If you want to sustain change, do things in small steps so that they can eventually become a part of your identity.
Renee A. Exelbert, Ph.D., CFT is both a licensed psychologist and certified elite personal trainer. She received her B.S. from Cornell University, and her M.A. and Ph.D. from New York University. Dr. Exelbert is the Founding Director of The Metamorphosis Center for Psychological and Physical Change, where she integrates psychotherapy and exercise, with a focus on the mind/body connection. She maintains a private practice in New York City, Manhasset and Nyack, New York for the treatment of children, adolescents, adults and families. Dr. Exelbert is also an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Applied Psychology at the New York University Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development where she teaches Masters-level psychology courses. She previously served as Staff Psychologist at the Cancer Center for Kids at NYU Winthrop Hospital Cancer Center, working with children and adolescents diagnosed with cancer. In her new memoir, Chemo Muscles: Lessons Learned from Being a Psycho-Oncologist and Cancer Patient, Exelbert reflects on her experience of confronting her cancer diagnosis, as the doctor becomes the patient.
Where did the idea for The Metamorphosis Center come from?
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, and found that the one way I was able to feel back in control of my body was through exercise. The experience of exercise was so transformative and helpful in my coping with trauma, that I believed it could help many of my patients suffering from anxiety, depression, and other emotional struggles. Research has found that exercise is beneficial for mental health; it reduces negative mood and improves self-esteem, quality of life, and cognitive functioning. I became certified as a Personal Trainer, and then combined psychotherapy and exercise to find The Metamorphosis Center for Psychological and Physical Change, an integrative center focused on the mind-body connection. The mind-body connection states that physical health is influenced by thoughts, feelings and behaviors, and conversely, our emotional well-being can be influenced by physical symptoms. I utilize a combination of traditional psychotherapy, visual imagery and exercise to help individuals on their journey towards greater emotional health, growth and empowerment.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My typical day begins with getting my daughter ready for school, and then heading off to the gym. I have a workout that is at least one hour long, where I clear my head and focus my thoughts. It also sharpens my mental acuity and gives me energy for the remainder of the day. This is followed by either private practice patients or teaching. There is never a shortage of things to get done, and I believe in accomplishing as much as I possibly can each day.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I have always been a very goal-driven person. If I want to achieve something, I set my sights on how to move towards reaching that objective. I am a big believer – both in my own life and in those of my patients – that if you want to sustain change, do things in small steps so that they can eventually become a part of your identity.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The trend in the media towards greater self-reflection and mental health awareness excites me. I love reading articles on mindfulness, how to live in the present, achieve higher levels of self-care, and live a more meaningful life. Social support of these ideas is hopeful.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I wake up early and start each day with a prayer in which I thank G-d for the opportunity to be alive and for the gift of living a new day.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell my younger self to not focus on other people or their expectations of me. I would tell my younger self to discover what truly lights me up inside and enables me to feel joy. I would tell my younger self that programs and degrees don’t matter, that what matters most is my heart, how I positively impact other people, and the gifts I put out into the world. Life is too short to waste energy on trying to get other people to like you.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I constantly tell my family members to not reach for their cell phones as soon as they wake up. I tell them that our brains are not equipped for such overwhelming stimulation first thing in the morning, and that brain scans of people who routinely look at social media, emails, etc. first thing in the morning are similar to brain scans of individuals who have experienced severe trauma.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I am always trying to figure out ways that I can grow. This means that I never stop learning. I am always reading articles and books, attending educational conferences, joining new professional groups, and working on confronting my own emotional limitations.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
The strategy that has helped me grow my business is by fully bringing my heart to my work. Professional referrals come when someone has had a good experience with me. This translates to me being fully connected and genuinely caring about the people with whom I work.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
One failure that I have encountered as an entrepreneur occurred earlier on in my career. I was focused on filling my practice, and not as interested in whether or not I was the best fit for my patient, and vice versa. As time has progressed, I am much more selective in who I treat. I have become much less focused on the financial aspect of the relationship and more focused on ensuring that we are the right partnership.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
One business idea that I am willing to give away to readers is an experiential education program that encompasses exercise, psychotherapy, nature, an opportunity for self-reflection, self-challenge and group processing.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The best $100 I recently spent was on a poster board of my book cover, to advertise my first book signing. This was an investment that I loved making, because I am incredibly proud of my book, “Chemo Muscles: Lessons Learned From Being a Psycho-Oncologist and Cancer Patient.” I believe so wholeheartedly in this book, that any money I spend on it feels like it is helping to bring my ideas to life.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
My webhost Squarespace helps me to be productive. Through this webservice, I have learned how to blog, which in turn is helping me showcase my work.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I recommend everyone read “Thrive” by Arianna Huffington. It illuminates for the reader the idea that success is not based on working excessive hours and getting little sleep at the cost of emotional and physical well-being. It endorses meditative practices and nature walks in the workplace, work vacations and paternity leave, amongst other more mindful activities, in order to live happier, more fulfilling lives while serendipitously increasing work productivity.
What is your favorite quote?
“We are who we are, not in spite of the things that happen to us, but because of them.” Many people spend their life wishing away the adversities they have encountered, or the mistakes they have made. The idea is to embrace these parts of us, and understand that we are not going to become the great people we have yet to become had we not gone through these misfortunes. They helped shape us.
- If you want to sustain change, do things in small steps so that they can eventually become a part of your identity.
- Research has found that exercise is beneficial for mental health; it reduces negative mood and improves self-esteem, quality of life, and cognitive functioning.
- Programs and degrees don’t matter, that what matters most is your heart, how you positively impact other people, and the gifts you put out into the world.