It’s hard to succeed in business or in life unless we are fit and healthy Danielle Brooks, the founder of Lake Washington Wellness, talks about her own struggles with food and how she was inspired to become a nutritional therapist and entrepreneur, and write her book Good Decisions Most of the Time.
Melinda Wittstock: My guest today is Danielle Brooks and Danielle is the entrepioneering founder of Lake Washington Wellness and Good Decisions. She's also a nutritional therapist, a clinical herbalist and the author of Good Decisions Most of the Time. She's a member of Maverick 1,000 an awesome entrepreneurial network of high performing entrepreneurs, which I am also a member.
And Dani will recall, we first met at Mastermind Talks in Ojai, California and I'm so delighted to have you as a guest on Wings.
Danielle Brooks: Well, thank you. I'm so excited to be here.
Melinda Wittstock: Now, how did you first get into health and wellness as an entre-pioneer? What was your big ‘why'?
Danielle Brooks: Well, you know it's really interesting because I really didn't have a big ‘why'. I was really young, I was 24 years old and I really wasn't sure where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do and I really just threw it out there that I wanted to go become a physical therapist.
And so, I went to school and was working on all of my prerequisites and I was working at a physical therapy clinic at the time. And I applied to the University of Washington and I didn't get in the first year. And the physical therapist that I worked with were very entrepreneurial in spirit. They encouraged me, they said, “You know Dani, you're really great with your hands. You should go to massage school and open up your own clinic.”
And I thought, “Well, I can't do that. I can't open up my own business.” And they said, “Sure you can.” So, they really encouraged me to step outside of comfort zone so, I did. And I opened up my clinic right within the physical therapy office. And because I was already known within the medical space, I immediately started receiving a lot of referrals.
And so, I began to grow and pretty soon I was seeing nine clients a day and I had to either hire someone or cut back. And the group of entrepreneurs or the group of PTs, my mentor said to me, “Dani, just hire somebody.” And again, I said, “Well, I can't do that. I don't know how to do that.” And they said, “Sure you can.” And I think it was probably one of the most valuable lessons that I've ever learned was that when I look back upon something that I've done, facing it can be very scary but after going through it I look back and I said, “Well, that wasn't that hard.”
And so, that lesson just stayed with me. And so, we just kept growing and growing and hiring and hiring until we became the company that we are today.
Melinda Wittstock: That's amazing. It's great that you had that chorus of ‘sure you can' because I think a lot of women have a lot of people around them who say, “What makes you think you can do that?” Or “Are you sure you want to do that?” And often, those people they can be well meaning but it's their own fear talking and it unfortunately holds a lot of women back. So, it sounds like you had a lot of people pushing you in the right direction.
Danielle Brooks: I did. I was very, very lucky. Very, very lucky.
Melinda Wittstock: In building up your business, in a way where you have to hire people, a lot of the women that I've interviewed talk about how difficult that is sometimes to really, I guess, get out of our own way and realize when we have to hire. A lot of us tend to try and do it all. Was it hard for you to take that first step to say, “Okay, I've got my nine clients now but either that's it and I can't grow or I really have to hire.” Can you go back in time a little bit and any advice from your own experience that you can share with our listeners? Because so many people, so many women in particular have a hard time with that.
Danielle Brooks: Yeah. Yeah. I would say, going back in time, the emotions that I felt at that time was definitely fear and anxiety. And who am I to do this and all of those emotions that go through our heads. When I made the decision to move past the fear and to do it anyway, when I went through the hiring process I took it one step further and decided that, you know what? When I was interviewing people there were people that had skills that were below my level and then there were people who had skills that were above my level. And I was really tempted to not be threatened and hire below my level so that I could stay safe and comfortable.
I made the decision to hire better than myself and it was very hard for my ego in the beginning. The big advice that I would say is, if you can, set the go aside and look for people who know how to do what you want done better than you do. And that lesson has stayed with me through all of my careers. And also, I would add to that that going through the hiring process and making the decision to let go of those responsibilities, it frees you up. So, in the beginning it seems like, “Oh, nobody can do this like I can do it and I have to do this.”
But if you're constantly in that role, then there's no expansion. There's no growth. It's a very limiting place to be. So, I would encourage other entrepreneurs that are just starting out to look to see what's available to you beyond the fear and move from that place.
Melinda Wittstock: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. I think what you say is so important about getting out of our own way in terms of our ego and our insecurities and hiring our weaknesses. And that can be a little bit tricky to navigate but you know what? It makes … building a business, it's got to be the best the business can be. I think Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, said that when you hire A people, A level people, they tend to want to hire other A people. But if you hire B people, they hire C people. And the C people hire D people. And before you know it, you have a business that's not really working. So, it's so astute of you to figure that out early on.
When you look back at just starting out though, what were some of the biggest challenges? Because in every entrepreneurial journey, it's like a roller coaster of ups and downs and elation and devastation all in the same day locked in, right?
Danielle Brooks: Yeah, yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: So, when you think of riding that roller coaster, what are some of the moments or some of the biggest challenges that you faced and how did you overcome them?
Danielle Brooks: I think the biggest challenge that I faced for, like Washington Wellness, was facing healthcare reform. So, I created an orthopedic rehabilitation center and we were 90% insurance based. I really took care of my employees. Still do take care of my employees to date. And I've always prided myself on offering the best of healthcare and retirement accounts and pay for continuing education and just really taking care of my people.
When healthcare reform hit in 2014, we had to do a lot of shucking and jiving and when it went full into effect in 2015 and 2016, the reimbursements from the insurance companies went down and they made it so hard to collect on the claims that we were submitting. The cost of providing healthcare for my employees went up dramatically.
I found myself in a position where I was doing a, “Holy shit. I've got to do something not save the company.” And so, I made the decision to transition from an orthopedic rehabilitation center to a wellness center. And a cash based wellness center. And so, we began to terminate some of our insurance contracts and we had to do it in such a way that didn't cut off the income of all of the team members that were working for me. And so, we really had to come up with … We came up with a new name, we came up with a new brand. We went from Lake Washington Massage Therapy to Lake Washington Wellness. We brought on acupuncturist, hypnotherapist, and aestheticians. Really created some fabulous programs combining nutrition with hypnotherapy for weight loss and smoking sensations.
So, we really stepped outside of, “Okay, if we're going to do this we really need to do this.”
Danielle Brooks: Okay, okay. So, we changed the name and we changed the brand and we transitioned from Lake Washington Massage Therapy to Lake Washington Wellness Center. At that point, we decided, “Okay, if we're going to be a cash based company, we need to appeal and have that wellness center identity.” And so, we began to combine our resources and combine nutritional therapy with hypnotherapy to create a weight loss program. We created a smoking cessation program. We created some cosmetic acupuncture programs and some holistic skin care programs and really began to marketing.
And I think the biggest challenge for me was, before I didn't have to market because I had relationships within the medical community. So, over the years, we ended up with over 600 referring doctors, referring to us for orthopedic rehabilitation. So, I had to step out of my comfort zones of relying on my relationships and start doing some online marketing.
That was probably the biggest challenge that I faced was learning something new, learning how to track it, learning how to deal with what's a conversion, how to track a conversion, is this effective, is this not effective? And so, when you say ‘rollercoaster rides' I would say, that describes being an entrepreneur to the T. Because yes.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. It's awesome hearing your story about really a pivot and in some quarters, a pivot is considered a bad thing. From where I sit, a pivot is a great thing. When you can kind of change and you know that you have to change and you can manage that change… that goes with the territory. And a lot of people are afraid of change and as an entrepreneur, there are so many things, like you describe, that are beyond your control and all you can really control really is yourself and your reaction to it.
Danielle Brooks: You got it. And you just got to shuck and jive. You're just like, “Okay, what's coming? What's next?” Instead of looking behind, I think looking forward is a wise way to approach things.
Melinda Wittstock: Exactly. And this whole thing about getting out of your comfort zone is really important because that's where the real growth happens. I mean, it's kind of like personal growth happens as well as business growth. The two I'm learning, the two are so intertwined.
Danielle Brooks: Yeah. If I hadn't made that pivot, if I hadn't made that decision, I would not be experiencing the expansion that I'm experiencing today.
Melinda Wittstock: That's interesting. So, as you've gone through that journey, just on that theme, because you're into this holistic health and wellness, this mind body spirit. In the life of an entrepreneur, do you think in a way, that being an entrepreneur is almost like going through therapy? We learn so much about ourselves and our character!
Danielle Brooks: I do. That's a very good way to describe it. Therapy 101. Entrepreneurism.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah.
Danielle Brooks: Yeah, you do. I absolutely. Because that's where you're coming up against your fears and your boundaries and your self-confidence. And we always want to judge and compare. You know, judge and compare, how am I doing? I see somebody else doing something and I think, “Oh, I should be doing that.” Once you do that a few times, it's like knocking your head up against a wall. If it's really hard, I believe we're not following our own intuition.
And so, going through, having your own business and you have to make decisions and sometimes they're fun decisions and sometimes they're not so fun. When you have to let somebody go or facing other challenges financially. How you react in the face of those challenges, I think, really defines who we are and from that place, we can look at, “Well, who do I want to be and how do I want to grow?” And walk to the beat of our own drum instead of looking around and seeing what everybody else is doing.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. It's so interesting to have met you at Mastermind Talks and then Maverick, which is this quite awesome organization of high performing entrepreneurs where often we are getting out of our comfort zone. Sometimes just by doing things that you wouldn't ordinarily do. I remember finding myself learning how to play Polo and [crosstalk 00:18:45 I'm like, “What?” Just entrepreneur through play and some of the crazy things that we get up to there.
I remember, speaking of getting out of your comfort zone, I hope you don't mind saying this but I just have to say, you're one of the best rappers. I believe it was some sort of Maverick initiation. That was quite …
Danielle Brooks: Why thank you, thank you. I had some help from Chris Rugh. He was my beat box but yeah. Yeah, you got to have fun. You can't take this too seriously, you really can't.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, no. It's interesting to surround yourself with people who get you. I think one of the things about entrepreneuring, speaking on this whole mind body spirit thing is often it can be very isolating for people. I raised Maverick, and there are other groups like this too, not quite like Maverick necessarily, but where you get to be around other people that really truly understand you.
I've noticed just in writing my book and on this podcast that the women, in particular, who do well as entrepreneurs have a really supportive network around them and supportive relationships. Friends, other people in business networks, that kind of thing. How does that manifest for you? Apart from you're a member of Maverick and you do all these sorts of things. But, talk to me a little bit about that and the support network that you have behind you.
Danielle Brooks: Yeah. Well, I would say that's one of the reasons why I joined Maverick. I grew up in a small town and was amongst a group of women who were very competitive. So, there wasn't this culture of uplift each other. There was definitely a culture of competitiveness and even pulling people down.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, yeah.
Danielle Brooks: So, after moving out of that and realizing that, “Okay, this is not my kind of culture”, it's just like you said. It is very lonely. You think that you're the only one. I thought that, “Gosh, am I the only one that feels this way?” And that's when I started looking for community and that's how I found Mavericks. And when I joined Mavericks, I tell you Melinda, it brought me to tears when I joined the group because it felt like I was coming home. It really felt like I was around women, like you said, that got me. And not only did they get me but they had my back. I really didn't feel that there was any cattiness or competitiveness. There might be some emotions like that around it but nothing … I mean, I always felt elevated by the Maverick group.
So, yeah. That's so important, I think, to any young entrepreneur especially women as they're embarking on this journey to find someone. Whether it's one person, two person or a group of individuals that really elevate them and stand for who they are and where they want to go. It's so important and it can make the difference between success and growth and expansion for that woman. Or it can create, if they don't have that, a very lonely, limiting space to live in. So, yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, it's true. It's interesting about just even the word ‘limiting'. When I was first coming up in my 20s, it was very difficult to find a female role model or a female mentor.
Danielle Brooks: Yes.
Melinda Wittstock: Because all the women who were above me, and there weren't many … I started out as a journalist. I remember being on the London Times and I was only like, one of two or three correspondents and there was only one woman above and she made life pretty hard for us. And I think it was really just scarcity thinking. This idea that there are only a few positions for women. So, if I help my sisters up then oh, maybe I won't be relevant anymore. A lot of that scarcity thinking is so crippling. Men don't have that and I'd like to think that women don't have that so much anymore.
Do you think that's changing? That we're getting out of that scarcity mindset?
Danielle Brooks: I do. I think we are transcending it. I think that we have such old models so, even if you look at our school system. The things that we teach within the school system and in the old ways of being that we've been trained from our grandparents to our parents to our generation. I think they're very old and outdated ways of being in methods. And I think that there's definitely a movement towards connection and thinking outside of oneself, there's more of a community feeling. I do think that there's a movement in that direction. Yeah, I agree.
So, Dani, this may be an obvious question because you're an expert in health and wellness but, is there anything in particular that entrepreneurs have to keep in mind and especially women entrepreneurs about our health and routines and practices so that we can show up at our very best in business and in life?
Danielle Brooks: Yeah. I would say that the number one tip that I would give is to find balance in life. When I mean balance, I mean not working so hard and so much that your stress level goes shooting through the roof because stress really takes a toll on the body. And as women entrepreneurs, sometimes we feel that we're carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders. And sometimes we feel that we have to do it all like you said.
So, giving away some of the responsibilities so that we can enjoy life and finding balance will really help keep stress in check. So, hiring out to your weaknesses or even things that you enjoy. If it's getting to be too much and it's sucking up too much of your life where you can't enjoy time with your family, time reading a book curled up in front of the fire, time to get a massage or go for a jog on a crisp fall day. If you don't have time to do those things I would say, definitely begin to create the space for a balanced life. So, getting rid of the stress is going to be a really big deal.
Other things that women entrepreneurs can do to stay healthy is to during the times that they are stressed, to take care of themselves. Sometimes when we're in that, okay we've got a deadline and we've got to make that deadline, we rely on coffee or junk food, caffeine and sweets to jack us up. In the moment, it may give us a little bit of a lift but in the long term it really depletes us and it can really end up fatiguing us and learning us with very little energy to hit that final push if we really need it.
I'd say eating lots of fruits and vegetables and lots of water and lots of herbal teas. There are so many herbs that are really great for supporting women during stress. And so, reaching for those things. Healthy proteins, healthy fats. Just a very well balanced diet. I think proteins, fats, fruits and vegetables. Those are my favorite four with lots of water. It's really, really easy and really, really simple. Those are going to serve entrepreneurs so much better than the coffee and the things that really jack us up.
Melinda Wittstock: You know, it's interesting. It makes me think, really, that being an entrepreneur, it's almost like you need this kind of stamina endurance. It's almost like you're training. It's a long game and it's like you're a competitive athlete in training. And there are certain routines and things that are becoming more and more normal or accepted practice for entrepreneurs now to get healthy.
Things like miracle morning routines involving mediation and Bulletproof coffee. Different routines that we have. Just exercise and yeah, like you say, taking time for yourself. Have those moments where you are quiet and still and in many cases, you can have your best thoughts, your real inspirations that are going to grow your business.
Danielle Brooks: Absolutely. Yeah. And when you take care of your physical body, it really helps you to get into that zone. I love meditation. I'd say that would be another big suggestion for female entrepreneurs is to meditate. Especially if you're not sure about a decision because I'm a firm believer that we have all the answers that we need within us. Mm-hmm (affirmative) definitely.
Melinda Wittstock: It's funny, when I first started to meditate and I'd been procrastinating about mediating for a long time. I was one of these really driven people that are like, “Oh, no. I'm too type A. I'll never be able to do that.” And I had a long path to get there that started with doing yoga and I probably took up yoga in the 90s. So, pretty early at yoga and it became sacrament to me when I wasn't doing yoga. I just didn't feel right.
But it took me a long time to be able to quiet my mind in order to meditate. And now, I don't know what I would do without it because on days, if I miss it, I think I just miss … I'm not as in flow or I miss inspiration or I miss an opportunity or I just don't think as clearly. It has been transformational for me but gosh, it was hard to start.
Danielle Brooks: Yeah?
Melinda Wittstock: So, what is your routine? Do you have any special routine that you do in the mornings or [crosstalk 00:30:16?
Danielle Brooks: I do, I do. I love to meditate. And I also love to sleep. I typically … A lot of entrepreneurs will get out of bed at 5:00 or 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning, I probably don't roll out of bed until about 9:00. My ideal sleep phase is from 11:00 or 12:00 to 9:00 AM. And sometimes I'll just love laying in bed and lounging and relaxation of just being in bed.
And then I'll get up and I'll do some meditation and I'll do some kind of a workout. Whether it's a walk or I have aerobic mow impact or aerobic workout that I do on my computer that I can take with me when I travel. So, if I'm in a hotel room and I want to get a workout in, I just have it on my computer where I can hit it.
I love yoga too but my typical day is sleep, meditate, some kind of an exercise. Not all the time. Sometimes I'll go straight from meditation to having my morning smoothie. I love fruit and vegetable smoothies so, combining all kinds of veggies and fruits and that's one of my favorite breakfasts. Sometimes I'll have some eggs.
And then, I'll typically head off to the office or work on the computer wherever I am and then have a light lunch and then dinner is usually some kind of protein with lots of vegetables. I try to avoid wheat and dairy and soy, like corn, most of the time because they tend to be genetically modified and can be inflammatory. Especially dairy is really inflammatory for me. It's very individual. So, I'll avoid those most of the time but, I tell you, Melinda, sometimes there's something to be said about that bacon cheeseburger and a beer and a nice big batch of French fries.
And so, I think it's really balancing life and knowing that, making good decisions most of the time so that I can nourish my body and it really gives me, like I said, it puts me in the flow. I know that when I eat too much junk food and have too many beers or too much of the ‘not so most of the time' foods, I notice that my mental clarity starts to drop and then I start to feel scattered and then I know, “Okay, I need to get back to my routine.”
Melinda Wittstock: Right. That's so true. I find the same thing. I'm very similar with the kind of protein and vegetables and all of that. I find that maybe it's just that the older I get, the less I can handle alcohol. So, I try not to drink at all. Except of course when I'm at Maverick events and [crosstalk 00:32:48 that tequila. Particularly Don Julio is a probiotic. I justify all sorts of things to myself. But occasionally …
Danielle Brooks: Well, then Jagermeister is soul food for me then.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, there is that. Yes, exactly. So, tell me about what inspired you to write your book? And so, I'm just going to give the name of it again, Good Decisions Most of the Time.
Danielle Brooks: Yeah. Because, life is too short not to eat chocolate! I basically was … I had met my fiancée and we were talking about what kind of life we wanted to live together and we were kind of going through that process of coming together. And he asked me the question, if you could do anything what would you do? And I said, “Oh, I'd write a book.” And he said, “So, why don't you do it?” And I said, “Okay.”
My inspiration came from my own journey with food. I grew up with five kids and when the dinner bell rang we came running, arms reaching and food was flying and there was this sense of scarcity in the household. And of course that wasn't true. We always had more than enough food but, inevitably I would get there and I would heap too much on my plate and I would eat too much. And so, I struggled with my weight most of my life and it was constantly up and down, up and down.
So, I decided at one point to go back to school and become a nutritional therapist. I was very excited for my own journey and I thought, “Oh, I can't wait. I'm going to get my diet you under control and then I'm going to help other people and then this is going to be awesome.” And I graduated and I started working with people and found that I would be able to customize these amazing diets for my clients.
But then they would come back two weeks later and they couldn't do it, they couldn't implement the diet. I found that I was also having the same problem. I was telling people to eat their vegetables during the day and then at night, I would go home and binge on bacon cheeseburgers, French fries and beer. And I just couldn't stop. I didn't know how to stop. So, I went and saw a counselor and I had some other personal things that were going on at the time but I found that everything that I was learning in counseling also applied to my relationship with food.
Then I began to explore other people who were working in the emotional eating field. I looked at a lot of [inaudible 00:35:31 and I looked at Jeanine Ross and I started researching what other people were doing and then I began to pick and choose and came together, came up with a bunch of strategies that I began to use to help evolve my relationship with food.
That began the inspiration for the book. And I also wanted to have a resource for all of the things that I wanted to know as a nutritional practitioner to help my clients. So, basically when I wrote the book, it was, “This is the 101 of nutrition. Everything that you need to know about carbohydrates and proteins and fats and legumes and beans. Are they good or are they not good?”
So, I went through and I wrote the book, which is primarily about nutrition but each chapter I ended with a little section on the psychology of food to help the reader implement any dietary changes that they wanted to make. That turned out, was just the beginning of my journey. I mean, I was really just scratching the surface there. And so, now I have continued to evolve and grow and work with people at the wellness center to discover what's working and what's not working.
So, I'm really excited about the effectiveness of the strategies and the approaches and I think the big thing to give the listeners the big ‘ah-ha' of when it comes to how do you get out of the cast and the compulsion of not eating when you want something to eat or you're being emotionally driven to it. You want to feed it, you want to soothe it, you want to avoid it.
The secret really is returning back to your inner guidance and your intuition. There's this separation between our head and our physical body. Our mind wants to think and it will say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Go get the ice cream, go get the ice cream.”
But if you take a few deep breaths and bring your attention to the body and you listen to the body and you ask the body, am I hungry? The body will tell you, “Yeah, I'm hungry. Go ahead and eat.” Or “No, I'm really not hungry.” And then that is the space where the opportunity arises for us to ask the question, “Well, what is it that we really hunger for? What do we want in life?”
Melinda Wittstock: Right. So, we're actually hungry for something else.
Danielle Brooks: Yes.
Melinda Wittstock: That has nothing to do with the food. I think that's so true. And so many women do struggle with the emotional eating. Are women more prone to it than men in your experience or …?
Danielle Brooks: Oh, no.
Melinda Wittstock: No? Men do it too?
Danielle Brooks: Men have it too but women are definitely much more emotional creatures than men. So, we have it, I think, to a greater degree. I think it affects us at a deeper level because we are emotional beings where men tend to not be as emotional but they certainly do have emotional capacity. So, yeah. I work with both men and women.
Melinda Wittstock: That's so interesting. When it comes to … We've been talking about all this … I mean, it's wonderful and I know that I just recommend. I can't recommend your book highly enough because I think this is so important for female entrepreneurs really to be able to be the best they can be. So, I am so grateful for you to and your offer today because you're offering your book to our tribe here, our listeners of Wings of Inspired Business.
Danielle Brooks: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. Well, Melinda, we're sisters. You said it yourself. We come from the … This community of women entrepreneurs is growing and I think being able to take care of the physical body while we run our businesses and grow our businesses and expand, enables us and empowers us to do become that which we want to become. To do what we want to do. And if we've got a physical body that is being run ragged, it's going to make that journey a lot harder and a lot more difficult. So, getting this book into the hands of female entrepreneurs is just really spreading the word and supporting the community.
Melinda Wittstock: Right. And for everybody to go get Dani's really great book here, you can go to Amazon.com and the book again is Good Decisions Most of the Time. And she's given everyone a code that you can use to get this book for free and Dani, the code is ‘Let's Fly', is that right?
Danielle Brooks: That's correct.
Melinda Wittstock: Okay. And so, let's like ‘s, yeah? And fly.
Danielle Brooks: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Melinda Wittstock: That's awesome. That's so generous of you and thank you very much for doing that. I think it's just going to benefit so many women. So, that's awesome. So, what is next for you now? You've done so much in your career, you've helped so many people. What's the next chapter?
Danielle Brooks: Well, the next chapter is, I'm finding that I'm very limited in the number of people that I can reach and teach. So, next year I'm going to be embarking on creating an online program to help evolve the way that we relate to food. I'm very excited about this project, I'm very passionate about it. I feel that the way that we eat is unsustainable for humanity. And so, I think that being able to impact the way that we relate to food and evolve the way that we relate to food, is just so exciting.
And so, I've got an online course that I'm going to be creating next year and then hopefully launching that and just seeing where that takes me.
Melinda Wittstock: So, inspiring. Dani, I want to thank you so much for putting on your wings. Your super shero wings and flying with me today.
Danielle Brooks: Absolutely. Let's fly.