Starting a business in a field that you know little about is a scary feat. Making that business a huge, growing success is even scarier. But that is exactly what Sophie Chiche did when she left her career as a successful psychologist to start Shape House, the first and only urban sweat lodge that has had over 40,000 visitors, including notable people like Khloé Kardashian and Selena Gomez. Chiche’s mantra, “Take care of myself so I can take care of others,” is the mission behind her business. She encourages everyone to take the time to practice self-care, which will in turn help you achieve more success at work — by helping you sleep and increasing your overall happiness.
Chiche opens up to Thrive about her journey as an entrepreneur — sharing how putting herself first has led to tremendous success.
Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed? How do you set your day up for success?
Sophie Chiche: I do not touch the ground by my bed until I experience gratitude and appreciation. Some days, I wake up and it is already there, and everything makes me smile — some days, not so much. If I wake up with any feeling other than gratitude, I list all the things I am grateful for until I genuinely feel it. It changes the brain chemistry to be focused on things that I appreciate. I love that practice.
TG: What gives you energy?
SC: Checking in with myself and adjusting if needed. It is a matter of listening. I have daily phone alarms that say: How are you feeling? Do you need anything? And it prompts me to pause and check in. I often need water or to get up from my desk and shake my body for a couple of minutes. I check in with myself the way I would check in on a friend. Recently I got a sense that I really needed fresh flowers to feel better. I literally walked to the flower shop near my house and picked a gorgeous bouquet of peonies. That simple act of kindness for myself shifted my energy for the whole day.
TG: How did your work as a psychologist prepare you to start Shape House?
SC: My training as a psychologist prepared me for virtually everything in my life. Understanding people and learning to speak honestly and caringly in all situations has served me across the board. I see any project as a team effort, and psychology has allowed me to identify what people need to thrive — pun intended. In school, I learned to listen and ask questions to allow everyone on the team to feel heard and cared for. Also, it’s important to trust people to have their own answers, so I have learned to inquire and invite instead of telling people what to do, and that creates a whole different vibe on a team.
TG: What was the scariest thing about changing careers?
SC: Not knowing if I was going to be successful — letting go of something I was good at for something I knew nothing about. I also had to deal with intense pressure from people in my world, suggesting I was going to fail, and pushing me to stay where I was. Being successful is very different than being joyful. I make my choices from the amount of joy they bring to me. The scariest would be to stay in a situation longer than I should. I do my best to improve where I am, but if I can’t make it better, I make a move.
TG: Can you share a time you failed and how you overcame it?
SC: I led the charge to open six Shape House locations in the course of eight months in two different states. That was too much, too strenuous on the team, too risky, and too fast. It eroded some trust. I can’t say it is completely resolved. It made a dent in my self-confidence, but I also learned a lot. That is how I overcome failures: figuring out what I could do differently in the future. I have a good self-forgiveness practice. I attempt a lot of things I know nothing about, so I put in place practices to catch me when I fall. I have developed faith in myself that I truly do the best I can, given the circumstances; I can let go of my self-judgments pretty easily after I have learned the lesson.
TG: How do you incorporate self-care into your daily routine?
SC: It starts from my emotional and spiritual well-being. I don’t like doing self-care routines that are not anchored in self-love. So I tend to focus on my self-love practices, and out of that come habits of eating well, sweating, dancing, talking to friends, getting a massage, sharing gratitude, and taking naps. It has been a long journey to become a best friend to myself, but it is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most worthy pursuit of my whole life.
TG: How can people connect better?
SC: Know themselves better. Understand what makes them open their hearts. Connection is the evolution of self-love yet again. If I don’t know myself, I can’t love myself. If I don’t love myself, I can’t open up to anyone else. I feel most connected to others when I am most connected to myself. It is not a selfish act to start within.
TG: How do you stay organized when you are feeling overwhelmed?
SC: One word: Trello. I have developed an approach to managing what I want to do, and I use Trello to keep me accountable and organized. It is a matter of making sure I do what I need to do, so I can do what I want to do. So much information comes at us in this day and age; we need a process to synthesize and prioritize. If I care about myself, I make sure that my life is full of moments I love. And to do that, I have to know what they are, and have the courage to go after them. A “to-do” list is never a “to-do” list for me, it is a series of things that add up to a life I love.
TG: As a business owner, how do you communicate with your team when there is a struggle or conflict?
SC: I assume struggles and conflicts will happen, so I have a process in place to give them the floor. I make it safe to express disapproval. I model receiving feedback in a graceful matter. I practice the art of saying what I need to say in the most loving way. In our meetings, we have time allocated for people to share their frustrations and struggles. Mistakes are treated kindly. As long as the person is willing to learn and adjust their behavior, we have something to work with.
TG: What makes a good leader?
SC: I find that the best leaders have clear expectations. They support employees who do not have the skills needed to perform. I love the quality of giving people the benefit of the doubt, and the best environment I can give them to find their best expression. Willingness is probably my favorite quality. I don’t really care where people are as long as there is movement towards a better version of themselves.
TG: What does your relationship with tech look like? Do you sleep with your phone? Do you take tech breaks?
SC: I love the idea that I do not turn off the dark when I walk into a room; I turn on the light. Similarly, I prefer to enrich my life in ways that I don’t need to use tech to escape a life I don’t like. I don’t need to make myself take a break from my phone, I prefer to fill my days with amazing people and amazing conversations that make me not want to check if someone else is reaching out to me. My phone is near me, but I don’t look at it when I wake up. I do my gratitude process first.
TG: We also wanted to congratulate you for losing an outstanding amount of weight — it must have been a very strenuous journey. How did you remain optimistic during a trying time like that?
SC: Losing that weight is one of my biggest accomplishments. It has kicked me to the ground from sadness and pain, and it has lifted me to the most graceful experiences in my life. It has been the best teacher and the most cruel perpetrator. Some days, I could only focus on my next breath, my next meal, my next conversation with a friend to stop me from hurting myself. It was a brutal journey and I would not trade it for a second. Everything — almost everything — I like about myself has come from something I did to solve my weight issue.
TG: Do you have any advice for women who are currently struggling with finding the drive to live healthier by losing weight?
SC: If I am in a good place with myself, I eat well, slowly, and healthfully. I sleep enough; I want to go dancing or running. The best way I know to increase the amount of love I feel for myself is to review my commitments. Am I keeping them? Am I making them in a way that is aligned with my deepest purpose? I find that if I don’t keep the commitments I make to myself or to others, my self-confidence and self-love decrease proportionally. It is one of the most important barometers I use to stay in my healthy habits.
TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?
SC: When we were building too many locations to expand Shape House as fast as we could, I was exhausted. So exhausted, in fact, that I could not relax and find my balance for a few months. I made commitments I could not renegotiate. I felt moved by a deep desire to serve and make sweating available to as many people as possible. I learned the hard lesson that you can’t help anyone if you don’t help yourself first.
TG: What do you do to unwind before bed? How do you set yourself up for a good night’s rest?
SC: Epsom salt with lavender after a sweat at Shape House is one of my favorite ways to unwind. I light candles and listen to Bach when I get home. I sometimes watch a movie or TV show to help me disconnect from the business of my day. I don’t use any substance that alters my consciousness, so no alcohol, sugar, or caffeine, so I am pretty in touch with my body and what it needs to function optimally. Sometimes I take a short nap when I come back from a full day out in the world, as a way to reset. I have become kind to myself. Maybe that is the gift of being in my fifties; I no longer do things to myself I would not do to a friend.
TG: What brings you hope/optimism?
SC: I don’t think of it as needing to do anything to bring it to me. I have faith that things are exactly where they need to be, so I trust when they happen that they are serving the highest good.