How To Use Your Experiences To Transform You

Nicole Centeno

with Nicole Centeno

CEO and Founder of Splendid Spoon

How To Use Your Experiences To Transform You

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Splendid Spoon Founder Nicole Centeno and Jenna discuss mindset and mindfulness habits we can all rely on to remain present in our experiences, develop our stamina to overcome challenges and allow them to transform us. In sharing her own experiences, Nicole reveals tactics that can help us get out of our own way, such as practicing self-compassion, talking to our future selves and asking questions like: How is my current strategy working for me right now? What would this look like if it were easy? Nicole’s honesty about her personal transformations provides encouragement and reassurance that rooting yourself in the present moment, regardless of what it is asking of you, not only enables you to live intentionally and achieve your dreams but drastically increases your sense of happiness, gratefulness, and wellbeing.

Highlights from the Transcript

  • On persevering  in the early days: “I stuck with the business in the early days because it has always been rooted in the idea that really simple things can bring you peace and even relieve some of your stress during a crazy day. The business product became a real resource for me. Sitting down and having a bowl of soup was something that kept me sane through everything. I’ve oriented my life so that I can take time, even if it is just a couple of minutes, to enjoy and really sink into those simple experiences. Things like taking a walk, looking at the sky and reminding myself that there was something bigger than me and the frenzy I was in was a big part of the way I didn’t totally lose it.”
  • On micro-mindfulness: “Being someone who has been Type A for most of my life I really felt like I was failing if I wasn’t doing things the way other people said they should be done; Sitting down and meditating for 20 minutes is a perfect example or eating totally vegan all the time and making sure you have a certain number of special berries and algae. It all felt like too high of a jump for me, and because I couldn’t jump so high I felt bad about it. When I took a step back, I decided that if just having one extra serving of vegetables or just taking a breath in the midst of a really stressful event is all I can do than I am going to be proud of myself for that.”
  • On relying on nature as a grounding force: “When you’re in a situation where a lot of responsibility weighs on your shoulders, and there’s that feeling of if you don’t perform right now it will all come tumbling down, the reality is that you’re in your survival mode of fight, flight, or freeze. A lot of us go into fight; The keep moving reaction. The best thing to do in that survival mode is to leave it entirely and remind yourself that you aren’t just an animal and there isn’t a bear chasing you. The best way to do that is to just go out in nature and be reminded of the bigness around you because when you do that your body actually shifts from that very hyper-adrenaline charged fight or flight mode into a relaxed place where your brain can actually function again.”
  • On getting out of your own way: “When I share stresses with my mentor he’ll ask: How’s that working for you? It’s so common to think ‘I have to do this! I have to keep going! If I don’t do it no one will do it!’ When he asks me that, it reminds me that things don’t have to be so hard and uncomfortable. There is always another way. If something isn’t working for you, take a step back and just see what happens. A lot of times the intensity simmers and it resolves itself. You get out of your own way.”
  • On having an anchor: “Whether you have a mentor or not, having something – a quote, book, or memory of something your parents said – can be very grounding.”
  • On reframing: “My friend, Katie Dalebout, has a saying: What would this look like if it was easy? When things feel so hard, if you can take yourself out of it and ask yourself that question: What would this look like if it was easy? It totally changes the chemistry of the body and your ability to move instead of feeling attacked or frozen.”
  • On the beginner’s mind: “Culinary school was so powerful for me because it was so reminiscent of the flow I remember feeling as a child. It bridged my childlike self and adult self and gave me permission to be childlike in my adult body; The feelings of wonder, smelling new things, putting them together, building, creating, and being taught by someone who knew so much more about a subject than I did…Of not knowing how to do things or making the worst apple tart, feeling bad and still learning from it. Kids have so much innate wisdom and over the course of time we lose it because we focus on mastering things. Then, we get to a point in our 20s or 30s where we think we have achieved mastery but the reality is that we are learning all the time. Being in culinary school reminded me of the beginner’s mind and the limitless opportunity we have when we realize that we don’t know everything.”
  • On getting in touch with your senses: “The rhythm of cooking is almost musical: You’re chopping things and you’re feeling all of the different textures. Our bodies have access to so many sensory experiences. A lot of my adult life had been restricted to just talking and looking at screens. Getting into materials again and noticing things like the lightness of flour and the density of meat really charges you with those different senses again.”
  • On stamina: “A lot of it for me comes back to: Am I in a relaxed state where I can be aware of my senses and what’s happening to me or am I in the fight or fight state? When you are in that fight or flight state for too long you burn out really fast. Whereas if you can stay present, even if it is uncomfortable, and be alert to the things around you, you can be more relaxed which is what gives you the stamina to keep going. Stamina is this careful balance of what you are observing in your environment and maintaining a level of relaxation while you’re there. When you think about running, you get into a state of flow or runner’s high and you feel so in the moment. That’s what I’m seeking on a moment to moment basis. That’s what keeps me from getting distracted, afraid of or overly excited about the end-goal. It’s what ultimately enables me to put one foot in front of the other.”
  • On staying present to your emotions: “Sometimes you don’t know what’s going to happen and things are overwhelming. That’s part of being present, feeling overwhelmed and like you can’t go on. Instead of being hard on myself or letting the judgement monster take over, because judgement is just a construct we create, it’s another manifestation of fear, you just sit still with it. Emotions are like the weather. They will change. The sooner you identify that feeling of being overwhelmed or being upset. The sooner you can just be still and present with that feeling, maybe even write it out a little bit. It just shifts. You can’t even help it. It just shifts. Then, you can find a little bit of movement again.”
  • On momentum: “I was pregnant with my son sooner than I thought I would be and at that time my partnership with my husband was quickly shifting in a way that I didn’t understand. It was one of those big dense moments where I just had to be present to not be overwhelmed by all of my fear. Every moment I just looked around and thought: Am I okay? Am I healthy? Am I taking care of my son and myself? Okay, one more step forward. Any time I looked out too far, as humans do, and tried to guess what was going to happen next, it was very scary. I wasn’t seeing a good story. The only way for me to maintain stasis was to be hyper-present in the moment that I had.”
  • On self-compassion: “One of the key parts of being present and having stamina is compassion for yourself. Part of being able to recognize the simple pleasures of the day is giving yourself the space, love, and kindness to look around and see those things. If we are pushing ourselves so hard to move forward, be ahead, and get into that future moment than we aren’t being compassionate about the space we hold right now.”
  • On talking to your future self: “One of the things I will do is pretend that I am talking to a future version of myself. That future version will speak to me with so much love and compassion, the way that you would talk to a younger version of yourself. It reminds me that I can do that right now.”
  • On curiosity and connection: “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that so much of my learning has been through understanding how people communicate, what motivates or upsets them. Understanding the different ways that people interpret and respond to things has come from my deep curiosity about them; From having the deeper conversations with someone at church who is sitting next to me or someone who is teaching a course and staying after to ask questions. And, more deeply the relationships I’ve had with friends, parents, and boyfriends. Everything else is such a small detail compared to the big sweeping colors that come from my interactions with other human beings…Feeling nervous is my signal to keep going. Or, when there is something bubbling up and I don’t want to let it out, I realize that’s the signal where I need to go deeper. When I reach out to another human being and connect in that moment, I remember the lesson more. I’m brought to another level of understanding. It’s through moments with people that I experience the most growth.”
  • On transforming yourself through pain: “You don’t get the reward without being present to the discomfort and pain. When you are faced with deep pain that is immovable or cannot change, like a death or divorce, nothing is ever really going to replace that pain. Those moments are such a shift in your reality that they are really ripe for transformation. It’s harder to get in your own way. It’s such a big experience that having that piece of cake or going shopping or getting a massage, those little things that we normally do to replace pain, won’t do the trick. I chose to be as present in those situations as I could. I now have the memory of what happened on the other side that helps me in the future when I’m facing painful moments. The first one is always really difficult for people. Humans like to have experience, we want to know what’s happening next. Those first really painful heartbreaks or losses, you have nothing to compare them to. Part of the transformation comes because when you don’t understand something you reach out to people who you think do and can say: It will be okay. You will get through it. That has always been my biggest transformation: Realizing I’m not alone. That’s the place of relief I found in my two big experiences, my grandmother’s death and my divorce, is that: I’m present to it. I’m looking inward. It’s so difficult. I reach out and connect with someone. I show compassion to myself by saying that I can’t do it on my own and that transformation happens when all of the sudden that pain is shared and I am able to be in contact with someone else who has felt this way in some way as well. That’s the great link of human beings. We need each other.”
  • On her biggest revelation: “Being more open and sharing painful experiences has been a big one for me. Before I started Splendid Spoon, I internalized so much and it really manifested in my health, backaches, general anxiety and not feeling great. As I have been kinder to myself, more appreciative of the small things in my life and reaching out in moments of pain, I have found a lot more flexibility and resilience as a result, which is very counterintuitive to how I was thinking before.”
  • On making but not dwelling on mistakes: “If you are worried about things that you failed at yesterday or are concerned about things that must happen in the future, then you’re not in the present moment and you’re going to burn out. You’re not going to take the risks that you need to take right now to keep moving. Sometimes the risk is just getting up in the morning. It feels safer to just stay in bed because you’re feeling so bad about the poor decisions of yesterday or worried about the ones you have to make today. That’s the essence of running a startup. You’re going to make a lot of mistakes because you’re doing something that has never been done before. The law of life when you’re learning is that you’re going to make mistakes. The sooner you can not judge them as bad and see them as part of a much bigger process the more flexible you become, the more present you can become, and then stamina floats in…The moments that are really hard and force you into the present, because it was so scary to look into the future, that’s where the big growth comes from. That’s where I think people can shift their perspective from, I have to do things a certain way to If something bad happens there’s going to be huge growth that accompanies it.” 
  • On mindful eating: “I think this is a real gift that mother nature gives us. If we know that being present is really good for us then what are the tools around us that help us get there? The closest tool is food because it ignites every one of your senses and because our bodies require it to survive. You can use any food to have a mindful eating experience by honoring it with your attention. Even if its sitting on a bench eating a bag of Doritos and just eating those Doritos for 5 minutes, it really counts because you are pushing your senses into the moment. The food, the taste, the smells and texture brings you back every time your mind wanders. It helps slow you down, brings you out of the stressed, sympathetic fight or flight mode, and into the parasympathetic peaceful state where your cognitive ability, capacity for gratitude, and ability to make good decisions all increase while your adrenaline decreases. Let the food guide you.”