Dr. Ellen Reed: “ALWAYS have one thing you are trying to improve”

Resilient people keep their focus on solutions especially in the face of adversity. While it is normal to focus on and become consumed by the problems in our lives and in the world, individuals and organizations with resilience understand the importance of focusing their thoughts onto the next inch of improvement to their current situation. […]

Thrive Global invites voices from many spheres to share their perspectives on our Community platform. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team, and opinions expressed by Community contributors do not reflect the opinions of Thrive Global or its employees. More information on our Community guidelines is available here.

Resilient people keep their focus on solutions especially in the face of adversity. While it is normal to focus on and become consumed by the problems in our lives and in the world, individuals and organizations with resilience understand the importance of focusing their thoughts onto the next inch of improvement to their current situation. This requires mental toughness because it is natural to allow your thoughts to get sucked into the problems in your life. This is called problem-centric thought (PCT) and, unfortunately, it is completely normal and common. Resilience requires that you break free from PCT to focus on solutions. Resilience is mental toughness.


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

I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Ellen Reed. She has been a top performance coach for more than ten years, working with Dr. Jason Selk — with whom she co-authored RELENTLESS SOLUTION FOCUS. In addition to helping others reach high-levels of success, she has a well-established career as a professional dancer. With her background in academia and the performing arts, she helps athletes, students, and business leaders reach their peak performance by developing mental toughness. Dr. Reed received her PhD. in experimental psychology, with a focus on memory and cognition, from St. Louis University.


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

I received my doctorate in experimental psychology with an emphasis on memory and cognition from St. Louis University. On a daily basis, I work as a performance coach, teaching individuals to build the mental toughness necessary for high level success. I coach my clients based on the fundamentals developed by my colleague, Dr. Jason Selk. We’ve outlined this training plan in our book, Relentless Solution Focus.

I have also been dancing professionally for over 10 years. Dance has always been a constant in my life, and I was taking as many dance classes and opportunities as I could while in graduate school. Today I am able to better coach my clients because I have extensive experience with the mental toughness required for a professional dancing career, in addition to the business world.

I live in St. Louis with my husband and two boys — an almost-two-year-old and an almost-five-year-old.

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

I think the most interesting story from my career is the journey to my career. I loved psychology, and I loved dance, so I wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to go with my life. I decided to just ride the bus and keep doing both until I found a place I wanted to get off. I still haven’t gotten off that bus because 10-plus years later, I’m doing both.

Growing up, I always assumed I would stop dancing when I stopped being passionate about it, and then I would put all that energy into whatever “career” I decided on. The biggest takeaway for me looking back at my journey is that “career” can be whatever you want it to be. In many ways, my dance career and my coaching career are very separate, but in more ways, they are connected. I am better at each because of the other. You can have your dream life, which can include whatever you want it to be, even if it doesn’t fit within a box. Many people don’t take the time to decide where they want their life to go because it seems like such a daunting task, and they are afraid to get wrong.

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

When I was in school, I worked as a dance instructor at a gymnastics center on the weekends. One Saturday, I introduced myself to another coach who volunteered to coach the boys’ team every other weekend. I told him that I was studying psychology, and he looked excited and said, “Do you know what I do!?” He told me that he was a mental health professional who was about to start working with the St. Louis Cardinals as their sport psychology consultant. He knew his business was about to explode because of his upcoming position with the Cardinals, and he had been looking for someone to start helping him with administrative tasks. I was the perfect candidate because I didn’t know enough about baseball to recognize or care about all the high-profile Cardinals players that I would call on a weekly basis to confirm their appointments. I happen to be a big Cardinals fan now, but there was no risk of me being star-struck. That Saturday at the gym would turn out to be the most important introduction of my career. That coach was my long-time colleague, Dr. Jason Selk, and since that time, Jason’s written four best-selling books, with the fifth that we’ve written together. He was right about his business being about to explode. I’ve now been working alongside Jason for over 10 years. But what I am most grateful for is that Jason has always instilled confidence in me. I owe most of my knowledge and expertise on developing mental toughness to Jason, and that is invaluable; but his confidence in me is without a doubt his greatest gift. It translated into my confidence in myself. I know now that self-confidence is the number one variable for performance, but he knew it then, and looking back, his confidence in and encouragement of me shaped my own abilities as a performance coach.

What do you think makes your company stand out?

In my opinion, what makes the work that we do stand out is its simplicity. Most people try to complicate success. Jason has developed a framework through studying highly successful individuals that is incredibly effective in its simplicity. Anyone can learn to develop the solution focus that is guaranteed to bring increased health, happiness, and success.

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

Resilient people keep their focus on solutions especially in the face of adversity. While it is normal to focus on and become consumed by the problems in our lives and in the world, individuals and organizations with resilience understand the importance of focusing their thoughts onto the next inch of improvement to their current situation. This requires mental toughness because it is natural to allow your thoughts to get sucked into the problems in your life. This is called problem-centric thought (PCT) and, unfortunately, it is completely normal and common. Resilience requires that you break free from PCT to focus on solutions. Resilience is mental toughness.

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

Winston Churchill famously said, “Success consists of going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” That is resilience — simply to keep going. Churchill experienced more failure in his life than most of us would experience in 20 lifetimes. His Gallipoli campaign during WWI was considered a massive failure that almost derailed his career. He went on to successfully lead Britain through WWII. Churchill is widely known for his resilience, and as one of the 20th century’s most significant figures. I also can’t help but think of a certain Disney princess. With a four-year-old in the house, we’ve watched Frozen 2 a lot. It contains one of the best depictions and songs about resilience that I’ve seen in Princess Anna. When she finds herself in a cave with (seemingly) no way out, and having lost the people she loves the most, she is reminded of the phrase, “Just do the next right thing.” She forces herself to focus on the very next step, the next small solution. She, of course, breaks into song: “I won’t look too far ahead, it’s too much for me to take. But break it down to this next breath, this next step, this next choice is one that I can make.” (If you haven’t seen the movie, cover your ears) — she makes it out of the cave, saves the day, and then lives happily ever after in true Disney fashion. I don’t even mind that my kids have watched Frozen 2 30,000 times over quarantine because that is exactly the message I want (Disney) to instill in them.

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

I wish I had a more exciting answer for this one, but, no. I’ve been truly blessed to have very supportive and encouraging people in my life, from my parents, to my teachers, to my husband, to Jason. The people in my life have always made me feel like I could do anything I put my mind to, and I believe that is a huge contributor to my success. My number one goal as a mom is to instill the same in my kids as others did for me.

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

When I was in high school, I was obsessed with results — my gpa, my class standing, the colleges I would get into, etc. I did most things in high school because I thought they would look good on a resume and be attractive to colleges. I don’t think I even knew why I wanted to go to certain colleges, but I had decided on my list of “the best,” so that’s where I would go. I didn’t get into my top two schools, and I was devastated. I thought my life was over. I remember bawling my eyes out, and my mom rushing me to my college counselor’s office to try to console me. It seems so silly looking back at it. My obsession with results had made me feel like a complete failure, and I didn’t even have a good reason for why I wanted the result. Saint Louis University was my “safety school,” and I begrudgingly moved to St. Louis to attend. Now, I can’t imagine my life if I had not gone to SLU. I received a great undergraduate and graduate education there, I met my husband, started with an amazing dance company, and met Jason to start my coaching career. We live in a very results-driven society, and this is terrible for performance and for emotional states. Jason calls this the “paradox of the product goal” — the more you focus on results, typically the further you are from achieving them. We work with our clients to develop a relentless focus on process, not results. I wish I had known this in high school, but I am lucky to help other people develop and maintain a process focus. Staying focused on the process, rather than the results, is a huge contributor to resilience.

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

I’ve had two babies over the course of my dance career, which, for a dancer, might as well be 10. I performed until I was about six or seven months pregnant each time, and took class until I delivered. I remember describing the experience of taking ballet class while pregnant as: “You work twice as hard, and still get worse.” I was used to putting in hard work, and getting better and stronger as a result. When I was pregnant, everything was harder, and not only did I not get stronger, I got weaker. While that may seem obvious, and I expected that, it was still an interesting (frustrating) experience to go through — twice.I had to reframe the way I evaluated my progress. In my mind, I kept a little line graph of how much weaker I would get had I not kept pushing myself (safely, of course). That allowed me to feel good about the work I was putting in because I knew I would reap the benefits later. It is common for people to get burnt out or stuck on their progress because of they way they are evaluating themselves or their situations. Jason and I teach our clients (and ourselves) to judge success based on effort and process, not results. Remember the paradox of the product goal — the more you are focused on your results, typically the further you will be from achieving them. Focusing on effort and process yields greater results.

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

Resilience is another way of saying Relentless Solution Focus — staying focused on solutions and improvements, especially in the face of adversity. Developing a Relentless Solution Focus requires consistent training for most of us because, remember, it is so normal to focus on problems and what we feel like we are lacking in life. If we don’t retrain our brains, we will very likely default back to the normal problem-centric thought. Here are just as few of the questions we have our clients write down on a daily basis as a critical step toward developing a Relentless Solution Focus.

  1. Recognize your “done-wells.” Self-confidence is the number one variable for performance, and forcing your brain to recognize the small things you are doing well each day is one of the most important things you can do to strengthen your mental toughness. Write down three “done-wells.” These don’t need to be huge. For example: 1. I helped an employee who was struggling with a customer; 2. I delegated a report; and 3. I got home in time for dinner with my wife and kids.
  2. ALWAYS have one thing you are trying to improve. Resilience requires that you keep your focus on improvement, not perfection. Without forcing yourself to think about one thing you want to improve, your brain will likely default to focusing the myriad of ways that you feel like you are underperforming. Ask yourself, “What is one thing I want to improve in the next 24 hours?” For example, you may decide that you want to improve your ability to ask for referrals during prospect phone calls.
  3. Identify one thing you can do that could help make that improvement. Many people can identify what they want to improve, but most don’t take the critical next step to identify a simple action step they can take to get closer to their goal. For example, you may determine that you will script out your “ask,” and write it on a notecard to keep on your desk.
  4. Repeat steps 1–3 every day.
  5. Repeat step 4.

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

Without a doubt, it would be to teach people to be relentless about searching for solutions — to develop a Relentless Solution Focus. We all know that we should be positive and solution-focused, but we have not been taught how to train our brains to do this. Being solution-focused goes against our normal course of problem-centric thought as humans, so it requires consistent training. My hope is that our book will inspire a movement — a movement to give people back control over their lives and their happiness, especially during a time when people seem to need it the most. .

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

Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin are the best-selling authors of The Home Edit, and they have a popular show on Netflix that follows their professional organizing business. They have taken the world by storm (and The Container Store — as evidenced by its empty shelves) with their beautifully organized spaces. Their organizing methods have allowed people to gain a sense of control over their lives and spaces during a time when people feel out of control. By the time Clea and Joanna are done organizing a closet, you think, “Yes, of course! It’s so simple! It should have looked like that the whole time!” Those are the best solutions and ideas. The ones that seem so obvious and simple and make you think, “How did I not think of this!?” That’s exactly how I feel about the Relentless Solution Focus fundamentals that Jason’s developed. I think he is the king of “simple,” which makes our clients experience so much success. The fundamentals that we teach are like the most beautifully and functionally organized drawer — they allow you to keep the most important and beautiful items front and center, while getting rid of the junk that weighs you down. It is a very simple (but not necessarily easy) process.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find me on Instagram @drellenreed and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/drellenreed/

You can find information on our book at www.relentlesssolutionfocus.com and about my coaching at www.jasonselk.com

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

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Community//

Resilience Training , Leadership Performance and Neuroplasticity

by Martina Witter
Community//

Rachel Austen: “Building and maintaining your support network”

by Fotis Georgiadis
Community//

Resilience Training for Your Mind: Techniques to Bounce Back Faster From Setbacks

by Monique Russell
We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.