortality; in fact, they had more than a 99 percent survival rate.

Here is what those statistics tells us about resilience. Resilience isn’t determined by your response when you collide with a crisis. Resilience is determined by the choices you make the weeks, months, and years before.

How you fuel yourself, what kind of movement you engage in, and the health of your closest relationships, decidedly predict the degree to which you will demonstrate resilience in adverse situations.

So, if we are going to build our resilience muscle, we have to swim upstream and attend to critical factors that determine wellness long before the crises hits.

2.) GET OUT OF “PLAY-DEBT” — We no longer value playfulness as a commodity. Often, we see play as a waste of time and unproductive. However, in all its forms, play can open up creative channels, release stress, and build stores of energy. Playfulness allows us to practice solving challenges and feel accomplished. Those who are resilient understand the adverse effects of a deficit in the play-bank. In my experience, naturally resilient people balance work with play in a way that facilitates facing adversity with more energy and optimism than those who don’t value a good game of tag.

3.) EMBRACE A GROWTH MINDSET — Carol Dweck, the author of Growth Mindset, shares how having a fixed mindset is devastatingly limiting both professionally and personally. She discusses how those with a growth mindset can take feedback and are open to taking risks, even when failure is a probability. They seek out inspiration and know that continuous growth is always possible. When we work on having a growth mindset, we let go of self-limiting beliefs, practice self-compassion, and seek to continuously learn from our failings. Shifting to a growth mindset, by definition, builds our capacity to be resilient.

4.) CURIOSITY — Several years ago, I had a less than fantastic response to a program for women I launched. Instead of spending an excessive amount of time wallowing, I got curious. Why did it not go the way I hoped? What was it about the program that did not resonate with the audience? How can I learn from these results and do it better next time? Like kids exploring an old abandoned barn or a back wood, curiosity shifts us to a creative, problem-solving, and energizing part of the brain. The more we practice curiosity, the more swiftly we recover from any adverse situation.

5.) DRAFT WITH FAITH — Many years ago, I entered an inline skating marathon. At the start, the gun went off. Within a few glides, I felt something touching the small of my back. I looked behind me. A whole line of skaters, like beads on a necklace, were stacked behind me. I quickly realized they were “drafting” off me. Because I had trained alone, I had no idea this was common practice. Later in the race, one skater told me to go to the back of the draft line and that he would take over “pulling” the line.

From the back of the line, tucked in behind the last skater, a miracle happened. I felt like I was fifty pounds lighter and twice as strong. I barely had to exert effort to go at high speed. Faith is the “pull” skater on a long draft line. When adversity hits and we are depleted, faith, whatever that means to the individual, can “pull” while we build up our energy reserves.

BONUS:

DO HARD STUFF — Wim Hoff holds twenty-six world records for cold exposure. He sits on glaciers in his underpants or immerses himself in bodies of water fed by icebergs. Why does he do this? Because he knows there are dozens of documented benefits to challenging our internal thermostat. Exercising our personal temperature gauge boosts immunity, increases mental clarity, blasts fat, and might even fight cancer. Cold exposure is just one example of doing hard stuff to build resilience. When we do hard things, we mount confidence and amplify mental fortitude when unexpected challenges arise.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

When I consult with clients, my objective is to bridge the connection between personal wellbeing and professional success. Each client who flips that switch improves decision-making, impact, energy, productivity and stress. They come to know that the richness of their lives is dependent on the hundreds of daily health-optimizing or health-depleting decisions they make.

If I could foster a movement, it would be to inspire passion and ignite first steps toward total body and mind optimization. There would be greater value put not on preventing disease, but on inspiring health.

Success of this movement would look like every person and child possessing an in-depth knowledge that food is our armor, movement our shield, and mindfulness our secret weapon.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂

Brene Brown. I don’t want to sit down with someone just because they are famous or have been a significant contributor; I want to sit with someone who has a giant mind, a gracious heart, and a wild wit. From a distance, it seems Brene might fit that bill.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

INSTAGRAM — https://www.instagram.com/wellfitandfed/

FACEBOOK — https://www.wellfitandfed.com/

LINKED IN — https://www.linkedin.com/in/heatherdenniston/

YOUTUBE — https://www.youtube.com/user/WELLFITANDFED

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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