When you notice yourself experiencing anxiety, stress, worry, or fear, those are about the future. We often project the worst-case scenario and worry about every possible thing that could go wrong in the future. It takes just as much energy to worry as it does to acknowledge that things could turn out far better than you ever imagined, that there are limitless possibilities of great outcomes. Your mind doesn’t know the difference between reality and imagination. When you imagine and feel the best possible outcomes, you are generating positive energy towards creating the future you’re dreaming of!
As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelly Ryan.
Kelly Ryan is the founder of Anchor Meditation. She opened her studio in 2019 with the intent of sharing the benefits of mediation with others. Kelly is a Certified Meditation Teacher, Breathwork Facilitator and Reiki Practitioner and has trained more than 300 new meditation teachers. Her meditation studio is based in San Francisco, but her classes and practice are now available virtually (due to the closure of the studio); she has provided meditation services to more than 5,000 people in-person and is guiding more than 5,000 virtual mediations for members during the pandemic.
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 grew up in Lafayette, a Bay Area suburb in Northern California. I lived with my parents, my older sister, and a dog. I went to college at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville TN. After graduating, I returned to the Bay Area, and have lived in San Francisco ever since.
I had a relatively happy childhood, with loving parents, and a great community. After college, I bounced around a bit during the dot.com boom and bust. I ultimately pursued a career in commercial real estate financing where I stayed for 18 years. I loved what I did and made a great living, but the stress of that career is in large part what prompted me to explore how I could better manage stress — that’s when I turned towards mindfulness and meditation!
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
My children are my greatest inspiration. Growing up, I didn’t have an example of very many moms who balanced work with raising children.
When my kids were young, I found it challenging to juggle motherhood with my career. As a result, I was plagued with guilt and put a lot of pressure on myself to be 100% as a mom and into my career. The only problem with that was it left no time for me. I was always split in both directions and it literally tore me apart.
I would beat myself up if I had to miss a big event such as driving on a field trip or accompanying them to a friend’s birthday party due to work obligations. The commercial real estate financing industry I worked in was extremely stressful, deadline-driven, and male-dominated. I felt as if being a mom was perceived as a “weakness” because sometimes I was less available than I had been prior to having kids. I felt I wasn’t enough — both as a mom and at work. I constantly felt pressure (much of it self-imposed) to do more and be more. It was exhausting.
My health was suffering as a result. I was on several medications, and I developed an auto-immune disease which made daily life feel like a struggle. I had trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. I was overwhelmed.
The year I turned 40, my kids were 8 and 10, and I didn’t have time to myself since they were born. I decided I needed to take a break, so I went on a week-long retreat. A day into my trip, I felt relaxed for the first time in ages knowing that I had an entire week to spend as I pleased! I went to a mindful parenting class and the teacher shared insight that changed the course of my life: “If you’re wishing the past were different or better than it was, you’re living in the past. If you’re experiencing fear or anxiety, those are about the future.”
Immediately, I recognized how often I was uncentered. I was doing exactly that — giving away my energy to wishing the past was different or better, as well as projecting the absolute worst-case scenario for the future. I had been unknowingly causing myself an incredible amount of unnecessary worry and stress. I was determined to change because I knew that in the end, I am the only one who can give my kids a happy mother who loves her life.
During the rest of the week, I had the opportunity to enjoy several meditation classes. I loved the experience of slowing down and connecting with myself. I began to feel more connected to all of creation. I regained a sense of calm, and I was determined to maintain a meditation practice upon returning home.
Within a couple of weeks, I noticed many delightful changes: I was sleeping through the night, feeling more present and connected to my family and colleagues, and felt a greater sense of ease navigating daily life. I noticed the pain from my auto-immune disease was diminishing, and the only thing that had changed was that I was meditating for 5–10 minutes each morning. I went to the doctor and he asked me how I lost 20 pounds. I was shocked! My whole life I had struggled trying to lose weight — but the weight just fell right off (and I now understand that’s because stress increases cortisol levels, and I was de-stressing).
I began to notice that in stressful situations, I was able to maintain a calm center. I began to notice when I had self-deprecating thoughts (where according to the National Science Foundation, 80% of our thoughts are negative), and rather than believe or avoid these thoughts, I practiced turning towards myself with compassion. I began to forgive people who had hurt me in the past. After so many years of focusing solely on other people’s needs and the demands of the external world, I began to tend to my needs as well. I started to notice when I wasn’t feeling well and started to take care of what needed to be done until I felt better. All of these small changes had a HUGE impact on my happiness!
These positive changes made me curious to learn more of the science behind what was happening, and that spiraled into a deep dive into studying neuroscience, transformational psychology, subconscious transformation, ancient wisdom, inner wellness, and self-empowerment. As I continued to feel content, and even blissful and joyful, I felt inspired to share all of the incredible things I was learning with others who may be unnecessarily suffering — and that’s how Anchor Meditation was born!
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 am eternally grateful to Mandy Trapp. Mandy is the Lead Educator at Anchor Meditation. I admire her because she is exceptionally open-hearted, authentic, knowledgeable and unconditionally loving.
Mandy has been a teacher, dear friend and mentor to me. She has supported me in countless ways. We have shared tears, laughter, rage, sadness, and motherhood. She encouraged me to grow, to be curious, to find my own voice, to trust, and to surrender.
Mandy is a real-life example of someone who chooses love over fear in every situation. She is the only person I have ever known personally who is always brave enough to choose love in this world that is so harsh. She has expanded my perception of what is possible.
Mandy has demonstrated true sisterhood! She loves and accepts me for who I am, consistently inspiring me to my highest potential in life.
She has so generously passed her wisdom on to me and many other meditation teachers. She gave me the greatest act of kindness I have ever received. She values collaboration over competition, and that is a spiritual practice of knowing that there are enough resources and abundance for us all.
Her passion is to educate more meditation teachers and empower them to find their own voices to share with this world that needs love and healing. I would not be who I am today without her, and I am so grateful our paths have crossed.
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?
I never would have predicted that our San Francisco based meditation studio would have closed for over 9 months due to a global pandemic. Just as we were in a very healthy growth phase during the 2nd year of our business, we were thrown for a loop!
Our community members rely on us for their mental wellbeing, and so we knew it was important to quickly pivot to an online format. We never would have anticipated the physical location would be closed for this long, but I have viewed it as an opportunity to reach and support even more people than we ever could have within the studio walls.
During 2020, I had seen everyone struggling to navigate uncertainty, loss, anger, fear, lack, and the entire spectrum of emotions. I have of course had ups and downs during this time as well. I have been so thankful for my meditation practice, and the knowledge I have obtained along the way. I know with 100% certainty that I would be having a much harder time if it weren’t for my personal growth and transformation over the past few years.
In response to the many challenges of 2020, I decided to create a 10-day intro to meditation course in hopes that sharing the things that have had the most impact on my life would help others experience the same benefits! Creating this course is one of my greatest pleasures in my life. The opportunity to share what I love and serve and connect with others is a true blessing. I feel a sense of purpose, and I am so fulfilled each time I can help someone.
I am very proud of our awesome and extremely knowledgeable teachers, and the ways that they have held space for everyone who meditates in our online community throughout this year. They all share a passion for helping others and offer everyone the warmth of a loving friend. They make meditation simple and accessible, so meditators can enjoy the benefits and live their best life.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One of my biggest mistakes was not having clear agreements. I have learned the hard way that two people can have two very different perspectives and expectations. Now I know that the more clearly expectations and agreements are laid out, the greater harmony and productivity for all involved.
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?
Believe in yourself. Be intentional. Your greatest assets are your energy and attention. Be conscious and aware of how and where you spend your energy and attention. Where your attention goes, energy flows. Constantly shift your focus to the outcome you desire because your thoughts create your reality.
Look at what you are consuming, from food to content to the people you spend time with and be sure it’s aligned with your intentions. Prioritize your own energy.
Stay open. Meditate daily. Practice gratitude.
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?
I love “The Surrender Experiment” by Michael Singer. It is an incredible story about making the shift from living a fear-based life to a consciously responsive, love-based life. This takes practice! Meditation helps this shift take place naturally and effortlessly.
Fear tries to keep us safe from unseen threats like disappointment, loneliness, sadness and rejection. It protects us and keeps negative experiences out. The downside is that it also keeps positive experiences from coming in. When we can choose love over fear, we can safely observe our experiences. We can become aware of our fearful reactions, and choose to perceive life through the eyes of love.
Our ego gives us the illusion that “I don’t have enough time, I don’t have enough money. I feel inferior or superior, I need to be validated, I am a victim, I am alone, I wish the past were different or better than it was, I am overly focused/worried/anxious about the future.”
Our true self trusts in the flow and knows “I am abundant, we are all one, I am secure in myself, I take personal responsibility, I trust the Universe has my back, I am focused on the present moment.”
This book inspired me to take the leap to follow my heart’s desires — to surrender, to choose love over fear, and to trust the Universe.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
Thich Nhat Hanh says “Breath is a bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as a means to take hold of your mind again.”
I love this because breath is like a bridge between your external and internal worlds. Simply by bringing our attention to our breath, we bring ourselves into a state of presence and noticing what is happening within.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I am super excited about a new 10-day introduction to meditation course I am offering called 10 Days to Calm and Centered — The Ultimate Meditation Course. This course was designed during the onset of the pandemic, and each day I share the key things that helped me transform my life from the inside out.
I share educational information based on ancient wisdom, brain science, and transformational psychology, paired with a unique guided meditation in each module. The idea is to enjoy the 10 days in a row, and experience a personal transformation! These are the tools and practices that have been the most impactful in my life with each day designed to support you in feeling good, and connecting to your calm center.
Interestingly, we co-regulate our nervous systems with our loved ones. So when we feel dysregulated, our energy affects those we’re closest to. Similarly, when we ‘re calm and regulate our nervous systems, we bring harmony into our closest relationships. With all of us spending so much time at home, it’s a great opportunity to turn towards ourselves with love, compassion, and curiosity. This course is an opportunity to do just that!
We’re currently focused on building an online community of meditators by offering a nourishing community of like-minded souls. Our members gain unlimited access to live and on-demand guided meditation classes, as well as support from our expert meditation teachers.
We are supporting several companies with employee wellness and stress relief. We do this through offering weekly classes over zoom, offering 1:1 mindfulness coaching and mentoring, and businesses offering to cover the cost of our monthly meditation membership. I am happy to see this trend towards companies that support employee mental wellness, especially in these stressful times.
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? Can you share a story or give some examples?
It’s important to create good habits because our small daily habits create our life. When we live each day in the present and with intention, the days add up to a good life. Habits are important because they influence your character, and your character creates your life!
One habit that is important to me is the habit of my morning ritual which I love!
When I begin to wake up and I notice myself already thinking, I immediately turn my thoughts towards things in my life that I appreciate. By interrupting my thoughts from immediately drifting to all the things I need to do, and accomplish and turn towards appreciation, I am training my mind to notice the good things in life. Where your attention goes, your energy flows. In this way I am setting myself up to notice the good things throughout the day.
I prefer to meditate first thing after I get out of bed. We refuel our cars, recharge our phones, and refresh our browsers, yet we rarely take time to renew our own minds. Meditation is essential for me because it helps me stay grounded, calm, and centered. It creates spaciousness and balance within me that renews my reserves for facing whatever the day has in store for me.
In an ideal world, my morning ritual includes some movement, reading, and journaling as well as a walk with my dog Rocco. Keep in mind I have teenage kids, so these things don’t always happen, and that’s okay too! If I am not able to meditate first thing in the morning, I am sure to incorporate it throughout the day, or when I am able to, even if it’s just a minute of deep breathing.
How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
The habit of forgiveness has played a huge role in my journey. When we are judgmental or unforgiving of others, we are really hurting ourselves.
I have made the choice to forgive myself and everything and everyone outside myself. This is my habit, and it means detaching my precious energy from the past, and instead of ruminating, lamenting, wishing things or people were different or better than they are, I bless and release. I forgive.
This includes forgiving myself for not knowing what I didn’t know before I learned it. It also includes forgiving others knowing that there are thousands of reasons that they may think or act as they do, and that has nothing to do with me. Just like me, they want to be happy and are doing the best that they can with what they know.
Another essential habit is personal responsibility: I have benefitted a lot by taking 100% personal responsibility for myself. This means putting an end to all blame, and looking at how I am contributing to all interactions and situations. It means learning the lessons life is showing me, and continually growing and expanding as a result.
Personal responsibility involves letting go of any and all stories of victimhood — where someone or something “out there” is the cause of my difficulty or suffering. It means recognizing that I am participating in the creation of my life.
Personal responsibility involves meeting my own needs.We often expect other people to meet our needs. We give away our power, and then we suffer when other people don’t meet our needs. We have the power to give ourselves the love, kindness, compassion, acceptance, and encouragement we need. It starts with befriending ourselves and turning towards ourselves with compassion and curiosity.
Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?
I believe the best way to develop good habits is to be intentional with how we direct our energy and attention.
The best way I have found to stop bad habits is to change the behavior, and to celebrate each time I honor that choice!
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.
Wellness — The morning ritual that I described above is the key to my wellness.
I have an autoimmune disease, and I have dramatically improved my health and sense of well-being as a direct result of my meditation practice. I have seen thousands of people make the same transformation when they establish a daily meditation practice.
Performance — In order to perform my best, I have a habit of saying “no” to things that I am not fully excited about. I used to have fear of missing out, so I’d say yes to everything. I have learned through experience, it’s much better to do fewer things, and perform my best in each area rather than try to be all things and spread myself thin!
Focus — I once read that we consume more information in a week than our grandparents did in a lifetime. We are constantly bombarded with incoming information. I believe the best way to cultivate focus is best achieved by setting an intention and doing one thing at a time.
For instance, each day I set intentions as part of my morning ritual. Today my intentions are 1) our interview 2) cardio workout 3) take vacuum to repair shop 4) marketing calendar for remainder of the year.
I am consciously choosing to do our interview first thing, when my mind is fresh and I have plenty of energy after my morning ritual. I close my email and turn off my phone while doing our interview so that I am able to focus on this one intention without being distracted. Focusing on one thing at a time allows me to avoid feeling overwhelmed by incoming emails, texts, phone calls, and things pulling for my time and attention.
I find that I am able to get much more accomplished by setting 3–5 intentions for the day, and doing my best not to get unconsciously sucked into distractions like social media, watching the news, etc.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
While some of these tips may seem simple, there is a reason they are so often emphasized in mental health. They work! You just have to do them on a consistent basis. Like a workout, you can’t just do it for a few weeks and hope for an immediate six-pack. You have to integrate mental health into your routine on a daily basis.
- Breathe: Breath is free and always available. Breath is your anchor to the present moment, and a bridge that connects you from the external world outside of you (all its demands, other people’s opinions, and information overload) to the world inside of you that is invisible and formless, but powerful. Science demonstrates that slowing your breath to 6 breaths in and out each minute has a remarkable impact on your well-being. That’s breathing in through your nostrils to the count of 5, and out through your nostrils to the count of 5.
- Meditate: Meditation helps you notice how your mind works when you’re not looking. It allows you to observe which neural pathways you’re strengthening on a daily basis. By learning to sit quietly, you start noticing your mental habits. This opens up a space from which you can change them. When you realize that you can change the conversation inside your head, you discover a tool that can be used to transform your whole life — the power to consciously direct your attention.
- Keep a gratitude journal: Gratitude has been shown to positively affect well-being. In one study, participants who wrote letters of gratitude for three weeks reported significantly better mental health 4 and 12 weeks after their writing exercise than those who didn’t write at all or wrote about negative experiences. So how exactly does gratitude improve your mental well-being? It takes your brain’s attention away from the “potential threat” that your mind is so stressed about and places it on what is already good in your life. This relieves stress and creates a space from which you can see things in a new way. If you don’t feel like keeping a physical gratitude journal, consider downloading a gratitude app.
- Spend time in nature: The benefits are tremendous and helpful in restoring balance. It only takes 10 minutes of being in nature before your stress levels start dropping. Take a short walk or just sit outside in a natural setting for a few minutes — even if it’s in your backyard!
You can benefit from reduced blood pressure and heart rate while also improving your mood! As you step outside, decide to be more present by noticing your environment with all your senses. Tune into the chirping of the birds. Feel the sun on your skin. Notice the different shades of green amongst the trees and plants. As you take in all of this refreshing sensory input, feel what it means to be alive in your body in this exact moment.
- Connect with others: Research shows that social connection improves our ability to recover from illness and increases life expectancy. The opposite is also true. Isolation and loneliness puts us at a greater risk for early disease than smoking! Connecting with others helps us know that whatever we’re going through, we’re not alone. As soon as our mind recognizes that there is hope of going beyond the current “problem,” it feels relief. This relaxation helps flush out some of the neurochemicals of stress.
Interacting with others can also help us see our problems from fresh angles. We may be able to uncover a solution to a problem that we ourselves would have never thought of. We are wired to help one another heal — not just physically but also mentally.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal performance at work or sport? Please share a story or example for each.
A good habit in work, is to carve out some time and space for yourself each morning prior to checking your phone, email or any technology devices like TV.
We recharge our cell phones, laptops, tablets, yet we rarely take time to renew our own energy. A morning ritual which includes gratitude, meditation, and intentions even if only for 5 minutes is an essential antidote to modern living.
Just taking a few minutes each morning to turn towards yourself will help you remain more open, centered and focused throughout the day. Gratitude helps you direct your attention towards the good things in life. What you focus on grows, so you’ll experience more things to be grateful for throughout your day. Meditation helps you be present, and helps rid accumulated stress from the past. It clears the clutter from your mind, and leaves space for new ideas, creativity, and clarity. Intention helps direct your energy and attention towards that which you desire. It helps you consciously create a life you love.
Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
I like to keep a journal by my bed, and when I wake up I write down 3 things I already have that I am grateful for. I also set my intentions for the day, and do some other journal prompts and affirmations.
The 10 Day Intro to Meditation Course I teach includes journal prompts with these practices (gratitude, intention, affirmation) along with inspiration that accompanies each day. It’s a great way to kickstart a morning ritual and to experience the benefits of these habits.
There are also lots of great meditation apps. I started out using Insight Timer and Calm and Headspace are also good. New meditators frequently have questions, emotions or unresolved traumas arise. This is a great opportunity to turn towards emotions you may have suppressed in the past and release them. I really wanted to connect with teachers and ask questions as I started meditating, and that’s how I first met many of the practitioners who now teach at Anchor!
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each.
- When you notice yourself wishing the past were different or better than it was, see if you can think of life as a game. Be curious about how you can learn and grow from it. Then bless and release whatever is troubling you, and bring your energy to the present moment by focusing on your breath and appreciating the world around you.
- When you notice yourself experiencing anxiety, stress, worry, or fear, those are about the future. We often project the worst-case scenario and worry about every possible thing that could go wrong in the future. It takes just as much energy to worry as it does to acknowledge that things could turn out far better than you ever imagined, that there are limitless possibilities of great outcomes. Your mind doesn’t know the difference between reality and imagination. When you imagine and feel the best possible outcomes, you are generating positive energy towards creating the future you’re dreaming of!
- What we resist persists. When you experience difficult emotions, oftentimes the natural tendency is to suppress or avoid them. Try to think of emotions as just visitors passing by. Turn towards them with curiosity and compassion, and allow them to be. Feel them fully. Emotions are energy in motion. They get stuck in our bodies until we feel them fully, allowing them to be released.
If you don’t like what’s happening, and you’re fighting what is, it causes distress and tension in your mind and body. When we allow life to be okay, no matter what the circumstance, we are allowing. We can’t control outside circumstances, but we can control our thoughts. The more we can accept and allow circumstances outside of our control, and focus on what we’re thinking and how we’re feeling, the more able we are to create a life that feels good!
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?
I believe we are all connected, and the flow state is always available. There is no stopping the flow because we are already connected to a Universal supply of life force energy. Anytime we notice we are not in a state of flow, we should prioritize coming back into alignment. This allows us to be in a state of flow.
I believe when we are open, when we are giving freely, blessing others, and being of service we allow creation to flow freely through ourselves, as if we’re a conduit of energy. The flow is constant, and when we are in alignment we allow this energy to create miracles!
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 am intrigued by the energetic our planet is currently experiencing. It makes a lot of sense due to various systems of oppression that have existed for thousands of years.
We have given away our personal power, and many people are unconsciously influenced by programming that keeps them small.
The Dalai Lama says that “If every 8-year-old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.” He’s right! When we practice meditation, compassion naturally emerges.
I truly believe that peace begins with me, and the same goes for everyone. Once you establish a sense of inner peace, you have greater compassion for yourself as well as others. We become less triggered by differences of opinion/belief. We become less judgmental and more equanimous.
We’re living in a truly polarizing time. In order to establish equanimity (mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation), I believe meditation is essential. And the great thing is that it’s a skill that we can all learn to cultivate just as we can learn any other skill!
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?
Oprah! She is an example of what is possible by owning and claiming both her extremely loving and tender heart and her power.
Oprah is present, intentional, magnetic and impactful. She has a sense of purpose and passion. She is vulnerable and fearless! She speaks her truth with love, and she knows only love is real. In embodying these traits, she gives permission to me and millions of others to dare to do the same.
She sees the best in people, and uplifts us all. I aspire to be strong and soft like Oprah. I’d like to wait until after COVID though, because I want a big hug!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
If you’ve been wanting to bring meditation into your life more consistently, join us for our daily meditation classes. Try it out with our FREE Sunday meditations at 6pm Pacific — this week is all about aligning your attention with your intentions. Sign up here!
Have friends or loved ones who are also passionate about feeling peaceful, calm, AND achieving their dreams? Why not give them a gift to help them make getting there easier? Give the gift of presence by helping them start their meditation journey today with our meditation starter kit!
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Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.