Week Twelve: Courage Challenged
In the aftermath of Thanksgiving, my heart (and stomach) is so full with so much for which to be grateful. Thanksgiving has been lovingly deemed “Friendsgiving” in my book, as I’ve celebrated with some of my very best friends here in New York City for many years now. We all bring dishes and traditions from our families, and have formed a celebration that works for our sweet chosen family. One of my favorite things that we do each year comes from my friend Nathan’s family. We pass around a dried ear of corn, each removing handfuls of kernels. For each kernel, we share something we’re grateful for and toss the kernel in a bucket. There are always many laughs and tears as we go around the circle, shouting to each other to “throw another kernel in for me” when we resonate with something someone else says. Friends and family are always high on the list for everyone, but this year there were some other things that came up consistently.
Health was a big one, but this looked like more than just a general happiness that none of us had the flu this year. We gave thanks for physical health, and being able to push our limits and stretch our bodies and crush big athletic goals. We gave thanks for mental health and self-care — lots of friends resonated that this was a big year personally. We gave thanks for independence, as well as relationship. We gave thanks for our therapists.
Music was a big one. My friends are all creative-types, and music informs so much of who we are and what we do. This opened up to larger ideas, like singing, and concerts, and experiences. Performing. Using our voices for good. Being creative in general — writing, acting, and collaborating.
My favorite theme was the idea of Possibility. To a person, we all expressed gratitude for what’s to come. For not knowing. For believing in ourselves. For simply still just being here.
I personally gave thanks for Scare Your Soul, as I feel all of these ideas are so wrapped up in what we do here. By consistently showing up big in even the smallest of ways, we’re living healthier and more creative lives with endless possibilities.
Think about what we’ve taken on in the past three months!
- We unplugged from our devices (not easy in today’s world!) in order to connect more deeply with ourselves and our loved ones.
- We committed to a week of gratitude, sharing one thing a day for which we were grateful. We should definitely do this more often.
- We wrote love letters! A very vulnerable task. I personally wrote a love letter to a future someone (can’t wait to meet ‘em) and felt my heart bursting open as my pen met the page.
- We committed random acts of kindness and I definitely learned that this was a scarier task than I could have imagined.
- We did an epic social media experiment that was one of the most impactful SYS challenges to date. We told the truth behind a perfectly filtered photo from the past. Talk about BOLD!
- We began our days with breath. We took the sometimes scary opportunity to put ourselves first, and begin our days with quiet time.
- We cleaned up, and cleared up! We made space for bigger and better things by letting go of unnecessary clutter — something that’s easier said than done.
- We tried new foods! Something seemingly simple, but altogether still scary. We are creatures of habit, and this is a great example of an easy way to push our comfort zones!
- We made a list of 10 things we love about ourselves. This was one of my favorite challenges, and I loved re-reading my list just now. How often do we remember to love ourselves?
- We went on solo dates! We treated ourselves to the best of the best, because we deserve it. We carved out time to prioritize ourselves, and give ourselves a much-needed gift.
- WE TOOK FREEZING SHOWERS! Are we nuts?! Maybe! But courage sometimes looks like craziness at first, badassery second.
To me, courage and gratitude go hand-in-hand. I look at this list and I feel so infinitely grateful to have embarked on this challenge with all of you. And when I think of the things in my life for which I am the most grateful, they all required a little bit of courage to obtain, and a lotta bit of courage to maintain.
Flexing our courage muscles every day for the last 12 weeks puts us in a really great place to ground down as we head into the holiday season and ultimately, the new year. This is always prime time for giving thanks for all we’ve accomplished this year, and to make a game plan for the epic shit we’ll be up to in the next year. I’d offer to you that the challenge doesn’t stop here. We certainly won’t be pressing pause on courage here at SYS — we always have things up our sleeves to plan the next challenge. When you need a little boost, head back to this list. Try another new food, unplug on the busiest of days, and keep turning that knob to “cold.” Most importantly, acknowledge all that you’ve taken on, and all the growth you’ve seen as a result. That’s something worth being grateful for in and of itself — throw another kernel in for me on that one.
In Courage and the Utmost Gratitude,
Week Eleven: Cold and Bold
I’ll be the first to admit, when Scott emailed me about this new Cold Shower Challenge, it was a BIG hell no. This challenge had me shaking in my boots — literally. And I’ll also be completely transparent that throughout the week, the buildup to turning that knob didn’t get any easier. It’s just as scary today as it was a week ago. I find myself making excuses, trying to talk myself out of this chilling experience. But as I upped my time and allowed myself to embrace the cold each morning, I always felt more powerful on the other side. Not only did it absolutely jumpstart my morning physically, but I felt much more awake and alive going into my day.
I love my hot showers. As a performer, there’s nothing I love more than turning my bathroom into a total steam room to stretch out my muscles and warm up my vocal chords. I’m definitely guilty of taking 30 minutes or more in a nice hot shower — sometimes I even sit down in the tub when I’m shaving my legs to just bask in the warmth and enjoy a slow, steamy morning. Now as I’m writing this, all I want is to go take a scalding hot shower.
So easing into this challenge was no simple feat for me. Initially, I had to slowly move the knob millimeters towards the cold setting. I could barely survive the 30 seconds of lukewarm water on the first day. But when it was over, I couldn’t believe how refreshed I felt. Hopping out of the shower didn’t feel like a begrudging step towards getting on with my day. It felt like a rush of possibility, like I was really ready to take on whatever life wanted to throw at me.
As the days went on, I was still inching that knob slowly but surely. But I found myself more and more willing to challenge myself — just how cold could I tolerate? And for how long? On a few occasions I laughed out loud at the sensation of the pure cold on my skin. How often to we allow ourselves this kind of play and silliness in our morning routines? So fun!
I think my biggest takeaway is how beautifully the Cold Shower Challenge symbolizes what overcoming fear looks like. When it comes to fear, almost always it exists in its highest form in those moments immediately leading up to the act. Once courage kicks in, it takes over almost instantly and you find yourself in a new, elevated stasis on the other side.
This was precisely my experience in turning the knob each and every morning. Despite having survived and conquered the cold the previous morning, I still felt the fear creeping in as I eyed the silver handle. But once I took a deep breath and ripped off the bandaid, after an initial moment of shock my body adjusted and was completely fine. And not just fine — better than before. Overcoming fear big and small gives a total endorphin rush and proves to be a great way to start the day — who needs that extra cup of coffee when you can just flex some courage muscles instead?
I was also reflecting on the fact that this challenge really sums up what Scare Your Soul is all about. Overcoming Capital F Fear doesn’t happen in a day. In fact, I think it’s an ongoing process. But in order to take on that bigger stuff, we simply need to be in the practice of doing one thing a day that scares us. That IS something that can happen in a day!
When I think about the person I am now and the things I’ve taken on and the opportunities that have come my way, it all looks truly so different from where I was when I was first introduced to Scare Your Soul a few years ago. These challenges can sometimes seem silly, simple, and sometimes not even that scary. But pushing your comfort zone to any degree on a regular basis starts to add up.
Some things I can attribute to taking on small, daily acts of courage: Joining a choir that has changed and enriched my life tenfold, running a half marathon when 5 months prior I had never run more than 2.5 miles, boldly stepping into a promotion at work, getting bigger and better auditions (and showing up bigger and better IN those auditions), finally publicly sharing my writing and contributing as a writer for SYS, picking up and moving to LA for a month — twice, learning and nailing a leading role in a big show in just 4 days, going on some really amazing dates with some really amazing guys (and powerfully walking away from the not so amazing guys), hearing my voice… hearing my voice… a million times let me say HEARING MY VOICE! And generally just showing up as the best possible version of myself, significantly more often.
Do I think turning the knob to cold is what made these things possible? Of course not. But bravely turning that knob again and again — especially on the days when it seems impossible — is what gives me the power to keep playing big in my life.
I cannot thank my fellow ambassador Jesse Harless enough for inspiring this immensely impactful challenge this week. If you haven’t already, check out his new book, Smash Your Comfort Zone With Cold Showers. It’s literally 99 cents on Amazon right now. No fear in making that purchase 😉
In (chilly) Courage,
It’s not too late to join this week’s Cold Shower Challenge
Week Ten: A Soul-O Date
Get it? A Soul-o Date?! For me, that is 1000% what some time with myself proved to be — a day to recharge, relinquish any obligations, and fully uplift my soul.
I was recently promoted at lululemon, and with that comes a shiny new email address. It feels very official, with a fancy signature and a company server. I can say without a hint of irony that I truly adore checking my email. I love checking things off the to-do list, and crafting the perfect response. It all makes me feel very important, and like I’m accomplishing things. So when I was given the gift of a work email, I now have another inbox to spend my time on! Fun!
Monday is one of my days off, and I usually like to tend to the work emails I didn’t get to during the week on this day. I curl up on my couch in comfy clothes as though I’m about to enjoy a movie or eat some delicious junk food, but instead I simply respond to an inbox full of emails. This Monday, I got a response from my Manager. “I am noticing a trend of you working and emailing off the clock on days off – this is your day off, please take it.”
Of course, my instinct was to immediately draft a response. I quickly realized this would defeat the purpose. Instead, I put up an “Out of Office” automatic reply as I knew I’d be away from work for the next few days and committed to abandoning my email altogether. I decided to commit my day off to my solo date.
The only things on my calendar were physical therapy and a show I was seeing with my best friend that evening. That meant I had about 9 hours completely at my disposal. I left my apartment with no real plan in mind — I wanted to see where my heart would lead me on my own self-date.
I started with some yoga. I’ve been really into higher intensity workouts lately and haven’t been treating my body to this practice that I love so much. I indulged in a really fancy studio that has all sorts of amenities and really excellent teachers. A dear friend of mine used to take class with me at this studio and then spend hours afterwards in the studio’s steam room and luxury showers. We’d call them our “spa days.” So I treated myself to just that. I took my sweet time relaxing in the steam room and using all of the fancy shampoos and lotions and hair products. I left feeling totally relaxed and refreshed.
After another hour of self-care with my physical therapist, I had some time to kill before meeting up with my friend for the show. I had packed a good book, so I took the subway down near the theatre, planning to find a coffee shop where I could sit and read for a bit. My train let out at Bryant Park, a smaller park in midtown Manhattan. Every year around the holidays, Bryant Park sets up what’s called The Winter Village — an array of super cute little shops featuring all sorts of local, artisanal gifts. The shops line the outsides of the park, with a big skating rink in the center. It’s my favorite holiday destination in New York City, and I was overjoyed to see that it’s already been set up for the season.
At this point, I ditched my book-reading plans, and filled my time exploring all of this years’ shops. I smelled all of the hand-made soaps and lotions. I eyed some beautiful earrings that Santa just may be treating me to this year. I paged through novels featured by a local used-books store. I sampled some delicious dark chocolate. I started getting gift ideas for my loved ones, and my heart softened seeing all of the people around me doing the same. I took another lap to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. And then I sat and watched the first ice skaters of the season. November has barely begun and there isn’t a hint of snow on the ground, but in my heart it felt like Christmas. I felt full in a way I haven’t in a while — in a way I haven’t since I’ve been hung up on doing extra work from home.
I love being busy. I thrive on a never-ending to-do list. So in some strange way, sending work emails from home brings me some degree of real happiness. But as I abandoned my to-do list and quietly sat immersed in the joy of the most wonderful time of the year, in the greatest city in the world, I remembered what actual happiness feels like.
What are you treating yourself to this week? Go ahead and give yourself that dream date you’ve been fantasizing about. Your soul deserves it.
Week Nine: A Love List
This was one of my favorite challenges so far. An easy task to complete, with incredible benefits. But while the task itself is relatively easy, I think the actual act of self-love is hard to come by these days.
As I’m writing this, I’m remembering an ad at Whole Foods a couple years ago that really stuck with me. A large banner featuring a happy woman eating nutritious produce read: “Treat Your Body Like It Belongs To Someone You Love.”
The notion hit me like a slow burn. First I thought, what a great call out. I’d never abuse or mistreat my family and friends, I should show myself the same kind of love and respect. I should engage with myself as though I were someone I love. And then I thought. Wait. I just simply should be someone I love. I’m my own nearest and dearest — there’s no “as though” about it. In theory, my body does belong to someone I love, and I ought to treat it as such. I assume this was the intended effect.
We’ve been taught from a young age to be kind to others, to respect our families, and to love thy neighbor. I don’t think there’s quite as much conditioning to love oneself. In fact, self-love is often billed as selfishness and vanity. I think we’re often afraid for many reasons to spend any significant time on loving ourselves. And it’s especially scary to go public about it. But I encourage you to show up for yourself this week, and give all the love you’ve got. Because we can’t really love others until we love ourselves. So make that list of 10 simple things you love most about yourself, and inspire others to do the same by sharing it loudly and proudly. I’ll start:
- My smile — it’s warm, genuine, contagious, and free to give.
- My leadership — I feel lucky that I feel called to speak up, speak out, and show up big. To set an example. To be someone that people look to and trust. To guide others to be the best possible versions of themselves.
- My sense of humor — I love making people laugh, myself included. I love finding the lighter side to any situation. I’m lucky my life is filled with belly laughs.
- My body — I’ve been in and out of love with it my whole life, but I can genuinely say in this chapter of my life that I love my body and I’m constantly amazed at and grateful for what it can do for me.
- My freckles — such a sweet and simple part of who I am that some might consider an imperfection but I find incredibly beautiful.
- My talent — of course this category is vast, but what comes to mind mostly is my gift of singing and of storytelling. I love these talents and I love sharing them with the world.
- My commitment — when I show up, I show up big. I love my drive and dedication. I love my tenacity. I love my deep passion for the things I care most about.
- My curls — my hair is something that makes me uniquely me. I love how naturally beautiful it is.
- My spirituality — I love that I’m tapped into something greater — both from a faith perspective and a philosophical one. I love that my life has a higher purpose and that I can trust in the mysterious beauty all around me.
- My heart — I love my empathy. I love how deeply I feel. I love how emotional I am. I love how invested I am. I love how desperately I crave connection. I love how I stand up for what’s right. And I love my resiliency — no matter how many times I’ve been hurt, my heart is always quick to mend and jump back in because I firmly believe that people are inherently good and love is available to all.
In Courage and (self) Love,
Visit here for a specialized, printable graphic of YOUR self love list.
Week Eight: Foodie Fears
Scare Your Soul is really running the gamut with these challenges. I love that there’s something in there for everyone. Trying a new food isn’t something particularly scary to me, so I found myself quizzing my friends for ideas on foods that might scare them. I was really surprised to hear that this would be an incredibly hard and scary challenge for some of them! Fear shows up in many ways, big and small, and can mean vastly different things to different people. I love that this twelve week challenge is bringing us through all the possibilities of what fear can look like, so we can be in the practice of overcoming it, or at least acknowledging and working through it.
I’m vegan, so most of my friends immediately joked that I should really scare my soul and go try a sirloin steak. It’s a nice reminder that these exercises are meant to help you, not hurt you. I’ve set up some really strong boundaries in living a plant-based life for ethical, environmental, and health reasons. It’s something I feel passionate about and strongly benefits me. While eating meat for the sake of this challenge would have absolutely been the scariest thing I could have done, that’s not what these challenges are about. There’s a difference between stepping outside of your comfort zone and abandoning your boundaries, and I wanted to be clear on that distinction.
So within the plant world, I really couldn’t think of much that I was afraid of, or frankly that I hadn’t already tried. I’m a big vegetable fan, so the typical fear or distaste for broccoli, or peas, or leafy greens doesn’t apply to me. I thought about trying a different culture’s food, but most of the restaurants in my area I’ve already tried — we’ve got some great Thai, Chinese, Mexican and Italian places in our neighborhood.
So I had to do some digging. I was looking up eclectic recipes, trying to think of any dish that really disgusted me, and racking my brain for past scenarios where I’d been uncomfortable about food.
That’s when it hit me.
I have many friends who have been on and off the Whole30 program, and many of them swear by it. I see them bring their unbelievably healthy meals to work, I hear their testimonies about their skin and their hair and their energy levels, and I’ve read up on all of the benefits for autoimmune disorders, inflammation, gut health and beyond. And every time someone tries to get me to do it with them I brush it off, saying it’s impossible for a vegan.
Now, there’s no denying it’s incredibly difficult for a vegan, as the program’s main sources of allowable protein come from animals. All soy and grains are out, so any plant-substitute proteins are not Whole30 compliant. Legumes are also not allowed — beans, chickpeas and peanuts are another major source of protein for me and that’s also out on Whole30. Essentially, I’m down to a lot of vegetables, some fruit, and natural fats.
As I researched vegan Whole30 recipes, most of the blogs out there started with something along the lines of, “Good luck.” Even the official Whole30 website says, “It’s impossible to do the Whole30 as written as a vegan.” Promising.
I knew I had finally found the thing that I was incredibly hesitant towards, and had major doubts about. When I notice that I’m trying to talk myself out of something, I always know I’ve found my challenge. Participating in the true Whole30 program may very well be unfeasible for a vegan, but for one day? I knew it was possible.
And to be honest? I was hungry. And a little irritable. But every single thing I put in my body for 24 hours was undoubtedly healthy — I ate exclusively vegetables and fruit all day, with some healthy fats like avocado and cashews. I know a big part of Whole30 is about doing a reset mentally in your relationship with food and making really conscious choices. My day was certainly filled with that, and my trip to the grocery store was eye-opening as I read labels and reached for extra produce that I don’t typically go for.
The bonus came in preparing a beautiful vegan Whole30 dinner. I love to cook, but I rarely carve out the time to do it. I had a night to myself, and it was so lovely to put on some music and spend time creating something healthy and delicious. I made a zucchini noodle pasta with spinach in a cashew cream sauce. It was filling, and tasty, and incredibly good for me. Cooking always feels like an artistic experience to me, so the benefits were multiplied — not only was I stepping out of my comfort zone in taking on something I had written off as impossible, I also took on something creative and fun.
I can’t wait to see all of the fun and crazy (and scary!) foods that people are trying this week. As always, this challenge proved to be about much more than trying a new recipe for me. What’s coming up for you as you’re venturing into something new? Be sure to share with us (with your best foodstagram photo) as you take on this week’s challenge!
Click here to join Alison in the free Scare Your Soul Challenge
Week Seven: Clean Up to Clear Up
Scare Your Soul always has an amazing way of targeting all the little fears that may be getting in our way without our even noticing. The action of cleaning up your space and getting rid of things that you no longer need or are no longer serving you seems incredibly simple and altogether not-scary. But yet again I found myself really struggling with one of the easiest of challenges.
I got a list of all the challenges at the start of these twelve weeks so I could be thinking about them and writing about them in advance. I’ve been looking forward to this challenge for weeks, as it’s been on my to-do list for ages to give my bedroom a proper deep clean. When it comes to my schedule and my lifestyle, I’m a pretty organized person. But my busyness and creativity and general stresses from the week definitely manifest themselves in my space. I’d say I tend to live in a state of “controlled chaos” and my bedroom is the biggest culprit. About once a year I get the urge to do a massive purge, so when I saw this on the list of challenges, I was so looking forward to checking this year’s off the list.
And when the week arrived, I was extremely hesitant.
Several times I found myself at home with time to spare, and it always went to other activities. I knew this task was burning a hole in my to-do list, but I continued to choose other alternatives. I already have several bags piled up from previous deep cleans that are filled with clothes ready to be donated. All I had to do to feel some sense of accomplishment in this week’s challenge is finally bring them to Goodwill.
And in the spirit of integrity and transparency, I’ll admit that I still haven’t.
I’m definitely committed to completing this task, (friends, I ask that you hold me accountable! Ask me a week from today if I’ve finished the challenge!) but first I wanted to get curious about why this challenge was proving to be so difficult for me.
I’m definitely a sentimental person. I attach meaning and value to the silliest of things, and that shows up big time in my room. Hidden in all the nooks and crannies are old love letters, meaningful birthday cards, old scripts, pages and pages of music I’ll probably never look at again, endless journals that I’m too fond of to toss, posters from old shows, sweatshirts from boyfriends past, and the list goes on and on. People usually have a “junk drawer” in their homes. I have like five. And of course it doesn’t feel like junk to me — everything felt incredibly important at one time. But now, most of it sits hidden away in corners and closets and doesn’t actually hold any value in my day to day life. It just takes up space.
I read a great book a few years ago about the many principles of the Yoga practice. One of them is aparigraha, or living simply, with non-attachment, non-possessiveness, and non- greediness. The book gave the example of doing a deep-clean to ensure that excess “stuff” isn’t cluttering up your life. It went on to say that, even if this clutter is tucked away and isn’t something you see or deal with on a daily basis, somewhere in your subconsciousness you know it’s there. It’s taking up space in your mind. And by physically ridding yourself of this clutter, what might you clear space for in your mind that’s currently consumed?
Another thing I’ve been thinking about — when we literally create space in our lives, we’re making way for what’s next. We’re telling the Universe, I’m ready for something different. For something more. And not only can change be terrifying — but I think most of us are just as afraid of success as we are of failure.
Complacency is so comfy! My every day routine in my comfortable clutter feels normal, and safe, and secure. By physically letting go of the past, I’m also saying goodbye to a life that I’ve outlived. I’m literally and figuratively moving on to what’s next, and what could be scarier than that?!
Who knew cleaning out a closet could be so existential?? It’s almost as if these challenges were intentionally chosen to stretch us further than we thought possible!
Now that I feel clear on my fears around this challenge, I’m committed to really completing it during the remainder of this challenge week. What’s coming up for you as you’re cleaning up? Be sure to share your experiences with us; we always love hearing from you. Happy cleaning 🙂
Click here to join Alison in the free Scare Your Soul Challenge
Week Six: Be With Breath
First off, all I can say is: Wow. I was so inspired last week reading everyone’s #storybehindthephoto. I hope everyone is feeling empowered in their vulnerability and truth- telling. The world is in desperate need of more of that these days, so thank you for your bravery. Know that in showing up for yourself, you’re showing up for so many others.
After a challenge that felt so public and exposing, it was nice to take on a more private, quiet challenge. Scaring your soul can look like big, bold moves but sometimes the smaller actions can be just as powerful. In order to successfully and continually show up in the big challenges like baring your truth to the masses on social media, we first need to fill our own cups. We need to really be with ourselves, and nurture ourselves, and set ourselves up well. In my opinion, we can make or break this in the opening moments of our day.
Who here is guilty of turning off the alarm, rolling over, and before even wiping their eyes or taking a stretch — checking Instagram. Or Facebook. Or email, or Twitter, or Snapchat or news outlets, or whatever the vice of the day may be. I know I certainly am! But think about it — when we do this, are we really showing up for ourselves? We haven’t even taken a moment to greet the day, or process where we’re at, or assess our own personal thoughts and feelings before inundating ourselves with other people’s lives, and demands, and updates. What a terrible way to start the day! No wonder so many of us live a life full of anxiety, and stress, and pressure to accomplish so much. We aren’t setting ourselves up with personal space, boundaries, or a grounded sense of self.
Now, I can’t make your to-do list go away (I currently have three separate note tabs in my phone full of things that need tending to) but I can offer a sure-fire way to approach your busy, social, and soul-scaring life with more ease and clarity. All it takes is beginning each day for yourself.
Two books I’ve read that have changed my life are Mike Dooley’s Infinite Possibilities and Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Both books offer tools for morning rituals that I try to incorporate into my own daily life as often as possible. They are a visualization practice, and a journaling practice. They’re both quiet practices, and simple practices, and a way to breathe and be with myself in the initial moments of my day.
This challenge came at a perfect time for me because I’ve been slacking in my morning routine. I find that when I don’t give myself time for me at the beginning of my day, I feel groggy and lethargic and depleted as the day goes on. When I fall into the bad habit of instantly beginning my day by scrolling through my phone; I start my day with agitation, and worry, and a feeling of dread that I’ve already fallen behind when I haven’t even gotten out of bed yet.
Establishing a morning routine can look like setting the alarm an hour earlier than you’d like. But I promise it’s worth it in the long run. Even giving yourself an extra 10-15 minutes can be a game changer. Being with yourself and your breath will look different for everyone. Here’s what it looks like for me:
I have a couple prayer/mediation stones that I really like to use. The smoothness is comforting, and the weight of it in my palm reminds me what I’m here to do. I like to put on some tinkle-y meditation music (yes, there’s a Spotify station for this) and hold one of these stones in my hands. One of my favorites has the words, “Thoughts Become Things” etched into it. This is the mantra from Infinite Possibilities and I’ve adopted it as my own. I like being reminded of these words in my visualization practice because the mantra rings so true to me — the
thoughts we think (and the lives we visualize!) directly influence the words we speak, the actions we take, and the realities we experience. I set a timer for six minutes because I know myself and know that my mind will distractedly wander for a minute as I settle in and then I’ll have a full five minutes to sit with my breath, and myself, and the goals and dreams I’m visualizing for my life.
This week, I challenged myself to commit to my full routine, which includes the journaling practice from The Artist’s Way which is known as “Morning Pages.” The idea is to free write — nothing pre-planned, no pressure for perfection, and no set guidelines — for three pages. When I’m actively in this practice, I find such a sense of relief in these pages. Sometimes it’s a dumping ground — a place to let out and leave behind any frustrations, disappointments, or generally icky feelings. Sometimes it’s a space to daydream, and romanticize, and sketch out big plans. Sometimes I make lists. Sometimes I doodle. But no matter what, I greet myself on the page and give myself the opportunity to experience where Alison is at before being swayed by social media, or the latest news stories, or work emails.
Granting myself these quiet moments to be with myself and my breath each morning is one of the simplest, yet most powerful, gifts I can give myself. What does your morning routine look like? How are you embracing the beautiful gift of breath this week? Be sure to share — and breathe — with us as you take on this week’s challenge.
Click here to join Alison in the free Scare Your Soul Challenge
Week Five: The Story Behind the Selfie
Social media is such a blessing and a curse.
Every time I claim that I’m swearing it off, I remember how it connects me with aunts and uncles and cousins in Minnesota, some of my best friends who live in Massachusetts and Texas and California and South Korea, and keeps me up to date on all of the truly amazing things that the people in my life are conquering.
But it can also be an endless void — a total time-sucker, and a place where jealousy and judgement and all sorts of icky feelings like to reside. Especially as an actress, I’m expected to have something of a presence and a following on these social channels. The upkeep can be exhausting. When instagram first came out, it was basically a glorified photo-filtering (and framing! #tbt) app where my college friends and I would all post the same photos from the same night and call it a day. Now, you’re expected to be a model, or an influencer, or a comedian, or some sort of profoundly interesting and gorgeous new piece of content that will go viral when paired with the perfect hashtag. I was actually told by someone in my industry recently that, “If you don’t have an online presence, you’re a nobody.”
Our lives can so easily be reduced to these little filtered squares that we mindlessly scroll through — double-tapping here, “lol”-ing there. We so desperately want to be seen, and to be liked (literally and figuratively.) How often do we tweak a photo to look a little bit better? How often are we creating a narrative to boost our egos and make things look a little shinier than they really are behind the camera? And I know I’m certainly guilty of posting for attention altogether — sharing a photo or a story with certain people in mind, virtually begging for their love and affection.
We’re all guilty to some extent. We want the world to see the best possible version of our lives. Highly edited, and filtered, and captioned lives. Extremely “like”-able lives.
So this week with Scare Your Soul, we’re challenging you to get really vulnerable and honest with your social media. We want the real story.
As I scrolled through my own photos, there were so many options that would have sufficed for this challenge. I can see right through the fake smiles and the layered filters of my past life. But I keep coming back to this one, because the beachy paradise displayed couldn’t be more of a contrast for what was going on for me personally at the time.
Now, don’t get me wrong. This vacation was amazing and much needed. It was so special to spend a week of quality time with my best friend Trey, to kick back and enjoy some tropical weather, and to get out of the city for a bit. From an outside perspective, this photo looks like a girl who couldn’t be happier, who has all the money and time in the world to take a cruise vacation, who’s relaxed and content and generally feels good about life.
Literally all of those things are incorrect.
A major thing I remember about this trip is how little money I had. Much of the vacation was spent in anxiety, because rent was due and I didn’t have the funds. I was out of the country with limited wifi, and desperately trying to get in touch with my sublettors at the time to make sure they sent me the money in time so I wouldn’t overdraw. The reason I was living with sublettors in the first place was because my two roommates and best friends were employed in amazing performing jobs that were paying them incredibly well while I felt left behind — personally, professionally, and financially. A big part of me was stressed to have taken a full week off of work, and off of auditioning.
In this picture, I hadn’t worked as an actor in over a year and my heart was heavy because of that. I remember bringing my laptop with me on this trip because it was when I had first started writing, which is a happy memory. But at the time, I was writing from a place of desperation — I was trying to write a play, something I knew absolutely nothing about, so I could say I was being creative in some way. So when people asked, I could say I was working on something. I remember having endless conversations with Trey on this trip about a guy I was seeing at the time who was treating me like shit. I was reading bell hooks’ Communion, and had even brought the book with me for some light beachy reading. The book was blowing my mind, and was the first real feminist text I had ever read.
But the words I was reading and the woman I wanted to embody couldn’t have been in starker contrast with the way I was allowing this guy to treat me. I was constantly making excuses for him, and convincing myself that his behavior would change eventually. I found myself begging for his time, and desperately feeding on it in the rare instances he gave it to me. Here I was, this budding feminist, who behind closed doors was letting the patriarchy trample all over me. So not only did the relationship make me feel like shit, but my own relationship with my sense of self was suffering. And the final kicker! At the time, I was on and off a bunch of different dieting fads, and had practically been starving myself leading up to this trip so that I’d look amazing in this very picture. Ironically, looking back, this is actually the heaviest I’ve been in a long time (amazing how no diet will ever work if at the end of the day, you’re just not happy in your own skin.) And I could recognize that even then.
I remember looking at this picture and feeling deflated — I’d been dreaming of this perfect picture and desperately controlling my food intake to guarantee I’d look great in a bathing suit and it was all for nothing. So for the first (and I’m happy to report, one of the only!) time, I downloaded Facetune. Yup — that’s not even an accurate representation of what my body looked like at the time. I can look back and still see how bloated I was, and even that is a slimmed up version of where I was at, because I couldn’t bring myself to post a photo where I looked so “imperfect.”
So there’s a giant truth bomb for ya. To anyone scrolling through, this is a great vacation shot (116 people would agree!) But to me, I know there was so much more going on behind the scenes, and it feels really liberating to be so honest about it now.
Why aren’t we always this straightforward in what we share? Wouldn’t we all do ourselves a favor if we cut some of the pretenses? Let ourselves off the hook a bit? Our lives are so beautifully imperfect. Why not share some of that every once in a while? I for one would love to see a feed full of people trying their best, failing often, and getting back up again. Leave the modeling to the pros.
Check out this week’s challenge, and join Alison in unmasking our truth on social media.
Week Four: Commit To Kindness
I’ll just come out and say it: This has been the hardest week for me thus far. I’d like to think I’m a generally kind person, and I definitely show up for the loved ones in my life. But going out of my way to be kind to strangers proved to be really difficult for me this week and something I didn’t even realize was laden with fear for me.
Living in New York City, I encounter hundreds of strangers on the reg. On the subway, on the busy streets, in my local coffee shop, even in my own apartment building. My life is oversaturated with strangers — which is sometimes truly remarkable but often altogether ignored.
On the days I really take in the passengers on my subway car, I’m flooded with emotion. Who are these people? Where are they headed? How are they doing? What are their struggles? Are they okay? Will I ever see them again? It’s a unique treat that I often take for granted. More often than not, I’m plugged into a podcast or some music and completely tune out the lives of the strangers around me.
So when acts of kindness were on my mind this week, I was especially attuned to the strangers in my day to day. They’re truly everywhere, and a lot of them genuinely need help — especially in New York City. This week, I really heard the words of the people begging for money on the subway, and on the street corners. It hurt my heart so deeply. And honestly, it filled me with a lot of fear.
I found the best that I could do is offer a smile, and a quick word of sympathy. But when it came to actually giving, I realized that I have a deep-seated fear of what might happen if I open my wallet. Not only do I fear that the money I offer may not go to the best resources, but I also fear that in that moment my purse could be snatched, or I could be physically or verbally assaulted in some way. I’ve had enough run-ins in New York to have viable evidence to back these fears up. But they’re still generally unfair. The homeless and hungry population of New York is vast, and at the end of the day, they’re fellow human beings. They deserve to be met with more neutrality than I’m currently giving them. So I’m noticing and honoring the fear that came up for me this week with these strangers. I can be better in this department, and I’m committing to exploring this fear further.
Where I did show up this week was for a new co-worker. This young woman has been working with us for a few months now, and I’m still really getting to know her. From a distance, I perceived some things that made me think that she may have been going through something I had previously experienced. I sat with this for a bit. I felt that I didn’t really know her well enough to pry, and what if I was wrong? Not only could this be extremely insensitive, but also invasive and just altogether incorrect. I didn’t want to ruin our working relationship or any chance at a friendship. But I also knew that she could potentially feel isolated and may benefit from my reaching out. I sat with it for a few days, really unsure of what to do.
But when I thought about Scare Your Soul, and this week’s challenge to commit a random act of kindness, I knew what I had to do. My gut knew that my perceptions were correct, and I really felt that I could offer my new friend some solace, and words of advice.
So I reached out. I sent a simple text. I was very honest, and prefaced it with all of my fears — I told her I didn’t mean to pry, that I didn’t want to be insensitive, and that I honestly hoped I was wrong because I’d hate for her to be dealing with this burden.
She responded immediately, saying I was spot on. My hunch was exactly correct. And further — she shared that she was more or less going through her experience alone, saying, “I can’t tell you how much it means to me that you are reaching out.”
So what I learned this week — both in what I was able to do, and too afraid to do — is that the smallest act of kindness can have a profound effect on the receiving end. Reaching out to my co-worker took five minutes of my day, and absolutely no effort on my part, but meant that she no longer has to feel alone. What if I had taken five minutes to sit with someone on the street corner and hear a little bit of their story? Might they feel less alone?
So this one is an ongoing challenge for me. I’m feeling inspired to keep working on it. Kindness doesn’t have to look like unending efforts or the grandest of gestures. But in the places it’s needed the most, it sure will feel like it to those on the other end.
Click here to join Alison in the free Scare Your Soul Challenge
Week Three: A Love Letter
Welcome to week three! Writing a love letter feels like a natural next step after spending a week in gratitude. As I sat down to write mine, I realized how much gratitude is wrapped up in love. When I think about the people I love, I almost immediately think of all the ways I’m thankful for them. I don’t think love can exist without gratitude. And I’d venture to say that in all acts of gratitude, there’s a little bit of love.
I struggled a bit in deciding who would receive my love letter. I don’t have a romantic partner at the moment, so that was out. And I decided to spend my week of gratitude sharing thanks with the loved ones in my life, so I had just hit up a lot of the biggies the week prior.
I often like to think outside the box with these challenges. I always want to make sure that I really am pushing my comfort zones, and being as vulnerable as possible. When I thought deeply about the person I’d like to be writing a love letter to, what my heart wanted was to be writing to a partner. I don’t even remember the last time I wrote a gushy letter to someone I’m in love with. I felt myself trying to talk myself out of it, and I’ve learned that’s usually the sign that I have to go through with it.
So I wrote a love letter to my future someone.
The actual act wasn’t terribly scary — in fact, it was a really nice experience to envision this person and send my love to them, wherever they are. The scary part is the sharing. I feel very exposed putting this letter out there, in the same way I know you’ll feel exposed in sharing your heart with someone you love. With Scare Your Soul I’m learning that bravery and vulnerability are very tightly woven. I suggest you lean into that feeling of being exposed. If it feels like your heart has burst wide open and is beating loudly right on the surface — you’re doing it right.
In Courage (and Love), xx Alison
Hello my love,
Thank you for being you. Every day I wonder how I got so lucky to stumble upon you in this life. You bring my life such incredible joy and I love what we’re building here together.
Thank you for loving me. For seeing me. For understanding my deep wants and desires. I love navigating this crazy life with you by my side.
I feared for a long time that it was impossible to remain autonomous and free while also building a deep partnership with someone. Thank you for proving me wrong. What we have is so beautiful — thank you, thank you, thank you for respecting me and supporting me in my pursuits. And know how infinitely proud I am of yours.
You inspire me daily. You push me to remain at my best and then soar beyond that. I love just talking to you. I could talk to you forever and never grow tired. I love your mind. I love your stupid jokes. I know we’ll never stop laughing in this life.
I love holding your hand. I feel proud walking beside you. I’m so honored to be your forever date.
Thank you for loving me at my best and my worst. For having the hard conversations. For never going to bed mad. Thank you for considering me your equal. For always listening and responding thoughtfully. Thank you for holding me even when we’re angry. Thank you for somehow always having the right words when I’m sad.
Thank you for giving me the space to be a strong, self-actualized woman who is capable of standing on her own. And know that I so admire who you are as an independent person outside of me. But when we come together — I’m still blown away by the magic we create. We’re unbelievably strong apart, and even stronger together. Thank you for being my partner in crime. I love living life with you.
I love you, Alison
PS You’re also incredibly good looking and I could kiss you forever.
Week Two: Attitude of Gratitude
I don’t know about y’all, but I was feeling a high coming off of week one. I loved taking on the first challenge, I was very excited to share my experience with all of you, and I was so inspired reading about other people’s evenings of digital detox. What I love about Scare Your Soul is that the challenges are more or less very simple, but they often unlock something much larger. Thank you for continuing this journey with us, and welcome to week two!
I have so much in my life for which to be grateful. In the simplest way, all of my basic needs are more than met, which I know already puts me above and beyond so many people out there. I have a roof over my head, I can afford good, nutritious foods, I’m able-bodied, and I have a vast network of people who love and care for me. That in and of itself makes me so lucky. But I also happen to live in one of the coolest cities in the world, I have the luxury of pursuing my dreams, I have many passions and hobbies that excite me, I’m in touch with my spiritual side, I get to experience people from many different cultures and backgrounds and walks of life on a daily basis, and I feel fortunate that I regularly run a full range of emotions which keep me grounded, empathetic, creative, and altogether very complete. Very rarely to I find my life to be boring or mundane, and for that I am especially grateful.
So there were a lot of avenues I could have taken when bestowed with the task of sharing daily doses of gratitude this week. I love that SYS included the element of sharing your experience with another individual each day. It’s extremely easy to forget about all the good fortune in our lives altogether, but even when we do remember, how often do we actually express it? I once heard an expression that goes something along the lines of, “Until you share it, it isn’t real.” Words are powerful things. How are the people in our lives supposed to know we’re grateful for them unless we tell them? How will we ever fully understand all the beauty in our lives if we don’t hear ourselves say the words, “Today, I am grateful for…?”
Because I knew I’d have to share gratitude with someone each day, I decided to express gratitude for someone each day.
This list ranged from my Grandmother, to friends, mentors, ex-boyfriends, and a food delivery representative.
The rule I set for myself was to go into each day open to the possibility of experiencing gratitude anywhere, with anyone. The result was an extremely varied list, filled with some expected and some altogether shocking names. I let myself be inspired in the moment, even when (and ESPECIALLY when!) fear started to kick in. I didn’t pre-plan anything. When I felt the impulse to express gratitude for someone, I jumped in immediately.
I gave thanks to my best friend for being my rock. We’re both going through very transitional times, and he manages to be there for me literally whenever I need him, despite the fact that he’s currently dealing with his own personal stuff. I shared gratitude for a manager who’s about to transition to a different job. She exemplifies what leaving a legacy really looks like, and I’ve learned so much from her leadership and her friendship. I expressed my thanks for my church choir director, who brings together two things I’m so passionate about each week: My faith and my love of singing.
I found myself in conversation with two different exes this week, and both times I felt compelled to share gratitude with them. Two very different relationships, but I luckily still have friendships with both of them. I thanked them for everything they’ve been for me, and all that I’ve learned from them — the good and the bad. These conversations were probably the most unexpected and the ones I almost talked myself out of having. But I’m genuinely grateful that they both remain in my life to some extent, and it felt exhilarating and cathartic to share that with them.
I thanked one of my roomies for giving me space with no questions asked on a night I needed alone time. That’s a friend who knows me inside and out, and understands my needs on a very deep level. And when my food delivery was over an hour late and the company called me, unprompted, to let me know they were not only refunding me but also crediting my account for a future order, I sent a GLOWING email sharing all the love and thanks for incredible customer service. It’s easy to write a scathing review when things go wrong. How often do we write in to thank a representative for making our day?
As I opened myself up to the possibility of gratitude, opportunities revealed themselves right and left. Out of the blue, my Grandma sent me the sweetest text that absolutely made my day. I called her later that day (something I don’t do often enough) and was able to thank her for more than just a simple text. One of my dearest friends is currently living in South Korea, and we’ve been playing phone tag for some time. As I was heading home one night this week, I had a feeling that I’d be able to finally connect with her that night. When I got to my apartment, I had a beautiful package waiting for me that I wasn’t expecting. I opened it and proceeded to cry deep, ugly tears. It was an incredibly thoughtful care package from the very friend I had been planning to call — all the way from Korea. I got in touch with her that night and was able to share gratitude with her not only for her gorgeous and extremely thoughtful gift, but for the beautiful gift of her friendship.
These instances brought to life a mantra I believe wholeheartedly: What you look for is what you’ll find. When I experienced my week through the lens of gratitude, it’s amazing how many more things I had to be grateful for!! Once I started actively seeking gratitude, my day to day looked all the more beautiful, complete, and joyful. I ended up expressing gratitude for much more than one person per day.
Another big takeaway is how emotional I felt in sharing these deep words of gratitude! In almost all of these instances, because my words and actions were completely unplanned, I got swept up in the powerful gesture of sharing gratitude with others. I don’t know if this is because it’s an under-utilized function in my life, or because genuinely expressing thanks is such a heart opener. I suspect it’s a combo of both. But it was a nice reminder that sharing gratitude does wonders not only for the person you’re giving thanks for, but for your own heart
and soul as well.
One more thing that came up for me that I think about all the time with these challenges: Why does it take a formal challenge with SYS for me to live my life in this way? Gratitude is free to give, and the benefits are tenfold! It’s the easiest way to make someone’s day, it ain’t too shabby for your own sweet heart, and the more you actively give thanks — I guarantee you’ll find you suddenly have even more for which to be thankful.
What are you grateful for this week? As you share with your appointed gratitude partners, I hope you’ll also share with us.
One final bit of gratitude from me — Today, I am eternally grateful for the Scare Your Soul community. This powerful group of soulsters keeps me inspired, motivated, and accountable. I hope you feel my virtual love and thanks oozing out of your screen.
Click here to join Alison in the free 12-week Scare Your Soul courage Challenge!
Week One: Digital Detox
Welcome to week one of our 12-week courage challenge! I’m so excited to be here with you. A little bit about me: I’m an actress, vegan, exercise-enthusiast, feminist, lover of carbs, believer in the power of the Universe, singer, reader, and writer living in New York City. Writer. That’s a relatively new addition to the list, and I often still pinch myself when I get to identify myself in this way. My love for writing was reignited a few years ago as I started journaling more frequently and even dabbled in some script writing in the privacy of my own bedroom.
But it wasn’t long before I felt a tug to make my writing more public. Before working with Scare Your Soul, I would have ignored that tug — Alison, you have no real background in this. Alison, you don’t have any time for this. Alison, you don’t have anything unique to contribute. It’s possible I may not have even felt the tug at all. But I can say with full confidence that by regularly flexing my courage muscles through small, daily acts of bravery with SYS, the result was a quick and easy HELL YES when that tug came. It feels like a major full-circle moment to be writing for Scare Your Soul now, and I couldn’t be more honored and thrilled to embark on this journey with each and every one of you.
So let’s dive in!
When I read the first challenge, I’ll admit, my thoughts were: This is cake. A digital detox doesn’t sound particularly scary to me, and to only implement it for one night after 5pm? Very manageable. I’ve actually done a variation of this challenge a couple times with SYS, so I knew more or less what to expect. What an easy, breezy way to glide into the first week of challenges.
Turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Even though I’ve done this challenge before, I couldn’t believe the anxiety that set in once 4:30 rolled around. Knowing I had only 30 minutes left to check up on everything for the night left me feeling stressed and agitated. I refreshed my email a dozen times. I toggled back and forth between Instagram and Facebook endlessly. I sent out texts as though they were my dying words. Get a grip, woman.
Shortly after 5pm, I had an audition. I felt equal parts uneasy and relieved that my phone was in airplane mode. Sitting in the holding room, waiting to audition, my hands involuntarily kept reaching for my phone. Our attachment to these devices has become so mindless, so secondnature. In any moment of discomfort, we’re so quick to turn to our screens. Once the initial wariness wore off however, I was actually able to be more grounded and present at my audition than I typically am.
Next up was the commute home. The other thing that always strikes me when I unplug for a bit is how dependent we are on our devices. Without my phone, I don’t know what time it is, what the weather is like, how to get anywhere, when to wake up in the morning, what the daily news is, not to mention it contains my running to-do lists, my schedule, endless photographic and textual memories, in addition to storing all of my music, podcasts, books, banking information and exercise data, all the while being a highly social platform that keeps me in touch with friends, family, acquaintances, celebrities and politicians from just down the street to all the way across the globe. My daily commutes are usually filled with music or a podcast, or catching up on the news, or a book, or sides I’m preparing for an upcoming audition. Without any of that at my disposal, I felt naked and a bit exposed. Am I capable of anything without my phone? Scary.
When I arrived home, I realized the weight of this challenge for me. I contemplated going for a long run or hitting up the local bar alone sans phone, both of which felt like unique tests. But when I reached my empty apartment, I knew the thing that scared me the most was the thought of sitting alone, unplugged, in a quiet space for the rest of the night.
See, just a few weeks ago I called things off with someone I really care about. I miss him a lot, and it generally just sucks.
In the week or so that followed this decision, my response was to stay as busy as possible. I was working out like crazy — sometimes two, three times a day. I was extremely social, spending time with as many friends as I could. I dove into work, clocking 18 hour days. I had a big audition that I prepared for like my life depended on it. Anything to keep my mind off of him and to keep my body from remembering that it had something to mourn.
And to be honest, it worked. Maybe I was high on endorphins. Maybe I was too exhausted to care. Maybe I shoved those initial painful feelings so far down that they were simply inaccessible.
But when I set foot in my quiet apartment that I had been avoiding for two weeks, I knew what I had to do. I had to slow down. I had to sit in my reality. I had to be alone, and process, and honor wherever I was at. And without the distraction of a cellphone, or a computer, or a TV screen, I knew I’d really have the opportunity to just be with myself.
I ate dinner in silence, with nothing to do but enjoy the food in front of me. I don’t even remember the last meal I had that wasn’t accompanied by my iPhone, or Netflix, or at least some music in the background. I curled up with a book. I have a stack of about 5 or 6 books on my nightstand, all half-finished. I often tell myself I need to be reading important, socially relevant books, and guilt myself out of enjoying a good novel. But on this quiet, unplugged, emotionally charged night; I wanted a novel, so I allowed myself a novel. I took a nap. My poor body hadn’t stopped in weeks, and was so grateful to give in to the couch and get some meaningful rest. I experienced bouts of true, pure boredom. I desperately tried to remember all the lyrics to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now.” I had a ten minute debate with myself on whether my default pronunciation is “Car-mel” or “Cara-mel” (jury’s still out on that one.) Eventually, I was craving movement. I unrolled my yoga mat, and began an at-home practice. I haven’t practiced on my own in a while, so it felt almost foreign to me. It was a slow, meandering flow. I spent a lot of time in child’s pose. I did a lot of hip opening. I treated myself to some head- and hand-stand practice (something that usually scares me in a classroom setting!) and I enjoyed every moment. I let my body dictate my movements. I really sat with myself, and listened to myself, in my quiet, empty apartment.
This was when I felt most vulnerable. The thoughts and emotions I had been trying to ignore for days were there to greet me. Surprise, surprise. But you know what? I survived. I wasn’t even as emotional as I expected to be. The experience was more reflective. Contemplative. I was able to acknowledge and embrace what’s in front of me in a very full and honest way. I allowed myself to actually live my experience, instead of merely observe it, or ignore it altogether. This led to a larger realization. The anxiety I felt when it came time to unplug and commit to a quiet night without devices came from a narrative that sounded something like, “I can’t afford to take a night off of my life.” In these silent, exposed moments, it dawned on me — that kind of thinking is so backwards. Unplugging doesn’t remove me from my life. It allows me to actually experience my life.
What might you be ignoring, or avoiding, or pushing away in your life? How might you be using the busyness of our technology-filled lives as a crutch, or a band-aid? Can you identify parts of your life that you aren’t truly living?
A funny side note: When I returned from airplane mode the following morning, my sleep tracker indicated that I got 14 hours of sleep, starting at 5pm. Because if my phone is laying dormant, what could I possibly be doing with my life besides sleeping?
This week’s challenge reminded me that tuning in to myself is the surest way to live my life most honestly and fully. I hope you’ll share with us what came up for you. Congratulations on taking one small, giant step towards a bolder, braver life.
Click here to join Alison in the free 12-week Scare Your Soul courage Challenge.