Believe that you are worthy of success. This is something that I am still learning. So many of us have this in the backs of our mind: This is not meant for me, it’s not in my life path. Really taking that on and saying “I am meant for success, I can do this” is how you start to move past that.
As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Mari Llewellyn.
Mari Llewellyn is an entrepreneur and founder of two successful businesses — Bloom Nutrition, Mari Fitness, and her new fitness app SLAY — offering health and wellness products that support a strong mind and body, inside and out. She launched Mari Fitness in 2017 — after her own 70-pound weight-loss transformation inspired her to share her passion for strength training with others — with workout guides and physical exercise products. Mari then founded Bloom Nutrition, which provides female beginners to fitness with a full range of affordable, high-quality supplements. On January 1, Mari launched SLAY, a fitness app featuring brand-new workout plans designed for women to build the best, healthiest version of themselves. Mari uses her large social media presence to help women discover the best version of themselves, physically, mentally, and emotionally. In addition to promoting physical wellness, she’s a big advocate for mental health awareness and hopes that by sharing her own struggles, she can help destigmatize the topic. Mari lives in Los Angeles with her fiancé Greg and their dog Lulu. One of her favorite parts of the day — other than working out and running her two businesses — is bumping into members of her Instagram community on the street and hearing their stories.
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?
Thank you for having me! Growing up I moved around a lot. From England, to Switzerland, back to England again and then ultimately to New York when I was nine. As a teen, I was hoping to find my passion in life. But to be honest, adapting to life in a new country was not always easy, and I didn’t find my calling until after I hit rock bottom during my final semester in college.
My time at Drexel University in Philadelphia was a rollercoaster. If you would have asked me about it then, I would have told you it was the best time of my life. But it was also the most challenging. I had a lot of unresolved mental health issues, which I dealt with by drinking and partying. Even as a senior, I had a strong feeling of unfulfillment and didn’t have any goals despite being so close to graduating and entering the “real world.” Eventually, I was failing all of my classes, so I dropped out of school and moved back home with my dad.
It was at this point that reality hit. I was the only person who could pull myself out of this dark time, and more importantly, figure out who I was. I had gained over 60 pounds through drinking, emotional eating, and neglecting my general wellbeing. I knew I wanted to lose weight, but more importantly, I wanted to feel strong. Suddenly, the decision was made, and I threw myself into fitness.
Gradually my confidence grew, and I started feeling the benefits of healthy eating and exercise. I finally had a goal and a passion in life. My mental health improved, and I developed mental ‘toughness.’ I listened to fitness podcasts and read nutrition books between workouts. I drove back and forth between Philly and New York to finish my degree, and took on a job at a fitness studio, starting my day at 4 a.m. That year, I lost 70 pounds, and gained a ton of strength and muscle.
The discipline and determination I learned from my fitness journey has carried over to my career. I now own three successful companies — Bloom Nutrition, SLAY, and Mari Fitness— and I have over 1.3 million followers. For me, this is just the beginning, and I haven’t stopped pushing forward daily.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
It was the concept of ‘reaching my full potential’ that inspired me the most. For so long I thought that I wasn’t a hard worker or destined for success. Spending a year achieving my fitness goals showed me what I was truly capable of, and I didn’t want to stop there. Although I still struggle with imposter syndrome, and anxiety overall, fulfilling my full potential continues to inspire me.
In addition, the concept of helping others and spreading positivity has motivated me from the beginning. Healthy eating and exercise improved my mental health so dramatically, I knew I had to share what I learned with others. My method of sharing is through content. Whether a YouTube video about my story or a workout video or recipe on Instagram, creating content is an ongoing passion for me.
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?
My biggest motivator is my fiancé Greg. We have been together for six years, and he encouraged me through every step of my fitness journey. And now he’s my business partner. We constantly push each other to be the best versions of ourselves, and we complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. For example, in our business, Greg handles all of the numbers and finances, whereas I handle the creative side of the business and content creation.
Together Greg and I have experienced some incredible wins and also the failures that come with launching your own businesses. We’re always learning. Our first physical product was a resistance band. We had 900 of them, but no warehouse and no employees. The bands sold out within 24 hours (!), so we packed each up with a hand-written note as quickly as we could and transported them in huge boxes to the post office. It was a meticulous process, one that we were not prepared for, and the bands took over much of my Dad’s house. At this point, we contacted a warehouse and got the help we needed. To this day, though, we credit a lot of our success to that experience and what we learned. And we laugh thinking back to that time.
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?
During the first few months after launching our business, we sold a Mari Fitness-branded sweatshirt. We designed the sweatshirt ourselves, from the sleeve measurements to the width of the neck hole. The sweatshirt sold out within 30 minutes, and we were ready to celebrate and pop champagne, until we realized that we sold 1,000 units of a size we didn’t even have. This was before we had a sophisticated email system, so we emailed each person individually to ask if they’d like to cancel their order or choose a different size. It was a disaster.
At the time, we were selling workout PDFs and resistance bands successfully, with only one employee supporting us. We took on the sweatshirts as an additional project. Overall, it ended up taking precious time away from the growing parts of our business, and we had no intention of entering the fashion industry. We learned that doing more isn’t always better.
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?
- Just start. It applies to fitness, business, or almost anything you want to achieve. So many people wait until they’re ready, but I say just wing it. None of us really know what we are doing until we are doing it.
- Take baby steps. Just do one small thing at a time. As long as you are moving, even if it’s at a snail’s pace, it’s better than nothing. You don’t need to make a full life change or a crazy big decision to get started.
- Don’t overthink it. It can be intimidating to get into the business space. I experienced this myself, feeling like I was just an average person, getting by in school and doing an average amount. For a long time, I didn’t feel like I was someone who would run a business. I doubted myself. However, you’ll end up surprising yourself with what you can achieve.
- Believe that you are worthy of success. This is something that I am still learning. So many of us have this in the backs of our mind: This is not meant for me, it’s not in my life path. Really taking that on and saying “I am meant for success, I can do this” is how you start to move past that.
- Manifest your dreams. Print out pictures, say them out loud, create a vision board. This is something I have been doing and it helps to literally see your overarching goals every day. Even if you are taking little steps, you’ll keep those big goals in focus.
- Push through the plateaus. Work through the periods of time where it feels like nothing is happening. This is something I learned during my fitness journey. Everyone experiences plateaus where you are no longer losing weight or gaining muscle, and you start wondering what you are doing wrong. Those are the moments when you need to keep pushing.
- Emulate people who have done what you want to do. When I entered the business world, I fell into the trap of following people who seemed to have this dream lifestyle — but in reality, what they were doing didn’t line up with what I wanted to do. I’ve found it much more effective to find people who are doing things that I want to achieve one day.
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?
Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds by David Goggins. The author had a challenging childhood and gained a lot of weight, and in order to join the Army, he had to lose over 100 pounds in a very short amount of time. I resonated with his story, in particular the weight loss piece. But even more than that, David Goggins’s perspective on the need to seek out challenges in order to become the best version of yourself was what really made an impact. I have struggled with mental health issues for a large portion of my life, and because of that I used to fear I’d run into issues with running a business or a team. This book empowered me to push through the hesitations. It’s all about fulfilling your full potential and finding out what you are really capable of. David uses a term called “mental toughness,” and I love the concept of training your mind to be as tough as it can be. That didn’t always come easily to me and it is something I learned during my fitness journey: when I’d hit points where I didn’t want to keep going, I would lift a heavier weight. The perspective on challenges has carried over to my career.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“Do something that makes you uncomfortable every day.” — David Goggins. It sounds like such a simple thing, but it’s really changed my life. For so long, I avoided discomfort. Anything that was challenging or new I considered to be “out of my league.” When I started my fitness journey, though, I experienced a whole new level of challenging myself. Now, owning two businesses, I take on uncomfortable tasks every day. Whether we scrap a product in development or let someone go from the team, doing things that are new is really what has helped me become a successful business owner.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
We are very excited about the recent launch of our fitness app! It was about two years in the making, from designing each button and page, to creating a logo, to filming content and pages of writing.
We launched the app to offer our community a more engaging and easy-to-use platform for our best-selling Mari Fitness workout guides. Rather than still photos and brief descriptions, the app has follow-along exercise videos, places to record progress, tips from me as a coach, and more. It includes both gym and home workouts, and our hope is that it will continue to be the perfect workout buddy during a time where many people are still working out at home.
We are still celebrating this exciting step for our business and are so excited to be sharing it with the world.
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?
Habits make up who we are, and my habits have helped me create the reality that I want for myself. Practicing certain habits throughout your day is so important. It’s a big part of how I successfully run my business, create content, and develop my personal brand.
One thing I’ve learned is that habits feel like they take effort only at the beginning — after a while it’s just your normal routine. For example, when I first started going to the gym, I had to drag myself there. I told myself it didn’t matter whether I worked out or not once I got there, but I had to arrive. Now going to the gym is second nature to me, and without it my day feels off. It takes time and practice and also observing the impact that a habit has on your life.
How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
It’s so easy to get comfortable, and habits help me ensure I am continually growing. I often incorporate new habits to help me work toward new and bigger goals. Recently, I have made it a habit to listen to podcasts that inspire me and help me keep pushing toward my goals. I’ve found it is easy to just stay the same once you hit a certain point in your business, so I’m always looking for ways to improve, grow, and push ahead.
A couple of habits that have played a role in my success are:
- Waking up at a specific time each day. I don’t think that this is for everyone, but Greg and I wake up at 5 a.m. every day to make sure that we get our workouts in before we get started with work.
- Eating as healthy as possible. This promotes optimal energy and brain function and is especially important if you struggle with mental health. It’s so important to give yourself the nutrition that you need in order to have the best mood and lasting energy.
Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?
There are a few ways I develop good habits:
- Practice your habits. Do them every day, even if it’s as simple as making a habit to go to work and commit to attending all your meetings. A while back, we took a meeting with a very big makeup company to explore having Bloom in their stores. The thing is, we were completely unprepared for the meeting. We had no idea what they were going to say or discuss, but we took the meeting anyway because it was a connection, and we knew we would at least learn from it. And we did.
- Notice the impact good habits have — and write them down. Notice how much better you are performing and how much happier and more productive you are in a day.
- Schedule your habits. Rather than squeezing habits in or risking forgetting them, schedule them at certain times each day. I have a certain time every single day that I go on a run. We go to the gym at the same time every day, get back at the same time, and I make my breakfast at the same time. It’s a pretty rigid schedule, but it helps me stick to my habits. There’s no debate of what I’m going to be doing that morning.
- Hold yourself accountable by telling the people around you. I did this recently with my YouTube channel, which was something that had been coming second to the business and had really been neglected from a content perspective. I finally decided to do a weekly vlog and told all my followers and everyone in my family that I was doing it. It holds me accountable in a way. And now I am doing it!
Here’s a few ways I stop bad habits:
- Recognize an unhealthy pattern. Notice the things you are doing that you want to change and notice how it is impacting your life negatively.
- Remove whatever it is from your life. Delete the app, throw out the food, remove the person that is enabling bad habits for you, etc.
- Don’t use goals that are not your own. Finding role models on social media is very easy to do nowadays. But it’s important to really think about what you want in your life and tune out the noise. Instead, tune into people who truly inspire you and align with your own goals.
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. Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
My suggestions for supporting optimal wellness are:
- Drink a gallon of water a day. Many of us don’t drink enough water. It’s crucial for optimal health, and in addition it provides a fun challenge for each day. Practicing this daily can improve your overall discipline.
- Break a sweat two times each day. Incorporating exercise into your day keeps your mind healthy. It’s easy to get stuck on your computer or phone for too long. An active break is beneficial for everyone.
- Stop eating around 7pm to aid in proper digestion. This helps my body feel its best, but also keeps me on a schedule that enhances my overall discipline. It also prevents me from late night snacking!
- Find a diet that works for you. I stick to healthy fats, because they are good for your brain. I also limit carbs, because they make my energy crash, which is another reason I start my day with healthy fats and only eat carbs later in the day.
- Don’t overdo it on the caffeine. I don’t drink coffee because it triggers my anxiety, but I do enjoy tea. I just try not to drink too much of it.
- Exercise first thing in the morning. It gives me a nice dose of endorphins, and knowing it’s done allows me to really focus on work for the rest of the day.
- Get outside. This is key for me — I get outside at least once or twice a day.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal performance at work or sport? Please share a story or example for each.
My tips for optimal performance at work are:
- Be an example to those around you. We have high expectations for our team, and this is such a 24/7 job — social media doesn’t sleep and neither does our website. Greg and I expect a lot out of our team, but we also put a lot in. In the end, our dedication to our work makes for a team that truly enjoys collaborating and being together. We’re passionate about what we do, and we think it shows.
- Do things as soon as they pop into your brain. When I realize I need to do something, I don’t procrastinate. If I think about it, I do it. I really like to do things as soon as they become a thought in my head.
- Write ‘power lists’ for each day. In the morning, I make a list of the five most important things that I need to get done that day. It keeps me focused and ensures I don’t have an even longer list that I will never achieve.
- Think about your future self. I make a point to think about my future self, knowing that she will look back and feel proud she accomplished today, whether a product launch or a new content project.
Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
A few ways I suggest developing habits for optimal performance at work are:
- Schedule time for your habits and stick to those times.
- Use phone alerts to remind you.
- Upload photos of your habits as a phone background for a constant reminder.
- Say and commit to your habits out loud.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each.
The habits I employ for focus are part of a well-rounded approach to success, so they overlap with the habits I use to boost performance and wellness. They include:
- Create a vision board. Put together photos of the habits and goals you want to develop. This is something I have been doing recently — looking at my goals each day helps me stay focused on them.
- Exercise first thing in the morning. It gives you a nice dose of endorphins, plus knowing it’s done allows you to really focus on work for the rest of the day.
- Don’t overdo it on the caffeine. I don’t drink coffee because it triggers my anxiety and makes it hard to focus. I do love tea, however, so just find what works for you!
- Find your healthy diet. Everyone is built differently, and that means every individual requires an individual approach to food. For me, a diet that’s high in healthy fats and low in carbs makes me feel good and boosts brain power. Find what works best for you.
Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
Recently, I felt like Greg and I were spinning the wheels at work and constantly working. I found myself needing a reminder of why I was doing the work, and that’s when I started making vision boards. It’s important to refresh your brain and remind yourself of what you are after. The vision board sits right in front of my bed and I look at it every day. It’s a helpful reminder of my goals.
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 don’t think I have reached a point in my business where a state of flow happens naturally for me. Even though we have been doing this for four years now, we are still experiencing new opportunities and challenges each day. I address each challenge throughout my day as it comes and actively immerse myself in that task.
There are many things in my work that energize me, and I think that when I engage myself in those things, I am the closest I get to being in a state of flow. Content creation is my favorite part of my job. From presenting an idea and telling a story to editing it and making it digestible for the viewers, to then seeing their reactions. Even though I have become quite skilled at the various things that go into creating great content, it still feels new and exciting every time I do it.
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 live by the words “strong inside and out,” and through my platforms I encourage women to discover and embrace their unique strengths, mentally, emotionally, and physically, inside and out. Many women hesitate to get into weights or the idea of being strong, but I’m glad to see that has changed a lot recently, and I only hope to be a part of the female strength training movement. From a business perspective, the concept of being a tough woman at work, mentally and physically, is something that I’m really passionate about, and I would love to create a movement around that.
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 🙂
David Goggins. His book changed my outlook on life, and he continues to motivate and inspire me. I would love to pick his brain.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
@marillewellyn on Instagram
@bloomsupps on Instagram
Mari Fitness on YouTube
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.