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Blog

Welcome to my blog, where you'll find substantive, well-researched articles that blend neuroscience, philosophy, poetry, personal reflection, and the latest life coaching tools in service of helping people engage their full potential. 

 

After the Presidential Election

Kirstin Hotelling Zona

I've thought a lot about what I want to say to you all in the wake of this week's election. Many coaches l know believe that politics should be kept out of our professional correspondence and social media posts. That we ought not presume any one's political affiliations or perspectives. That emotions of all kinds are roiling around Trump's win, and that our job is to help people feel and manage those emotions, not add to their intensity by staking a claim or sharing an opinion or voicing our own emotional experience.

I disagree. 

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The Voice of More: Purpose, Part 2

Kirstin Hotelling Zona

In my last post, I taught you how to recognize—and trust—The Voice of More: her key characteristics, her various faces. What The Voice of More sounds and feels like, and what she is not. In Part 1, I took up the first of two common questions that clients ask me regarding purpose: “How do I trust that feeling—restlessness, dissatisfaction, desire?” This time, I’ll address the question that almost always follows on the heels of the last: “What if I know I want something more, or different, but have no idea what that is?” 

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The Voice of More: Purpose, Part 1

Kirstin Hotelling Zona

The Voice of More is that soft, whispery voice deep inside that flickers into consciousness—more…more…—when we’re driving, walking the dog, falling asleep, just waking up—that is, in those in-between moments when our minds aren’t habitually occupied with thoughts and plans and to-do lists. Sometimes the voice is assertive and persistent: Is this it? Is this all there is? Sometimes it’s slippery and subtle … There’s something missing… But in all instances, what I know to be true is that The Voice of More doesn’t stop.

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Unconditional Love

Kirstin Hotelling Zona

When we can pause, and recognize our annoyances and triggers for what they so often are—fear of rejection, wish for validation—we open up a two-fold opportunity for growing (through) love: we get to give ourselves the affirmation we’re seeking, which is an act of self-healing, and having done so, we free ourselves up to see the person before us without the smudge of expectation and entitlement mucking our view. 

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Finding the Joy in "Wakeful Anguish"

Kirstin Hotelling Zona

As the Romantic poet John Keats so beautifully reminds us, melancholy is native to joy (“Ay, in the very temple of Delight/Veil'd Melancholy has her sovran shrine”), but not because there’s some universal law that taxes us with a measure of pain for every dollar of pleasure we spend: as Keats suggests, the mournful emotions are inherent in, not a complement to, the emotions of ecstasy and delight. This distinction—between “inherent in” and “complement to”—is key to cultivating a life of full potential, a deliberate way of thinking and being that fosters active engagement, expansive happiness, and genuine purpose. If we can understand the mournful emotions, in all their aching and sometimes baffling intensity, as inherent in, not anathema to happiness and pleasure, we will go a long way towards short-circuiting the symptoms of self-doubt and second-guessing that tip us from embracing our “wakeful anguish” into indulging our fearful wish to stay small and safe.

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Transition & Mourning, and a Poem

Kirstin Hotelling Zona

Transition is as much about letting go as it is about moving ahead, but too often we eschew the mournful emotions of loss and sorrow as at odds with the deliberate practice of cultivating positivity and presence. But the mournful emotions don’t take us out of the moment; by allowing ourselves to inhabit the melancholic ache inherent in moving on, we can feel even more fully the roundness of the particular moment we’re in, it’s aliveness: how it inhales and exhales into a body larger than itself, how it pulses in relation to history and hope. 

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Resisting vs. Receiving

Kirstin Hotelling Zona

The only thing blocking you from manifesting your desires is your resistance. But how do we know when we are resisting? What does it feel like? Look like? In this week's blog I share some of my own personal story to help answer these questions, and I teach you the 7 Key Questions that will shift you from Resistant to Receptive. Enjoy!

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Manipulating vs. Manifesting

Kirstin Hotelling Zona

Hello! It's a gorgeous morning here in downeast Maine, where I’m living for the summer with my kids and my dog in a one-room cabin with no running water by the sea, a cabin I carried as a cherished dream long before it materialized. As I look out over the bay, I think about manifesting, what this really means and how it works, and I keep coming back to an amazing question that one of my clients asked me: What is the difference between manifesting and manipulating to get what we want? It's a brilliant question that points up the subtle but key differences between creating the life we yearn for and living as hostage, clinging to the pendulum that swings perpetually between expectation and resentment.

Manifesting is a key word in the world of personal evolution. Why is this? The rhetoric of manifestation points up the single most consistent shared insight among philosophers, theologians, and scientists from the last 6,000 years: that our lives are largely a mirror of our mindsets. It's what the Buddha taught. It's what Jesus preached. It's what Epictetus knew. It's what Maya Angelou and Martin Luther King understood: that what we believe—on purpose or by default—determines the evidence we will gather, the way we frame or interpret any given situation, and what we do in response. This insight cannot be reduced to magical thinking, wish mongering, victim blaming, or an outsized (scientifically inaccurate) worship of willpower. On the contrary, the language of manifestation underscores the agency inherent in the power of belief.

We’re manifesting all of the time, but most of us aren't aware that we're doing so. That is, most of us don't think on purpose. We tend to think of our thoughts as passive inevitabilities. As an array of voices and visions, stories and chatter, insights and epiphanies, that we can tap into, can parse and explore, but that, for the most part, simply exist. This means that most of us are manifesting by default, reaping the often-unpleasant results of an undisciplined and untrained mind.

In contrast, manifesting on purpose means taking responsibility for the results in our lives. It means shifting our focus from circumstances and other people—things we can't control—to our thoughts, the only entities we can. It means understanding that we feel the way we do, and therefore act as we do, because of the thoughts we are thinking. Not because of the circumstance we are in. Not because of someone else's actions. But because of what we are choosing (often unconsciously) to believe about the circumstance we are in or what someone else does.

For example, if our partner “cheats” on us, we don't feel awful because our partner cheats on us. I know this sounds nuts, but it’s true. We feel awful because of a thought we are choosing—habitually, automatically, unconsciously—to think: I was rejected. I’m not enough. He doesn't love me. There's something wrong with me. I can’t trust my own judgment.

When we ruminate—when we practice thinking something over and over—a thought becomes a belief. The tricky thing about such beliefs is that they don’t feel, in the moment, like beliefs. That is, they don’t feel optional. Instead, they seem like hard-nosed observations with which we must contend: My husband had an affair. Come on. Duh. He left me for someone else, so clearly I’m the problem. 

But thinking something, or believe something, doesn’t make it true. On the contrary, many of our most cherished beliefs are not only untrue, but downright delusional and self-destructive. Most of us, though, don’t realize the power of our minds when it comes to the way we feel. We think things happen to us, not for us. When we’re unaware of this mechanism between thought and manifestation, we become, unknowingly and ironically, overly dependent in our search for happiness on the very things we can’t control: we make demands. We give ultimatums. We blame the situation or someone else for making us feel bad. We feel entitled. We are burdened by resentments.

That is, we manipulate.

Very rarely do we manipulate knowingly and on purpose. Often, we do so with the best of intentions, mistaking our need for control (fear) for our wish to care for (love). Manipulation doesn’t require conscious intention. Manipulation can, and most often does, show up in far more subtle ways: holding back or fudging our feelings because we don’t want to create or deal with a negative response; blaming or shaming someone else for our feelings or the results in our lives; deluging others with opinions and advice in place of attentive listening; acting on our anger; stonewalling, withholding, or resisting; excessive focus on what others have “taken” from us and how we can get it back; reacting to a sense of urgency rather than pausing to discern what’s important. Even something so seemingly benign as offering someone a tissue can be a form of manipulation: are we really holding the space for this person to safely express her pain, or are we masking our own discomfort with our friend’s distress by shushing her tears?

Manipulation sometimes works—but usually in the short run, and always at a cost. Keeping quelled the anxiety and fear that the reward of our manipulation masks is no small feat: over time, what we’ve achieved through manipulating (a job, a relationship, an apparent resolution, the absence of conflict, self-denial or congratulation, another’s compliance or confession) will buckle under the weight of what it’s been tasked to hide.

That said, an especially rigorous and well-intended attempt (or a few) at manipulation is often the precursor to manifesting what we truly desire: frustrated, bruised, and discouraged, we feel the pain of relentless effort, the weight of growing resentment and, most of all, despair as we see that the harder we try, the more helpless we feel. We arrive at wit’s end. We hit the bottom. We start to question our conclusions. Maybe I wasn’t rejected. Maybe it’s not about me. Maybe I’m enough. Maybe I’ve been unhappy. Maybe this is an opportunity.

It is. An opportunity. Always.

That's what I've created for you (see below), an opportunity for self-growth, for moving out of manifesting by default (manipulating) to manifesting on purpose. For shifting from self-pity, expectation, resentment, and blame, to self-confidence, creativity, empowerment, and fulfillment. 

Ready? Here we go:

5 Steps for Shifting from Manipulation to Manifestation


Change begins with awareness, so the first thing you need to do is determine whether you’re trying to manipulate without knowing it. This is a good test: if you feel chronically stuck, trapped, or helpless in a certain situation, you’re likely trying to manipulate your way out of it. If you feel resentful, clingy, desperate, or increasingly convinced you’re flawed, especially within a relationship (romantic, platonic, parental), chances are you’re trying to change the way you feel by manipulating others.

If you've identified yourself as manipulating, or if you think you might be, here's a tool that will shift you. 
This process will take you about 30 minutes, and can be practiced any time you feel frustration, resentment, or self-pity with regard to the results you are experiencing in your life. All you need is a quiet space and a journal or notebook and pen:

1)   Get Still. Close your eyes, ground your feet firmly on the floor, relax your shoulders, and elongate your spine by lifting the crown of your head towards the ceiling and slightly lowering your chin. Take a deep breath in through your nose, inhaling slowly until your lungs are completely full and expanded. Hold your breath for a count of four. Exhale slowly through your mouth. Repeat three more times.

2)   Get Clear. Ask yourself, without judgment, the following questions, and write down your answers:

-       What is it that I want? Be as precise as you can be, the more details the better.

-       How will I feel if I have this? This question is critical. Be specific (emotionally, physically, spiritually, etc.).

3)   Get Responsible. Now, ask yourself this next question, and write down your answer:

-  What can I do for myself in order to create this feeling? (For example, if you wrote down that you want to be in a loving romantic partnership, and that doing so will make you feel understood, cherished, and safe, you might respond to this question this way: I can spend 30 minutes writing in my journal about how I feel (understood); I can take a luxurious bubble bath with my favorite candle (cherished); I can call an old friend (safe)). 

4)   Get Responsive. Now, ask yourself this last important question:

-       What can I give to help create these feelings for someone else today? (For example, I can make time to ask my daughter questions about her day with full presence and no distractions (understood); I can send a card just to say “I love you” to an old friend (cherished); I can reach out to a friend or family member who is struggling and ask how I can support them (safe)).

 5)   Get Active. Now, take action! Commit to doing the things today that you’ve identified above.

Manipulating is draining, and confusing. But with awareness and intentional thinking, you can shift into manifesting on purpose surprisingly quickly. I guarantee that if you practice this 5-step process you’ll feel immediate relief. I suggest you use this process every day, or whenever you feel that familiar wave of resentment and frustration well up inside. Within one week you’ll feel possibility where before you felt despair. Within a month you’ll see significant changes in your relationships and you’ll feel energized, hopeful, and empowered. I truly want to hear how this process goes for you, so let me know in the comments!

With love,

Kirstin



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Why I Coach

Kirstin Hotelling Zona

Welcome to my new blog! I’m so happy to have you here.

While thinking about what I wanted to say in my first blog post, I kept coming back to the woman I was before I started my own journey, and the women I now work with: Why do I attract and work with the women I do? What do I teach them, and just as importantly, what do they teach me? It feels important, in this foundational post, to start here, in the whys and hows of not only who I am as a coach, but with why it’s you I want to connect with.

As women, we’re conditioned to be caretakers (a role whose flip side is also the "nag"). If you are a woman who works in any of the caring professions—a physician, a nurse, a midwife; a professor, a teacher; a psychologist, psychiatrist, or counselor; a stay-at-home mom—you have also come of age professionally in a work culture wherein "success" is often equated with, and even measured by, self-sacrifice: extra-long hours, chronic busyness, and expectations of availability (emotional and well as physical) that can leave you feeling trapped by and resentful of the very work that provides you with a strong sense of purpose. As a result, it can be especially difficult for you to clearly identify, let alone act upon, the restlessness or dissatisfaction you may feel in your life, especially as you reach your 40s and 50s and are afforded a chance to pause, look back, and seriously consider what's ahead.

Does this ring true for you? It did for me. As a successful tenured professor at a research institution, a writer, a devoted mother of two, and a wife of nearly 20 years, my own unhappiness reached a fever pitch about four years ago. Habituated to putting others' needs before my own—and taking pride in doing so—my internal unrest became a deep and shadowy source of guilt and shame: Who am *I* to feel unhappy? What I do really matters, so how could I be dissatisfied? I've got it all, so what's wrong with me?

In both my personal and professional experience, women in the caring professions struggle in particular—often silently and agonizingly—to make sense of their own internal dis-ease. To others, our lives look not only highly successful, but noble and rewarding. Admitting our unhappiness, even to those we love, can often incur surprise and disbelief, responses that can reinforce our tendency to mistrust our inner knowing, a tendency that I was blind to in myself. Consequently, we come to fear, and believe, that *we* are the problem: that if we weren't so irritable, so edgy, so selfish, everything would be fine. We accommodate marriages that leave us feeling cold. We spread ourselves too thin, sometimes dangerously so, to prove how capable and caring we are. We do so much, but don't feel like we do enough. We start to think, in a back-of-the-brain, hazy sort of way, that something’s missing, isn’t right …. But we don't know where to turn, what to do. And if we think we might know, we second-guess and mistrust that knowing: we are living, after all, the very life we worked so hard to create.

It’s at this point in my own journey that I hired a life coach, and with her help, transformed my life. In future posts I’ll be diving deep into this process and what I've learned (about the nature of desire, about marriage and divorce, about divorcing with kids, about codependency, about healing, about self-trust, about addiction, about how to make lasting change in your life), but for now, I’ll say that coaching is about managing our minds—becoming aware of the long-standing, normalized, and often non-conscious habits of thinking that once served us but that no longer do—and learning to feel the feelings we’ve taught ourselves to avoid. These skills are key to shifting out of resentment, self-blame, and sabotage into resilience, self-compassion, and intentional action. Learning to coach ourselves is a total game-changer: these skills make all the difference between a life of “almosts” (I almost started the business I dreamed of, I almost wrote the book I wanted to write, I almost commited to the love of my life, I almost left my marriage, I almost traveled the world, I almost was the mother I wanted to be, I almost helped the people I really wanted to reach, I almost became the woman I know I can be…) and a life in which we feel fully alive, totally engaged with our creative potential, and enveloped by possibility.

Throughout my life I've always been drawn to and fascinated by human potential: as a teenager and twenty-something, I explored this fascination by way of drawing. I'd sit in cafes, bookstores, libraries, at bus stops, docks, and playgrounds, and sketch the people I saw, paying special attention to eyes, hands, and the particular slope and stretch of the neck and upper back. In my 30s, I married, had children, and dove into my academic life as a scholar and teacher. I also read, wrote, and published a lot of poetry, compelled by the depths of feeling and insight I encountered there. Poetry taught me about the power of ambiguity (as opposed to ambivalence), and paradox, and the limits of either/or thinking-- how, that is, to stay engaged in the face of both strong feeling and uncertainty.

In recent years, I've studied a wide range of contemplative practices, and have sought and learned about healing as a process and a mindset. I've also divorced, started a new career, and transformed my life from the inside out. Though my decision to become a life coach took courage and seems to some a risky move (in my mid-40s, with two kids headed to college), it also makes perfect sense: as a coach and entrepreneur, I'm able to fully integrate all of my life's work, and spread my wings wide in service of what I've always cared about most: identifying, connecting with, and coaxing into light that spark of goodness, the thrum, the life-pulse, that ignites every one of us. This spark—inner fire, higher self, authentic truth, the divine, whatever you like to call it—is the source and force we must harness if we are to heal ourselves and each other, and survive (let alone thrive) as a species in this cosmos.

So, here's to your goodness—to the beautiful, tender, urgent, calm, loving light you already are.

My Blog is dedicated to her, and to your yearning to know her fully and let her guide your way.

With love,
Kirstin



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