“Can’t’ is not a word”, With Connie Zack and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Visualization. To start off the day, before even getting out of bed, I begin with deep breathing and a visualization of what success looks like the next 24 hours. I visually go through the day and picture the outcome that I would like to see or feel for each aspect. If I have an important […]

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Visualization. To start off the day, before even getting out of bed, I begin with deep breathing and a visualization of what success looks like the next 24 hours. I visually go through the day and picture the outcome that I would like to see or feel for each aspect. If I have an important presentation, I visualize feeling fulfilled after the presentation. If I am really nervous about a meeting, I picture being super excited about the results. I picture everyone around me sharing good news and their success stories.

As a part of our series about “Optimal Performance Before High Pressure Moments”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Connie Zack.

Connie is the co-owner of Sunlighten, the manufacturer of the first and only infrared saunas to offer near, mid and far infrared technology. Connie — who has a background as an executive marketer with Procter & Gamble’s pharmaceutical division — started the company out of passion and will, and with no background in infrared saunas or even in the fitness or wellness categories. And while it was challenging at first to let go of the stability and job security that comes with an established global company, she was able to capitalize on her leadership abilities to ensure success in her new venture. Under Connie’s leadership, Sunlighten® has grown to be the market leader and been featured in INC Magazine’s Top 500 Fastest Growing Companies. She has worked to position its point of difference in the market through innovation: its unique patented far infrared technology, Solocarbon®, and more recently their patented Solocarbon 3-in-1® infrared technology.

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. What or who inspired you to pursue your career as an entrepreneur or business leader? We’d love to hear the story.

The two biggest factors were how I was raised, and my brother getting sick. When I was young, my mom taught me to believe in myself and I can do anything I want to do — that the sky is the limit. The line I remember her saying most is” “Can’t’ is not a word, so don’t use it. It should not be part of your vocabulary.” Those are words she would repeat over and over again as I was first learning to ride my bike, for example.

As a single mom who started her own business, Agenda Unlimited, she was an inspiration. This was an event planning company that she formed in order to support my brother and me. She would cold-call large corporations that did a lot of recognition and business development events. I remember being so impressed when the local news featured my mom in “the business to watch” segment, and filmed her pitching her business and explaining why potential customers should choose Agenda Unlimited over other event planning companies. The second factor was my brother was extremely ill and tried every type of treatment to cure himself. His dentist recommended an infrared sauna to sweat out the toxins trapped in his body. This put him on the road to recovery and I decided to leave my lucrative career at Procter & Gamble to bring the most effective infrared products to market. While I enjoyed working for P&G, I felt I could make a larger difference in running my own company. It was ultimately solving a real-world challenge, my brother’s long-term illness, that was the catalyst to start Sunlighten. Over time, infrared heat-cured him.

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 mom is the largest influence on my career. Over the years, watching her achieve success as a single parent raising two young kids with the greatest of grace, patience and focus.

The first time I realized my personal leadership potential was in college. When going through sorority rush, I received 100% bids back through every round, which was rare at Indiana University. When I joined my sorority, I started receiving feedback regarding my leadership skills and how I should apply to be on the executive board. In my junior year, senior sorority members would regularly reach out to say that I would be an excellent Sorority President candidate due to my diplomatic skills internally, and my relationship-building skills externally. These were pivotal moments in my leadership development as these votes of confidence provided momentum. Each semester I sought out opportunities to lead and impact others. I was able to be a Rush Counselor to a large group of freshmen girls my senior year, and was a member of the IU Student Foundation, which is the organization that led the student body.

Ultimately, these college experiences gave me the confidence to land a competitive pharmaceutical sales job at Procter & Gamble. Confidence and keeping that momentum go a long way.

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?

In 2010, we launched a product too soon. We launched before we were really ready due to the opportunity for national exposure with Dr. Oz. As an entrepreneur, the answer is always “yes, I can.” As a result of saying yes, we went on the Dr. Oz show showcasing our mPulse 3-in-1 sauna that could help strengthen your immunity during the cold and flu season. This generated an immense amount of interest from other media outlets, as well as record producing sales, but the mistake was that we were not prepared with production, raw materials purchasing, shipping and customer care. As a result, we had one full year of media presentations and sales but we could not ship product. When we finally were able to ship, we had technology failures that caused additional issues for customers who had already waited up to a year for their product.

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. When I joined The Women’s Capital Connection group (a fund to support Women-owned businesses) the #1 deciding factor for me was their leadership. I would take an average idea/product with an excellent CEO over an excellent product with an average CEO. Again, this starts with confidence in yourself.
  • Surround yourself by those who believe in you and support you. This is especially true for women as there is nothing more powerful than a group of women supporting each other.
  • Follow your gut. When I listen to my internal voice, everything works out and there is no second-guessing my decision. I have learned to trust my inner instincts even when the logical data points in the other direction.
  • Pay it forward without expectations of a return. Contribute to other entrepreneurs. Contribute to the community. Contribute random acts of kindness. Do more than people expect you to do — it gives others votes of confidence in humanity.

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?

When I was a little girl, I read all non-fiction books about women leaders and it wasn’t until later in life where I realized how much inspiration I gleaned from reading these books. I read how they overcame obstacles and led others, and I believed I could do the same.

My favorite woman to read about was Helen Keller. I am sure I have read every book ever written regarding Helen Keller. I enjoyed learning about Helen’s story and those who worked with her because of her resilience and overcoming obstacles. I also appreciated how she really struggled and wanted to quit but kept fighting. I also enjoyed reading about her teacher and her support network. It taught me the importance of surrounding yourself with those who believe in you, and will hold you accountable, and not allow you to give up!

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

“Follow your gut, and pay it forward.” When I follow both of those philosophies, everything falls into place. Following your gut resonates the most because when I am aligned with my instincts — that little voice — I am happier with those decisions long term. When I don’t follow it, I always look back and wish that I had.

Where this continues to ring true is in hiring talent at Sunlighten. The resume of a potential new hire can be extremely impressive listing all the “right elements” but if my instincts tell me they are not the right fit, I listen and pass on the candidate. This is a lesson my husband/business partner and I have learned to follow together. When we first started Sunlighten, we would try and convince each other of a candidate, but now, if one of us says, “it’s not right,” then we don’t push. We have to both be 100% convinced instinctively.

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

We have quite a few exciting projects that we are currently working on, but two of the big ones are that we are developing an app that will allow you to control your sauna from your phone as well as add in personalized features. This will be great for both commercial and residential customers. We are also working on the next adaptation of our Solo System®. This new version will be lighter and more compact, which will make it easier for people to travel with it. So, it’ll be great for sports teams and those that travel frequently, either for business or pleasure.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As a business leader, you likely often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to cope with the burden of stress?

  • Speak and lead from your heart — I always remember that the word, “courage” is a “heart” word. “Cor” is Latin for heart. When I am stressed, it means I care, and when I care, I persevere.
  • Persevere. One of my favorite quotes from Winston Churchill is: “When you are going through Hell, keep going.” I lived by this quote when we went through our most difficult years.
  • Tap into your “Board of Directors.” We don’t have an official Sunlighten Board of Directors, but I have people who I can call when I need another opinion or need lifting up. Vulnerability is key. Your “Board” will help you when you are honest and ask for support.
  • Put the odds in your favor. I was inspired by “Make your Bed,” a graduation speech delivered by U.S. Navy Adm. William H. McCraven, the commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command. As a Navy Seal, you have to have your bed inspected. If you start your day with an accomplishment, you put yourself in a winning state. Nowadays, no day is easy. So, before I even get out of bed, I do a series of breathing exercises.

Aside from being able to deal with the burden of stress, can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?

I would reference the power of positivity article — for more content

  • Visualization. To start off the day, before even getting out of bed, I begin with deep breathing and a visualization of what success looks like the next 24 hours. I visually go through the day and picture the outcome that I would like to see or feel for each aspect. If I have an important presentation, I visualize feeling fulfilled after the presentation. If I am really nervous about a meeting, I picture being super excited about the results. I picture everyone around me sharing good news and their success stories.
  • Deep breathing, which gives me a burst of energy and mental clarity before I start thinking about my day. Deep breathing increases the intake of oxygen, helping to nourish the brain and body — which helps calm my mind so that the beginning of my day is relaxed and clear.
  • Exercise — always! I always run a 5K or more the morning of a high-pressure situation. I practice out loud during the run the exact results I want. If I can, I run with Aaron, my husband and business partner, and we role-play the situation together — that is my favorite go-to formula for success. If the situation is extremely stressful — I will run longer — up to a 10K, to ensure I have plenty of time to think through every scenario and handle them in my mind.
  • Great sleep the night before — I always make sure I use my Sunlighten sauna, take some sleepy-time tea, and get a restful night of sleep for optimal mental clarity.

Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques, meditations or visualizations to help optimize yourself? If you do, we’d love to hear about it.

I visualize each morning “what success looks like” on each part of my day, as well as how I want to feel after each event — and how I want others to feel. I take 10 very deep breaths and, with each one, try and breathe deeper on the way in and longer on the way out so I am extending my breaths with each one.

Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?

Visualization of success and of the result I am seeking. In order to clear myself from distractions, I have to be alone. Most of the time, I’ll bring my notebook into my Sunlighten mPulse sauna and write down exactly what I want to say, so it becomes a reality. Infrared therapy can be useful in combating stress, which will in turn increase focus. Research has shown that infrared therapy can lead to reductions in cortisol, which is your “stress hormone.”

We all know the importance of good habits. How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?

Getting up early — working out in the morning — this is my time to prepare myself for the day. If I am giving a presentation, I practice over and over again and will rehearse with my husband, who is also my business partner.

What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?

Great habits come from doing them over and over again, and achieving great results.

As a business 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 burn in my brain all of the elements of my surroundings when I am in a state of Flow. For example, asking myself — what is causing me to feel extraordinary? If I just gave a presentation where I felt like it was perfect and I hit it out of the park, I analyze the situation. What led to that perfect presentation? Was it the preparation? What it how I felt internally? What did I do immediately preceding the presentation? I take mental notes of what caused the “FLOW” experience and then model it each time.

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 focus on two different areas as I am passionate about both: empowering young women and creating a happier society through paying it forward with unexpected giving. I find people are always “searching” for happiness…or see happiness as a journey (when I do “x” I will be happy) vs. tapping into the way you feel when you make other people happy.

  1. I would like to see a self-confidence movement for young women where we focused on being beautiful from the inside. We have made a lot of progress with developing female leaders and I would like to expedite this progress by helping to inspire females at a very young age.
  2. Second, I’d love to create a week where everyone focused on doing kind acts for other people. Studies have shown people are the happiest when they spend money on other people as opposed to themselves. Studies have also shown if you give people money and allow them to spend as they choose, the happiest people are the ones who spend it on other people. Additionally, it does not matter if it is 5 dollars or 20 dollars. It is not about the amount but the act of giving and the feeling it delivers to make us happier. I would be personally be rewarded to create a sustainable happier society.

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 🙂

Oprah Winfrey. I find Oprah inspirational similar to Helen Keller as she overcame so many obstacles to be one of the most successful people of all time. Also, she featured our Sunlighten saunas on her show, March 24, 2009, and it made a significant impact on our company and industry.

How can our readers further follow your work online? hosts a blog where we post on average two pieces a month focused on current health and wellness events/news and the various health benefits of infrared therapy. Sometimes the blog is written by my team, others are written by one of our wellness experts. I also participate in a Facebook Live event once a month called Enlightened with Sunlighten. These live events feature a discussion between myself andone of our partners who specializes in a health & wellness topic that is important to our community. This is a great forum as the viewers are able to ask us questions directly that answer live throughout the event. We have a Facebook page (@SunlightenSaunas), Instagram (@SunlightenSaunas), and Twitter (@Sunlighten) as additional ways to follow Sunlighten.

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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