dating // relationships // connection

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Why You Should Start Living Life Like an Avatar

tomb_raider_underworld_5-wallpaper-960x600This weekend I’ve been thinking a lot about a concept that relationship expert Matthew Hussey calls “adopting a video game mindset.”  Hussey describes the origin of the idea in his Fast Track program: it was 2am and he was in a cozy coffee shop in London chatting deep into the night with a writer buddy of his.  All of a sudden, his friend said, “So, I’ve been thinking a lot about  video games lately- they’ve never been bigger.  Why?  Because they allow us to constantly enter new worlds and they provide endless excitement.”  The friend paused then asked, “What if we thought of our lives as video games, where we were the avatars and every single experience was created just for us- for our enjoyment and pleasure.  The tantalizing smells from the kitchen, our soft beds after a long day, the morning sunlight beaming down on our faces, the snowcapped mountains and towering skyscrapers, every exquisite sunset, every concert, new book, museum, sporting event, play, movie, birth, soft kiss, glance, and touch- all just for us.  And the people in our lives were there just for us too- to teach us, inspire us, and shape our paths.  If we got bored with the game, we could switch things up- go to a new city, change jobs, pick up a new passion, and connect with new people.  If we saw someone we were attracted to, we wouldn’t hesitate to approach them because it was all just part of the game.  If we viewed our lives like this, we wouldn’t be able to go to bed late enough or wake up early enough.”  But the truth is… this is life!  This exists for us now- we could live like this, but instead we avoid the people we’re attracted to, avoid the situations that scare us, and every day we lead the same lives- we do the same stuff.  We do the same things over and over again because it’s comfortable.  

In his Fast Track program, Hussey challenges us to adopt a video game mindset, starting with picking an avatar to represent how we’re going to show up in a specific scenario.  This made me think of 3 people I admire deeply as possible avatars: 

1. Jennifer Lawrence for her authenticity, playfulness, appetite for risk, and ability to connect with and powerfully express emotion

2. Malala for her courage, resilience, and conviction

3. Cory Booker for his bravery, tireless work ethic, vision, and impact as a storyteller

Hussey encourages, if you’re a woman that normally crushes it in work but holds back in dating, pick an avatar for the evening inspired by a person who always gets the man (I’m thinking Angelina Jolie 🙂 ) and then hit the town.  If normally the idea of karaoke scares the shit out of you, embody a killer artist (I’m definitely thinking Christina Aguilera 🙂 ) and sing your heart out.

I love this video game concept for two reasons.  Number one, it catapults your gratitude practice to new heights.  If you’re walking down the street and believe every flower, tree, path, building, park, restaurant, landscape, and experience is there just for you, it’s impossible not to be flooded with gratitude.  Second, it removes any excuse you have not to show up as your best, most courageous, sensational self.  This is YOUR game, start playing to win.

If you dig this, share it with a friend who might benefit.  And if you want more, check out Hussey’s YouTube video channel and weekly Love Life podcast– both are favorites.




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Do You Feel in Tune with Your Body?

dancer-liberatedIf you’d asked me this a year ago, I wouldn’t have known how to respond, or even what “being in tune with my body” felt like.  It wasn’t until my 31st birthday that everything changed.  I wanted to give myself a special birthday present, but I wasn’t looking to travel or to buy new things.  A friend of mind had just started working with a coach and was loving it so I figured, lightbulb moment, what better gift to give myself than coaching?

My Aha Moment

The coach I worked with was terrifically insightful and helped me to see that for years, I had tuned out from my body in order to achieve, accomplish, and succeed.  If I was tired, I’d drink coffee rather than taking a break or getting more sleep. If I was hungry, I’d reach for quick, easy junk food rather than taking the time to get food that would would fuel me.  If I noticed that I was tense and stiff and stressed, I’d ignore it and power through versus taking a break.  For years, I tried to white knuckle my way to becoming my best self.  I conditioned myself to tune out from my body in order to achieve and accomplish.  It didn’t work.  My coach helped me realize that an immensely powerful way to find balance and contentment was by turning off my mind and tuning back into my body.

My Turning Point
My coach suggested that I try a dance class as a starting point.  I was shocked that after a sweaty, heart-pounding hour of dance, I felt more energized than when I started.  Normally, I’d end my work day feeling depleted and exhausted.  Dancing completely reinvigorated me physically and helped me press the reset button on my day.  As I began to dance more, I became more aware of and curious about how the food I was eating was fueling me.  Slowly, I began to make small tweaks in my food choices- less dairy, less sugar, less processed foods.  As I ate healthier and continued to find new ways to connect with and appreciate my body, I became better at reading and honoring its signals.

Lessons from the Trenches
For anyone who can relate to my experience and is looking to make a change in 2015, here are my lessons learned:
1. Don’t Settle
Find an activity (dance, yoga, kick boxing, etc.) that completely ignites you.  You should crave it, fantasize about it, and feel off when you miss it.
2. Find the One
Find a teacher whose class makes you love life.  These teachers are rare gems- don’t settle!  Just like you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince, you’ll have to suffer through a lot of mediocre classes to find the right teacher.  It’s worth it.
3. Don’t Fret
Ditch the self-consciousness, judgment, and even shame about your body at the door.  Dancing can bring up a lot of fears, like “What if I look weird?” or “What if I’m unsexy?”  There’s nothing more liberating than being in a class where the teacher creates a safe space for you to be goofy just for the sake of being goofy.  I’ve found this ability to be playful has spilled over to other areas of my life in the best way.  I’m more playful in my romantic relationships, with my friends, with the little kids who brighten my life.  🙂  The practice of hearing the committee of critical voices in my head (judgment, perfectionism, self-consciousness, etc.) and choosing to ignore them and just have fun and be me has been incredibly powerful.
Inspired to Act?
If you’re looking to make connection to your body a priority in 2015, a wonderful way to start is LeapCast Dance Crew, a 6-week dance workout class led by my incredible dance and fitness mentor.  The format of the class is 20 minutes of high-energy dance workout, 20 minutes of learning new dance moves, and 20 minutes of learning dance choreography to a hip hop song.  Melissa, the teacher, is one of the most talented, fun, unique and inspiring instructors I’ve ever worked with.  Never danced before? No sweat- Dance Crew is for all levels.  More info hereFans of LeapCast will get 15% off registration now through Dec. 24th— that’s 6 one-hour classes for just $75.  Register here to claim your discount.  Dance Crew also makes a spectacular gift for a friend or family member for the holidays.  Bedazzled, glittery Dance Crew gift certificates are available upon request!  Remember, change happens in small shifts and small steps- like a long, winding hike that culminates with a stunning mountaintop view. Take that baby step today- you never know what magic will be unleashed.
Leah Marshall is the Director of Development for Chicago Ideas Week, an annual week-long ideas festival that brings hundreds of the world’s most inspiring speakers to Chicago for Talks and hands-on Labs designed to spark new thinking, collaboration, and innovation in our city.  Leah manages corporate sponsorships, media partnerships, and fundraising for CIW.  Prior to Chicago Ideas Week, Leah led Government Affairs and Corporate & Foundation Relations for Teach For America and spent a decade working in education reform at the classroom, charter management, and administrative levels.  Outside of work, is a Zumba and dance workout instructor at Lakeshore Sport & Fitness and is the founder of LeapCast: a catalytic community for passion-seeking women.  Current LeapCast offerings include the LeapCast Podcast, LeapCast Dance Crew, and Zumba For A Cause.

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3 Questions That’ll Jumpstart Your Life

leah leaping mt bakerEvery year, I take a vacation to a national park to get away from the rush of life.  It’s the one week a year where I carve out time to reflect on my life, the direction I’m headed, and the changes I’ll need to make to get to where I want to go.  This month, I slipped away to stunning Mt. Baker, a pristine national forest filled with towering evergreens, rushing rapids, and panoramic mountaintop views.  One of the things I most look forward to on these trips is catching up on all podcasts I’ve been wanting to listen to and can’t seem to find time for.  There’s something so grounding for me about rhythmically walking along, surrounded by nature, soaking up the words and wisdom of the people I admire most.  Today, as I set out on the Pacific Crest Trail, I pressed “play” on a podcast interview with Paul C. Brunson, known for co-hosting Lovetown, USA on the OWN network with Oprah Winfrey.   Paul’s mainly recognized as being an acclaimed matchmaker, but I’ve been turning to him for his incisiveness as a life coach.  One of the exercises he shared during this interview stuck with me throughout my 8 mile trek and inspired me to reflect in the following way.  During the interview, Paul referenced a client who was struggling with an area of her life (romance) and he asked her to work through it by envisioning a pie with 8 slices (yum!)  Each slice, Paul said, was an aspect of her life: her health, her friends and family, her work, her finances, romantic life, etc.  The first provocative question Paul posed to her was, “What does it feel like to be optimal in each area of your life?”

Then he asked her, “Rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 5 on how you stack up in each area of your life.”  And finally, he asked, “What changes could you make this week that’d inch you closer to your optimal self?

This exercise struck a chord because it’s simple, revealing, and deliciously actionable. After some thought, I decided that the 8 areas that I want to focus on in the coming months are:

*Friends & Family
*Giving Back (Volunteering and Mentoring)
*Growing & Stretching Myself
*Health (My Vegan Journey)
*Physical Bliss (Dancing! Building Strength! Gettin’ Flexible! Better Balance!)
*Resting & Recharging
*Work & Career

I’m halfway through my vacation. Over the next 4 days, I plan to delve into Paul’s 3 questions and plot out one positive action step for each area that I can tackle this week.

What are the 8 areas of your life that deserve focus? How does each area stack up on a scale of 1 to 5?  What’s one baby step you could take in each area that’d inch you closer to your best, most blissful self?

Care to share?  Join the conversation on Twitter at @LeapCast or email me at leapcastlife@gmail.com.

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LeapCast Podcast Episode #8: Kanya Balakrishna (Co-founder and President, The Future Project)

kanyaFor the past 13 years, Kanya has been teaching, mentoring, and supporting young people to dare to dream in ways that others say are impossible.  Kanya is Co-founder & President of The Future Project, a nonprofit organization that seeks to transform schools into the most inspiring places on earth.  Curious how?  Tune in here to learn more!

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Zumba Fundraiser – Help Get Water to Those Who Need it the Most

surge_zumba_flyer_5.14_LR_flatI’m proud to be a part of this Zumba fundraiser to support Surge, a nonprofit that brings life-sustaining water to those most in need!

We’ll be dancing to a mix of Latin, pop, and hip hop music– with artists including Pitbull, Sean Paul, Flo Rida, Michael Jackson, Beyonce, David Guetta, Rihanna, and more.

No prior dance experience needed-  all dance and fitness levels welcome!  $12 in advance/$15 at the door.  Register here.


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Are you or someone you know trying to raise money for a cause?  Maybe it’s a nonprofit you’re passionate about, or a friend’s new start-up, or a low-income classroom, or even the Chicago Marathon!  ZUMBA FOR A CAUSE is a fun, unique, and high-impact option!  Simply pick a date/time and invite your friends- we’ll handle the rest.  Groups can range from 8-50 people and all dance and fitness levels are welcome!  See below for more information or contact Leah at leapcastlife@gmail.com to learn more.

Zumba For A Cause