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“Don’t lie to yourself if you’re getting something wrong “, Holly Nelson and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Don’t pretend you aren’t failing when you are, and don’t lie to yourself if you’re getting something wrong or aren’t able to follow through on something. One of my favorite memes is the dog wearing a hat sitting at the table while the house is on fire, and the speech bubble above him says, “this […]

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Don’t pretend you aren’t failing when you are, and don’t lie to yourself if you’re getting something wrong or aren’t able to follow through on something. One of my favorite memes is the dog wearing a hat sitting at the table while the house is on fire, and the speech bubble above him says, “this is fine,” as he blankly stares ahead. Trust me, you’re going to screw something up, and the only thing worse than screwing something up is not admitting to yourself and other stakeholders that you did.


As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Holly Nelson.

Holly Nelson is an experienced startup and brand development specialist, as well as a lead life coach certified in the TruthMap Method, known for its Core Issue Completion Coaching™ (CICC). She is also a writer, public speaker, comedian and women’s empowerment advocate, as well as a self-taught graphic designer, illustrator, content creator, digital marketer and project manager. As the Chief Product Officer, Holly oversees everything from the development of brand identity and subsequent products, to strategic positioning and team management.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I was raised by very passionate and incredible parents who instilled in me the importance of helping the world advance from a very young age. When I was just a month old, my parents moved to a small fishing village in Haiti, where my dad directed a sponsorship school of 4,000 children, and my mom delivered urgent first-response medical services to the local residents.

After living in the United States for a few years, my parents moved my two younger brothers and I back to the Caribbean, this time to the Dominican Republic, where they founded a medical non-profit called “Island Impact” that provided services to both countries on the island. At just thirteen years old, I became a translator for the next four years alongside my mom, for the visiting American medical staff. It was an experience that I am profoundly grateful for having.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

I always knew I had a desire to heal people, I was just a little off track in thinking that I wanted to heal people’s bodies. As a Nurse Practitioner, my mom essentially does both, and so she developed my empathy in tremendous ways. She inspired me to pursue the sciences, however, I had no desire to go to medical school. Instead, I decided to pursue business and marketing simply because it meant I wouldn’t have to go back to school! I know that I wouldn’t have been fulfilled working in business and marketing for just any industry. My purpose is to work for a cause that in my heart I feel is important. My TruthMap colleague and co-founder, Dr. Michael D. Lukens, is also my mentor who inspired me to pursue my life coach certification with him. It was the best decision I have ever made thus far.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

I completely agree and strongly encourage everyone to look for teachers and mentors in their field, no matter what stage in your career you are in. Find your weaknesses and seek out people who excel in these areas to help you develop those into strengths. I also don’t believe someone should have just one mentor, nor that it should be pigeon-holed to one industry. There are three people who have done this for me in the course of my career, my mother, Dr. Lukens, and my TruthMap colleague, Julee.

My mother helped both my personal and professional development in ways I cannot even fathom communicating in a short paragraph. With the little we had, she always provided me with everything I needed. If we couldn’t afford a writing program or a leadership camp, she helped me write my essays for scholarship applications. She would include me in adult conversations when I was a little girl because she believed it was detrimental to my communication skills, to learn how to hold my own around adults, and was always folding me into the work that she did. My mother would allow me to make my own decisions — like asking a friend to cut my hair — and allowed me to deal with the consequences of those decisions — having a bob haircut that left me mortified in the eighth grade!

Dr. Lukens seemed to pick up where my mother left off. As he likes to say, “if you were meant to go at it alone, you’d be the only one here!” My mother helped develop my sense of self-esteem as far as she had been able to develop hers. Now that I had the knowledge, I needed to gain the confidence to apply that knowledge — Dr. Lukens empowered me to do this. Two key skills that I learned from him were trusting my intuition and becoming a better decision maker — these are pertinent to business relationships and strategies.

Finally, Julee is someone that I believe every creative type should have in their arsenal. She’s organized, disciplined, and systematic — three words that are not in my vocabulary, let alone in my behavioral repertoire! There are many emotional situations that a lot of creative types struggle with, including myself. Creatives don’t procrastinate unless they have a valid reason, typically it’s to avoid an uncomfortable emotional experience. Julee makes me do the things that I would normally want to put off — like making tough business decisions or reading emails that I know are going to disappoint me. I’m definitely on the sensitive side, and so she’s my right hand woman and accountability partner. I encourage everyone to find someone who has the opposite strengths as they do to follow up with them on the “habits” they are looking to develop.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

When I first started my own marketing company, one of the first projects and funniest stories of my career was the experience I had working with Hannah Shaw, a neonatal kitten advocate and daughter to musician, Sting. This story also involves three cats, a special effects coordinator from the set of HBO’s television series Game of Thrones, and a ziploc bag of kitty litter!

Hannah was partnering with the Miami Animal Shelter to do a workshop on how to foster neonatal orphan kittens. Neonatal kittens must be hand-stimulated to use the bathroom and bottle fed around the clock. If a kitten comes into a shelter without a mom, they need to be taken care of by volunteers. My company shot a PSA for this and the animal shelter along with other video content, which included three neonatal orphaned kittens. At the end of the day, my partner asked the director what would become of the kittens. He said they didn’t have enough volunteers so they would have to be euthanized! I was absolutely shocked and thought how in the world can you euthanize kittens that were used in a PSA video advocating for help to NOT euthanize kittens?!

I volunteered to save the three kittens and on the flight back home, it turns out that one of the kittens named Bernie Sanders had a gas problem! He started farting up a storm while we were on the plane — much to the dismay of the other passengers. When I landed, I had to hand off Bernie Sanders to the new owner and rush to a business meeting. So I’m trekking through the streets of NYC in heels, a carry-on, and a cat carrier with a ziploc bag of kitty litter on top.

I’m happy to say that my mom ended up adopting one of the kittens and I adopted the other and named her Eleanor Roosevelt, but I call her Elly Belly. I’m also grateful to Sting for having Hannah which eventually culminated in a wonderful story to tell at cocktail parties and one of the cuddliest cats ever.

The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?

Here are the 7 things I would advise to young and aspiring entrepreneurs on how they can follow in my footsteps:

Learn online for free as much as you can.

Before you spend money on programs and/or courses, first find out if free resources are available to you online (there typically almost is!). Use the internet to your best advantage.

Take on pro-bono projects for non-profit organizations to learn what you can and cannot accomplish.

Then find clients with very similar projects and copy and paste your systems/processes, taking into accounts the mistakes you may have made the first time around. Don’t take on a client project that you’ve never done for someone else either for free or on a smaller scale.

Outsource the things you don’t want to or have the time to learn.

Don’t push yourself to learn a new skill (e.g. graphic design) if you’re not genuinely interested in it. You’ll find yourself dragging your feet every time you do it, so save yourself the time and stress by outsourcing.

Find mentors, but also find high-level connections.

Ask family and friends if they know someone who runs well-known businesses. Or ask them if they know people who are a part of business societies. If your parents have a family friend who is a lawyer, that’s someone you can tap into to introduce you to highly connected people. A lot of the time their business model is based solely on their networking capabilities. The “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” catchphrase is unfortunately alive and well.

Hold yourself accountable.

Don’t pretend you aren’t failing when you are, and don’t lie to yourself if you’re getting something wrong or aren’t able to follow through on something. One of my favorite memes is the dog wearing a hat sitting at the table while the house is on fire, and the speech bubble above him says, “this is fine,” as he blankly stares ahead. Trust me, you’re going to screw something up, and the only thing worse than screwing something up is not admitting to yourself and other stakeholders that you did.

Find strategic partnerships.

If you don’t have money for ads, then set up referral networks. No matter what business you are in, try to come up with a creative way to split profit share with people who have built up communities with your target demographic.

Don’t be afraid to stand up to anyone, including clients.

If a client says something that makes you uncomfortable, but you’re afraid to lose them as a client if you were to flat out tell them that they’re being inappropriate, simply ask them to explain what it is about what they just said that is supposed to be amusing to you. This one is particularly good when you’re a woman who just received an inappropriate comment from a client who is a man or a group of men. Act as if you don’t get it and watch them become very self-aware of their words and actions. This helps you keep your client, protect your inner child, but doesn’t require you to say or do something that might lead them to rethink working with you.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

The Physics of Emotion(ing) by my mentor, Dr. Lukens. This book let me off the hook for all of the things that I thought were within my control but in reality, actually weren’t. I had piled a lot of self-shame for everything I wasn’t able to accomplish and all of that was lifted. As a result, I was able to accomplish goals that I didn’t think I could or had been able to before. I started reading this book around the same time that I was in an unhealthy relationship with a violent person. Before reading The Physics of Emotioning, I was motivated to stay in this relationship and try to fix the person I was dating, instead of feeling motivated to leave. Reading his book gave me an “aha moment” that helped me realize that my love for him was the ying to the yang of my disregard for my inner child — the more I stayed to “help him,” the more I was hurting her. It also helped to let myself off the hook because rationally, I knew I shouldn’t be with him, but emotionally I wasn’t in control. The section in the book that covers “Free Will” is where I made the pivot and my life has been tremendously changed ever since.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

“Go where you’re celebrated, not where you’re tolerated.” I was bullied all throughout middle school and high school. Outside of the United States, I was a foreigner in a third world country, and in the United States, I was the weird missionary girl. It seemed as if I didn’t quite fit in anywhere. Children who are lost and lonely can be brutal, and I received the blunt end of that force many times. This particular quote was told to me by my mother, and not only does it apply to situations where others aren’t celebrating you, it should be applied to yourself when you aren’t celebrating you. When you feel yourself simply tolerating your existence, going through the motions, or even condemning yourself for your motions, that’s when it’s time to practice being more present and shift focus. Love is unconditional and you shouldn’t meet any criteria in order to dole out self-love. If you focus on self-love first, the things you don’t like about yourself start working themselves out for you.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I’m the co-founder and Chief Product Officer for TruthMap, a next-generation emotional wellness company that provides digital content, mobile apps and life-coaching services to encourage people to achieve self-improvement. We are launching the first-of-its-kind app, TruthMap Hologram, focused on Gen Z and Millennial women, to address the mounting mental health concerns caused or magnified by the worldwide pandemic. I’ve put my heart and soul into creating TruthMap Hologram — from the conception of brand identity to the creation of standard operating procedures, the Chatbot (Navvy) and future native applications — because I truly believe that the TruthMap proprietary method of mental understanding will teach and help women effectively self-explore their minds in a safe and inviting place.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to create good habits?

Each day is uncertain, and so it is important to create good habits in the form of a routine that you can start and end your day with. Routines give me a direction of how the day can go, ultimately, providing me with stillness. Taking the time to identify what a good habit means to you results in you practicing self-care. So the notion in itself is important, because you’re creating a space for yourself to allow and disallow factors that are going to positively impact your routine.

Can you share a story or give some examples?

I’ve learned that we’re accustomed to following habits that are deemed generally good for everyone. My advice is don’t listen to what others say should be included in your routine, and instead, focus on what habits are working for you. For example, I love waking up in the morning and watching The Today Show, my favorite morning show! This show brings me so much joy and so it helps start my day off on the right foot. It’s my self-care habit and it may not work for everyone, but it definitely works for me!

How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?

The first habit I have is that I practice a type of meditation that is unlike any other form of meditation because it’s not meant to calm you, in fact, it’s meant to do the exact opposite. Instead of checking out, it’s a form of checking in. In other words, you explore and observe your mind intently. It’s a form of Vipassana meditation practiced by Sam Harris, and it “clicks” your mind on and makes you actively awake and highly consciously aware. I find this form of meditation to play a crucial role to my success, and so I meditate for ten minutes a day, sometimes up to two times a day.

The next layer of that habit is that I take intersectional points to do this too. This means I do “check ins” when I’m doing things like walking to my car, moving on to the next task at hand, or standing waiting for the microwave to heat my cup of coffee for the fourth time in a row. The check in is the act of becoming consciously aware of the self and the present moment, it’s what I do in my ten minute meditations that are merely seconds or a few minutes long. It keeps me sane because my mind moves a mile a minute!

Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?

The secret to habit making (and habit breaking) is paradoxical. We need to first understand why we have a bad habit or why the good habit is hard to develop. My mentor has a great saying, “no one chews their fingernails for the nutritional value,” so then why do people take on the bad habit of biting their nails? Well, that is unique to each person. Some might only do it when they’re in nervous situations, because it’s in our nature to try and escape a painful or uncomfortable feeling. But for others it can happen when they’re in a mindless state, like watching TV, which would mean that you need to stay more presently aware of your body when you’re streaming your shows.

So instead of trying to stop this bad habit, identify when you find the urge to do it, make a mental or physical note, and go from there. On a bigger scale, really harmful habits are used to escape pain. Identify what your habit is helping you escape from, which will require some inner healing. Once you patch the hole, the habit starts to dissipate on its own and positive behaviors just move in naturally.

Let’s talk about creating good habits in three areas, Wellness, Performance, and Focus. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum wellness. Please share a story or example for each.

Three good habits include mental check ins, cultivating interpersonal connections, and connecting with something that gives you a higher purpose. The first involves scanning yourself to see what your experience of living is like. Very often we disregard ourselves for others or for other experiences and it shows in our minds and bodies. Cultivating interpersonal connections is so important to us as a species, and however you can do this, and in whatever “dosage” is optimal for you, it is very important to make this a regular occurrence. Finally, what are you doing for the world? Whether it’s through your job, volunteering, or for family or friends, if you don’t have some love-based commitment to making the world a better place, then you aren’t really fulfilling what this life calls us for — to leave our mark on the world. You won’t live forever but your name will live on the hearts of those you touched along the way, and if that isn’t the next best thing to life eternal, I don’t know what is!

Example 1: Your mental wellness is what sets the stage for everything in your life. You can read book after book about the benefits of nutrition, gut health, and physical exercise, but if you are not mentally well, those benefits won’t matter. Why eat healthy when you’re depressed because of your dead end job? One of my most important messages is that it’s not a lack of information that people are missing from reaching their optimal level of wellness, it’s a lack of interest in doing the things they know will be good for them. We need to look at the root causes of wellness behaviors and that starts with mental hygiene. This will then help develop Will Force (the ability to go through life’s ups and downs and still make the best choices for yourself).

Example 2: Performance really comes down to asking yourself, “how are you trying to be the best person you can be in every category you are existing in?” The average person exists in categories like career performance, physical performance, mental performance, and interpersonal connection performance.

Example 3: I absolutely hated General Chemistry, so much that I failed the course and then barely passed it the second time. I know that I’m an intelligent person and I was a great student, but I couldn’t seem to tackle this particular subject for the life of me. I have ADHD and so focus is already a problem, but this was beyond anything I had ever experienced before. I wanted to be a doctor at that point and my interest was in healing people, but interest is what I lacked when it came to studying the atomic elements. Focus isn’t something that you can truly achieve unless you find a good enough reason to point your interest at it and keep it there. Your love for you is what should keep your focus on the task at hand, not your love for the subject matter.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

Self-inquiry and healing work are the best practices that lead to better habits. Others might have answered things like consistency, but maybe they’re a little off mark. You see, if you truly wanted to develop good habits, you would. You wouldn’t need tools, or skills, or practices to do it. You’d just get out of bed and you’d be motivated to do it. So why aren’t you doing it? Well, wanting something and wanting to want something are not synonymous. So why can’t you just develop these good habits naturally? Because there’s something in the way. For example, what happens to someone who is found guilty? They’re punished. So when you have Guilt on your mind and no one knows about it, who does the act of punishing befall to? The self. And someone who is Guilty might not believe they are worthy of the benefits that would come to them from the act of continuously good habits. A quote by the Persian poet Rumi says, “your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” Good habits come from a place of self-love and if there is self-contempt in the way from unresolved emotional wounds, no matter what other “practices” you adopt, you’ll still be missing the mark.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal performance at work or sport? Please share a story or example for each.

The first is examining your intentions for why you’re interested in the work or sport, the second would be Humility, and the third is Self-Forgiveness. Whichever two you apply these to, the idea is the same. To explain these three a bit further, your reason for wanting to achieve success has to be because you want it and not because you need it. Humbling yourself means having someone you can be 100% honest with about making mistakes or slacking on your workload. And to reiterate an earlier point I made, the road blocks to self-love are contempt, the latter builds up when unresolved issues pile up. If I keep screwing up and I keep giving that as fodder to my inner critic, it creates a vicious circle. Your best path to good habits is to forgive yourself when you fall short of the good habits you are working towards.

Example 1: My boyfriend was a semi-pro baseball player. He sacrificed his senior year of school with his friends to transfer to a school in California that was going to give him a better chance at being drafted. Although he ended up being drafted, his career did not turn out as he expected. When he and I did some work on why the loss of that life dream hurt him so bad, it turned out he wasn’t even as interested in baseball as he thought he was. His older brother played before him and he and his brother did it to make their father happy. My boyfriend was the backup in case his older brother’s career didn’t pan out. Had his father and older brother not set the stage, he would have pursued music, something he is so beautifully and wonderfully predestined for, and he is now playing catch up in that career. Intentions mean more than you realize.

Example 2: I am terrible at self-accountability, so I acknowledged that in myself and set aside my pride to do so. When I was able to express this outloud, I became comfortable with asking for help in areas I felt my skill set was weak. One of my team members is my accountability partner, and so when I know I have to complete a task that makes me feel insecure, I ask her to simply be there with me. Not necessarily to do it for me, but to be there alongside me. A lot of people don’t reach the accountability practice of good habits because they haven’t cultivated their humility.

Example 3: You don’t think you deserve the prize and so you self-sabotage before you get there. Then you kick yourself, emotionally of course, but you would kick yourself physically if you could and you know it. This only burns another layer into the “I don’t deserve it” category — and the vicious circle continues. I made two financial mistakes this year that cost us a couple of thousand dollars as a company. The first one left me timid to commit to big dollar amounts in expenses, and the other almost gave my boss an anxiety attack. Thankfully, everything worked out and I was able to clean up my mess, but I was beating myself up about it. My co-worker looked me in the eyes and said, “there are big business men out there who lose millions of dollars a year, some of it earned by hard working people they don’t even know. You learned your lessons with a small sacrifice and you should forgive yourself for the learning process.” She then asked me if I needed to cry and I did. In that moment, I forgave myself.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

Referring to my earlier response, at the end of the day it all comes down to the Interest emotion, and less about practicing. Examine your intentions and remove the barriers of contempt that are keeping you from your goal in the first place.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each.

I would say that mental check ins, cultivating interpersonal connections, and connecting with something that gives you a higher purpose can also help with achieving optimal focus. These three habits are going to help you stay present in the moment and with the task at hand.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

Similar to wellness and performance, examine your intentions because if you’re having a hard time focusing, then it may be because you’re genuinely not interested in what you’re focusing on.

As a leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?

Flow state is an iffy concept, but it relates to trance phenomenon and dissociation. Flow state is usually referred to as a positive state of mind, where you’re getting things done and it’s more than just checking things off your to-do list. It really comes down to examining your intentions. You can enjoy a flow state if it is helping you avoid pain. But you feel Joy which is deeper than enjoyment if you work on reinforcing the forgiveness and the humility that I mentioned earlier, because then the actions that are meaningful to you no longer become things you’re striving to do, you simply become all those things that your intentions are pointing you towards. You become humble. You become self-forgiving; simply because you know why you are doing what you are doing and it aligns with your higher purpose. You go to the gym to honor the fact that your body carries your mind around, and not to look good on Instagram, etc. It really comes down to recalibrating your intentions to make sure that they are pointed in the direction of those positive things, to help you accomplish more of those flow states where your actions align with the things you truly want for yourself for the right reasons.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would inspire the movement around mental self-analysis. People oftentimes think that in order to achieve mental understanding of a situation you are in or dealing with, that you have to find it in external factors, however, the real journey can be achieved by looking inward. The problem is that people have not been given the effective direction to do so, and through my work with TruthMap, I continue to drive and encourage people on how they can better understand their emotions and why they do what they do.

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

I would have to say Demi Lovato! She is someone with a light that is brighter than bright, yet suffered from carrying the world’s emotional pain, often carrying Shame that was never hers to carry. I feel called to help protect the hearts of women like Demi from the world. She has been through so much and in spite of her incredible talent and beautiful mind and soul, she’s dealt with self-worth and self-esteem damage. What I enjoy most about the thought of having a career that can resonate with the public is befriending women, and being an on-going source of support to not only help them face the world as it comes, but to also give them even more force to impact the global community.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Readers can follow me on Instagram and Facebook, and of course, the official TruthMap Instagram for updates and news!

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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